Topic: Yes, we built a Super Beetle with dual controls
Last year in the summer, I stole off work for a few hours with my buddies & coworkers Jeff and Erica. We drove to the far end of the San Francisco East Bay to check out some old 911 that I was interested in because it was listed quite cheaply. Naturally the car ended up being a total waste of time, but the journey there turned out to be well worth it as it gave birth to another good/bad LeMon idea.
Jeff and I had done our first LeMons races earlier that year, joining the Jaywatch and Judge Busters teams, respectively. We both love wrenching and hooning and didn't mind the racing either. Erica, on the other hand, already raced motorcycles, but she was not tall enough to fit into either BMW. This prevented her to "upgrade" from superbikes to $500 crapcan cars. Clearly something had to be done. But what?
You might suggest that we just fitted a slider or some foam padding to one of the BMW seats. But anybody could do that! When you've seen creations like the MRolla and find absolutely nothing wrong with it, you are clearly broken. You don't go for the obvious solution. So naturally the first idea that came into our minds was to build a new car that seats short people just as well as tall people. In separate seats, of course. Then there'd be no need for complicated sliders or foam or whatever. So much easier!
Once we had found the solution, we moved on to figuring out the small details such as how to actually make dual controls work. Most cars would probably have the room for a second steering column and a chain that synchronizes it with the main steering column. But would you want to be in control of the steering wheel that was chain driven? In a race? On a track with, uh, lots of corners and other heaps of junk to avoid? Exactly. At the best levels of fabrication excellence such a solution would inspire as much as confidence as a cable operated brake. No thanks!
At this point I remembered that the Volkswagen Super Beetle, before it moved to rack & pinion steering in 1975, had an entirely symmetrical steering linkage: the tie rods connect to a center tie rod that's hinged on both sides of the car. On the driver's side, it connects to the steering box while on the passenger side there's a simple block-off plate. VW would simply fit the steering box to whichever side the car had to be driven from and the block-off plate to the other side. The bolting pattern, ball joints, etc. are identical on both sides.
Spurred on by this knowledge and full of enthusiasm and naivete, we proceeded to purchase a 1971 Super Beetle for $500 right in the heart of San Francisco. The engine did not run, but who cared! We had bigger problems to solve and a VW engine would surely turn up between then and the first race. A right-hand drive steering box and pedal assembly was sourced from the UK. Another Super Beetle steering column was quickly found at a local junkyard and a piece of steel pipe from Home Depot made for an excellent mount.
Next problem: how to make two sets of pedals work?
I know what you're going to say. Driving school cars have a second brake pedal for the instructor. But those seem to just operate the main brake pedal remotely via a cable. Again, not confidence inspiring for a race car. Maybe a hydraulic solution? Each brake pedal would operate on its own master brake cylinder and the two cylinders would be hooked up in parallel. Sadly not possible since MBCs default to open when they're not actuating, evacuating all the pressure into the brake fluid reservoir (see http://youtu.be/wCe_iWEpzFA).
Enter John, another coworker, greasemonkey, and holder of an expired amateur pilot's license. He explained to us how small airplanes solved the problem of dual control pedals: a simple mechanical linkage using rotating shafts.
We mocked up a design on a napkin in the office kitchen. The idea was that the left-hand pedals would sit in more or less the stock locations where they would actuate on the master brake cylinder, clutch cable, and throttle cable, respectively just like normally. The rotating shafts would communicate that motion to the right-hand pedals and vice-versa.
The internets provided sufficiently strong steel alloy stock for the linkage (McMaster to the rescue!). The stock VW pedal assemblies were taken apart quite easily and were modified to fit where necessary. Then we welded the pedals onto the shafts and fabricated mounts for them.
We also reinforced the pan in the mounting points. Because, you know, if a VW pan were any thinner metal, you would actually be able to see through it. We also had to cut some pretty big holes into the center tunnel and relocate the cluch cable mounting bracket. Here's a video demonstrating the pedals once everything was finally assembled: http://youtu.be/K1ZufhbMv_g
At this point, we were certain: all the hard work was done. Just pop the body back onto the pan, slab some paint on it, drop the car on some wheels, wire the kill switch, and make a battery mount (properly over-engineered, of course). All in a day's work... easy peasy lemon squeezy!
We were quite pleased.
Hang on a second.
There was this whole engine thing.
When I pulled the bug's original (broken) engine away from the transmission, the flywheel decided to stay in the bellhousing rather than come out with the engine. Turns out, the bolts that held it on the crankshaft had sheared. Fortunately, Jeff had a spare bug motor crank around (of unknown origin and condition, of course), so he set out to rebuild the engine.
We also had another ace up our sleeves. A few months prior to acquiring the Super Beetle, I found a 1971 Karmann Ghia in a field in front of somebody's house. It hadn't run for at least 15 years. After we changed the oil and spark plugs, the engine fired right up. See for yourselves: http://youtu.be/0JYVAZAKSFg
It was obvious. This was our race engine for Sears Pointless. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, this: http://youtu.be/BHCWm6HUZow
Even though we had done a valve adjustment and driven the Bug to the shops a few times, the engine was so low on power, it couldn't even climb the hill in turn 1 at Sears Point and won us the first tow of the race.
After unsuccessfully tweaking and eventually exchanging the carburettor, re-timing and eventually exchanging the distributor, as well as replacing the spark plugs, we gave up and swapped in the rebuilt engine. Only to discover that the clutch was worn pretty thin. Mike from the Scrubbing Vee-Bubble-U helped us out with a spare clutch and the engine was once again re-installed.
By this time it was mid-day on Sunday, but the car finally drove! Ish. The rebuilt engine revved a little more happily, but it quickly developed a terrible crank wobble which eventually lead to the aluminum crank pulley to shear. Now, the crank pulley runs the alternator and fan belt. Its failure meant the engine was without cooling for too long, frying some of the valves. This meant the definite end of the race for us.
We parked the car until the last 10 minutes of race to take the checkered flag. Yet, the Bug had different plans and broke down again, this time in the chicane, completing the very last tow of the race.
We really did a good job naming the car "Ferdinand the Bug". Like how Ferdinand the Bull (http://youtu.be/THdDmWf-a00) didn't want to fight the other bulls but rather smell flowers, our Ferdinand was LeMons car that didn't want to race the other cars but instead just smelled the flowers next to the track.
But don't worry, Ferdinand will be back. With a proper engine.
(For more pictures of the complete build, see http://flic.kr/s/aHsjx62Vzi)