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Article: Installing Fixed Windows
in the Beetle
Last updated: 10/30/01
Symptom: You removed your windshield,
rear or rear quarter windows to paint and install a new headliner, and
you hadn't really thought too much about how you are going to get them
I feel compelled to write technical help articles sometimes not because I have years of experience with the subject, but because perhaps I have just spent some real frustrating days and weeks trying to do something that was new to me; and learned some difficult lessons. So I do not have years of fixed window installation experience with Beetles, but I helped my brother put a windshield in and went through almost a month of effort trying to get the front and rear windows in my own ’57 Beetle (to read more about those specific trials, check out page 20 of the ’57 resto series). So this article deals with fixed window (windshield, rear and rear quarter, non-pop out windows) installation in the Beetle and pays particular attention to the installation of the aluminum molding found on the early Beetles. But I would guess that many of these techniques would also apply to other models as well, both VW and non.
Note: Read this whole article
And in case you were thinking about it, it
is not possible to put the molding into the seal after it and the
glass are in the car.
If you read this article between October 1999 and July 2000, you might have read about all sorts of problems I had getting the seal to stay on the curvature of the glass, and how I had to glue it. Well of course!! The molding seal is "bent", and has a rounded bottom. Try to shove a fat square edged glass in there, and it will creep off!!! LOOK at you seal. See two grooves? Open them up and look inside. One is deep and has a very square bottom, it also has some little ridges on both sides part way down. The other is narrower, and rounded at the bottom, and actually isn't straight. I have saved a cross-section of my old seal and will take a picture of it and add it to this page soon.
Don't make the same
mistake I made! I cost me a new windshield and $60 in new seals and moldings.
New aluminum moldings come roughly bent to shape, but they must be tweaked to fit in a seal installed on a window and to look right when the whole deal is in the car. The aluminum is soft and bends very easily. Before you put the seal on the glass, lay the new (or old) molding pieces on the glass and use it (the glass edge) as a template to bend the molding to perfect shape. It must follow the curve of the glass edge exactly and lay flat. Take you time, bend a little, test, bend some more, test, etc. Be careful to make only smooth, gentle bends, not sharp ones. The sharp corners on the lower end of the windshield are the hardest.
There is a right and left side of the windshield molding (the other window’s moldings are one piece). Look closely at the end of one of the pieces and you will see. The cross section is like roughly ¾ of a circle. If you get the sides right, about ¼ of that circle will be in the groove, and about ½ of the circle will be out. If you get them backwards, it is pretty obvious. And another thing about moldings. If you bend too much, and basically reposition the curves (corners), the points where the two molding pieces meet (and are joined by the little clips) may not be I the longitudinal center of the car. If you are a perfectionist, you would never be able to live with trim clips that are off center (one would be right of center, one left of center). See what I mean? What I do is measure and mark off a vertical line down the exact center of the windshield with a marker. It will help you keep things straight. It is pretty hard to re-bend the molding enough for this to be a problem, but I did notice that my junctions were off center a bit. Fortunately, the fact a that the junction clips are wide gives you a little more than an inch of a margin of error. So tweak both pieces, keep laying them on the glass until they lay perfect, follow the curve of the glass edge perfect and the junctions, top and bottom, are in the center. It is normal for there to be a gap between the ends.
So at this point you should have your seal slipped on to the glass edge and your molding all tweaked to perfection. Lay a molding piece over the seal groove and get an idea where the ends will be. I found it easiest to start at the ends at the bottom edge. Using a blunt, non marring tool, like a Popsicle stick, or plastic knife handle, open the groove and work the molding in starting at the end along the bottom. By pushing the molding with you thumb toward the center of the glass and down, you will sort of "roll" the aluminum into the groove as you go. It will be obvious when it seats down into the groove properly.
The lower corners are the toughest part.
