Reviving A 1957 VW Beetle Barn Find

Oval Window Beetle Find

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So in the little spare time that I have, I like to scour the internet for interesting stories. Recently, I’ve been hitting up car forums just to see what interesting old stories I might come across and boy have I come across some good ones! Since I’ve enjoyed reading them so much, I thought I better share a few of them with you guys! The first of these stories is about a little Bug found in a big barn. TheSamba member Last Triumph was on the hunt to find a nice Oval Window Beetle that hadn’t been restored already and wasn’t going to need rust repair. Well after a long search, a fellow enthusiast pointed him to this barn and the family that owns it. What he found inside was the perfect car, it was exactly what he was looking for! And here is the story of his find and what it took to get back on the road.

1957 VW Beetle

When he got to the barn, he found the Beetle under a cloth tarp with the front wheel just peaking out. I can only imagine the rush it must have been to spot it there waiting to be revealed! I’m sure it was even more exhilarating to pull back the tarp to find the car you had been hunting for for months!

Uncovered Oval Window

Once he pulled back the cover, this was what he found! This ’57 is in fantastic shape throughout, although it hadn’t been run in who knows how long. As he was inspecting the car he discovered all the original and dated service tags hanging from the bonnet release, which should help to prove that the 36k miles on the dial are correct. Talk about an incredible bit of history to still have with the car! At that point, he had to have it!

Beetle ready to go home

Once a deal with the owner was made, he got it loaded on a trailer for the trip back to his garage. I’ve trailered a few finds home over the years and it is one of the most exciting and satisfying experiences you can ever have.

'57 Beetle Before'57 Beetle After

After being parked in a working barn for so many years it was covered in dust inside and out, so the first order of business was to get it cleaned up. Using a dust pan brush and a vacuum, he carefully cleaned off all those years of dust. As you can see from his before and after shots, it cleaned up exceptionally well and while the paint was oxidized and thin in some a few areas, it looked pretty good.

Polished '57 Beetle

His next step was to go over the paint with the typical cleaning and cutting compounds to give the paint its shine back. What a transformation this step was! It went from a dull old Bug to a shiny yet patinaed classic. I love his goal for this car as he puts it, “I’m not shooting to restore, just to remove dirt and grime to reveal its natural beauty and condition.”

1957 Beetle Interior

With the outside looking better, he turned his attentions to the interior next. After vacuuming up all the dust and dirt, he wiped everything down with a soapy towel. With just a little work, the interior already looked great. There are a few stains and a little wear, but not more than any other car with 36k miles on it. And while he was cleaning, he discovered even more documents and interesting bits of history.

Beetle Engine

Now that both the interior and exterior were looking good, it was time to tackle the mechanical issues. This is usually the first place we start, but he wanted to know for sure what he was working with before he dived in. I’ll let him tell you about getting this Beetle running: I installed a brand new old style rubber cased type 404 battery to give me good cranking ability, but before I started, I realised that the fuel had been in the tank since 1981 and was 29 years old so used a pump and some tubing suck all the old fuel out – about 8 litres or so, leaving the tank empty and dry.

Beetle's old fuel

Here is some of the fuel I sucked out – It looked and smelt just like Ronseal varnish! Grim…. Still burns pretty well though…

A quick look inside the tank with a light confirmed that one of the jobs for the near future will be to remove the tank and flush it out as there was a fair bit of debris in there at the bottom, but I guess that’s normal. Anyway, got the trusty gerry can out and put about 10 litres of fresh fuel with additive in there so I know I had fresh fuel. Fuel wasn’t getting through to the fuel pump so I’ve either got a blockage in the line or there is a problem with the fuel reserve tap etc, etc. I’ll investigate this at a later date once I know the motor is back to health. I disconnected the fuel unions in the engine bay and tried to blow through to the tank without luck, so tried to pump a little fuel back through the system which highlighted a fuel leak in the flexi pipe above the gearbox, so on the basis that this will be old, perished and in need of replacement, I cut it off where it exits the engine bay and connected it directly to the gerry can, plugging the tank end before hand.

Seized Beetle Distributor

After a load of priming, fiddling and checking I knew I was getting fuel. With my new 6V battery, the motor cranked very well indeed, but I wasn’t getting a spark. After some tinkering and testing I found that one of the insulating washers where the LT wire, condenser and dizzy body join had perished and was causing a short. I rebuilt and cleaned this area and managed to get a healthy spark at the plugs which was a relief. We’d measured the resistance across the coil outputs etc and were happy that the coil was ok. With a fresh dab of fuel and some crossed fingers, I gave it a go and managed a couple of coughs, spits and pops from the carb and exhaust, but nothing that threatened to catch on or run. Next I checked the timing and found it was very advanced but discovered the dizzy was stuck solid. I used as much force as I dared and it wouldn’t budge. Gave it some WD-40 and came back to it a while later but no joy. At this point I was satisfied I’d got clean fuel, decent spark and good cranking – none of which I had that morning, so that’s a plus, but I needed to find a way of freeing off the dizzy so I can set the timing.

