DIY Weekend: Three generations resuscitate a battered VW

The Kohler clan has a long history with Volkswagens. Now son Jared's squareback restoration project has spawned a multigenerational grease-monkey fest.

Four-year-old Marshall Kohler having a ball in front of his mother's fastback. It wasn't long before he heard the call of dad's effort to breathe new life into a '69 squareback. Jared Kohler

How's this for an inspiring DIY project: three generations of a family whipping out the tools and working together to save a vintage car from the scrap heap.

That's essentially what's come about since CNET's own Jared Kohler bought a battered 1969 VW squareback for 500 bucks, with an eye toward getting it back on the road.

The tale involves not only a family bond but also the bond we form with things, be they iPhones, computers , or cars. It also speaks of how these two types of bonds are sometimes themselves bound together.

Kohler (a video editor at CNET) has a long history with Volkswagens. All told, seven Vee Dubs have passed through the clan over the years, with some of the cars being handed from one Kohler to another. The menagerie has included his grandmother's '56 oval-window Beetle (with semaphore turn signals no less) and a '58 23-window bus with a big slide-back sunroof.

That rare gem was purchased some time ago by his parents, and it's now one of Dad's retirement projects: He's restoring it for Mom, and they're going to drive it the length of Route 66 together.

That's a lot of family history, and some heavy-duty bonding.

"When I was young, my parents had a '68 squareback--baby blue or sky blue--and that's what I remember going to elementary school in," Kohler says. "You know, mom behind the wheel with curlers in her hair, goin' down the road. And then I remember sitting on my dad's lap steering the thing up and down our street.... That's where I got the Vee Dub flowing through my veins--was from growing up with them."

The tale involves not only a family bond but also the bond we form with things, be they iPhones, computers, or cars. It also speaks of how these two types of bonds are sometimes bound together.

That intravenous connection to this particular make of car--that sensitivity to sentimentalism--came into play when Kohler decided recently to look for a squareback to restore and sell. His choice of a particular car had a lot to do with its unique history.

The original owner lived in the woods above Santa Cruz, Calif., Kohler explains, and modified the squareback with a second battery. A plug stuck out of the side of the car, and that's how the guy ran his stove and made his coffee every morning: "go out the front door, start the Volkswagen," and, Kohler laughs, "plug it in."

Kohler remembers thinking, "'Wow, this has a funky fun history to pass along,' and so that's one of the main reasons I bought the car. I could just visualize this old hermit, living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, powering his home" off the Volkswagen.

Plus, the vehicle was not long for this world. "'We should sell this thing for scrap and get rid of it' was kind of on the mind of the fella I bought it from," Kohler says. "And, you know, I'd hate to see that go--of course--with all the memories of my childhood in a squareback."

The blood bond between Kohler and Kohler (and VW) asserted itself also--telepathically. Not long after Jared bought the car, his brother, Jason, called out of the blue to say he was looking to buy a squareback. And once dad heard that his two sons would be working together to restore a Vee Dub, he had to be involved.

So while Jared went down the "rabbit hole of endless Volkswagen knowledge" that he says is TheSamba.com Vee Dub forum, dad gathered up his bodywork hammer and dolly, and Jason shook out his grease-monkey coveralls.

Jared's 4-year-old son, Marshall, has since gotten into the act as well. The three generations of Kohlers recently engaged in a Friday-through-Sunday "thrashing session" on the squareback, replacing its rusted-out floors, and repairing a fender and rear quarter panel that had "been introduced to several trees" over the years. In the process, they encountered a few fossilized French fries and some mouse-eaten engine guts, and they furthered the family's Vee Dub lore.

"It's a great warm, fuzzy feeling to be able to bring a car like this back to life," Kohler says.

Click through the slideshow to find out more about how the Kohlers cut out the rusted floor and fit and welded in patch panels, and how they ingeniously converted a '67 fender into a '69 fender.

To share your DIY project, simply e-mail a description of 350 words or less, including all the geeky ins and outs of your invention, plus relevant links and photos, to crave at cnet dot com. Please put DIY Weekend in the subject line.

 

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