Jim suggests we try starting fluid, an excellent suggestion. If you aren't familiar with this magical and highly dangerous material, it's basically ether in a spray can. Yes, the medical anesthetic. It has a low ignition temperature and will usually start any motor that has spark. The smell recalls faint memories of childhood hospital visits.
It also recalls my brief stint renting a house in Pennsylvania in the 80s, when my joy at movin' on up to a single house with a driveway was tempered by the realization I'd have to keep it clear of snow in the winter. I managed to find a used snowblower (I think I paid $5 for it) that would only start with ether. Brief silent pause here for memories of dark snowy nights and a Briggs & Stratton shuddering into a dull roar.
Fast forward to this evening. I notice a gassy smell when I pull into the driveway where the car is sitting. My first thought is the gas tank, but it's dry underneath the front. But alas, a big wet area in back under the transaxle and I can see it actively dripping there. I raise the left side with the jack so the swing axle scissors underneath it like a prop -- a handy trick with Beetles up through 1967 -- and wriggle underneath. Sure enough, gas is leaking from the short bit of flexible hose between where the steel line exits the frame and the engine. Never seen a leak there before. Steady 1-2 second drip. Double-plus uncool.
Well, I'd already been planning to replace the flexible fuel lines as a matter of course, and even have some fairly recent stock on hand. Not sure what the white foamy stuff is in the gas, though. Will need to check further.
So tonight's adventure ended with me siphoning out what remaining gas I could, putting a catch bowl under the transaxle for any remaining drops, and letting it dry out. Next I'll replace that hose and confirm fuel delivery to the engine before continuing my ignition tests. I'm aiming for having it running before the weekend's over.