Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Timing your Purchase

A friend of mine asked me about getting a VW bus this past week.  I thought I'd do a little post about what advice I gave.  T and I spent Saturday playing in the snow on Mt Hood, so I'll write a little about that too.

Spring in the Air, Snow on the Mountain
This has been one of the weirdest ski/snow seasons I can remember in the Pacific NorthWest.  We had virtually no ride-able snow until after the Winter Solstice.  SkiBowl wasn't officially open until well after New Years Eve (and they've been closed since the first weekend in April).  After a lame early and mid-season, the late season snow has really been coming on strong.  I'd seen that Timberline had been getting consistent snowfall last week, so after hosting a family friend from Australia and helicopter-parenting C to an 8:AM lacrosse game, T and I spent Saturday on the mountain.  The roads were wet from the steady rain, SkiBowl looked like late Spring and the Summit ski area looked like a spring meadow.  Our expectations for sliding were quite low.  As we ascended Timberline Highway, though, the rain slowly gave way to wintery-mix and then a steady snow.  The parking lots were nearly empty, but the falling snow wasn't sticking... to the asphalt.  It was definitely sticking to the slopes.

The smaller terrain parks on Thunder and Walt's Way had been taken down, leaving just the jumps.  So, while the high-fliers and hard-core terrain riders played on the big stuff fed by the Stormin' Norman lift, T and I had Thunder and Walt's Way to ourselves.  Neither of us had been on the snow much since his concussion, so it was really nice to just feel the snow under our feet and hang out together again.  As the day wore on, the snow got better, and the jumps less scary.  By the last run, we were both getting air (T doing tricks, me mid-air panicking) and sticking landings consistently.  It was a great day to play in the snow.

Pick One
As I mentioned at the start, I was asked about buying a VW camperbus.  I obviously love the idea.  There are 4 viable used models to choose from: splitty (T1), bay-window (T2-called "bays"), vanagon  (T3) and eurovan (T4, T5).  They all have their upsides and downsides.  Splitties look neat, but they are the most under-powered and probably the most rusty.  They can be very spendy as collector cars since they fell out of production in 1967.  Bays were sold from 1968-1979 in the US and were the most widely built/sold around the globe.  They were manufactured through 2013 in Brasil, making part availability unequaled.  Of the 4 styles, these are probably the least expensive.  The vanagon (1980-1990) is probably the most roomy, or at least it feels the most roomy, and is more powerful than most bays.  Called water-leakers by many, the early cooling systems are prone to rusting and failing.  Still, the Synchro (all-wheel-drive version) is really cool, and the camping portion of the vanagon is well done when compared to the bay (especially the early bays).  The Eurovan (T4 1990-2003, T5 2003-current) doesn't feel like you're driving a bus, but the interiors are very nice.  It could be the most reliable on the day of purchase, but also the most expensive to maintain, and it still feels like a standard mini-van behind the wheel.

When to Buy, When to Sell
Once you've chosen a target vehicle make/model, the next most important step is deciding when to buy it.  While this may not seem terribly important, it very much is.  You could considerably overpay if your timing is wrong.  I'm kind of a used-car market geek, trolling craigslist and eBay alot, and I've noticed distinct patterns.  We are entering the worst time of year to buy a car.  Car dealers hold "dad's and grad's" sales, so you'd think there would be excess inventory they are selling off.  In reality, there are lots of buyers in the market heading into Summer, and the car lots are trying to get those shoppers.  Who doesn't want a new-to-them car to play with all Summer?  Lesson to shopper: wait.  Wait until July when the price spike starts to pass.  As Summer wears on, prices drop until they bottom out in October.  By then, anyone who wants to get rid of a car before Winter is willing to take a loss rather than store it.  What remains after mid-October are cars held by sellers who think their car is worth more than it is, or very unusual cars which hold their value, but are only interesting to a niche market.  Over the Winter, the supply is thin so prices stay somewhat stable; not at late-Summer deal prices, but not as high as late-Spring either.  By March, prices start to climb again.  So, if you want to buy a bus, wait until the end of the Summer when the last guy who had that dream has decided he doesn't want to deal with it over the Winter.  Deal for you, and they found a new loyal owner.

