Any Puzzler in a Clutch: VW Bug Mystery Story

Brooke in our’67 VW Bug in 1977 camping roadside on the banks of a Montana trout stream. Part of our grand tour of the Northwest.

1966 VW Bug. Mine was a very similar 1967.

Dear Tom & Ray (aka Click and Clack)—

Recently you were answering a question about clutches and that reminded me of a story that might make a good puzzler. It’s historic and folkloric, and familial. It involves my brother Paul, my girlfriend (now wife) Brooke and my beloved 1967 VW Bug. Hope you get a chuckle out of this true story.


Note: To date Tom & Ray have not used this puzzler on their NPR radio show CAR TALK.

Any Puzzler in a Clutch
By Clay Brandow (Brandow rhymes with “and how.”)
Davis, California

In the spring of 1977, my girlfriend graduated from college, and the two of us decided to pack my ’67 VW Bug with camping gear and set out from San Francisco to make a grand tour of the American West. With the Bug packed to gunnels with gear, my girl friend tried to back out of my folks’ driveway while I was hugging my mom goodbye. As my girlfriend tried to shift into reverse, the Bug made a terrible noise, like she hadn’t used the clutch. She exclaimed, “I can’t get it into reverse. There is something wrong with the pedal.”

I hopped in a tried it, but I couldn’t get it into reverse either. I immediately thought it might be the clutch cable, so I tightened that up. Nothing.

Then I thought well it’s got to be the clutch. So with help of my brother who had his own VW Bug, a 1968, with which he had become intimate, I dropped the engine to get to at the clutch. The clutch seemed to be in good shape, but since I had it apart anyway, I decided to replace the clutch and the clutch cable also. By nightfall, I got it back together and it still wouldn’t work.

My girlfriend came out of the house and asked, “Have you fixed the pedal yet?”

“No sweetheart,” I replied, hiding my frustration. “We’ll have to stay over night with my folks and I’ll have to try again in the morning.”

I had no idea what to do at his point. I asked my brother if anything like this had ever happened to him and his Bug.

“No,” he said, “You’re probably just going to have to take it apart and try it again with all new parts.”

So next morning I got up early and did just that, but this time when reassembling everything I discover the problem. What did I discover in the morning light?


Sign on California Highway 167. Not a good place to breakdown.


ANSWER : “In the full light of day I saw that something was wrong with the pedal!!!”

This time, in morning light, when connecting the new clutch cable to pedal (assembly), I discovered a hairline crack at the base of the pedal (near where it’s welded onto a sleeve). I’d missed this tiny crack in the dim light the evening before. The tiny crack in combination with continued use caused the pedal to be bent just a little (maybe about 10 degrees), just enough to reduce the throw of the clutch pedal, so that the pedal depressed to floor didn’t pull the cable far enough to disengage the clutch. I replaced the cracked pedal with a new pedal and viola, no more problems shifting into reverse or any other gear.

When I told my brother what the problem was and that I’d solved it, my brother said, “You know, Clay, I had that very same problem with my VW Bug just 3 months ago.” GRRRRGH! I decide not to attempt to beat him up, because at the time he was a starting linebacker for the San Diego State Aztecs.

When I told my girlfriend what the problem was and that I’d solved it, my future wife said with great understanding and compassion that became the hallmark of our marriage, “You dummy, I told you there was something wrong with the pedal!!!”


This summer, my wife and I celebrated 32-years of marital bliss. My VW Bug is just a memory, but my brother still has his. “Herbie,” as he calls his Bug, now has over half a million miles on it, not all on the same engine, of course. My brother has lost track of the number of engines. Unfortunately, my wife still remembers that she told me that there was something wrong with the “pedal!!!”


About colorfulclay

Hydrologist Clay Brandow has water on his mind most of the time, but now is seeking other diversions. Dear reader I'd love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment or two. It's easy.
This entry was posted in BEST of COLORFUL CLAY, Humor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Any Puzzler in a Clutch: VW Bug Mystery Story

  1. Love this story! Great one Dad. Hope Click n’ Clack pick it up!
    PS. it was fun reading this and picturing you all in your early 20’s, I’d love to read more stories from your youth…. please =-)
    love, brianna

  2. jon brandow says:

    great story clay,i remember your parents house and coming to visit in belmont,seems about the same first car was a 65 and dad worked endless hours fixing that up,got my licence,drove it for about 4 months and rolled it completly over one was primered at that time so we drove{it still ran}to the auto parts store and bought 3 gallons of bondo and some primer.thinking i was good,we went to the 24 hour coin car wash and procedded to use all 3 gallons of bondo trying to hide all the dents,once again thought i was my nickname jonny bondo that night and it is still with me today.well the next morning dad woke me up pissed,of course i played dumb,when we went outside and looked at it,it looked had more waves then maverics,the bondo was so thick it cracked,and the primer was slighty the dim evening light it looked pretty good,but the morning light,well not so much. thats my story and im stickin to it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s