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I bought a 1915cc speedster 4-speed from Vintage Speedsters in 2015, and have had a ton of challenges from the very first ride.  On the drive home from delivery, the coil burnt out due to the wrong wiring.  Its leaked transmission oil from day one and had a clutch cable go bad at mile 2000.  I got an estimate of $1900 this week to correct carb leak-downs and reseal the leaking transmission at 3100 miles, and the mechanic discovered a broken valve spring during the work, which will cost another $1200-$1800.

I will have about $5,000 in repairs on a car with 3100 miles over 5 years, and I'm not sure what to do.

Question for the group - did I buy a cursed car?  If you were me, given the large repair bill in just a few miles, do I sell the car or assume the big stuff is behind me?  Any suggestions much appreciated.

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Any new car that is hand built needs sorting, hence buying a Ford on Tuesday was better than on Monday or Friday in days of old.   So, there is always some stuff to sort out as this is older technology that your dealing with different reaons some due to bad manufacturing of parts and some because of builder errors. 

It is why many are resold within a short time with very low mileage. 

As to your cost I keep a spread sheet and when you first start off it can climb quite fast if there are many issues that develop with bad parts.  You need to identify what is maintenance and what is ... well sorting a new car build. 

The book, Lemon Aid by Phil Edmunston use to say the average DD cost $1500 per year in repairs, so you will decide on what is of good value on your repair cost but I do not think your in the unreasonable range even with the turn of events. 

You have to remember that this madness has a lot of upgrades that people do to their cars that increase cost too but keeping costs down is learning how to do some simple stuff yourself and / or finding a good and reasonable VW Aircooled mechanic that can help you out.  Hope this helps

Last edited by IaM-Ray

Dang that's bad luck. I don't think $1200 sounds right to replace a broken valve spring though. That sounds more like "buy and install new heads" money. 

As for the trans leak, how bad is it leaking? Most of us have learned to live with a little drip or two from the back ends of these cars. Check the levels and fill as necessary.

Bottom line is, they're mostly all a little dodgy, at least at first, and some take a bit more sorting than others. You never really achieve 2015 Corolla reliability (although @MusbJim has got close), so it helps to see every excursion as something of a sporting proposition. An adventure. 

To make these adventures more enjoyable and less harrowing, obtain you a copy of "How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive" by John Muir, read it cover to cover (it is fun), build up a satchel of commonly used tools, stow them securely in the Speedster's "frunk" and set forth upon the open road with confidence.

Admittedly, this can be more of a lifestyle shift than some folks can manage. 

I’ll agree with Ed that your repair prices seem inordinately high.  I had a number of issues my first year or two as I learned my way around my car, but I eventually put 56k miles on it, almost all highly enjoyable.  Your builder may have pushed it out the door without proper QA, so you need to decide what your pain tolerance is.  The company you bought from has gone through some serious changes, so you might have some difficulties getting satisfaction from them.

where are you located?  That could help us direct you to someone known to be trustworthy and reasonably priced.

@edsnova posted:

 Admittedly, this can be more of a lifestyle shift than some folks can manage. 

@MarkWilk_uf posted:

If you were me, given the large repair bill in just a few miles, do I sell the car or assume the big stuff is behind me?  Any suggestions much appreciated.

The short answer? You seem like a guy who should probably sell. If anything else will scratch the itch, then buy that other thing.

If not, then buckle up, and welcome to the madness.

Last edited by Stan Galat
@Stan Galat posted:

The short answer? You seem like a guy who should probably sell. If anything else will scratch the itch, then buy that other thing.

Ouch Stan, that's harsh!  I think his questions are legitimate. 

Aircooled engines definitely need more work than your average Honda. But, it also sounds like you have a few things hit you in a row, and that can be discouraging.  I totally agree with the comments about the prices you have been quoted.  They seem crazy high to me.

If you are NOT related to your mechanic, I would solicit some suggestions for a new one from members here.  If you ARE related to your mechanic, I would solicit some suggestions for a new one from members here.
Looks like you are in the Atlanta area.

-=theron

@Theron posted:

Ouch Stan, that's harsh!  I think his questions are legitimate. 

I do too.

I also stand by my answer, but beg forgiveness for the tone.

There's a long way to say it, but a replica is not a cheap proposition, nor is an air-cooled engine inexpensive to operate and maintain (in most parts of the country). Finding a good, fair, reliable mechanic to work on these cars in vast swaths of this nation is close to impossible.