That's it for today.  Sorry I didn't have any pictures of us playing in the snow.  We were too focused on enjoying the conditions to record how good it was.  Seriously, there's still snow in them thar hills.  Go play while you still can!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring Sprang Sprung

I played with the bus a little bit this past weekend.  I made some headway on a few things, but only really completed one thing, so I'll post about that today.

What's that Racket?
Now that the jalousie / jealous window in the sliding door has been rebuilt, I thought the noise in the bus would have been greatly improved.  It isn't.  Okay, well, it isn't as improved as I thought.  When I'm at idle at a stop light, the engine drops to around 900RPM.  At any speed, there's an harmonic vibration, but at 900, the helper-springs in the Riviera pop top really get going.  They bang against the scissor supports and make a terrible racket.  It sounds like "sprang-sprang-sprang...".

Silence the Din
muffling the noise-maker
Now, I could remove the springs.  That would make the pop top much harder to lift.  The pop top has 6 springs, though only 2 are easily visible.  The other four are way up near the top, but still on the outside of the scissor supports.  There are no springs on the front or rear.  They are all just less than 1" in diameter and just less than 2' long when the top is up (and springs at their shortest length).  I've seen pictures of pop tops where the spring over the slider door had a cover that looked like it was made of cloth, which got me thinking about other options.

It was a beautiful Spring day and Boo had been spending the afternoon waging
slight bowing over drip rail
 a war on the dandelions in our yard while I clowned around in the garage.  About the time I was considering the springs she realized she needed some grass seed for the holes she was making, so we headed for Home Depot.  She headed for the lawn/garden stuff and I had this spring-silencer idea and headed for pipe insulation.  I got 2 6' lengths of the cheapest pipe-insulation they had for 1" pipe, costing about $2.25.  I figured I could cut them into 2-foot lengths and wrap the springs so they wouldn't make that racket any more.  I simply cut them into thirds, and slit their lengths so they could slide on.  I quickly had a muffler for each spring.  They installed in a couple minutes, and very effectively stopped the noise.  I didn't have the time to make a full test drive, but simply idling the engine in the driveway was much quieter.

The one drawback I've noticed is that the pop top doesn't sit as cleanly between the drip rails as it used to.  I may experiment with removing the covers on the the lower springs to see if the loss of noise reduction is made up for by the top sitting properly.

That's it for today.  Thanks for following along-

Monday, April 7, 2014

Film at Eleven

With the start of April comes the Pacific NorthWest's faux-Summer.  We're really experiencing that now, with mid 70's temperatures, clear blue skies and bright smiles on everyone's face.  In an ironic contrast, I spent Sunday afternoon in my sun-blasted garage solving the water-block problem both under the belly-pan and in the passenger door.  I'll hit that today.

Plastic Fantastic
from vw-resource.com
First, I need to give credit where due.  I stumbled upon this website while trying to figure out a viable way of keeping the water that makes it past the window seals from damaging the new inner door panels / cards.  The old plastic was pulled out, and the cards were destroyed.  The guys at the vw-resource web site had a great suggestion for using BlueTak on their page dedicated to the doors.  In my last post, I mentioned that I bought some of the 3M stuff that was basically the same.  I borrowed their picture on the right here.  The 3M stuff is white, so it doesn't show up as well in pictures.  I posted one here anyway.

trash-liner door-liner
Note how much less I used (I relatively uniformly used around 1/4" thickness).  That became an issue when I tried to hang visqueen.  The plastic sheeting that you get in most home remodeling shops is too slickery, and won't stick easily.  Instead, I considered what was originally in there: a very thin film.  I grabbed a kitchen garbage bag, and hung it on there instead, aligning the bag bottom with the door top and one edge against the front edge of the door .  Because of the static electricity built up in the bag, it immediately clung to the steel, making the pressing into the 3M stuff much easier.  I cut the bag in half along the front / leading edge of the door, and folded it back against the rest of the door.  Some simple trimming later, and the door is sealed.  Like the vw-resource guys, I poked holes where the rubber bits will be going and made sure to run loops of sticky-stuff around those holes.  Be sure to run loops of the sticky-stuff around the holes for the window winder, door pull and the latch.  One other thing to note, I didn't run the plastic to the very bottom of the door; only to the very bottom of the hole in the door and then put multiple runs of sticky stuff along the bottom.  Remember, the whole idea is to keep inside the water that's inside the door, so it runs out the bottom.