If you started with the end at the right place, and you took the
time to bend the molding to the perfect curve at those corners, it should
go OK. Use the tool to open the groove and "massage" the molding down into
the seal. It takes lots of time and patience. Do not use real hard pressure
with your thumb, you will "dimple" the soft aluminum and it will look all
wavy and ripply when you are done Do both sides, do not put the "bridging"
clips in until both sides are done. Do not use a metal tool like a small
screwdriver to open the molding groove in the seal as the aluminum mars
very easily. I got these "glass sticks" from the guy at the glass shop
that are like big, thick Popsicle sticks made of plastic but tapered on
Snap the bridging clips in and center them with a plastic or wooden tool (NOT metal!). Look at the clips closely and you will see one edge has a bit of a lip on it. This edge goes down in the seal. When you are done you should have the seal and molding on the glass, tightly and securely fitted, bridging clips in place.
Opinions as to how to wrap the cord vary as much as the what is the best lure to catch largemouth bass. I took the advice of many, and was very successful with overlapping the string along the entire lower edge of the glass. That is the ends of a cord used on a windshield should be at the lower corners, overlapping the whole bottom edge. As you place the window in the opening initially, make sure the ends fall inside the car.
There are also varying opinions on the use of lubricants too, but most would probably agree that putting a window in "dry" is not an option. I use K-Y Jelly and plain water in a spray bottle for my windows. Some testify that soapy water will eventually harm paint. Other recommend silicone spray or talcum powder. But be careful with the back and side rear windows if you have an early felt headliner. Any liquid will be absorbed by the felt and you will likely have at least a faint water stain. Talcum powder or judiciously applied K-Y Jelly are the best options back there.
Many folks recommend warming the seal, but
in normal summer weather temps, I didn't need to. But if you are working
on a bright sunny day, consider leaving it in the yard or an a table in
the sun before you start.
The trick is to get the whole glass and seal as much fully into the opening as possible before you begin pulling the cord. If your dimensions are all in order, the whole glass/seal/molding will slip into the opening and the inner edge of the seal will be flush with the body opening flange all the way around. If it is not, don’t bother starting to pull the cord. Pulling the cord will not pull the window into the opening if it is not already fitting in it. This is perhaps one of the biggest myths of this whole procedure. Get the whole window in the opening first, then pull the cord. The cord's only job is to get the seal lip over the body opening flange.
Do not try to slip one edge of the seal lip over the flange (top bottom or side) then push from the other side. Put the window against the body opening perfectly perpendicular to the opening and push. If the seal is seated fully, and all the dimensions are correct, the window will go in. Work the seal with your thumb, but don’t push too hard on the aluminum molding or you will distort it and it will be visible later. Prior to starting with the cord, you may also slap the glass with your open palm (take any rings off!!). The back windows are the strongest, you can actually pound those with your fist and you will not break them. But be careful with the lower corners of the windshield, this is the most common area that breaks. Do not put too much pressure on it there. Again, don’t even think about pulling the cord until from inside, you can see that the whole seal, all the way around, is butt up against the flange in the body opening.
When the window is fully seated, it is time to start pulling the cord. Start at either lower corner and have someone push from the outside on the glass just above where you are pulling; but not too hard. If they push too hard, they might make it too hard for the string to come out of the groove and/or they might break the glass (especially the windshield lower corners). Have them push just enough to insure the seal seats the rest of the way in as you go. Work across the bottom and when you get to a corner, round it and get start going up. But just as you round the corner, go back to the other side and start pulling the other end. Round that corner, then go to the other side. What you want to do is not let one side get too much farther up than the other. You might also spray some water now too to help the lip/cord go along from the inside. Work you way up the sides, over the top corners and free the cord at the top center. Warning: The glass edge, especially where you "close the gap" on the seal lip pulling is under lots of stress, do not whack it with anything (including you hand or fist) at this point. Once the lip is fully pulled over and the cord out, some additional and slapping of the glass with bare hands may be needed to fully seat the window.
Clean up the area well, of what ever lubricant
you used. If you used talcum powder near a felt headliner, just vacuum,
and you car will still have that morning fresh smell!
Again, for more details on my particular experiences (and mistakes!) with my own '57, check out page 20 of the ’57 resto series.
Copyright© 2000; John S. Henry