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: Pedal Stuff and Clutch Tube Re-attachment
Last updated: 11/1/01

Pedal Stuff and Clutch Tube Re-attachment

Symptom: You have tightened your clutch cable as much as you can and it (the clutch) still doesn't disengage completely; you get a clanking or clunking sound inside your car somewhere when you push the clutch pedal all the way down and let it up.

The Loose Tube Problem:

Now that I think of this, it seems odd that in all of the FAQ/Pages/Tech Questions I have never seen anything on this one; but it was a job I had to do on 2 of the 4 Beetles I have owned. There is a tube inside the tunnel on the pan which carries the clutch cable to rear of the car where the "bowden" tube (that flexible, plastic coated tube that goes from the back under the seat to the bracket/arm on the tranny). This tube is welded in three places inside the tunnel: 1) up front, just rearward of the pedal cluster; 2) about halfway back, somewhere underneath the emergency brake; and 3) at the back, under the rear seat, next to the shift rod coupler. The problem is that the tube has a tendency to break off from it's mounts in either the front or mid mounting point (never the rear, because that is the only one that is accessible and that would make the repair too easy). If the tube breaks loose from one of these points and is not immediately fixed (it may go undetected), it will eventually break off at the other weak location as the tube flexes heavily when one point is lose and the clutch is used. (this is because the tube is not straight, it slopes down slightly at the front and up at the rear, and as the cable inside it is tensioned, it tends to want to straighten out). When both the front and mid points are broken off, the clutch is all but inoperable and you hear a lot of clanking and clunking when you press the pedal all the way down and let it up.

So, yes, you have to cut into the tunnel and re-weld the tube. But before you get out the saw, take your pedal assembly out and assess the situation up front. Remove the circlip that holds the master cylinder push rod to the brake pedal arm, crawl under the back and take the clutch cable nut off the end of the cable completely then take out the 2 17mm bolts that hold the pedal assembly to the side of the tunnel. With the bolts out, pull the clutch pedal all the way down (toward you) and it will release from the clutch cable tube in the tunnel. Carefully take the accelerator cable off of the gas pedal arm by bending the end of the cable a bit. You may want to disconnect the accelerator cable from the carb to give you more play. Once you get the pedal assembly out (turn it counter clockwise a bit as you pull away), reach in with a couple fingers and pull the clutch cable all the way out.

Things to do First, Pedal Cluster Resto

No before you go checking out the cable tube, let's look at a few other parts for wear. Unless your clutch cable is really shiny and has absolutely no signs of wear, replace it. I paid $3 for my last one. If you are reading this prior to getting into your clutch problems and think you will do this, buy or order one now. Next, examine the pedal assembly. First, look REALLY close at the arms that go from the pivots to the rubber pedals. Especially on the earlier year Beetles (50s and 60s), these are known to crack, down near the bottom, and you don't want your brake pedal to snap off when you really need it. If you see cracks, replace the arm or the whole the cluster. I would only recommend trying to weld up a crack if you live on the polar ice cap or the Australian Outback or something and NOTHING else is available.

Now look at the "hook" that your clutch pedal actuates inside the tunnel and make sure that the "inner" part of the hook (the part that the cable loop pulls against) is not worn too thin. It should be as thick there as it is on the rest of the hook. If there is only 3/16'-1/8" of metal left I would replace the whole thing. Lastly, check out the condition of the alloy "mount" part of the assembly; the part the 17mm bolts go through. This alloy has a tendency to corrode away. I've seen some pretty bad ones. Even if you have none of these problems and are anal like me, you will want to take apart the cluster and clean it up. I know that the early ones just have a pin in the shafts that you can hammer out with a hammer and thin punch or big nail and then re-install. Take it apart, wire brush it, paint the pieces with a good black paint (I highly recommend Eastwood's "Chassis Black", 1-800-345-1178), then reassemble using good grease in all the right places. You've just done a "pedal cluster resto'". I'm told that good used clusters are getting harder to find, so its a good idea to take care of yours.

Tube Diagnosis

Ok, now about that tube. First poke your finger into the hole where the cluster goes and feel for the end of the tube. Its about one average/large size index finger back from the hole. Over the years I have used an assortment of light bulbs and mirrors to visualize the inside of the tunnel. A parking light bulb with long alligator lead wires soldered on and wrapped with electrical tape is in my "specialty tool box", as is a 1" square piece of mirror thermal glued onto a piece of coat hanger wire. If you are even the slightest bit inclined to make up these things (BEFORE getting into this) do it! I promise that you will use them for years to come. Whatever you do, you want to determine if the tube is still securely welded to the front bracket. If it has cracked loose, it may still rest on the bracket in the absence of the cable being in it. Use a bent screwdriver or something to put upward pressure on it and make sure that it is secure on the bracket. It should be welded to a about 1" high bracket that spans the floor of the tunnel . If it is loose and the mid bracket is also broken, you should be able to flop it up and down easily with your finger.

