1980 VW Cabriolet Project Car (Powered Up) Part 2

Fix It or Part It Out?

The Dub did not run when it was brought into the shop. There are basically two components needed to get a gasoline engine running - Spark and Fuel. If it sounds simple, it is! This Hub focus' on the electrical repair of this project car.

After getting the little car in the shop, I first checked the cylinder compression - 150 psi per cylinder, well within factory specs for a new engine! I then purchased the most expensive part the car will ever need (I hope) - a battery ($100). We hooked it up but the car was TOTALLY dead - NOTHING worked! VW's are known for bad grounds and faulty wiring so we disconnected everything and hooked up only the starter, coil, and ignition - then using a second battery, we jumped the fuel pump. Voila! The car started and ran great! For $150, I had found a good running little car - yet why wouldn't anything work?

A little more investigation uncovered a multitude of problems and solutions. If you too are struggling with electrical problems in your Rabbit (and what Rabbit owner isn't?), then perhaps the following scenario will help:

CLEAN: All the fuse ports and terminals on the fuse block were rusty or corroded. A wire brushing cleaned them up and restored electrical contact. Above the fuse block were two ground "crowns" where everything inside the car was supposed to ground. It too was rusted and corroded. I solved my ground problems by running a ground wire from the batter to the engine - then from that point to a bolt on the firewall - then a ground strap from the bolt on the inside of the car to the ground "crowns" (for lack of a better term). This created a heavy ground connection from the fuse block to the battery - no more voltage drop!

REPAIR: Under the hood was another mess of wiring to solve. Some other "shade-tree" mechanics idea of how to solve the cars grounding issues was to combine all the cars grounding wires into one HOUSEHOLD WIRE NUT!?! At first I thought it was a terrible idea, but it seems to work so why mess with it? That scattering of cluster-fornicating wires in the background of the first picture below is what really got me worried - you should never see wires floating around over your engine like that. In the following close-up of the wires you can see where a mystery wire has melted (probably from a short) and left behind the slag of its wiring insulation! It burned a lot of other wires and I spent several evenings cutting and patching all the shorted and corroded wires I could find. Hopefully I got them all.

Once all the bare wires were removed and spliced and the fuse block was repaired, we tried to start the car again but STILL no power to the fuel pump. A little more investigation and we realized that the melted wire was completely missing - and it was the power wire to the cars fuel pump. No wonder the guy I bought it from could never get it to run (he'd bought it from someone else with the idea of getting it to run). Whoever shorted this out simply cut out the shorted wire (fuel pump) at the fuse block! I hadn't noticed it before, but in the messy picture of the fuse block, you can see the "A" harness (white square plug) is disconnected AND missing the green/black fuel pump power wire (it should be in front of the blue wire on the left).

The solution was to replace the missing fuel pump power wire. I just happen to have a lot of extra wiring from my college days (when I used to screw up my own car stereo systems) so I spliced in a new hot and ran it directly to the main fuel pump. I routed it down behind the engine, through the A-arm, and along the fuel lines back to the pump. To keep it from shorting out again, I wrapped everything in a wire loom.

PROTECT: Prior to my meddling, there was only the bare, partially melted cluster of wires coming through that firewall. The large loom now holds that mass of wire. My loom is now routed now around the shock tower, beneath the fuel lines, and just below the air filter and fuel distributor (on left). The small loom running off to the left is the fuel pump wire which now runs down and under the car along the fuel lines (yellow zip-ties around it). The engine harness should be routed below the radiator. Before this was fixed, it was damaged by the exhaust, cooling fan, and alternator belt. Now the washer fluid pump, horns, lights, and charging system all are working again, but not before I wire-brushed every connector, light bulb and socket on the car. For some reason, everything is corroded - even the alternator housing. My guess is that this car took a salt-water bath at some point in it's long life....

RESOURCES: The Bentley Service Manuals have been an invaluable resource for this project! The Haynes and Chilton manuals aren't bad but don't clearly detail the wiring of these cars. The Bentley manuals have a very detailed wiring diagram, a fuse block diagram, harness diagrams, and corresponding numbers so you can determine where the wiring diagram meets the fuse block, harness, pins, and relays - very very handy.

Photo Essay of Electrical Repairs

This is what greeted me when I opened the hood.  That spiderweb of wires over the engine used to be the engine wiring harness.
This is what greeted me when I opened the hood. That spiderweb of wires over the engine used to be the engine wiring harness.
This is the remains of the wiring harness up close.  Lots of burned wiring.
This is the remains of the wiring harness up close. Lots of burned wiring.
Here is the shade-tree solution to bad grounds - tie them all together into ONE bad ground?
Here is the shade-tree solution to bad grounds - tie them all together into ONE bad ground?
The fuse block as I discovered it.  The red arrow shows where the Fuel Pump wire (green/black) should be.
The fuse block as I discovered it. The red arrow shows where the Fuel Pump wire (green/black) should be.
The fuse block reinstalled.
The fuse block reinstalled.
Once the harness was repaired, it needed to be protected.
Once the harness was repaired, it needed to be protected.
Repaired and re-routed wiring harness.
Repaired and re-routed wiring harness.
The fuel pump power wire was the source of the original harness meltdown.  Now it is re-routed beneath the car within its own conduit.
The fuel pump power wire was the source of the original harness meltdown. Now it is re-routed beneath the car within its own conduit.

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Comments 7 comments

jimcrowthers profile image

jimcrowthers 8 years ago from Port Charlotte

My buddy in high school had a VW rabbit (he had the nicest car out of all of us, if that's saying anything). I actually envied him a little, even though I eventually got a 302 Ford (not going to mention the model, however, out of the little dignity I have left).

Great job on the details, the pictures, and the hub!


dlarson profile image

dlarson 8 years ago from Priest River, ID Author

This car is definitely not a show piece! It does get reasonably good mileage (up to 28mpg City now) and is proving very reliable. I've just learned to live with no padding in the seats, the constant buzz of loose parts, and the flapping of my garbage-bag covered roof (to keep out the water)!


sherlynavia 8 years ago from United States

Nice hub! Cabriolet Project Car sounds good.


BOB 7 years ago

Which fuse is for the radio mine doesn't work but everything else does


dlarson profile image

dlarson 7 years ago from Priest River, ID Author

Well BOB, that is the question. If everything else works but your radio doesn't, I'd say that perhaps there is an inline fuse on the power wire leading to your radio. That is how my radio is installed - or would be if I were to install it. Since I never listen to the radio I've never felt the need...


lloyd holloway 7 years ago

Help! I have a 1980 Rabbit cabrio and it wont start after driving it around for a while. I kind of push the wires down on the distributor and it seems to start sometimes, also where the air filter is there's a kind of flapper that if I move it up and down it seems to help a little. Any advice is greatly appreciated, summer's coming!


Nick 7 years ago

Nice! I'm kinda a VW nut. There's a '80 Rabbit for sale here I was thinking about getting. Have you looked in to a new top? I have no experience with convertible's, and that is kinda scaring me away from it. I will have to put a new one on. Have you attempted this, or do you have any advice?

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