From Very Bad Car Washer to Owner of One Bad Super
By Susan Anderson
“WILLIAM MATTHEW ANDERSON!”
Busted. Big time. And my 6-year-old kid brother knew it, too. This is the story of how he went from very bad car washer to owner of one of the baddest Supers ever restored.
If you’ve ever been packed up and shipped off for a summer vacation with your grandparents and older sister, you know how desperate you can get for entertainment. You can only watch so many hours of The Price Is Right before going stir crazy.
Plus, there was the unfortunate incident in which our grandmother took us to her country club pool while golfing – but forgot to give us money for snacks. Not to worry, my little brother’s charming “I’m so hungry” face – and mad panhandling skills – netted us some snackage. Grandmommy’s public humiliation pretty much ensured we could cross pool time off of the list of entertainment options.
Rinse and Repeat
One afternoon a few days into the visit, Grandad (Joe Bowman) pulled his car out of the garage and into the corner of the driveway nearest the house, under the big pine tree. He went back into the garage and emerged with a water-filled bucket, sponge, and a bottle of dish soap. My little brother followed him, looking like he was torn between being polite enough not to get in trouble and wishing he could bolt.
“When you’re done washing, be sure to rinse it with water from the house, and not from the hose. The house has soft water, and the hose has hard water,” Grandad said, then turned and walked away.
Matt agreed. Of course, he had no idea what that meant.
So he lathered up the Super, climbing all over it and enjoying the opportunity to get cooled off. Sun baking the soapy water, it was time to rinse.
Hard water, soft water, what was that all about? Getting water from the house was going to be a lot of extra steps, steps across the sizzling blacktop. Maybe he’d meant that the water coming out of the hose was hard because it came out with such high pressure. Surely he could fix that by putting his thumb over the opening in the hose to reduce to the flow to a dribble.
The results were predictably horrid. The car was streaky and actually looked worse than it had before its bath.
Predictably, Grandad’s next question was, “Did you get that water from the house or the hose?” And Matt set about repeating the job.
You often hear VW enthusiasts talk about contracting Dub Fever, but for Matt, it was a certain outcome in the genetic lottery. Both grandfathers had Beetles. It was the car we grandkids rode in. It made a neat sound. It smelled… interesting.
Once Matt got his driver’s license, he told Grandad he’d like to buy the Super if he ever wanted to get rid of it. Nearly a decade later, in 1997, Grandad turned 84 and decided it was time. After a $1,500 transaction plus $700 paid to a professional transport company, it was on its way to Matt, who was stationed in Colorado Springs.
Matt had seen the autocraft center on base, and had big plans for restoring this car and getting it back in shape. He figured having access to a combination of every tool imaginable and all the old timers who hung out there to help, it was a matter of adding his own labor into the mix, and the car would be roadworthy again in no time.
So, he replaced the brakes. “Iffy” is the word he uses to describe the results of that project. They weren’t bled correctly, leaving the left side grabby. This made for some interesting driving. Driving the Super would have to wait.
From Colorado, Matt was transferred to Dayton, Ohio, then Cincinnati. There he lived in an apartment, where, thankfully, nobody complained (loudly) that he was taking up three parking spots. He had his regular car, an MG, and the Super. It wasn’t ideal, so (as the family jokes), he bought a house for his cars. The two foreigners bunked in the garage together.
Progress on the restoration at that point consisted of being, as he puts it, “an eBay whore” and buying whatever he could get his hands on. It was the early days of the Internet. He added to his cache – or just his wish list whenever he’d travel out to California and visit Southern California Imports. Seeing so many Bugs on the roads out there rekindled his dream. At home in Ohio, a sighting was relatively rare, especially during the winter.
He’d put his voracious reading habit to work in the meantime and learn everything he could. “Just a couple of wrenches and some education, and I can do this!” his mantra as he read Muir’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot. He subscribed to every Volkswagen magazine published.
Enter the Litmus Test
It’s always interesting when you have an odd or misunderstood hobby – especially when you’re a single guy dating. Matt shakes his head thinking of how many exes had to endure VW shows. “It’s all old. They’re rusty. What’s the difference? What’s the big deal?” they’d protest, and then say they were planning the next date… and probably all subsequent dates, if they survived the car show date, anyway.
Then he started seeing Brandee Krabill, his future wife. Brandee’s dad had had a Porsche and had worked repairing Volkswagens during his service with the U.S. Army. She’d inherited a healthy interest in cars, and figured car fascination was normal among men.
Jackpot! Matt and Brandee married and bought a bigger house, which meant more room for tools and his project cars. Everything was starting to align for this restoration project to happen.
Until Matt was deployed, twice – once in 2004, and again in 2008. Deployments, starting a family, and work all seemed to team up to push the restoration project further into the future.
