Once we brought the Cabriolet to the shop the work started to sort it out so my wife could actually start enjoying it. I started with the most glaring issues we discovered during the test drive. I replaced the master cylinder and while I was at it replaced the front pads and rotors just for good measure.
I inspected the shifter linkage and ordered the new bushings which it desperately needed. I adjusted the front coil overs to raise the front and level off the stance of the car a bit. Lastly went through all the fluids and replaced the leaking oil pan gasket with a new one that came with the car before changing the oil.
At this point the car was good to go in the sense that it moved and now actually had brakes. The Cabby came home and received a very thorough cleaning. However, on the way from the shop to our house we noticed a burnt brake/clutch smell. I wasn’t 100% sure if the smell was coming from the Cabby so we made a mental note of it and continued. My wife continued to take the Cabby out for short jaunts around town and after a slightly longer ride came back and reported the same smell. We took the car out for a longer cruise around town to see of we could recreate the issue. After some time driving around the smell came back. We also noticed the car started to perform very sluggishly. It was running fine, but just seemed the not have any power. At one point on a slight incline the car just didn’t want to go up the hill. My wife was driving up until this point so we switched positions to see if I could get us up the hill. Me being me, I revved it up, popped the clutch, and something clearly broke inside the transmission/clutch area. We called roadside assistance to have the car towed to my shop where I assumed I would need to replace the clutch. One thing that was very strange is that after we broke down I was unable to push the tiny car to the side of the road.
A few days later I decided to attempt to move the car. It started right up and moved fine. I was surprised that it moved. The problem is that there was still a horrible sound coming from the powertrain. I decided to drop the gearbox and inspect it. The clutch was actually intact and noise was coming from inside the transmission case. Instead of digging in I actually found a cheap replacement (including an engine) in Brooklyn and just swapped it in with a fresh clutch.
The car was back on the road and hopefully whatever happened was addressed by the replacement gearbox and fresh clutch…..it wasn’t. Essentially after a few more problematic outings we realized what was happening. The car drove beautifully on initial start up, you could zip around town without any problem. The issue was as you took slightly longer drives the car would start to become sluggish and essentially become undriveable. That’s when I realized that as things warmed up the brakes were gradually getting applied to the point where they would lock up. I also figured out it was all four wheels that were locking up which pointed me to either a faulty master cylinder or brake servo/booster. As a test, once the brakes locked up I poured cold water onto the booster and sure enough the brakes immediately released. This explained why the transmission didn’t like me hammering on it the day we were ‘stuck’ on the hill. It also explained why I couldn’t push the car after we broke down. It also explained why the car was again mobile once it sat (and cooled off) at my shop. Excited about my discovery I quickly formulated a plan to order up a new booster and get it back on the road………except you can’t buy a new booster.
At the time I could literally cannot find a new or remanufactured booster for a 1988 VW Cabriolet anywhere. I also didn’t know which other boosters would have worked in the car. I checked every local parts store, I scoured the internet and even checked sources in Europe. The closest solution I could find was that Rock Auto offered a rebuild service in which you had to send them your booster and they would rebuild it and send it back. I figured that Rock Auto had some third party supplier doing their rebuilds and thought if I could work directly with the rebuilder I’d minimize the downtime. I started looking for rebuild service providers and eventually found Power Brake Exchange in California. I called them and they confirmed they had the components to rebuild my booster in stock. I removed and mailed them my booster, they called me the day it arrived and inspected it and told me what it needed. I gave them the green light to proceed and paid, and a few days later the booster was back in my hands.
With the booster replaced the Cabby was good to go. I also addressed other odds and ends around the car but basically from this point on my wife was driving it on a daily basis. This included rebuilding the shifter linkage as well as re-aligning it by adjusting the motor mounts. I replaced the blown strut tower mounts, replaced worn vacuum hoses and replaced the coil, plugs and wires.
I took care of some cosmetic issues around the car too. I found the correct ‘Boutique Edition’ upholstery for the door cards. The upholstery was used and had been peeled of existing cards but I figured I could make it look slightly better than the cow print. I replaced the ratty leather shifter boot. I detailed the engine bay and even had the valve cover powder coated. I replaced the cracked grill and updated the cloudy light fixtures with new clear units.
At this point the shake down of the Cabby was complete and it was getting pretty well sorted out. My wife was driving it almost on a daily basis. I joked as I reminded her that was driving a 32 year old car. She didn’t care and the best I could do was just make a list of other things I wanted to eventually do to it. We even attended a local car show and she insisted on bringing the Cabby.