Bag in the Pan
exposed electricals. 3M sticky
After such a simple success with the door, I slid under the front of the bus and pulled the belly pan off. My drive-by-wire electronics are under there.  This has been a source of concern any time I go for a drive when the pavement isn't dry.  While it is really just a simple resistor attached at one end to the pedal and the other to a wiring pigtail, its still an expensive replacement.  If it got wet, it would fry, and I'd need to replace it.  As I write this, I realize that there aren't any fuses in the wires either, so if something shorted out, there could be ECU troubles.  Anyway,  in looking at the exposed electronics, I noted so many openings where water could get through: from the rear where all the controls go through, over either side of the main frame members, etc.  Yikes.

same view, but bagged now
I had thought of plastic-sheeting the entire area, but that would have been nearly impossible.  Instead, I figured I could just "bag" the electronics by running a circle of sticky along the bottom of the floor and sticking another kitchen trash-liner against it.  It totally worked.  It has a small hole for the pigtail, but otherwise, its protected from water.  Once the rainy season returns for May and June (like it always does), the bus will be road-capable.

That's it for today.  I spent Saturday watching C play in 3 lacrosse games, starting the Spring sports season.  We hoped to hit Mt. Hood on Sunday, but it was raining up there, trashing those hopes.  I'm starting to believe that the Ski Bowl season is about over, between that rain and today's warm temperatures.  I've heard it will hit the mid 70's through next weekend.  So, after an unimpressive snow season, our Spring conditions appear to be disappearing.  Time to plan camping season instead!  Thanks for following along-

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thinking while Dinking

I unexpectedly had Sunday available to putter on the bus.  Boo was supposed to work, but suddenly didn't have a shift.  So, after a visit to the gym (I really need to do that more), I opened the garage door, turned on some tunes and pondered the bus.  Sometimes, you need to just be with your project to have an epiphany.  I had a flash of brilliance that (hopefully) could solve the wet-weather challenges for good.

Cutting Cards
I decided that a free afternoon shouldn't count in my build versus buy math since the afternoon was free.  So, I pulled out the Dremel and cut another door card.  Okay, back up.  First, I took the first door card I did and started trying to hang it on the passenger door.  I found little things that needed to get adjusted.  The grab handle holes weren't big enough.  Then the inner latch surround thing didn't fit.  Last, I realized that the holes for the door clips weren't there.  That was kinda fun, actually.  I took the ratty old door card and laid it on top of the new one.  I set those on top of a fresh piece of MDF.  Once lined up, I grabbed my drill with a 3/8" bit and bored straight through the door clip holes in the ratty door card into the new one and the MDF underneath.  Perfect.  I pulled the ratty card off the stack and traced the other holes and around the edge.  30 minutes with the Dremel later, I had a duplicate of the new card.

I still need to do a little sanding around the edges to make it a really nice fit.  The holes line up well and the grab handle, window winder and inner latch all mount correctly now.  Its just a little 100%-ing around the edges.

Hanging the Plastic Curtain
Originally, the early VW's had a "vapor barrier" between the door card and the steel door.  This was because no matter how good your seals were, water would seep inside the door, and could slowly rot the MDF/cardboard cards.  Most VW's have had these plastic sheets ripped out by stereo installers or confused mechanics, and their door cards have accordingly suffered.  I have tried a few different things over the years to get a plastic sheet to stay in place, but spray adhesives, contact cement and gorilla glue don't work.  Or they work too well.  Ultimately, I've just driven around without door cards while waiting for the answer to appear.  I found a posting on a website where a guy used that blue poster tack stuff (called BlueTac), and said it worked great.  I'll be trying it myself: a thin line of that sticky stuff all along the edge, taking care to avoid the door card mounting holes.  It occurred to me that this might be the solution I've been looking for with the belly pan too.

The belly pan, if you don't remember, is really a mechanical protection against rocks and such.  I've been trying to also use it as a splash-guard to keep the pedal electronics dry.  I'm going to try using the BlueTac solution with a sheet of plastic.  Figure, if I can protect a door card, I should be able to protect the electronics the same way: simple sheet of plastic held in-place with BlueTac.  I should also be able to cover the uppers, making the small sub-floor water-safe.  Neat.

