How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive

Adjusting your own valves will not only change your relationship with your car, it will change your  relationship with yourself.

Muir Volkswagen - 1 - CoverThis book kind of changed my life. In the early 90s, I spent all my money in the world on a 1974 air-cooled VW Squareback, similar to the one I grew up in. A few weeks later, cylinder #3 seized up (cyl. 3 was famous for that). While I was kind of freaking out, my Harley-riding/building housemate calmly urged me to “Quit complaining. Drop the engine and fix the damn thing.”

That sounded impossible at the time, but what choice did I have? Went and got a copy of John Muir’s classic How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot and got lost in its pages for a week. With its Robert Crumb-style drawings and groovy prose style, it sucked me into a world of mechanical competence I previously couldn’t have imagined for myself.

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What astounded me about the process was the power of incremental demystification. It’s not until you remove the valve cover and see for yourself how the throw rods connect to the rocker arms connect to the valve springs that you have that “Ah ha!” moment, and all of the mystery of internal combustion suddenly starts to make sense. Every part you remove strips away one more layer of skin from the onion, revealing previous mysteries as simple mechanical truths. It’s an amazing experience.

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The process of fixing that car ushered in a few years of wrenching around for fun – first on the Squareback, and later on a 1964 bus that became the love of my life. I don’t do that anymore – I never took it beyond the simple mechanics of the air-cooled engine and into modern computer-controlled stuff. But the sense of empowerment that came from having gone through it lasted my entire life.

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For my 50th birthday, bought myself a used copy of the original book, and have been leafing through it at random, reliving great memories from that period of my life. So grateful.

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