Saturday, 21 April 2007

How to become a VW Beetle expert in 2 easy steps

Step 1: Go to and buy all of the "Bug Me Video" DVDs.

Step 2: Watch them.

Seriously, these DVDs are the business.

At the beginning of this month I knew next to zip about cars but needed to learn fast because my old car was failing and I wanted to buy a Beetle.

My first purchase was a copy of "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot" by John Muir. This is regarded by many as the bible for Beetle maintenance and I would not argue with the suggestion that every Beetle owner should have a copy. Let's face it, the author died 30 years ago and the book is still selling and is currently in its 19th edition; how could it be anything other than a masterpiece?

As a total auto-dunce however, and without a Beetle in front of me to refer to, I found it hard to get into. (That's the beauty of the DVDs: you can see exactly what they are talking about). I am finding Mr Muir's book much more accessible now that the DVDs have shown me what's what and I actually have a bug parked outside so I can go out and look at the bit that's being described.

Another thing that should be taken into consideration about the book is that the cars were not nearly so old when it was written and this has consequences. For example, the section on how to assess a vehicle that you're thinking of buying makes no specific mention of the heater channels, an area that any current advice will draw great attention to. I guess when the book was written they were mostly in decent condition and Mr Muir would have simply walked away from a bugs with less serious problems in other areas on the grounds that there were plenty more to choose from. These days if you find a bug with good solid heater channels it's most probably because they've been replaced already. Similarly, unless the owner has gone out of their way to keep it original, you'll probably find that your average bug contains parts that were not available when the book was written.

My second acquisition (we'll get to the DVD's soon enough) was about 90 back issues of Volks World magazine that I found on eBay as a job lot. They date from about 1996 up to about 2001 so the adverts are out of date but pretty much all of the other information is still relevant. I found them particularly helpful, as I said in an earlier blog entry, in deciding what kind of Beetle I wanted. Now that I've bought the bug I dare say that they'll come in useful in the future as, with 90 issues to go at, there are articles on pretty much any aspect of maintenance and modifying that you can think of. It would have been difficult to use them for my initial learning however because the pieces of the puzzle would be presented in no particular order; whereas the DVDs start with the simple stuff and progress in a logical sequence.

Of course 90 back issues of Volks World (for 42.50) is also something of a lucky find however if you pay a quick visit to their website at you'll see that it's possible to buy books of articles and indeed, I bought "All practical articles on customising and restoring Beetles from 2000 to 2003." I have to say that I was disappointed when it arrived to find that it was a collection of not particularly nicely bound black and white photocopies of what were previously colour articles. In fairness though, the pictures are quite adequate even in black and white and while it doesn't look like fifteen quids worth of book it can't be denied that the information in those articles is probably worth an awful lot more.

So, finally, the DVDs:

I discovered them via a copy of Practical Classics magazine that I picked up at Tesco. They looked good from the video clips on the website at but at 15 quid each I wasn't about to jump right in so I bought Vol 1 and 6 to check them out. They arrived a couple of days later, I watched them both the same day, and immediately placed an order for Vol 2, 3, 4, 7, 9 and 10 i.e. I skipped the ones about Type 4 engines.

I think they are superb but the results kind of speak for themselves because by the time I went shopping for my bug (about a week later) I'd watched the whole lot and was in a position to confidently examine the car and negotiate a better price. In fact I reckon I knew a heck of a lot more about the car than the seller and after I pointed out the various bits that would need attention we agreed a reduction in the price equivalent to double what I paid for the DVDs. Thus it is fair to say that they've already paid for themselves and by the time I've done the work that needs doing, work that I now feel entirely confident that I can do myself, they'll have paid for themselves many times over.

No doubt I'll be mentioning them on a regular basis as I document my progress and may even do a bit of a write up. In the meantime, all of the information you need is on the website at, and if you are still not sure, do what I did and buy a couple to check them out. My bet is you'll end up buying the whole lot.

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