An owner is forced to become (if not his own mechanic) then knowledgeable enough about all of the inner workings that he may as well be his own mechanic. The OP is clearly frustrated with this. He's wondering if it will get better. I am contending that while broken valvesprings are not an everyday occurrence-- they are not all that uncommon (especially on an "economical" build). If this costs 1800 bucks every time, then the shine may go off the apple pretty quickly.

Kirk built many, many cars-- and they were great values... but the problems a lot of people had are well known. I'm not 100% sure the expenses are going to stop soon (if ever). If a guy has to pay 2-10x what it costs in Kalifornia to make a similar repair, and he's asking if he should get out, or if the bloodletting is going to stop-- then I think it's a kindness to be honest, and say, "No. It's not ever going to stop, until you pay $8K for a new engine, and then it's still going to weep oil". 

Given what used Speedsters are going for, I stand by my statement. If something else will scratch that itch-- buy that other thing.

Last edited by Stan Galat

@MarkWilk_uf

Can you do any work yourself, or are you willing to learn?

Shops are expensive. I know that I get paid well to work on people's cars. I'm an independent retired guy who occasionally fixes a few Speedsters, Spyders, and sand rails.

First: the trans leak. It's a 5 year old car, not covered by any warranty. Where is the leak? Depending on where it leaks, it could be cheap to fix(axle boots, wheel seals out by the brakes, or maybe a shift-shaft seal). Even an input shaft seal only requires the engine to come out. If the leak is from the gear carrier, I'm sorry, the engine, then trans has to come out and be re-sealed. I don't know how much your mechanic's shop rate is, but I'd guess 16 hours would be enough for the trans R & R and reseal.

Carbs: Rebuilding the carbs shouldn't be more than a few hundred bucks plus rebuild kits. The more important thing is why are they leaking? Sounds like your fuel pressure is too high. Solexes: 1.5 lbs., Webers: not more than 3.5 lbs.

Valve spring: Sounds like bad luck. It could be an easy replacement. But not on my engine. I'd have to pull the head and inspect the chamber, piston, and cylinder walls. If the engine was pounded to death after the valve spring break, I'd rebuild the whole thing, including new bearings and splitting the case.

If the engine was shut off immediately, less damage should be the case. It might only be one pushrod, one rocker arm, and a valve/spring/retainer.

Mark, you may be done with major problems for a while. Maybe not. Things happen on these cars, if you drive them.

If you're OK with that, carry on. If not, go buy something mainstream that will scratch your itch.

Welcome to our crazy world. Spend money like water. Come on in, the water's fine.

His profile shows he's in Atlanta GA.  Those prices are "throw old part away and replace them with new" prices.  I'd find the local VW  - there's about 5 in Atl alone.  You can actually replace a broken valve spring without even removing the engine.  I'd think $150?  Most trans leaks are rear seal (then the pressure plate gets contaminated and slips) or if common VS swing axle - the axle boots leak (another $150).  I'd send your carbs off for rebuild - $1900 is double or more new dual carb prices.

https://www.thesamba.com/vw/clubs/index.php

 

Last edited by WOLFGANG

 

@Stan Galat posted:

 

... I'm not 100% sure the expenses are going to stop soon (if ever). If a guy has to pay 2-10x what it costs in Kalifornia to make a similar repair, and he's asking if he should get out, or if the bloodletting is going to stop-- then I think it's a kindness to be honest, and say, "No. It's not ever going to stop, until you pay $8K for a new engine, and then it's still going to weep oil"...

 

Mark, your seemingly simple questions raise a whole bunch of issues that we've been kicking around for years here in the forum.

The VS that built your car went out of business a few years ago when the founder retired after over 30 years. He built more Speedster replicas than any other maker by a huge factor - a total of maybe 5000 cars. His key to success was selling a nicely finished car at rock-bottom prices.

When he started, that was relatively easy. There was a vast VW culture in Southern California, VW was still making beetles and new parts (in Mexico and Brazil). Quality aftermarket engines, transaxles, and parts were cheap and plentiful. Fast forward to 2015 and the whole landscape had changed. For reasons too involved to get into here, VS quality started to slip.

Over the years, there were hundreds (maybe thousands) of VS customers who received relatively trouble-free cars. But towards the end, stories like yours became more common. I bought a new VS in 2013 and after many problems decided to keep the car but replace both the engine and transaxle with units sourced from local builders. But I was very fortunate to find a great local VW mechanic to walk me through all of that.

I get from your post that you'll be relying on a mechanic to make decisions about how to solve your problems and to do the actual work. I also sense, like others have said, that the prices you're being quoted are high, and maybe exorbitant.