That's it for today.  I bought some 3M-verson of BlueTac at Office Depot yesterday so I'll try the plastic thing this week.  Until then, here's another picture from the door card development effort.
3/8" drill bit fits perfectly in the mounting holes

Monday, March 24, 2014

Blog Refreshed

I applied one of the standard boilerplate templates that blogger offers to the blog. Everything is still where it was otherwise. I started this blog in January of 2007 and hadn't done anything to the general look and feel since. Now that I've moved to one of their current templates, it will fit into their newer offerings a little better. I don't know what those are, exactly, but I didn't want to be on the very trailing edge. I figured at some point they were going to force me to move. My apologies if you don't like it, and I'm open to suggestions for something that's better format-wise.
Thanks again for following along.

as long as you're here...
In my last post, I mentioned that I had an adventure getting the MDF into my Jetta. Here's the rub: 7' is longer than you'd think, and 14 year old cars slowly fall apart. My first challenge was with the putting the rear seat down. The Jetta has a 1/3 - 2/3 split seat, and the 1/3 side has been intermittent lately. While in the Home Depot parking lot, it completely failed. The handle on the top of the seat works the unlock mechanism with a ~6" long pin that's about the thickness of an old transistor radio antennae. This pin clicks into a round hole within the seat-back that controls the latch. The end of the pin slowly fatigued until it no longer stayed in the round hole. Rather than design this such that the pin pushed against the controller, the pin clicks in from the top and then pulls up to unlatch. Not well thought. In the parking lot, without any tools, I set to getting the seatback unlatched.

My first stop was to push through the trunk looking for things that could be used as tools. No flashlight. No pry-bar, but I did find the headrest and a pair of big springs that look like they're part of some big brake system. With these tools, I ripped the pull handle out of the top of the seat, and then broke the pin off the handle. I shined my iPhone flashlight into the hole while trying to spear the hole with the pin. I failed to spear the hole, but did succeed in dropping the pin into the seatback. Awesome. At least it was a beautiful spring day... with lots of car and people traffic in the parking lot. This made cursing a disallowed means of venting frustration. Grr.. After a few minutes of growling, I just starting looking at the area around the controller with the iPhone flashlight. I grabbed the weird spring from the trunk and started trying to hook the hole with the curl on the end of the spring. After a couple of minutes, I actually got it!

Once the seatback came down, I started trying to fit the sheet of MDF into the trunk. The hole made by putting the seats down is only just barely 3' across, but the space from the rear of the trunk to the rear of the front seats is more like 5', not the 7 I needed. I was about at the end of my patience. I took the front edge of the MDF, and pointed it at the ceiling, pulling the sheet into the car. I went around back, jammed it in and shut the trunk lid. I couldn't see out my central mirror, but the MDF was in. I crawled the car out of the parking spot (cite: lots of kids running around, swivel-headed drivers looking for parking spots, couples talking about improvement plans and not looking around, etc), and headed home. This whole encounter lasted under an hour, but it was smack in the middle of my Saturday afternoon. Still, I was able to cut one door card after I got home before calling it a day.

Thanks for following along, and this may be the only time I've ever posted twice in a single day. Wow, the end-of-days must be upon us.

A Couple Cards Short

Totally focused on bus stuff today.  I spent the weekend loving on the bus, mostly focused on cleaning.

Interior Plan, or Lack Thereof
In Setting and Resetting Expectations, I set a few goals for the Spring, including getting the front doors sealed up.  Before going too far down that path, I should have a plan.  Well, I really don't.  Still, there's lots of pre-work, so I focused on that while I thought about how this should go.  First, it's gotta be clean.

Goof Off and Rub
The inside skin of both front doors were gummy, and dirty.  Years of poor sealing plastic film allowed moisture in, destroying the original door cards, and leaving nastiness on the steel.  So, I started my Saturday with a tin of Goof Off and a roll of paper towels.  The driver door took 2 hours of effort, but the results are fantastic.  While it doesn't look like it was freshly painted, it does look better than most of the inside of my bus had looked up to that point.  The passenger door wasn't as bad, and only took about 90 minutes of effort to get to a better state.
native state
While taking the passenger door bits apart to clean up, I discovered a few things that were not on the driver door.  First, around the window crank, a small piece (about 1-1/2 inches by 3 inches) of foam was glued to the door.  I figured that was to keep drafts out.  Then, between the crank handle and the foam, I found a small plastic ring (pn 111-837-595A).  Our friends at AirCooled.net and BusDepot have them.  Neat.  I'll need another one of those for the driver side.  Maybe I'll get a new crank too, since my driver's one is kind of broken.

