Etching primer, etc.

And more than a month again between posts.

Here’s etching primer on the inside of the tub.IMG_1504.JPG

Here’s the inner front wheel wells smoothed and ready to prime.



The idea is to eliminate the “replica lip” where the body turns into the fender well. On the originals it’s just a radiused turn with hammer marks, while most replicas extend the body about a quarter or a half inch into the wells, creating a little shelf in there. Easy enough to grind away and smooth, and while we’re in there I made the brake cooling ducts and ground off the glass matt flashing on the insides of the fenders where some dudes tend to feel to see if a given car is “real.” So no, no it’s not “real.” But now it’s real smooth there to keep those guys guessing. Just a few hours’ labor. . . .

I’ve also got some urethane truck bed liner to go in there to keep any gravel from making spider cracks in the body—it’s tinted silver to further confuse the enemy. I’ll paint blue on top of that but I want the car set up so if any stone chips happen, they reveal either aluminum or something the appears to be aluminum—because I’ve pretty much gone insane.

The gas tank is finally ready for prime time as well, cleaned, sealed with POR 15 and painted.*


That’s a correct(ish) hammertone silver paint, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to make a cover for it that looks like the legit 550 tank. This is going to be another project; if I succeed, the idea is to make a steel cover that will fit over top and have hinges along where the tank straps are, so the outboard 3-4 inches can be flipped up to reveal storage underneath for a tool roll and maybe a California duster and some detail spray.

I’ve just begun the CAD process on this and already discovered that the Spyder Rule lives here too: more compound curves.

IMG_1487.JPGThe original item took up a lot of frunk space dsc02547—and I’d rather not trade it all for the authentic look.

Here’s the shifter housing in a more aluminum silver. I’ll probably change that to hammertone too before reinstalling.


The side windows are coming along. Still need to make the final attachment bits for these.

Here’s blue paint on the interior under the dash:


That’s not even bad, I think.


Above the blue, where no one who isn’t on the floor looking up can see, I painted the exposed fiberglass with more silver, the idea being that anywhere the blue doesn’t cover should at least reflect any light that hits it more or less the way hammered bare aluminum sheet would.

Speaking of which, the firewall is about done: here are the clips to hold the wire loom, and other clips with the last bit of hard fuel line already attached.

IMG_1503.jpgThis is pretty similar to the original.


Here’s a closeup of my passenger side reinforcement V:IMG_1483.JPGI smoothed the back sides of the pop rivets to look like, well, rivets. Details, people. Turns out this is pretty easy to do with the 60 grit flapper on the angle grinder. I did it in the wheel wells too, and will do it anywhere a rivet tail might be seen by anyone examining the car.

Original (or, anyway, Spyder Factory, which is close enough):

Rear Firewall

On the inside of the fire wall, the overall flatness of the replica is apparent. So I’m going to try to make a “shape” out of some leftover insulation.


If I carve this up right, then cover it with the barber pole vinyl, it should look pretty convincingly like the original baroquely-hand-hammered item. As a bonus, the foam should cut some of the noise and heat from the engine bay.

If it doesn’t work, oh well: It’s just hours.

Part of the reason for the delay on this post (aside from having a regular full-time job again), is my lift broke. You may recall the February mishap. Well the leak got worse, and turns out the hydraulic cylinder was rusted from the inside.

At first I thought this hole was the culprit.


Turns out it wasn’t—or, at least, it wasn’t a defect. They’re made to let air in, so if you park the ramps down low (as I did), the cylinder gets nice damp air inside most of the length of it and rots.

I didn’t know that at first though. All I knew is it leaked. I bought a seal kit ($100) and, once I saw all the rust inside the cylinder, asked Derek Weaver/Direct Lift for some love. Got none: the warranty is one year for this part, and the new part is most of $800.

Not feeling like buying an $800 replacement cylinder for my $2,000 lift, I made this 6-foot hone.


Cleaned out the cylinder with some POR 15 cleaning solution (since I was already doing the gas tank).

Honed it with this and a little oil.

Cleaned it again, WD-40’d it and put it back together with this nifty new return line my neighbor’s uncle donated to the cause (he installs lifts every day).


So now any hydraulic oil that gets past the seals will be ejected back into the tank instead of the shop floor, and the air that gets in will come from the tank too, which is head-high off the concrete.

Back to the car: I painted the gear ratios on the trans because “race car.”


(Or because that’s what was done in period). dsc02497

(At least according to The Spyder Factory).

I took the seats to my man Tim at KDI Customs to see about getting them slightly modded and recovered in the barber pole material. His price: $1,400. I like this guy (he did a great job on Bridget’s door cards) but I don’t mind telling you I tried to bid the job out to other shops before I accepted the estimate.

Here’s the license plate light housing. I epoxied a couple of bolts to the inside to act as studs, as original (the originals had 4).


And that’s how we roll these days. I now have to locate—in the boxes of parts I have or elsewhere—two little lights to mount in this, pigtail them and set the thing up to be mounted on the car, and paint it hammertone. Not all in that order.

So we’re cracking away at the little things and that’s how it goes until the full paint-up, engine/trans install and final wiring.


*Getting the fuel filler in that spot took a real machinist, my new friend Mike Rodowski, who volunteered to turn this part after my friend Jimmy welded the plate I made with stainless wire—which proved undrillable. Jimmy welded the new piece on and now we’re all good.


Wires, continued, and also other things

So it’s been more than a month since I updated the blog. Part of that is because I’ve been unusually busy: I started a new job in mid April and that’s really cut into my wrenching time.

So I’ve not been doing much on the car, but I’ve not been doing nothing, either.

The three main themes are 1.) body and paint; 2.) engine and details and 3.) wiring. Not in that order. Wiring’s been the main thing. And it’s been a slog. Or anyway, it was a slog, before a buddy on the Spyder site gave me the color-codes to the Thunder Ranch harness.

They’re the keys to the kingdom.

The car came with a harness, replete with wires and switches galore. Trouble was, the instruction manual referred me to a color-coded section that was absent from the book.


Continue reading

Clam latches, done.

The rear latches on a fake 550 Spyder are usually just Beetle front hood latches, and this car is typical in that regard. On the Beetle they didn’t have to work so hard. The hood was a bit heavy and the shape of the nose tended to keep it down at speed. On the 550, not so much. The under-clam area is fixed to become a high-pressure system and, of course, the hinges are in the back, so if it pops up it becomes a sail.

A lot of replica owners rely on the leather hold-down straps that add such style to these cars. You hear complaints all the time that the latches “pop” when the car goes over a bump. I’m making this car not do that.


Dust shields

I unpacked the wiring harness last week and started marking the wires to their respective fixtures. I got what I guess is the easy half. Looking for some color-coded early VW wiring diagrams now to aid with the rest. The car came with the early Bug (6-wire) signal switch (which does not have the high beam switch integral). That’s cool; I already bought and installed the foot switch, but it’s just one of many potential differences between the way the car is going to go together and the Thunder Ranch instruction manual/pre-made wire harness. So to avoid mucking too much with that this week I finished off my inner dust shields instead.

Continue reading

Deleting the “Scrotal Intrusion,” and other chores

With the aluminum work all-but-done I turn my attention to putting the car together. The build manual says paint the whole thing first but I plan instead to dry-fit everything first, then disassemble, block sand, paint and put it back together.

But before we do that, there’s still a little surgery. Take this tonsil-like stalagmite thing under the dash:


As previously discussed, that’s gotta go. Continue reading