Those Electrolyte Blues

Curt White’s 57 Sedan Rust-o-ration


Here’s the scene, your down in the garage turning wrenches, pounding metal, welding and grinding your guts out to finish that great floor pan installation. You got a great deal on the pans at a swap meet and you spent a lot of time cleaning them up and getting the seats to glide on the rails just right.

  With the anti rust coating in place and the center tunnel section welded, it looks just great and while you are having your favorite brew admiring your work, you start thinking about the battery installation (one of the reasons you had to do the floor in the first place)

The battery hold-down clips are installed and all you have to do now is get the right size battery, hook it up and you will be turning over your pride and joy.

Then a little voice in your head (don’t you hear voices too?) says “Hang on a Minute, If I put the same kind of battery in here that I had before, wont the same acid reflux disease eat the insides of my car again?”  The Fred Flintstone holes in the front part of the floor were caused by water getting trapped but it wasn’t water that caused the battery shaped hole under the rear seat!

Corrosive battery acid and gasses are the nemesis here. With the standard battery, it is always a good idea to use a battery matt under the battery to neutralize any spills and anti corrosion fiber washers on the terminals but there is more we could do.

This is when It occurred to me that there had to be a better way to start my beetle and not ruin a million hours of welding, grinding and bloody knuckles. I decided right there and then to see what choices were out there and see if I couldn’t prevent a re-occurrence of a bad battery spill and gassing event that happened a few years ago due to a defective voltage regulator that made the battery blow up like a balloon and leak.

What I really needed was a battery that could be left in a car in storage for many weeks or months at a time. I realized for most normal batteries this would just about ruin the battery and the battery tray. Some people I talked to simply used a standard battery but removed it whenever they stored their cars. They hooked up a charger and left it on the workbench. This is one inexpensive solution to the problem but seemed a bit labor intensive to pull the battery out and then put it back in every time you wanted to go for a Sunday drive. Its also very easy to forget that the battery is on the charger and come back to find it low on fluid.

To get more advice I decided to talk to the fleet mechanics where I work. We have a lot of vehicles which sit for long periods of time, like fire engines and I was curious how they solved this problem. Vehicles that have to be able to start reliably were using a type of battery called a gel cell or glass matt wrap battery. This type of battery utilizes a fiberglass material rolled up with electrolytic material in a coil shape. They have no fluid caps and have the advantage of being sealed making them mountable in any position even up side down (No more acid spills!) Another benefit was that they do not give off corrosive gasses when charged like normal lead acid batteries. This battery seemed like just the ticket! My only problem now was that I needed a battery for my six volt 1957 Oval window VW. I knew that these gel batteries were available in twelve volts but how about six? I used that modern tool of discovery, the Internet to check out a few companies that offered these batteries and discovered that the Optima Company offers a six-volt gel battery. Their web site has a very nice menu that helps you find the type of battery you need and explain what each type is used for. They code their batteries by colored tops. The red batteries are starter batteries, the blue top ones are for marine use and the yellow ones are deep cycle batteries like those used in recreational vehicles.

 The red top six volt starter battery basically looks like one of the big twelve volt ones cut in half with the following external dimensions: length= 10 inches, width= 3.5 inches and height= 7.8 inches. I went right out to my new floor pans and found that if I mount it on its side that it fits perfectly between the welded clips with the terminals facing forward.

My next decision at this point was what to do with the extra space with the battery laying on its side in relationship to the original battery lid and hold down strap. For the moment what I decided to do was to use a nylon web strap to hold the battery down and mount everything around it. In the future I plan to make a spacer to utilize the original battery cover and hold down strap. I did weld two bolts to the inside center tunnel to provide a good grounding point and mount a heavy duty six volt starter solenoid to take the current directly from the battery to the starter from the key. I also added a battery cut off switch so I can disconnect it from the rest of the cars systems. (a nice safety feature for storage) The last element I added was a battery tender. This is a small charger that has the ability to keep the new battery peak charged without overcharging it while in storage. It is permanently installed using ring terminals on the battery poles and works even if the battery cut off switch is in the off position.

As a safety precaution, I do plan to both wrap the positive side of the battery terminal and cut off switch with rubber tape or a liquid rubber coating like they use for tool handles to prevent an accidental grounding situation. Small rubber vacuum line covers would also be a good idea on the hot poles of the starter solenoid too for the same reason.

There is a downside to this system and that is cost. These batteries cost a lot more than a standard lead acid battery, even the golf cart variety and you will need a charger that is either designed for gel cell batteries or has a circuit that will go into a trickle charge mode with an output of under one amp. The auto parts store managed to get me an Optima battery marked “blemished” which still is a new battery with warranty but has some external scratches. I paid $80 for this battery and new they go for about $140.  I talked to a sales person at the Optima company and they were very helpful with advice on charging and maintaining these types of batteries and I have a battery maintainer from a company called “” They had four choices for six volt battery charging ranging from $30 to $119 depending on how much you wanted it to do for you.

With that said I feel that this system will keep all that hard work from going to waste and let me enjoy my vintage ride when the sun comes out and the open road calls.