Friday, June 7, 2013

1969 Karmann Ghia engine overhaul project, Part 1: I don't know I can't, therefore I can

 My 1969 Karmann Ghia, up on the ramps. Isn't she gorgeous?

A couple of weeks ago, my Karmann Ghia broke down while I was on my way to Portland. Fortunately it happened just as I was pulling up to the toll bridge on the west end of the Tacoma Narrows bridge, so I was able to get it out of traffic without much trouble. I happened to have one of my VW repair manuals with me, so I amused myself, during the 3-1/2 hour wait for the tow truck, by reading it and trying to figure out what had happened.

I'll skip over the troubleshooting process (you're welcome, gentle reader) and come right to the diagnosis: a thrown connecting rod. The oil cooler was leaking and definitely needs to be replaced as well, but the connecting rod is a bigger deal to repair. Not that I've ever done it myself, mind you, but I do realize that since the connecting rods (there are 4 of them in my Ghia) are inside the crankcase, it's going to take some work to get at the things to replace them. On the Ghia you can replace the oil cooler without pulling the engine out, but this is sadly not true if you are actually going to dismantle the engine.

A little background: I am not a "trained" mechanic, although I seem to have an aptitude for mechanical things. Virtually everything I know about working on cars I've learned by reading and practical experience. This is the second Karmann Ghia I've owned; the first was a 1970 coupe that I had for 11 years. I did a lot of work on that thing, including a complete re-wiring job. I also learned how to do things like adjust the valves and replace a muffler and heat exchangers.

I bought this 1969 specimen 5 years ago. It was in much better shape when I bought it than my 1970 Ghia was. Still, considering the car is almost as old as I am, naturally I don't expect it to never need work. On the other hand, in the 5+ years I've had it, it's only been in the shop once, for a leaking brake line, for which I spent about $125. I've been lucky enough to be able to deal with what few repairs it's needed, as well as the usual maintenance chores. This car has been super-reliable, it gets 31 mpg, and I just love her.

So, back to the current situation. While I was awaiting the arrival of the tow truck, I read through the entire procedure for removing, dismantling, mantling and re-installing the engine. At the end of it I thought, hey, why not? It would be a good time to learn, and who knows? It might even be fun!

At this point, I am just about ready to remove the engine. I've done all the electrical and mechanical disconnect stuff in the engine compartment. I've been under the car and disconnected the heater cables and fuel line, and removed the two lower engine mount nuts. Now I need to mount a piece of 2x4 with a couple of lengths of chain around the frame to support the transmission once the engine is detached. After that, all I need to do is take out the two upper mount nuts, and the engine should be ready to come out.

I gather the engine weighs around 200 pounds. I'm not going to be lifting it out of the engine compartment. Instead, I am going to block the car up a little higher than it is now on the ramps, and lower the engine with two scissors jacks onto a piano dolly. Then I can simply roll it out from under the car. (We put down a sheet of plywood under the back end of the car, so the dolly won't sink into the ground with that weight on it.)

Believe it or not, so far I have only spent about an hour and a half on this process. I can't help but think that if I can do this, anyone can. Yes, even women! I think it would be so great for women to be more actively involved in the maintenance and minor repairs of their cars; it's really not that scary. Actually I find it quite a confidence-builder. I'm a problem-solver kind of person, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of figuring things out and fixing them when I can.

Regarding the procedure for removing the engine, my Bentley VW manual says: "Some parts of this process may be difficult for a man working alone." Well, I guess it's a good thing that I'm not a man working alone, then.

My Ghia's license plate frame; words to live by, eh?

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