Now for the mid bracket. If it were my car, and the front was loose, I would open up the mid section, even if I wasn't sure it was broken, and strengthen it. In any case, you have to open up some access at that point to see. The bracket is shown in the diagram below. You might be able to get some clue by taking your emergency brake handle off and looking down in there. But just measure from the front firewall if you can't see it.

You will need to drill an access hole on the passenger side of the tunnel to check it out (take the seat out, carpet up, etc. obviously). I would recommend a 3/8"-1/2" hole, positioned so that if you do have to open up the tunnel to repair, you can use this hole for starting the saw. You want to drill your hole about 5" off the floor and just about 2" to either the front or the rear of the bracket. Now if you made the inspection light for the front, it will really be handy here. You need to get light into the tunnel so you can see the bracket. If you make the light, make the wires long (speaker wire works good) so you can poke this light back into the tunnel near the mid bracket. Now peek into the hole and find the bracket. If I remember correctly, it is about a 3/4" wide piece of metal that is welded to the tube and to the driver's side of the inside of the tunnel. The tube tends to flex up and down, the bracket flexes where it is welded to the side of the tunnel and eventually breaks off there. Now that you have located the bracket, stick a long screwdriver in the hole and "feel it" underneath the tube and try to pry it upward. If the bracket is broken here, it should be pretty obvious that it is loose.

At the time I first encountered this problem, I had a job installing car stereos and had access to huge metal cutting hole saws and a Bosch drill that would rip your shoulder out of it's socket if the drill bit "hung". So I cut a 4" round hole in both places in the tunnel. The second time, (different car) I had only broken loose in the center, so I drilled two 3/8" holes on either side of the bracket (passenger side) about 5" up from the floor. I used a metal cutting blade on a sabre saw and cut between the holes, then from each of the holes vertically down to the floor. With the 3 sides of the rectangle cut, I could pry the metal back and down to gain access, and then bend it back up again when I was done. Now in the interest of preventing an "Oh SHIT!", remember that your gas line also runs through he tunnel. What I did was to put a new saw blade in a vise and snap off all but about 1 1/4" of it, then put it back into the saw. This insures a "depth of cut" that is minimal (less than 1/2" on my saw). BE CAREFUL. Look to see where your gas line is, they may be in different places on different years.

How to Fix it:

I honestly could not recommend any thing but re-welding the tube. But before you go about re welding make sure that the tube itself is still good. I have heard of cases where the clutch cable had "cut through" the tube in the places with the maximum bend. Use your mirrors and lights to visually inspect the tube. Look at the top of the tube in the area rear of the mid bracket where the tube takes a bend upward. Also. look closely at the places where it broke off from the bracket. If the tube itself is damaged (punctured, ruptured, piece of metal torn out of it), I would not recommend re-using the tube. The inside surfaces of the tube must be smooth as not to chew up the cable. If the tube is "open", it would be difficult to re-weld it and not somehow affect the inside surface. On the first VW I did, I replaced the tube with a piece of thick walled "gas pipe". It was about the same outside diameter of the original, but much thicker. I felt good about this. You will need to take the shift rod access plates off (see the Shifter Bushing article) to remove the old tube and slide a new one in.

The front bracket design is adequate, I believe, and you can just re-weld the crack. I was brazing at the time, I think it is fine for this. But MIG welding would be best. "Stick" arc welding I believe would generate too much heat and burn though the tube in an instant, but I am a budding novice welder; seek advice. Make sure that the opening in the front of the tube is not obscured by weld metal when you are done and that it is free of burrs. Otherwise it may chew up your new clutch cable in a few weeks.

REMEMBER THE GAS LINE marches right past this area. I always made a heat shield out of a scrap of sheetmetal or aluminum flashing to put around the gas line in the area where I was welding. If you have no welding resources, go find some (see the article "Fixing the holes in the floor" about finding welding resources). I remember driving my first '68, with the tunnel opened and no clutch cable, to a friend whose father owned a local Exxon station for welding [Note: as a Beetle owner, you should have at your disposal the skills to drive your car, upshift and downshift through all four gears, without the clutch. If you have to come to a stop, slip it into neutral and stop the motor, then put it in 1st gear. When the light turns green, hit the starter and er, err, eerrr, rrrrrrrr, off you go. I had to do this at least 3 times in the last 16 years. Try it sometime before you HAVE to].