Before I wrote any $1000 checks, I'd do some research with the local air-cooled VW community to find a competent mechanic and, at the very least, get a second opinion. In a town the size of Atlanta, there are bound to be some experienced mechanics who specialize in air-cooled VW's and some VW clubs who can get you hooked up.

Unfortunately, the bottom line is the one outlined in yellow in Stan's post above. Your engine may need some serious work, and it may be best to start over with a new one from a skilled, local builder. And that will cost some serious coin.

And, even after that, in the long run, these are nothing like modern cars in terms of reliability and comfort. You can't just change the oil every 5000 miles and forget about them like a Toyota. If you're not willing to think of them as an 'adventure' that requires some involvement and probably getting your hands a little dirty, you'll likely always be frustrated by the whole experience.

You're getting some honest, maybe painful advice here. Find some local help, think it through, and decide if this is really what you want.

A lot of us have done that and decided to play the game. But then, we're all a little crazy.

 

 

Well, @Stan Galat I guess you were administering a solid of dose of medicine.  Bitter tasting maybe but said with a good Dose of Truth.  Should I say a reality check.  On the other hand no one who has actually rebuilt an old car has a story that is any different, they are just not telling you the truth so you can take the money pit away from them at a higher price at the auction.  

 

P.S.  "Deliciously different," is the slogan for Verner's Drug store Ginger soda, often used to take bitter medicine, as well as Pepsi.  

Still my favourite Ginger soda.

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Last edited by IaM-Ray

@MarkWilk_uf Sorry to hear a Mechanic with unreasonable pricing is souring your ownership experience.   Sounds like you are still dealing with sorting - bad parts related items after 5 years of ownership.    

These cars are unique and require a bit of love and willingness to learn... Getting connected with the local VW scene is a big part of learning who is who in your area and keeping these car running the best they can.  The resources in my local club helped me connect with a local old school mechanic with a home shop that has been maintainIng and teaching me how to maintain my little clown car.  Finding him was a bit like dating until I found the “ right match” for me.  At 68, Mike ( my Yoda) will not be around for ever- and teaching his clients how to do the work is part of his trademark service.  He is also the premier engine builder in my area “ Seattle”... since the late 80s.   After my second date with Mike, my car ran like it was supposed to &. I always hoped it wood.... Long story short... there is a match for you out there.

A local club in your area that may be able to point you in the right direction— https://www.facebook.com/athensvwclub/?ref=py_c    ,  http://www.athensvwclub.com/

A friend in Atlanta just sent me the following... there is a small network of old school specialty shops ( all small businesses) that maintain these cars Around Atlanta and who keep the VW community alive.  All with old school knowledge and reasonable pricing. 


- service, engine work, and restorations: https://atlantaaircooled.com/home 


- Kale Carter has a home shop called Aircooled Antics (https://www.facebook.com/aircooledantics/). Check the related pages on his Facebook page.  Many of the other local shops he works with around Atlanta are listed there.

-  Tim Baker has a brick n morter shop in called Baker Kustoms (https://bakerkustoms.com/)

-  service , rust repair and parts: http://herrellbugparts.squarespace.com/#story

Hope this helps.   Welcome to the Marness

Last edited by Lfepardo

As a point of comparison to the quotes you are receiving;

... you mentioned you were quoted $1,900 for carb work ( not replacement with new carbs) and transmission leak work.   I just called Mike ( my guy to ask him for references in Atlanta for you...)

- brand new non sale dual Weber IDF CB carb kit, with all related parts under 900$... and CP Could jet for your VS.  On sale they go for about ~700$_$800. https://www.cbperformance.com/product-p/6409.htm.   And instal- balance -jetting/tuning of new carbs by my mechanic just confirmed would charge 200$ Including parts/taxes.   For rebuilding a carb he typically quotes under une hour of labor - 100$.

My guy actually list his pricing...  http://wagenschmitt.com/pricing.php

- last week we changed both Rear axle seals to address trans fluid leak... with parts, rear brake adjustment and WA tax (10%) I paid 254$.  And got a lesson on how to do it my self next time I encounter a leak like this. ( my VS was built in 2013, and has a little under 30k miles on their 1915cc stock engine.

 

Last edited by Lfepardo

@IaM-Ray , Ray yes.  Mike is a really really great, and interesting/ well traveled guy.  We have become close friends over the past years.

I first met him when my car only had 650miles in 2013 ( after having gone to a few of the other old school shops in town to deal with sorting my car- the specialty shops that service VWs and all the VS, Becks and IMs In town).  