Tool to break distributor free

I then removed the vacuum and fuel pipes along with the fan belt to give me more rome to work in then using some very strong nylon rope and a screw driver with a hole in the handle, rigged up a homemade strap spanner type of thing. With what seemed like an impossible amount of force, it finally gave way and slowly rotated a bit. . . Result! . . . However, it was still very, very tight and needed another few goes with the strap spanner to turn it back and forth a few times, getting a little more free each time, but still needing lots of torque – way more than I could do by hand. At this point I decided that now I’d ‘broken the seal’ I’d get a load more penetrating oil down there and leave it for a while.

Moving stuck distributor

Dad took a sacrificial Allen key and ground down the end so it would fit into the small hole in the dizzy body as an anchor point whilst the rest of it was used as a lever through the hole that the vacuum advance slides through. I put some rubber hose round the allen key where it passed through the dizzy body to stop it damaging the casting. This gave me a decent amount of leverage to wiggle the dizzy back and forth as I added more and more penetrating oil. I must of been there for over an hour – jeez it was hard and slow progress with every dozen or so very tight wiggles yielding about half a mm of vertical travel, but it was coming out, if very slowly. Eventually out it came, and I must say I was very happy as I sat there, panting away like a woman after childbirth, cradling my distributor in my arms, tears of joy rolling down my cheeks….

Well guys, this seems like a suspenseful spot to take a break, but don’t worry this story is to be continued… but if you just can’t wait to read how TL gets his bug back on the road, you can finish reading the story here on TheSamba.


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  1. Chris

    As an aspiring Beetle owner, this is what dreams are made of. Go TL go!

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  2. Jim Capp

    Nice 57 VW Bug I had a 57 VW back in the 70’s. I picked it up for $150.00 from a friend because it had no reverse, no problem with these cars, I would open the door & use foot power. Mine came with fiberglass fenders, L-60’s on the rear & a Rolled & Pleated interior. It was stock a 36 hp engine but sounded real good. I had cars come up to me at the light & wanted to run me,They would burn out & I would Putt-Putt down the road. Would love to have that car today. Good Luck with yours.

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  3. DanaPointJohn

    Fun read on the rebuild of this ’57 Beetle. I looked but it did not seem obvious on how to receive this Blog in my Inbox. Can Barn Finds direct me to the link where I can follow his progress directly? Thanks!

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  4. JamestownMike

    Does anyone know what was paid for the car?………that’s an important part of the story!

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  5. seth

    Just click on “here on the Samba” to get to the blog

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  6. jim s

    a beetle with no gas gauge or 1st gear synchronizer. yes you can double clutch into first gear and flip the reserve lever at the same time. great find and story.

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  7. Paul

    Tell the poor guy to ditch the wd-40 and go with pb blaster otherwise he’s just wasting his time and $$

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  8. Chris A.

    Reading through the renovation story, I was amazed at the detailed effort and craftsmanship put into the VW. The Samba blog should be written up and published as a book on just how to do a VW rebuild. Lots of good tips on how to do it right and not mess up. Great read and a fantastic story. I have a ’54 VW shop manual and it was interesting to compare the manual with the blog on the continual development made by VW in just the three years between ’54 and ’57. I learned on a ’58 and you can double clutch into first, but the gearing is so low that doing it at more than 7-9 mph requires a real touch. But it is so satisfying when you actually do a perfect match. Takes a good ear and my Mom was so good at it that you’d think we had first gear syncro. Yeah that reserve lever resulted in a minight stop on the Merritt Parkway in CT. Dad retrofitted a speedometer with a trip odometer that put an end to when you needed fuel. Fill it up before 300 miles or else push. Love VW’s.

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  9. Doug M

    This is the epitome of a Barnfind, and his blog reads like a Dickens novel:)

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  10. Mr. Ed

    Anybody know of an old VW in a barn???? Gives me inspiration to start a new project.

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  11. jimmy

    I know a guy that said back in the day he found a split window bug in a scrap yard bought it cheap fixed and sold it. Now they’re selling where the average person can’t afford a restored one.

    Like 0

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