More Sound Dampening
note black mat near front
foil-insulation in the middle
I had previously put vibration matting into the driver door and a few other areas around the bus (see More Sound Killing).  I have used 2 different types, they work pretty much the same, and they do work.  When I did the driver door a few years ago, I still had some of the foil-backed stuff.  By the time I got to the passenger door this weekend, though, I only had the McMaster-Carr stiff rubber sheet.  Still, I covered over half the steel with one or the other.  On top of that, I glued closed-cell shiny-foil insulation I got at Home Depot (like this) with spray epoxy-glue.  While it doesn't really have an R-value, it is effective at keeping noise down, and keep direct sun-heat down.

Roll Your Own Door Card?
Once the doors were clean, and sound-proofed, all that remained was applying the plastic and putting in the cards, right?  Well, what if you don't have any cards?  Or, in my case, just one ratty card?  Back to Home Depot for a 3' x 8' sheet of 1/8" MDF.  I had an adventure getting the sheet into the Jetta, but I'll go into that another day.  I simply laid the sheet on the garage floor and traced my ratty old card with a pencil.  With my Dremel, I cut along the line.  I should have used a different attachment, but I got it cut, and the primary holes (door pull, window crank & latch) created.  It took me about an hour, but I still need to place the mounting holes.  I could buy a pair of pre-cut MDF cards from BusDepot for $55 plus shipping (link here).  In the end, it will cost me more in time, but just barely.  I think the numbers really become interesting when I look at all of the missing interior bits.  BusDepot offers the full set of MDF for $200 plus shipping (link here) and shipping to the PacNW is quoted at only $15 by their site.  Compelling, but that shipping amount couldn't be right.  I may have to wait while I pull together the cabbage to do the full set.  Even then, the full set doesn't have bits for the sides in the storage area, so I'll be making my own with the leftover MDF I got at HomeDepot.

That's about all I have time for today.  I drove the bus to work today, and he ran like a champ.  The rains return tomorrow, but today, we can smile in the sunshine.  Thanks for following along...

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Front Bumper (part 4)

As much as I wanted to run a full test of prep and paint on the bumper, I simply ran out of patience.  Today, I'll wrap-up the bumper through install.  I may return to it while on-bus, or even pull it to finish later, but I gotta get behind the wheel and drive it again.  There's a zen or inner calm that comes with steering an old bus that just isn't reproducible in anything else.  It's been too long.  On the shortened completion.

Final Wet-Sand
assembly supplies for 1 step
The paint was finally ready for wet-sanding after a full week of drying.  The $50 paint job guy talked about how thinning the paint would shorten the dry-time, but the articles I read didn't call out the more obvious: if its really cold, no degree of thinning will help Rustoleum cure faster.  I think the curing really took the warmer weather (low's above 40*F, high's above 50*F) to settle in and be present for a week.  Like the prior wet-sanding adventures, I used a bucket of soapy water and worn 600-grit sandpaper.  Unlike the primer, though, the thinned paint didn't dust as much.  The 600 grit took out most of the brush marks pretty quickly.

Final Paint
I decided that I over-thinned by going 1/2 and 1/2 paint and mineral spirits the first coat, so I thinned 2/3 paint to 1/3 mineral spirits for the second coat.  I also heated the garage with a recirculating oil heater before I started.  Just be bringing the ambient temp (and the surfaces to be painted) up to closer to 70*F made a very big difference.  The paint didn't run nearly as much, covered a little better, but the thinning held the brush marks at bay.
If you do this, remember two key points: first, always keep a wet edge.  If you try to cover such a broad area that you find yourself applying paint into paint that has become tacky, your paint will not cover right.  Always apply into wet paint.  Second, if you're using a brush, draw your paint-loaded brush from the unpainted area into the already applied wet paint.
While still drawing the brush horizontally across the surface, pull the brush off.  This will minimize brush marks from forming in the first place.
seal held w/blue tape

The paint was hard and dry in a few days, but I chose to not color sand.  Rather, I decided that I'd been without the bus long enough.  At some point, I'll do the wet-sanding, and polishing.  In fact, I bought all the needed supplies (1000, 1500 grit paper, polishing bonnet, polish) and a cheap polisher at Harbor Freight for when that day comes.  I figure I'll practice on the bumpers before I try it on the main body.

