On the road again!

Picked up the transaxle and immediately got busy with other parts of life. Where have you heard that one before?

With vacation planned for the two weeks including and following Memorial Day, I had that Friday off work and  headed into Fort Worth to try to get it done.
Besides being a couple hours late starting, I also had trouble finding a bolt I was going to need. Once there, I decided to do the frame repair first. It took a while to get the metal cut to the right angles and length. I then picked up my torch and while setting the gauges, the red hose suddenly breached and spewed acetylene from the base of the torch. A quick trip to the second hardware store got new 25′ hoses. The old ones were 15′, so that’s good, too.
I got the braces welded into place between the transaxle forks and the bit of the body that hangs over it and commenced installing the transaxle. It went fairly well. I got it completely bolted in, shocks on and I mounted the wheels so I could use them and wheel chocks to hold the axles steady while torquing the axle nuts. Basically used my 18″ long 1/2″ drive ratchet and put most of my, um, substantial, weight on the handle, then tightened them enough more to put in the cotter pins.
I got the engine on the jack and lined it up. Since the VW rear end is angled slightly downhill, the rear of the engine needs to be a little higher than the front for the bolts and studs to line up, then you need to lower it slightly as you push it forward.
Then the trouble began.
One of the top bolts holding the engine and transaxle together is shared with the starter. I put the other bolt in, then discovered that my freshly welded in brace blocked the starter. Argh! It was nearly midnight and I knew that either me or the trike was going to suffer an injury if I started over that late, so I went on home. We enjoyed the rest of the weekend without trikes.
I got up Monday morning, Memorial Day, just as if I were going to work and went into town to work on the trike. So I could get the trike on the road, I had decided that I would just cut out the brace that was blocking me and reinstall the temporary bracing that has been temporary for about three years now. I trimmed and cleaned up those braces, got everything assembled and a test ride by 11:30. I hitched Sponge Bob to my truck and towed him home.
During the down time, the speedometer stopped working. It powers up and everything, just doesn’t indicate. Also lost one of the deck driving lights.
The biggest concern is the brakes. They are weak. Pedal feel is good and they bled out perfectly, nice clean fluid. I adjusted the brakes as described in countless documents, and while it improved slightly, braking power is very low. The brakes on the old axles could easily skid the tires if you wanted them to. I could get a tiny skid on the gravel driveway, but basically, they can’t skid.
Still, there was enough brake to stop and my GPS could tell us our speed, so we went to dinner on the trikes. Felt good to be back on the road!
While describing this issue to a guru, it suddenly occurred to me that I had purchased rear wheel cylinders. Makes sense, it’s the rear wheels of the Beetle the axles come from. However, the rear brakes of any car are always weaker than the front. Otherwise, they would always skid.
I did a little research and found that (replacement) front wheel cylinders typically have a 7/8″ bore, while rear cylinders have an 11/16″ bore. That is 3/16″ larger diameter in the front. Putting more math to it, the front cylinders have nearly 62% more surface area, which translates directly to 62% more transmitted force to the brake shoes for the same pedal effort. There is a corresponding reduction in cylinder travel, but that is of little consequence, so long as it moves the brake shoes enough. O’Reilly’s in Decatur will have my two front wheel cylinders this afternoon 🙂 though it may be a few days before I have time to put them in.
It occurs to me that the purple trike has the same hard pedal and limited brake action and I am 99% sure it’s for the same reason. I certainly would not have thought to order front brake cylinders for rear wheels back then.

Trans Spotting

It appears that the transaxle on Sponge Bob may be one of the semi-rare 1967-68 models. They are semi rare because a) they were only made for two years, b) most of them are still in serviceable cars and/or c) they are very desirable for trike building.

