Welcome to the BugShop FAQ

The text following is part of a series of articles written by John S. Henry on the restoration and maintenance of air-cooled Volkswagens. While his experience is exclusively with the Beetle, many of the techniques can be applied to other models.

This text is copyrighted and duplication, re-distribution or publication is prohibited without consent of the author.

Article: Doing a "#4" Restoration, Page 2
Last updated: 10/30/01

Doing a "#4" Restoration, Page 2

How Beetle Bodies are Put Together

A big part of understanding the scope of a full restoration is having a good understanding of what panels are rusted/damaged and will need to be replaced. To do this you need to understand what the panels are that make up the Beetle body. There are eight major "bolt-on" panel/assemblies on the Beetle body. Four fenders, two doors, a hood and a decklid. Obviously, if these panel/assemblies are damaged, the easiest way to replace them is just get new ones and bolt them on. But after these eight things are removed, the bare shell that is left is entirely welded together.

Now grab any decent VW parts catalog and you will invariably find a "body" section with an exploded view of the body, at least to the extent that panels are available. This is a good way to start getting an understanding of the panels that make up the car. And it is a good way to get an understanding of the common replaceable panels.

Spotwelds: What are they?

How Beetle Bodies are Taken Apart

In an ideal resto, you will be replacing whole panels, just like was used at the factory, with new ones, that were made at the same time your car was made and preserved in a climate controlled store room until you came looking for them. And the rust/damage on the panel you are replacing will have known to stop right at the panel edge, leaving you a perfect, original panel to attach the new one to. Well folks, guess what? Big surprise, there is no "ideal" restoration. Yes, you may get lucky and find an NOS (Means "New Old Stock", it is a replacement part that is as old as the car it is meant for, but never has been on a car. Old stock that is new, see?) rear apron for your '71. But try to find all the panels that make up everything forward of the gas tank for a '57 (I did), and you will be using a real hodge-podge of parts. In my own '57, the nose is made up of parts that came from five different sources.

But before we go into the surgical "unwelding techniques", let me address cutting panels in general. Keep in mind that "unwelding" means that you have to break welds. Sometimes that is not the best "take apart" method. In some cases, just cutting the steel at a junction, or even mid-panel is fine. Possibly because you will butt or corner weld the panels together, or perhaps you are just patching a cut out area (especially true if you are doing a "4B"resto ). Here are some of the methods I use to cut panels, ordered with the most often used ones first:

And the mention of the Sawzall brings up another good point. When removing a large panel, don't try to tackle all of it's fastened points and try to remove it as one big piece. Go nuts and remove as much of the bulk of the panel first with less-than-precise tools first, getting close, but not touching the areas where it is fastened to panels that you will still use. Often, it is far easier to gently work off spot welded pieces when the attached metal is just few inches long than when it is a whole quarter panel for instance. Often once you have "worked down" the panel to just some tiny pieces still welded to good panels, you can just grind them off.

Anyway, the point is that if you are doing a sorta-ideal resto, you will need to remove the whole original panel (or what is left of it), and replace it with a whole 'nother one. So how do you remove a whole panel? Lets start with some basic "unwelding" basics.

Spotwelds: Taking them apart

Copyright© 1998; John S. Henry 

[back to FAQ Index]