“Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the face.” Iron Mike had a point, for sure, as we learned during the teardown phase of our mk2 restoration project. We had planned on being able to disassemble the car, sort & catalog the parts to be refreshed or replaced later, and immediately get to work on prepping the GTI to be repainted.
As with most projects, however, that was far easier said than done. Pulling the engine and transmission was probably the easiest part of the teardown. Since we have a freshly rebuilt engine to put back into the car—along with a complete GTI wiring harness from our $400 donor car—we were able to cut and yank the wires out of the car with almost reckless abandon.
Removing the doors and glass went fairly smoothly as well, and being able to pull and dispose of the rather nasty smelling interior bits was a genuine pleasure. But then the plan went to hell with the “punch in our face” coming in the form of a rusted-out floor, hidden body damage, and a sagging roof, among other things.
Our initial inspection of the car was, we felt, pretty thorough. Unfortunately, a lifetime spent in the “rust-belt” of the Midwest didn’t prepare us for the surprisingly different corrosion patterns of 30-year-old daily drivers. We’re used to seeing cars rot out from around the fenders and lower window seals (as was the case with our donor car), but we’re not so naïve as to think that a car’s floor pan won’t rust. So when we checked under the car and saw a perfectly white, clean undercoating, we figured we were good to go!
As the musty carpet was removed, and the floor underneath was being vacuumed, chunks of metal started coming up as well. It was at that point we realized that the undercoating was the only thing holding the floor together. The carpeting was not original, and we figured out why—water had gotten into the car, somehow, and because of the intense heat and humidity of the Deep South, it had never evaporated.
What did that mean for us? Well, besides setting the project back another couple of weeks we did get to learn a new skill: how to weld. After cutting out the tetanus-inducing sections of the floor, we took generic replacement panels from Klokkerholm and cut out slightly larger sections to lay on top of the holes. After pop-riveting them in place, a bead was welded along the edges and then sealed to again to prevent rust and any possible leaking.
After that, it was time to tackle the roof. At some point, a rather large object was placed on the roof of the car—we’re guessing something like a mattress or a box—that was heavy enough to cause the cross-braces to bow in. Miraculously, there was no denting or creasing to be seen on the roof panel itself, but the spars were irreparably bent in.
After trying, in vain, to cut one out and bend it back into place, we figured the best thing to do was to reinforce the roof to prevent any damage later on. A quick trip to the hardware store and we had our solution. Expandable foam—the flexible kind used for windows and unsusceptible to temperature fluctuations—seemed like the best solution and it works great to keep tension under the roof to prevent sagging. Of course, this means the headliner will now sit about a half-inch lower than before, but we figure it’s minimal enough to go unnoticed.
With the car completely stripped, it was time to give it a thorough cleaning. A couple cans of industrial degreaser and a power-washer did the trick and even managed to peel off some of the terrible black paint. With no engine in the car, it was so easy to move and so lightweight, that we could even MacGyver it up in the air with the engine hoist to give the undercarriage some extra attention.
Finally, we got to the bodywork. The best paint jobs start from bare metal, according to our body shop consultants; so some 100-grit knocked both the aftermarket black and original white paints down to the steel body. Another round with 220-grit took the rough scratches out of the metal and left us with a smooth surface.
The complex curves and crevices of the car were harder to do with an orbital sander, so we took our media blaster and filled it with various materials—mostly glass beads—and finished the tight areas.
With all that done, we got to the real challenge of the car: body filler. Small dents and dings were to be expected with a nearly 30-year-old car, but we were once again surprised to find the unmistakable pink of Bondo lurking underneath some of the paintwork.
As it turns out, the car had been bumped in the left-rear quarter panel and then repaired. Had we known, we would’ve definitely left that section mostly alone and not endeavored to strip the whole car down to bare metal. But here we were with dents that were once filled and repaired that needed to be gone over yet again.
Would we still have bought this particular car if we’d known about these issues? Probably. Because for all the extra time and effort that went into addressing them, it ultimately affected the budget only slightly, and it gave us the opportunity to really restore the car from the ground up. Plus we also had the chance to do some custom work like deleting the fender antenna hole, rear wiper & washer nozzle, and even the passenger-side mirror. Someone had installed a roof-mounted antenna in the past, so we took the opportunity to repair the ragged hole that the previous owner had made.
While we’re at it, a word about new sheet metal. Rather than try to salvage the dented fenders and sources a used replacement for the missing front apron, we opted to buy new aftermarket pieces from AP Tuning. These body panels, while exceptionally close to original, are most likely made from the same original dies back in the day and the machines’ tolerances may not be as tight as they used to. What this means is that to line-up these new pieces will require some tweaking versus simply bolting on factory-fresh Volkswagen panels.
Also, mk2 metal doesn’t exactly fly off the warehouse shelves these days, so as the pieces sit around and get sent out via United Package Smashers, they will accumulate some scuffs, dings, and nicks that you’ll need to attend to before mounting them up. Since we had our bodywork supplies already bought, it was easy to take care of the shipping damage our body panels had accrued, but if you’re going to go with new, you’ll still want to eyeball them closely before sending them off to paint.
So even after getting punched pretty hard early on, we’re still standing and working hard to keep on schedule. By the time this story goes live, the car should be on its way to paint and we’ll be able to start having some real fun reassembling the car. Stay tuned for more!Back to project index
Mk2 Resto Project – Introduction