September 15th Deadline

It’s been a long road getting to the point where my son and I are ready to do some of the heavy lifting required on the Super Beetle. It has been sadly shuttled between the garage and the side yard for the past couple years (which have flown by far too quickly) as we needed the garage for other projects. House projects and general life have intervened in all plans to move forward with it, but the time now seems to be right for a fresh start. We probably have 90% of all the parts needed to get it functioning properly and reliably, including a new distributor to replace the sluggish 009, a proper carburetor, a new wiring harness (which we might wait on), etc.

So before I re-launch this site with new posts, I’ll just relay a little background and update. When I got out of VW’s around 2005-06 (see the post below, where I sold all my VW’s), I ended up getting back into Saabs for a bit, and then got out of those too, but my son never forgot them. Most of his on-road formative years were spent in either my 1990 SPG or our family wagon, a 2004 9-5 Arc. I also had a 2003 9-5 Aero 5-speed and a 9-2X Linear (non-turbo) for a bit.

My son in 2008 at the annual Saabs@Carlisle (Carlisle PA Import & Performance Nationals)

When Saab went bankrupt, I pretty much decided I was done with cars that required me to embark on a search for NOS or used spare parts anytime something broke or needed replacing. So over the next few years I transitioned out of Saabs and gravitated toward Jeeps, parts for which were so prevalent you could probably walk into the local bodega and ask for them. Even back in the day, you could build an entire CJ from parts ordered out of a JC Whitney catalog, though it probably wouldn’t be the highest quality rig. My current daily driver is a 2012 Wrangler 2-door 6-speed. I’ve done most of the work on it myself, and for the most part it’s super easy to work on and maintain. After selling the 9-5 wagon, we went to an Acura TSX Sportwagon for a while for the family hauler, until we hit someone who blew a light on the Long Island Expressway service road, totaling the TSX. We then leased a couple Grand Cherokees, which the whole family loved, but then Jeep pretty much priced us out of the market, so in 2019 we got out of the leasing game and purchased a new Subaru Forester which now has 84K miles on it and has been a great car so far.

Back in 2011, my dad had driven one of the last new Saab 9-5’s and fell in love with it. When Saab’s bankruptcy was announced, he asked me if I thought there would be any fire sales on them, and I said he should make the dealership an offer. He lowballed them on a 2011 9-5 Turbo4, and they said yes, so he has had that car for the last twelve years, and I think it has likely been his favorite car. He drove it everywhere, and put about 110K miles on it. My son always admired it as the “last Saab in the family,” so when my dad decided it was time to move on to something new, he gave the car to my son for his 16th birthday.

For the last few months, we’ve been getting it up to speed. It was quite a struggle as these last 9-5’s had a number of known issues, and we’ve been working through them one-by-one. Unfortunately, most of the available tutorials and documentation online are for the first generation (1997-2010) models. They only made 11,280 of the NG9-5’s (for reference, as rare as the Type III’s are, over 2.5 million of them came out of the German factory alone over the car’s run), and some parts are pretty much impossible to find, while standard parts like brake pads and rotors needed hours of research to find the correct matching parts for this particular (Turbo4) model.

Celebrating at Shake Shack after finally getting the rotors/pads replaced all around

There were four different brake and rotor combinations just for the NG9-5 alone, depending on whether or not you had the Aero package, the “dust and performance” package, etc. I thought it would be easier if I just bought the EBC “Rotor & Pad Kit” for our specific 9-5, but the pads ended up being the wrong size, so we sent them back, only to find the replacements didn’t ship with the accompanying hardware kit. The good thing is the folks at BuyBrakes were excellent, and went the extra mile to find that their catalog had an error in it and confirmed all subsequent part shipments for us. Hopefully fixing their records helps the next NG9-5 owner.

Once the brakes were taken care of, my son fixed the rear driver’s side directional, which was registering a fault. The NG9-5’s had an issue with melting turning lamp sockets, so my dad had switched to LED’s, and it seems the resistor that had gone on that side was either faulty or had burned out. My son replaced the resistor and that fixed the issue.

After that, we installed new LED’s in the rear light bar, which required cutting into the ends of the bar with a dremel and also running VERY thin new wires through it to the new logic board which we installed in the middle above the license plate, then sealing it all up with JB Weld plastic epoxy. It came out great. My dad said he hadn’t even realized the bar was supposed to look like that. I imagine like with most NG9-5’s, his probably failed within the first year or two of ownership. Since we rarely drive behind our own cars, let alone at night, he probably never noticed it.

Fixed the rear light bar with new outer LED’s and new logic board

So the car is registered and inspected in NY now, and my son takes his road test next week. He still wants to tear into the audio system, but they are TIGHTLY integrated with the whole car, especially in these late models, so I’m not sure how much success he’ll have with it. The stock base audio system sounds pretty bad, so he’ll at least swap out the speakers with something better. Hopefully it’s all set otherwise for a few years and should be a solid, safe car for him. We might still wire up a backup camera, as visibility is pretty bad from inside the cabin. It does drive really nicely though. Having driven the Subaru for the past few years, I forgot what a quality (heavy) European car feels like. It’s a great highway cruiser in particular. We’re pretty excited to be bringing the car to the annual Saabs@Carlisle show this May, even though we’ll probably have one of the most basic Saabs present. My son hasn’t wanted to go for the past few years because it’s quite a hike for us, but now that we have something to put on the showfield, we’re making the trek.

Which brings us at long last to the ’71 Super Beetle.

I think the electrical issues with the Beetle have been one of the main “demotivators” to getting the thing sorted and on the road, in addition to the fact that we have to pull the engine and replace all the chrome cooling tin. It feels like a lot to dig into. There’s also some hesitation because it actually runs right now and pulling it apart to try to make it more safe and reliable opens us up to the issue we see all over the Samba – people starting projects and giving up and selling everything once the thing is in pieces. We don’t want to do that.

However, over the past few years my son and I have gotten into fixing vintage electronic equipment, and I think it has helped a lot with our understanding of signal tracing and such, so hopefully we’ll be able to track down and resolve any electrical issues.

My first successful vintage electronics repair job – a Technics SA-400 ($25 estate sale pickup)

We did resolve an issue with one of the rear taillights not working a few months ago. I forgot what the issue was and how we resolved it, but when we were trying to track it down, it seemed like our troubleshooting process worked better than it had a few years earlier when we tried to figure out what was wrong.

There are a few extra wires coming out of what looks like a replaced ignition, but they don’t match up to the colors in the Bentley guide. Last time we looked at it (a year ago or so), we had figured out what they were supposed to be for, but I didn’t write them down so we’ll have to figure it out again and keep much better notes going forward.

All in all, we’re excited to get going on the car again, and to get a few more “wins” in, and we now have a goal to shoot for – the local Long Island VW Club’s 2024 All-VW show on September 15, 2024 at Riverhead Bay Volkswagen in Riverhead, NY. If all goes well, I’ll be updating this site over the spring and summer with our progress, and hopefully we’ll have the Beetle registered and inspected and at the show this fall!