 We instantly connected...The first thing he told me when I showed up at his shop for my first “date” was... “if you are going to own a car like this, you are going to have to learn how to take care of it.   If you are willing to learn, I will take you on as a client”.  

Over the years, and many diners and bottles of white wine later ( his favorite)  he is still sharing his passion for German engineering with everyone willing to listen and roll up their sleeves.  He actually has two apprentice’s.  He trains them the old school German style way.   One had been with him for seven years ( just completing his apprenticeship  and moving on to the local 356 shop- Akers) as one of the subject matter experts in engine rebuilds, the other is on his third year.   Last week we were joking that he may get a new one (me) if my wife lets me... his passion for VWs and Porsche’s is contagious.

Last edited by Lfepardo

Can't thank you guys enough for the insights and advice.  I've reached out to the resources in ATL that @Lfepardo listed.  Excellent post and suggestions.  

I've had other classic or vanity cars before, but my expectations for a "new-ish" car with nearly new components were different from the reality.

I wasn't expecting perfection from the car, but the scope of the issues, including a dead #3 cylinder, broken valve spring, persistent transmission leaks, and flaky carbs, not to mention a few other issues not mentioned in my original post, left me deflated.  If the repairs were concentrated on one system or another, I could excuse it back to a person or team.  But, the engine, brakes, transmission, and electrics have all had issues within 3000 miles.  Quality control wasn't the priority.  I just wish I had more miles on the car in the first 12 months to sort out the issues under warranty.

Based on the feedback, I'm pushing back hard on my mechanic's quotes.  Again, thanks for the insights and support. 

@IaM-Ray posted:

AAA would be something to have when you own this car to help with breakdowns, I have it  On the other hand after the sorting I have not been left stranded since. 

I've had AAA for years, but I learned it's useless during a pandemic. I was within the 100-mile towing radius of my plan. They'd be happy to pick up the car, but my wife and I couldn't ride with the driver. It would have been a long walk home. I wound up making other arrangements. 

I wanted to add a bit here. First off most of the major points have been covered. 

Biggest thing with VW's is that parts quality are all over the place. Plus they change in quality over time and even between suppliers. Guys that make good heads get bad batches of springs and never hear back so they continue building with the stock they have. Electrical parts are 50$ German made relays to 8$ universal parts that may only survive for 3 months in daily use, but on a weekend driver make it years.  So building full cars is a crap shoot. I use OEM parts as much as possible from old beetles because they are built to a higher quality then almost anything out there. 

As an example I recently got a new endplate axle cover set where the difference in the bearing mount surface was almost 8 thousandths out. At 50$ you ind of expect that. Same thing with seals. Right now I spend a lot of money when building on sourcing super high quality seals. (You said you have leak) I also flatten and glass 2000 grit sand all seating surfaces when it makes sense. Almost every single VW seal that you get in a kit from the big suppliers is garbage you will have leaks. 

I have had a few vintage speedsters and maybe I have been lucky but I have used mine as daily drivers and put ~6-7K miles a year on them when I had them and mine were pretty much as reliable as any super beetle. But I had 1600/1776 motors with minimal modifications. The 2276 that I have in my 550 Spyder at almost 11:1 compression yeah that is not going to last or behave the same way. 

Also price is a thing. I have no idea how some of these guys build cars and sell them at the price they do. A properly build 2276 like mine built by somebody like ace would run 10-12K depending on options, another 2K for a good transmission. I would charge close to 8K to build say a dual carb 1776 drive-train complete with good cores. 

Big thing is a car like that with the leaks you have could be fixed very cheaply by yourself and the pricing you have is out of control. 

 

 

 

Wanted to give everyone a quick update.  My mechanic, Vintage VW in Jasper, GA, pulled the engine, resolved the leak at the trans case (near the top, bolt tightening didn't get us anywhere, so resealed and returned to the engine), fixed the valve spring, and completely rebuilt the carbs.  I picked it up on a Thursday morning when the temp hit a balmy 35 degrees.

Funny thing, it ran like garbage, and the mechanic stood over the car wondering why it was running on 3 cylinders.  Turns out, one of the spark wires was bad.  They brought the car back into the shop, swapped out a wire, and it seemed okay.  Mechanic told me that if he knew I was picking up the car that morning, he would have sorted it.  Tells me his front office isn't communicating well, but also that no one test drove my car.

