Those of you who know me have heard me say, “Keep your VW Thing as close to stock as possible.” This is because in my opinion there are many ways to screw up the value of the VW Thing. As for me, I want to retain as much of the value as I possibly can. They are not making any more of these vehicles, and some are commanding big dollars on the market these days (Barret-Jackson Auction 2005 $38,800.00).
Cutting or chopping up the body is the fastest way I know to make the Thing less desirable for the market. Rust is another value killer. I understand there are a lot of Things out there that have had rust issues and maybe have already been chopped or whatever, just to salvage something out of it. This article is not referring to those who do this to their Thing to save it. Saving a Thing is a good Thing!
Having said all of this, I want to give some examples on how to ‘upgrade’ your Thing for enhanced safety and performance. You can do this without taking away any of the cool ways you can customize/personalize your Thing to your tastes. That is one of the great parts of our yearly rallyes – seeing what Don Eddy is gonna bring to the trip, and seeing what mods Dale Mueller has made to his Thing for health & comfort. The portable pilot tube for long days in the driver seat we will leave for a separate discussion. Charles Hyatt used to show up nearly every year with a killer engine with every known accessory. He was always the first to the top of the grades. Dudley Newton always had the smoothest running Thing on the rallye, and his many years of pulling wrenches has helped many of us on our rallyes. He did a front-end alignment on Don Eddy’s Thing in Hardin, Montana using a television antenna the motel didn’t miss for few hours. My point is, there are some very good things you can do to make your Thing more fun and safer to drive for long distances. Here are some suggestions, all of which I have done myself, so I can vouch for them as being worthwhile – in my opinion.
BODY – Change out the low-back bucket seats. They are uncomfortable on long rides, and afford no neck support if hit from behind. I recommend switching to the 71/72 high back bucket seats out of the Super Beetle. They slide right in on the stock track, and do a great job of giving you support for your back as well as some better head protection if rear-ended.
GENE BERG SHIFTER – The stocker has a long throw to third, and when set up right, I find the Gene Berg shifter seems to throw the shift rod just a fraction farther, thus engaging the gears in a more positive way. The pattern for shifting with the Gene Berg shifter is a close one, and makes for better shifts and less missed gears. We have used these for years and they really hold up to extreme use. Gene Berg products are always worth the money you pay for them. I’ve have used the GB 6710 for many a year. They are spendy, but man what a difference!
OIL TEMP GAGE – A must do, in my experience. The oil is the lifeblood of the VW engine. The operating temperature range from the factory is 165- 210 degrees. A lot of things can make this blood run hot, and the sooner you know about it the faster you can correct the problem (timing, trash in the fan, poor fuel, etc.).
HEADLIGHTS – I suggest you switch to the H-4 halogens, as they give a better, whiter light, and will compensate for the electrical resistance in the 30+ year-old wires in the Things. This is a safety issue at night.
STUD YOUR DRUMS – The VW Thing has expensive drums on the rears because they are Thing application only. The fronts are 1968 and earlier bug drums. The problem is the threads in the drums will strip out over time. The answer to this is to put the studs in the drums, and from then on you have no worries with the loose-wheel syndrome. The drums are drilled out and the studs pressed in from the inside of the drum. This makes them bulletproof. I have the part numbers for these studs – just email me.
SWAY BAR – The Thing sway bar is heavier than the bug sway bar from the factory. …But the rubber bushings tend to wallow out after years of use and being exposed to grease and road grime. CIP1 has a beefy ¾-inch sway bar for the Thing with the indestructible urethane bushings. The part number is ACC-C10- 4037 ($74.95). Go for the stainless steel clamps as well – they can’t be beat (part number C26-401-145, $24.95). This sway bar is on Duke Gersemas’, Larry Greens’, Dale Muellers’, Bill Gavins’, and of course on mine. If you know any of these guys, ask them what they think, and they will tell you how the steering has been improved as well as the stability in the curves at highway speeds.