As for the mid bracket, I think it is worthwhile to improve the design. As stated earlier, the natural tendency of the tube when the clutch is used is to flex up and down; not front to back or side to side. So a bracket from the floor of the tunnel up to the tube is called for. In my 2nd job, I used a 1/4" threaded hook and drilled a hole in the floor and put a nut beneath, I brazed the hook to the tube and also re-welded the bracket coming from the side of the tunnel. In hindsight though, I wouldn't recommend drilling a hole in the floor of the tunnel, it is just asking for trouble with rust. If you are really stuck for a fix and absolutely can't get anything welded, you might do this hook trick with no welding. Although I "tarred" the exposed nut and threads underneath, it definitely opened up the possibility of more rust formation. I would recommend making a tall "Z" bracket out of 10 or 12 gauge steel and welding to the bottom of the tube and to the floor; and also re-welding the original bracket. Do this and rest assured you won't have to do it again. To be really thorough, wire brush you welds and tar them, (see "roof tar" in the "dealing with rust" article) and, by all means, brush and tar the underside of the tunnel below where you did the weld, or rust will move in there tomorrow.

When I did my first job, where I cut round holes for access, I had the metal circle I removed from the mid area re-welded in, given that the tunnel is a structural "backbone" for the car. This probably isn't necessary, but remember I tend to be somewhat anal. In the front though, I simply used a piece of plumbers strapping to hold the circle over (in) the hole. This made subsequent clutch cable replacements MUCH easier; I didn't even have to remove the pedal assembly. If you plan on keeping your car and driving it a lot, you WILL be changing the clutch cable again someday. In the "drill 2 holes, cut 3 sides and bend out" method of gaining access, I just bent the piece back flush and left it. Although I didn't do this in the front on my second job (the weld there wasn't broken), it would have allowed easier access to the clutch cable, so I would recommend not re-welding it shut.

So now the tube is fixed, you just have to put everything back together. As the 70's film said "Grease is the word" (is the word, is the word, is the word,..........sorry). There's lots of metal-on-metal friction happinin' here, and you don't want to be back in there again. Usually when I finish a new clutch cable installation, I look like I was caught in an industrial accident at Quaker State.

And If you didn't open up the tunnel in front and you haven't re-installed a clutch cable before, trust me, it IS possible. My technique is to first take the bowden tube off out back (that about 14" long flexible tube between the back of the tunnel and the bracket/arm on the tranny where the cable comes out), then grease up the threaded end of the cable and my hands and hold the cable with two straight fingers (you decide which two work best) and a thumb (same hand). Now poke the cable into the pedal hole in the tunnel and let the tip of your tallest finger (you know, the one you use when you drive) feel for the end of the tube. Then push the threaded end in and start feeding it through. If you have really fat fingers, you may want to find someone with skinny ones, they work best. Now as you feed the cable through, smear lots of grease on it. Push it all the way through, until the "loop" end is just inside the tunnel. Now go down back, thread the cable through and re-install the bowden tube and slip the cable through the clutch lever. Just start the wing nut on a few threads. Then re-install the pedal cluster. You want to "hook up" the clutch pedal hook to the cable end and keep the clutch pedal upright. If it flops down forward to the floor when you are putting the assembly back in, the cable will unhook. You might use a bread twist tie around the hook to hold it in (a reader contributed tip, I can't take credit). I have found it easier to re-insert the accelerator cable with the assembly not bolted up to the tunnel but with a slight angle to it. You can reconnect the master cylinder push rod with the assembly fully bolted up, but make sure that it (push rod) is in place in the master cylinder before re-installing the assembly.

There is a little plate with a flange on it bolted to the floor (on the year models I have experience with) whose job it is to make sure that the clutch pedal doesn't flop forward, but this is only effective when the assembly is bolted tightly in place. If you are anal like me, you will want to adjust this plate to make sure that your clutch pedal rests "even" with you brake pedal, for esthetic reasons, of course. When you have the assembly all bolted in, go back and tighten up your clutch cable and re-attach the accelerator cable at the carb if you took it loose. I always liked a nice "tight" clutch cable (one that begins to disengage the engine after only a couple inches), it seemed to make shifting less of a chore. Since you are wondering, the symptom of a too tight cable is that your clutch slips on acceleration when the pedal is all the way out.

So that's about it, you've fixed just one more rattle/clunk in your car and it's all the better for it, and more fun to drive too.

OK, you really haven't really fixed anything yet. You just read to the end of this article, now, go get all the stuff you need and tell the wife/girlfreind (or husband/boyfriend to be gender sensitive) that you will be busy this Saturday.

Copyright© 1999; John S. Henry 

[back to FAQ Index]