Having an old car brings many things to one’s life – there’s joy in driving it, and there’s joy in beholding it – and there’s joy in the reactions other people have when they see it. Similarly, there’s also the flip-side of that coin!

Every time you hear a funny little noise, your sphincter tightens, because you worry what might be causing that sound, and if you’ll be able to find or afford any parts needed to fix it when it breaks. And it will break sooner or later – especially if it’s older than you are!

In my case, this pertains to a 1962 VW Beetle called Dolly.

Fortunately, there are still a lot of parts available for Beetles – although not as easily now as they were back when I first started tinkering with these things nearly thirty years ago. In those days my friends and I bought, sold, and traded all sorts of parts, and even whole cars, cheaply amongst ourselves. For example, back in the 90’s, I once bought a complete Porsche engine for R1,100 which I wanted to fit to my Beetle project at the time. When that didn’t pan out, I swapped it for a 1963 split screen kombi, which I again sold off. We used to keep our eyes on the “swap column” in the paper in those days – there was no “ebay” or “Facebook marketplace” – and I’d often spend weekends picking up golf-loads of bug parts for dirt cheap, and selling the stuff I didn’t need to recoup my expenses to places like Kritzinger’s and Beetle Shop! There were no concerns that Beetle parts would ever become scarce or run out!

These days, finding basic parts – such as engine bits and service parts – is still viable, these are stocked by the generic manufacturers. It’s the other parts I struggle to find now – things like door handles, chrome beading, window glass, small mechanical components and the like. You can find many things still – but the prices have skyrocketed. People selling these items now realize they hold the long end of the stick. A 1959-1967 steering wheel for example, in fair condition, can go for R3000 – if the seller knows its worth!

There are aftermarket part sellers online and based in South Africa which could sell you every new part you could wish for to use on your bug – including virtually all the parts you would need to build a whole new car… almost! The problem there is price. To do so would be extremely pricey.

Even something as basic as a headlight retainer spring for example, because it’s a specialized part you can’t find anywhere else, isn’t cheap – especially if you need, say ten of the things.

What is a headlight retainer spring and what does it do? It’s essentially a short piece of thin wire bent in a way as to hold the headlight reflector assembly and glass lens in place behind the steel ring used to hold the headlight in the fender bucket.

It’s also likely that a lot of older cars use a similar system, since the mechanical components of headlights are generally designed by headlight manufacturers (e.g. Bosch) so this might also be of use to owners of other old cars aside from Volkswagens.

People sometimes press against these exposed sloping headlights in older bugs, because they’re so prominent – it can easily happen that a knee presses on it while leaning over in washing or polishing the car, and enough pressure will cause the headlight innards to become detached. Crappy or weakened headlight retainer springs will make that happen more easily. Even good standard ones poorly fitted are likely to fail with enough pressure.

It’s worth checking these from time to time, because – if you’ve just got this car, you may be shocked to find that a previous owner or mechanic has fitted them backwards or lost some of them, or they’re rusted to almost nothing! They’re made of mild steel, and since they’re exposed to moisture and air – and since the newest Beetle in SA is now nearly fifty years old, they do rust away.

If this happens, your headlight could collapse inwards, into the fender ‘socket’. The solution here is to replace these springs with ones in better condition, or new ones (if you should be so lucky) – or you could MAKE your own using one of the originals as a template. This is the option I decided on.

I used brass curtain rings, straightened out they were the right length, and bent to the same shape and angles as the originals, using pliers. As shown in the pictures below – they will never rust away, and they are much stronger so I’ll never have to worry about the headlights becoming detached!

I hope this article helps you realize that it’s possible to repair and replace certain small items on your old car in this manner – and to save a little money!

Pictures included!

Have a DIY day!


This website is about Christina Engela’s inspiring and innovative DIY projects. Follow Innovation DIY on Facebook.

To view her main website, visit Christina Engela – Author. To view Christina’s previous human rights advocacy work, visit Sour Grapes: The Fruit Of Ignorance. You can also visit Our Ghost Encounters, a website about the paranormal.

If you’d like to send Christina Engela a question about her life as a writer or transactivist, please send an email via the Contact form.

All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2021.

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