Bumper Assembly
The early / low-light bay has a 3-part bumper: the main bar plus a step that wraps around to each of the front doors.  The step bolts to the bar with 3 bolts, and a simple seal runs in-between.  The seal fits around the end of the bar with the long edge running behind (rear-side).  When I removed the old seal, it was clearly held firm by the bolts.  Re-assembly is tricky with a single pair of hands, though possible.  I held the seal in place with blue painter's tape while I set it in place with the bolts.  I strongly suggest getting the replacement bolt set from Wolfsburg West.  It made reassembly much easier and the finished product look much better.  Unfortunately, the 1972 bumper steps are held to the body by 2 bolts a-piece and the bolt kit only provided enough for one bolt each.  I will be buying 2 bolts at the local hardware store, but otherwise, it was just what was needed.
rubber step button and tab
The rubber steps go on in the reverse of how they came off.  If you're like me, you probably didn't exactly remember how that went.  First, slide the 4 square tabs that run along the outer edge into their corresponding slots.  From the inside, pull them all the way in with a pair of needle-nose pliers.  Then, wrap the step over the step and press the round buttons into the corresponding holes.  But don't do the one closest to the rear yet.  Next, pull the front edge of the inner lip over the inner edge of the step.  By sliding your finger along the inner edge of the lip, the rest of the lip will seat, until you get to the rear point.  There, you will need to pull that corner out and around the inner lip as well as the corner where it meets the outer edge of the step.  Once you've gotten that around, press that last button through the hole.  It looks sweet, eh?
Once the steps are bolted to the bar with the seals and rubber step in place, we add the frame mounts.  I mentioned in the last post about the appearance of rust where the mounts met the bar.  To reduce the probability of that happening again, I dug into my plumbing supplies and grabbed 4 orange sink washers.  I put the washers around the bolts, between the bumper bar and the frame mounts.  Once the nuts were torqued down, it had no impact on the location of the final mounting or the find-ability of the bolts-to-holes.
sink washers between
frame and bumper

Bumper Install
I would recommend finding a friend to help for this part, if you haven't been able to sucker anyone into helping you yet.  My kids were all playing on their skateboards, and Boo was sleeping off an early morning shift, so I was on my own with my radio.  I set plastic tubs under the spots where the steps mount to the bus frame and carried the bumper assembly over.  I placed the bumper against my quads, squatted down while holding the frame mounts so it wouldn't bounce off the deck nor the front of the bus.  Fun.  I set the steps on the plastic tubs and slid the bumper into the general location.  Then, it was a matter of holding the bumper in the air with one hand while lying on my side and fingering-in bolts.  It was important to get the bolts in just far enough to hold the bumper up so I could make sure it aligned properly.  I then moved to the step-bolts, and threaded them in part-way.  With a tape-measure, I confirmed that the bumper wasn't crooked and tightened the bolts down.

Last, install your license plate, and you're done.  I will be getting new license plat
e hardware so it matches the rest of the new stuff.  The old rusty nuts, washers and ugly bolts just seem out of place with the rest of the bumper.  Truth-be-told, the rest of the bus looks a little out of place with the nice bumper.  Or, maybe, the bumper looks too nice to be on that bus.  There's clearly something not quite aligned.  Anyway,  I still have to solve for the smashed tow-hook (I kinda forgot about it), and finish the 100%-ing of the bumper anyway.  I can say, though, that I can now see every blemish on the front of the bus.  Great.... :)
That's it for today.  I intend to ride the bike or drive the bus to work tomorrow, weather depending.  It seems wrong to hope for rain, here where the rain seems like a constant, but I'd really like to get the bus into the daylight.  Thanks, as always, for following along.
mounted and ready to go