VOLTMETER – Put this on for a small trouble indicator, if you will. It will tell you if your electrical system is putting out the proper volts to keep the system alive. See my article on this web site (Another Lesson Learned). It’s better than just relying on the idiot light.
WINDSHIELD FRAME SUPPORT – This product is sold by the Thing Shop, and is a super product. I’ve installed 6 sets of these (on different cars) myself, and the results have been just what the Dr. ordered. For those of us who aren’t spring chickens anymore, we sometimes grab onto the windshield frame getting out of our Things. This will eventually cause the windshield frame to bend into the cabin area and cause all kinds of problems with the glass and frame. The Thing guys who attend our yearly rallyes have been known to refer to these as ‘Fat Boy Brackets’ on occasions. They are well designed and install simply. They are well worth the investment @ $45.00 per set. Thing Shop Part number is 181WSB.
WINDSHIELD WIPERS – I suggest you switch to the early Bosch blades with the refillable wiper blades. Some places stock the 12-inch blades and sometimes you can find the 10-inch blades. I use the 10-inch because they do the job and they put less drag on the wiper motor when pulling the slave wiper on the passenger side.
If you are building or having an engine built, there are some modifications you can incorporate that will increase performance as well as the longevity of your engine.
COUNTER-WEIGHTED CRANK – I always send my crankshafts to Rimco and have them counter-weighted and balanced, along with being drilled for eight dowels
Scat has the counter-weighted cranks, 69mm stock, eight doweled. Part #10692.
FLYWHEEL – I always send the flywheel in to Rimco with my crank and have them balanced together, and the flywheel surfaced and drilled for matching eight dowels.
HIGH VOLUME OIL PUMP – I use the Melling high-volume oil pump. They run an extra $50, but are worth the money. They circulate more oil thru the engine to the oil cooler, which helps in the cooling dept.
TOTAL SEAL RINGS – I love these rings. Yes, they are about $100 for the full set, but how many times do you want to build the engine? These keep the leakdown to around 2% or less when broken in, and this is what makes the engine start the first time, every time.
SOLID ROCKER ARM SHAFTS – About $50.00 a set, and these can save you problems on the road. The old shaft clips have a tendency to come off at the worst times. These solids are bolted on, and if you need more info, check my web site on how to set them up. Well worth the peace of mind.
STEEL PUSH RODS – When you are building your engine and are keeping the compression to the 7.0 area, you will want to use these push rods, as they can be cut to length and you won’t need to use the ‘swivel foot’ adjusters with their problems.
ENGLE 110 CAM – Good product – these will give you good performance enhancement while retaining enough stock characteristic to pass emissions in some states as well as not being so wound up to shorten the life of the engine. Break-in is critical. Valve gap on these is .04. Engle lifters are a good purchase.
GENE BERG PULLEY – For years I have used the Gene Berg achiever pulley. This is another great useful product from Gene Berg Enterprises. The part number is GB-439A, and costs about $110 (the last time we ordered one). This will add balance to the end of your counter-weighted crank, plus has the timing numbers on it for more accurate tune-ups.
ALTERNATOR – The Bosch AL-82N is the best choice to replace the old generator. The generator only puts out 30amps while the Bosch puts out about 55amps. It’s ideal for increased lighting and sound system needs. You will need the alternator stand – throw the generator stand over the back fence. It’s simple, and you can do it yourself while the engine is on the ground. This also does away with the external voltage regulator.
Ever wonder why so many VWs have rust under the battery? When the old voltage regulators went bad, it was almost always in the charging points of the regulator. This caused overcharging, and the battery ‘boiled over’ and the sulfuric acid started doing its work under the battery. The alternator voltage is regulated within the alternator itself, and I have never seen one fail. The late ‘73 beetle came with the Motorola alternator for a short time – ‘74 and forward went to the Bosch Al-82N or X.
Updated February 2019 by – Mike Humeston