71 VW


If it’s yours, you better learn to fix it!


My dad, ever the wise man, imparted this life lesson soon after bequeathing a “new” vehicle to me when I first got my driver’s license. Well, it wasn’t new. It was a dozen years old and had been sitting in our driveway since we moved into the house five years earlier. We used to run and jump off the front fender to dunk basketballs. Before that it sat in the garage of our other house for a few years. But it was something. It was a car. It was transportation. Freedom! More than some of my friends had. And it was mine. A green 1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle.


I had dreams of turning it into a Cali cruiser. De-chromed, lowered, nerf bars, monza exhaust, and frenched panels. Truth is, it needed a lot of work just to be safe. Warped steering damper, a brake drum that leaked almost a gallon of brake fluid per day, and dry-rotted electricals from living outside all those years. Not to mention the expected rust, faded paint and a shot air conditioner. So I spent many weekends thumbing through my dad’s copy of John Muir’s “How to keep your Volkswagen alive…” I’d get parts here and there and tried my best to keep it road worthy.


Last week I wrote about “owning it” and got a lot of good feedback. But after reading through that blog again, one of the steps to owning it really stuck out to me. What to do when your ownership goes sour. What do you do when things don’t work?


My answer was simple, fix it! I was thinking about this in terms of ownership and I think that may be the critical piece. When you own something, like my former VW or my current F150, you fix it when it’s broken. You mend it. You want to keep it going because it means something to you. On the other hand, when a rental car makes an odd noise or a high pitched squeal, you just turn up the radio. You look the other way.


Wanting to fix it really is the defining characteristic of owning it. Caring enough that you’re willing to forgo other activities like watching soccer or making short rib mac and cheese and spend time trying to diagnose the problem and put together a long term fix. Unfortunately, ACTUALLY fixing it is a lot harder than just WANTING to fix it. Here’s some tips:

  1. Don’t believe your own BS – This is the first and hardest point. Too many times we think we know exactly what needs to be done. We aren’t always right. Rely on your intuition, goals, knowledge and wisdom; but just as a starting point. Not as an end point.
  2. Be objective and do some research – Take a moment to look around at what others are doing. I REALLY wanted to put a dual Weber carb set up in my Bug. But the cost of that one mod was almost the same as the entire car was worth. Starting and (especially!!) stopping reliably is more important. So is retaining good employees, serving your customers, and providing accurate information. Do your research to make sure you can deliver the boring stuff BEFORE you get fancy.
  3. Involve others – Sometimes the most knowledgeable people are with you in the room. Ask them what they think. Ask them WHY they think that. Get them to talk to each other and come back to you with ideas. You don’t have to use all the ideas. My friend thought it’d be a good idea to pull the distributor in my VW and clean it. Get the engine running smoother. Ya know what? Engines run like crap when you don’t know how to put a distributor back. But, he was right that the engine needed a thorough cleaning and servicing after sitting so long. When I finally got it right, it ran better than it had in years. Your organization will run smoother and more efficiently as well if you involve the people around you!


The worst thing you can do is try to resurrect a heap with a rotted frame or shot drivetrain. You’re starting over at that point. Well, we aren’t starting over. We’re gonna mix in some new parts and this thing will be running like a scalded dog soon! Just try and keep up!