The reason for the narrow year range is that in 1967, they changed the electrical systems on Beetles to 12V and in 1969, they went to the IRS transaxle instead of the swingaxle. The change to 12V is important to the transaxle because they also changed the diameter of the flywheel from 180mm to 200mm. To fit a 12V flywheel that will mate properly with a 12V starter, a 6V transaxle needs some clearance ground away on the inside of the bell housing. That was done with Puff, and while I’m sure there is plenty of material, I’d rather have something that fits without modification.

There is really no such thing as a new VW transaxle, although some companies make high dollar aftermarket units that are all new, like Mendeola and Albins. These are mostly “call for pricing” priced, though I have seen a Weddle IRS transaxle priced at $7000.

Generally, freshly rebuilt swingaxles seem to run about $500, sometimes less.

I found a VW salvage yard that had a 12V swingaxle for $200. There is basically no warranty, though I’m sure if it was DOA, they would make it good.

So, way back in October of 2011, I picked it up. They were attending a swapmeet that was much closer to home than their place, and they were kind enough to bring it with them.

Then life got complicated. My mother-in-law became ill and eventually passed on. Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went. Within that whirlwind of activity, we moved, or technically, began to move, to a house in the country. It is a tremendous place on about 7.5 acres that has a nice house, a pond, a barn and workshop, horse pasture, several outbuildings.

Did you catch that? A workshop! An indoor workshop, with power and lights and a freakin’ door. That closes.

Sadly, with Sponge Bob stuck in gear, I still have to work on it at the old place, under a carport, dodging mosquitoes.

Fast forward to March 2012. A close friend died suddenly. His birthday was May 5, so at his widow’s request, we planned a memorial ride on his birthday. I was going to have Sponge Bob ready for her to ride with me in comfort, so as the date approached, I tore into preparing the transaxle I had picked up in October.

The brakes and such on Sponge Bob have always performed pretty well, but I couldn’t get that monster hub nut broken loose. It goes on at 245 ft/lbs torque, so it’s not infeasible to need 300-400 to break it loose.

My alternative was to get new wheel cylinders and hardware to go with the new brake shoes, seals and bearings I already head and just put all new stuff on the backing plate on the replacement. It came with hubs in reasonably good shape.

I ended up working out of town most of the week leading up to the ride, so when I got back into town Friday afternoon, I tore into it with the plan to get it on the road before Saturday morning, if I had to work all night. I came pretty close to that. I cleaned up and headed home (which is about a 45 minute drive now) about 3AM.

There was, however, no joy in Mudville.

One of the last steps before starting the engine was was to adjust the hydraulic clutch. I have done this enough times to make short work of it. I can get in the ballpark just by hauling on the release lever and taking up the slack in the cylinder adjuster. It usually needs just a little adjusting from there. Adjusting is easy; with the transaxle in gear, I push the clutch in with my left hand and kinda bounce the trike forward or back. If it bounces against the gears, tighten the clutch a bit and repeat until the trike rolls freely with the clutch in and bounces against the gears when the clutch is out. It kept bouncing. Having had the clutch too tight a couple times in the past and having it jump off the cross arm at full extension, I did a sanity check by slipping it into neutral then pushing on it. Oops, it bounced when it should have rolled.

Long story short [too late] this transaxle is stuck in a gear, too. First gear, by the other evidence. It doesn’t matter what position the gear selector is in, it’s in first. Well, except if you put it in 4th position; that locks the transaxle.

I borrowed a trike (which is kinda like borrowing someone’s kidney only with more blood) and the ride proceeded with dignity and grace, though with great fatigue on my part.

Fed up with used parts, I have elected to get a rebuilt transaxle (with a warranty) from The Bug Stop. I dropped off the original stuck-in-forth unit at lunch today. I will remove the replacement stuck-in-first unit tonight for delivery tomorrow. They will mix and match my parts and their transaxle as appropriate and credit me for two cores, producing a ready to install transaxle for a reasonable price expected to be around $400 total.

With any luck, they will have it ready by this Friday and I will have Sponge Bob on the road by Saturday afternoon.

Between now and then, I will attempt to permanently repair a very old chassis and body problem on the trike, too.