Saturday, April 30, 2016

Eating my own dog food...and finding it acceptable.

There's a concept in the computer software and hardware development industries where folks beta-test their own product(s) on themselves, prior to going into mass production and releasing them on the public.  Companies sometimes derogatorily refer to this as 'eating their own dog food'.  In my opinion, this is a good standard practice and as a result we get better quality personal computer products for home and business use.  While this was also the original intent for the Type 34 wiring harnesses I had Wiring Works build a few years ago, this unfortunately didn't happen because my own car wasn't ready for the road.  In fact, it's still not ready.  That aside, I really wanted to give one of the wiring kits a workout in advance of general sales just in case Bob's selection of wiring gauge somewhere wasn't quite up to spec for the job.  The wiring in a VW is simple and Bob's been doing VW wiring since the '80s, so I expected no surprises as long as I did my work correctly with the prototype I supplied him.  And I was qualified to supply prototypes, having 3 original harnesses on hand with which to use.  None of these harnesses were actually usable because each had undergone some catastrophic failure, resulting in fire and melted plastic and copper.  I have one example of this in my parts collection that's nearly burned and melted clean through at one place, near the wiring junction where the voltage regulator wiring branches off and under the jump seat.  It's unsettling to think about the possible heat and smoke (fire?) that resulted as part of that meltdown.

With three Type 34 wiring meltdown samples on hand, the above mentioned electrical failure really shouldn't be considered an aberration.  I also refer back to these samples when critics ask me why I bothered with this wiring project at all.  Many have stated that the existing wiring is easily repairable and that the costs for new Type 34 wiring kit excessive.  I say, "It depends".  And my sojourn into the intricacies of Type 34 wiring was never intended to be as altruistic as it became.  Like others, I purchased the available Type 3 wiring kits--front and rear--and found them deficient in just too many ways.  The modified results looked sad and lacked the features of the originals.  My assertion at the time was that it shouldn't be all that hard for me to send off an original harness to Bob at Wiring Works and have him replicate it once or twice.  That's all I wanted, originally, but Bob refused to make just 1 or 2 front and rear harnesses.  He wanted to make these two main harnesses in minimum batches of 10., I asked him about all the other wiring bits for the car, too, because I knew there was so much more wiring in the car than the front and rear main harnesses.  Keep in mind that my car was nothing more than a shell at the time, with no wiring at all.  I decided that I would not repurpose any of the abused wiring I salvaged from the craft and other VWs, which then required that I figure out what was missing, the color codes and purposes for each wire.  This involved some research of Type 3 and Type 34 parts because some parts actually come with their own attached wiring.  I then started thinking about how a single kit could be developed for a range of Type 34 model years, easily adapted by the purchaser, and provide authentic results.  This actually took some unexpected effort because I was still collecting parts at the time.  Bob at Wiring Works is a craftsman when it comes to VW wiring, but he was working to my specifications and I had to get it right if I were going to sell to product to customers.  Bob as a businessman, understandably didn't like re-work or project hold-ups caused by my perfectionism.  At times I felt significant pressure and it was no fun.  As a hobby, this stuff was not supposed to feel like work.

When I received the first prototype I had to install it (twice, actually) and electrically test it thoroughly to be able to confidently recommend several modifications.  Remarkably, only one wire was flat out incorrectly run through a short length of PVC sheathing up to the steering column.  I easily fixed this issue on the prototype.  Several other wires had to be lengthened a little, with resolution to both issues requiring a couple of phone calls.  I then started requesting the additional wiring, requiring more phone calls.  Relations with Bob were sometimes strained because I am a pain in the ass and want things done as correctly as possible.  When a guy like Bob starts questioning me about the Type 34 wiring to include in a kit, you know I was going in way deep with the details.  So, the final pricing on the kits probably reflected this required development work.  But I must say that our efforts really paid off during the second 10 unit run, where I actually sent Bob my own wiring harness kit to serve as the template.  Because of this, he was able to give a pretty good discount for the second run of kits, even though the price of copper had dramatically increased.

Somewhat disappointingly, the original prototype Type 34 wiring kit shipped from Wiring Works with nothing more than a single hand written and photocopied page of wiring kit components.  Before receiving the first order, I decided that my own research notes should accompany them.  I ended up massively expanding on those notes to assemble a spiral bound 60 page booklet.  Call it a labor of love, but I would also want a person to consider it a 'value add' incentive to buy the kit.  Some would call it overkill because VW wiring is really simple in concept and very similar across all contemporary VW models.  I included a copy in all 19 kits sold and kept a couple of spares for reference.  I'm glad I did, because I find myself referring to it every now and again to refresh myself on something.

I didn't even come close to breaking even on the Type 34 wiring project--but then, that was never the point.  With a wiring kit for any VW vehicle, owners of cars under restoration are of a different mindset than, say, Porsche restoration owners.  I quickly found I couldn't mark up the kits without complaints and needed to keep the pricing--with shipping--as far under $500.00 as possible to ensure I could move inventory to recoup my out of pocket expenses.  I had to do this twice and keep my wife happy with how I was handling it financially.  And while there has been quite a lot of interest in having more kits made, I've decided I won't front the money for Type 34 projects like this anymore.  Thankfully, it appears I won't have to because others are really kicking in with the reproduction parts and sources for having them created.  Maybe this can also include wiring kits?

Installing the front and rear wiring harnesses in the Nautilus last September was fairly anticlimactic.  As expected, the overhead interior light harness was a serious hassle to get installed without documented, even.  I was using Rev. 3 of the kit, which means that it included not only all regular wiring, but also the transmission ground strap and battery cables.  The only wire not included in the kit was the front beam ground strap--the early style, non-braided, brown wire type that goes between one of the front beam mount bolts, up to a steering box cover bolt (the slightly longer zinc bolt, BTW).  These kits really ended up becoming quite comprehensive, and as I slowly use the kit, I'm very thankful I spent the time on the details.  Hopefully others feel the same.