Flash forward a couple of weeks on the first day over 65 degrees, I trotted out the Speedster and it was running fine.  Drove it through the twisty roads in the local foothills and even enjoyed a trip to a local brewery.  Everyone loved the car.  On the drive home, everything worked great until I started up from a stop sign, and the car stalled and wouldn't restart.  I drifted to the side of the road and may have used a few explicatives.  Didn't help that I was parked between the town landfill and a dairy farm with a lot of cows grazing.  At least I didn't smell the petrol.

Two tows later, first to the house, then to the mechanic on a workday, I told the mechanic not to get the car back to me until it was sorted.  Meanwhile, mentally I was selling the car.  Imagining taking artful pictures, listing it on Bring a Trailer or Cars & Bids, and delivering it to its new owner.  Last week, the mechanic called to let me know I just ran out of gas, but the funny thing was the gauge still showed 3/4s full.  I guess the new sender they installed failed.  Still waiting on the new part to arrive, but oh, well.  

So, still an owner, bought the book to keep my Volkswagen alive, and I'm going to give the car another shot.  It's a beauty, so I'm not interested in selling, at least not yet.  She looks very nice next to my 911, both white convertibles, first gen and the latest model, so it's a fun comparison.  I hope the next series of problems remain small like the fuel gauge sender.  Time will tell.

If it helps, I am not a mechanic and I had to pay to get everything done when I bought my Spyder.

I believe the car sat more than it was driven and as a result, there was a ton to sort out for the first 2 driving seasons. There were times I was beyond frustrated, I went through multiple mechanics, some who thought the car was real so I got the double labor hour special. Mostly, it was little annoying issues that stopped the car from being fun all the time. But when it was running well, it was amazing.

Stan is right though, it's not just the car. I have met some great people here.

Last year and this year have been mostly problem free and I am doing more of the work myself. Wouldn't part with the car if it cost me more thousands.



Hope that helps.

If it helps, I am not a mechanic and I had to pay to get everything done when I bought my Spyder.

I believe the car sat more than it was driven and as a result, there was a ton to sort out for the first 2 driving seasons. There were times I was beyond frustrated, I went through multiple mechanics, some who thought the car was real so I got the double labor hour special. Mostly, it was little annoying issues that stopped the car from being fun all the time. But when it was running well, it was amazing.

Stan is right though, it's not just the car. I have met some great people here.

Last year and this year have been mostly problem free and I am doing more of the work myself. Wouldn't part with the car if it cost me more thousands.



Hope that helps.

Thanks for the insights.  I have too many hobbies to begin to turn wrenches full time, and have an easier time on bikes than cars.  But, it's clear that I need to be able to sort out some of the minor items that don't require a lift.  I admire every garage mechanic I see on YouTube and in the forums, but I'm not sure my bank account survives adding metric tools to my workshop.  It's already full of woodworking gear.

I'm hopeful that the car has most of its gremlins sorted, and if not, then someone will get a really good deal on it in the spring when buyers thoughts turn to clear days with the top down.  

Enjoy!

@MarkWilk_uf

Just an FYI about the fuel gauge sending unit you have on order.  I'm not sure if you know it or not and I doubt that your mechanic knows it, but the sender for these cars needs to be modified before it is installed.  The arm with the float needs to be bent 180 degrees or your gauge will not work correctly.  You can't just bend it with plyers or it will break, it needs to be heated with a torch and bent.

You might want to consider ordering one from Greg at Vintage Motorcars of California Inc., he will do the modification for you.

Hopefully, this will help you avoid adding another issue to your long list.

@Troy Sloan posted:

@MarkWilk_uf

Just an FYI about the fuel gauge sending unit you have on order.  I'm not sure if you know it or not and I doubt that your mechanic knows it, but the sender for these cars needs to be modified before it is installed.  The arm with the float needs to be bent 180 degrees or your gauge will not work correctly.  You can't just bend it with plyers or it will break, it needs to be heated with a torch and bent.

You might want to consider ordering one from Greg at Vintage Motorcars of California Inc., he will do the modification for you.

Hopefully, this will help you avoid adding another issue to your long list.

Thanks @Troy Sloan, as I'm sure that's why the latest install didn't work.  I've shared your insight with the mechanic.  They have a decent machine shop and do fabrication, so I'm hopeful they can made the modification.

While it has been a long time, I think that I never had to bend the float arm on my sending unit. I use a Karmann Ghia sender now.

I've got two VW-based replicas, and have had to bend the floats on both of them to obtain the full range of operation because the orientation of the fuel tank is flatter than stock VW. IIRC it was closer to 90°. I use the 73-10 Ω VDO sensor because they have VDO gauges. Well one does. The other has Classic Instruments, but I specified a 73-10 Ω gauge to go with the sensor I'm familiar with.

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