Matt knew that logically, his choices were getting rid of it or spending some money and getting it fixed up. After Grandad passed in 2005, the car was an important final physical connection to his memory. Getting rid of it was never an option.
The Super was pushed up onto a car dolly and hauled into storage. There it sat for about six years.
In early 2011, Matt attended an Army school in Huntsville, Alabama. Knowing he was likely to be transferred to the Rocket City next, in his off time, likely procrastinating writing a paper, he began Googling VW restoration shops in Alabama. He was surprised to find that Airkooled Kustoms was located only a few miles from Huntsville, and decided to pay the shop a visit.
After meeting with Spook and taking a look around at the projects in progress, Matt decided it might be time to do this thing. There was discussion about the extent of the restoration, ranging from doing whatever it would take to get the car on the road all the way up to a complete restoration. While the quick fix would have been fast and relatively inexpensive, it would have been nothing more than a Band-Aid. Matt decided that if he was going to do this, he was going to do it right.
Because No Good Story Starts with Ordering a Salad
Matt joined up with our dad, Bill, and headed to the nearby Jack Daniels Distillery. Ahead of them lay a road trip up to Cincinnati to pull the Super out of storage and a return trip to Hazel Green pulling the car on a trailer.
Mojoe was one sad-looking Super after a total of nearly fourteen years of not being driven. The engine was tired. The Iberian Red paint finish had dulled to a dusty tomato soup hue, the transmission had grown notchy, all the rubber had dry rotted, and the brakes were well past the end of their lifespan. Most alarming was seeing how the ravages of rust had bitten holes in the pans.
The father and son duo pulled onto the grounds at the shop, rolled Mojoe off the trailer, and pulled away. The neighboring goats eyeballed the new addition with whetted appetites – vintage steel is a delicacy they only get when they break through their enclosure. Toby the shop cat came by during his rounds to check it out. After a bit of sniffing around, he showed his approval by sitting on it.
Then came the laying on of hands by the AKK krew. The verdict: “Not too bad.” Of course, that’s relative – cringing might be the normal reaction a VW enthusiast would have when seeing all the work that lay ahead. At least it had never been ‘repaired’ with cement or Mexican newspaper, as revealed during the disassembly and blast of a couple earlier projects at the shop.
Matt knew one thing for sure about the restoration; he wanted a bigger engine so the car could keep up in traffic. Beyond that, he was quickly introduced to a landslide of decisions he’d need to make before the project could start – and some that would need to be made during its progress. Making the design process even more challenging, Matt had a hard time finding examples of restored Supers he could see in real life. Every decision was based on what he imagined it would look like in reality.
“Each upgrade was a difficult decision. I wanted to keep it as stock as possible, but also wanted to make it comfortable and easy to drive. Each upgrade brought a slew of choices, each one taking it further away from bone stock. I kept wondering how far I should go,” Matt said. “Unlike those “choose your own adventure” stories I read as a kid, where if your character dies you can go back a couple of pages and choose again, these were hard decisions to make. They weren’t irreversible, but making changes later would be tough.”
Like all other restorations, the project began with disassembly. Like many, ‘interesting’ artifacts of decades past were found wedged into the car’s seats and other crevices. Some of these finds made for subsequent ‘interesting’ conversations at a family reunion attended by Matt’s uncles, who drove the car during their college years, one of whom was quick to admit ownership and inquire on the current location of said bag of weed find.
After disassembly, the project followed the usual restoration process: blast and body, metal working the rust-eaten areas. The pans were replaced and blasted with POR15.
The end result is a brand new 50-year-old Super Beetle boasting a signature glossy finish over its BMW Interlago Blue paint job. Mojoe has an upgraded adjustable front suspension, front and rear sway bars, and heavy-duty axles. It’s got an all-new electrical system. The engine is a 1914 race-balanced twin carbed with a fat boy exhaust, and a custom-built freeway flyer transmission to back it up.
The interior of the body was sound deadened, and Matt went with an all-black SCAT interior with reupholstered rear seats. He also chose an EMPI Eliminator shifter made by Flat Four.
Exterior goodies include EMPI-8 spokes with 2-point spinners customized with AKK logos. All the trim has been shaved, the pop-outs custom painted, and the crescent vents are now filled in for an extra sleek appearance. Matt chose Tri Bar Diamond Cut H4 Headlights. Modifications were made to relocate the turn signals and running lights to be within the front grille, while the rear taillight tombstones were changed out to a 1969 version.
With friends and family always asking for an update on the project, Matt took a page from the cinematic classic “Anchorman” and posted regular Bug Watch reports on Facebook. Each update, of course, ended with, “Stay classy, Huntsville.”