Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Installing torsion arms - Part III

If you’re following along from parts I and II, the bus is still in the air, but we’ve made some progress. The lower torsion arms and the sway bar are on. The ball joints are attached to the steering knuckles and the brake backing plates are on. If you were fortunate enough to have a handy friend around, and you were able to convince them to do step 8, or if you’re just going to re-use your bearings as they are, you can skip step 8. Like the other torsion arm posts, here's the reference picture. Lets get to it.

8) perform optional wheel bearing maintenance.
This is an optional step that I took, and I recommend others taking. At this point, you’re pretty deep into your front end, and if you’re like me, you don’t want to have it in so many pieces again anytime soon. The front wheel bearings are supposed to be re-packed with grease every 30,000 miles. Odds are pretty good that yours are overdue if you haven’t been keeping track.
Anyway, the outer bearing probably fell out when you pulled the hub off the spindle or when you separated the hub and rotor. If you’re putting in fresh new bearings, you’ll just want to find it so the neighborhood dog doesn’t choke on it later. If you’re planning on keeping the old bearings, you better track that outer bearing down. Judging the quality of old bearings is totally your call. Look for marks or obvious wear on the bearings or the races. If you’re not sure, use new ones or find someone that can qualify them for you.
Assuming you’re replacing with new bearings, the bearing races need to be driven out. Don’t waste time trying to get the grease seal for the inner bearing out by itself beforehand. I did, and in the end, I gave up and the seal popped out while I was driving out the bearing races. I was able to drive each race out of the hub with a simple hammer and chisel, hitting one side and then the other. If you’re like me, you’re probably not too comfortable banging on your vehicle. Once the race starts to move, you’ll see that you’re not hurting it and you will work with greater confidence. There are some good pictures on this page.
The bearings don’t come pre-greased, so you need to force grease into the bearings. Drive the new inner race into the hub until you hear the change in the way the metal-on-metal rings. Then plunk the well-greased inner bearings into the race. Replace the grease seal. Repeat for the inner race and bearings. Don’t use the hammer and chisel method to drive in the new races, use a large diameter socket.
Now, slobber grease inside the hub between the races. Press it deep into the hub, and keep pressing it in there until there’s only enough room to slip your finger through end to end. Now you’re ready for step 9 and you have 30,000 miles before you need to do it again.

9) put the hubs on the spindles.
It seemed like no matter how much grease I put inside the hubs, I could have put more. I got the hubs on the spindles, pulled the outer bearings, and shot more grease in there with a gun. I tightened the clamp nut down, then removed the hub and put it back on. This seemed to force the air pockets out so I could get a little more grease in. Torque the clamp nut down by rotating the hub while tightening the nut. There is no published ft-lb for the clamp nut, but the bolt in the clamp nut needs to be torqued down to 11-14 ft. lbs. This is important as the clamp nut and bolt are what prevents your wheel from falling off!

10) grease front end.
As long as the front end is in the air, and you've opened the torsion arms, you probably need more grease in there. I cranked a good 25 times on the gun on each fitting. This also gives you a chance to see if your fittings (aka zerks) are good. I needed to replace a couple, which might explain some of the front end noise I heard before the clunking started.

- Wipe down your tools, and change your gloves. This ends the greasy portion of the job. Reward yourself with a snack! -

12) Put rotors (brake disks) on.
This should be pretty straightforward. The rotor will only fit on the hub one way and it bolts on with 2 6mm allen head bolt. Torque to 14-18 ft. lbs.

13) attach brake calipers.
Carefully thread the brake hose through the holder that you put on in step 6. There’s a steel/brass ring that protects the rubber line from rubbing against the holder. Its this ring that needs to be in the holder. Check the reference picture at the top for orientation. Thread the 2 mounting bolts through. Depending on the year of the bus, the torque value changes. For the first 2 years of disk brakes (1971/2), torque to 72 ft lbs. For all other years (1973/9) torque the bolts to 116 ft lbs. using a 19mm socket.

14) brake pad retaining plates, pads, retaining clips, pins
If you have the pad backing plates, slip them in first. I don't have them, like most folks, and I haven't noticed anything unusual it. Some think these are a really big deal. I’ve heard these plates have an effect on how much your brakes squeal. If you have them, use them. BusDepot had them on back-order, so I didn't put them in during this step myself. But then, my brakes squeal in the morning, so maybe I should follow up on this myself. Anyway, press the pistons away from the disk with either your fingers or something non-metallic (like, wood, dude) and slide the brake pads in. If you got new ones, great! Don’t forget to make note of the mileage so you’ll know when you need to replace them again. Put in the release spring thing and drive the pins in with a framing hammer from the inside. Once the pins are in, you just have to drive the locking clips into the brake line holder. The clip is oriented correctly when the bend is on the upside (like a hill not like a valley). Hold it firm with a pair of needle-nose pliers and whack it with the side of your hammer.

15) put wheels back on.
Torque to no more than 94 ft lbs. You'll have to take the bus off the stands for the final torquing, but you're done with it in the air at this point anyway. Don't hook up the air tools to get these nuts on like they do at the tire shops. Oftentimes, they over-torque these nuts, and that just makes it impossible to get them off when you're roadside.

16) install upper snubbers.
Others have said to put the snubbers on much earlier in the process. You could, but its more work. Once the wheels are on the ground, the upper torsion arm rises off of the steel bar and the upper snubber can easily set into place. You have to get on your back and all, but slipping it between the torsion arm and the steel bar thing is easy. Slide the stop clips as far as you can, and drive them in with whatever is handy. I used the side of the head of my framing hammer and it worked dandy. You'll have to whack it, though, just wiggling with pliers won't cut it. If you didn't get new stop clips, you'll realize about now why you should have. I broke one at this point and had to wait for mine to ship from
Canada. Grrr..

17) install shock absorbers.
Slide the lower end on first, then push the bolt through on the upper mount. The nut for the upper mount goes behind, so you'll be working blind, but setting a vice-grip or crescent wrench onto the nut works for torquing. Use a 19mm socket for both upper and lower. Once the upper is torqued down (36 ft lbs), do the lower (18-25 ft lbs). I don't know why the torque settings are different, but the VW engineers must have had their reasons.

18) hubcaps, test drive.
Hammer on the hubcaps with a rubber mallet and take a test spin in a relatively confined area. Remember, you just had your steering completely changed, so the handling will be different, and potentially unpredictable. If the bus wants to go careening in one direction or another, and pointing the bus in the right direction is more of an effort than it used to be, take it (or have it towed) to an alignment shop, and get the alignment done. If you've followed the steps above, the only issue is with the eccentric bushing not pointing straight forward. Alignment shops have the right wrench to set the alignment. If you can't actually turn the wheels from stop to stop, check the brake lines to make sure that they are connected properly and not hanging up on something.
When I test drove mine around my neighborhood, and it was like taking victory laps. By the time I got to this point, everyone knew what I had been doing, and most of them had dropped by to lean and watch a bit. The test drive was like being in a one-bus parade with the waving and the shouting. Fortunately, everything worked as it was expected, and I got to the end of the parade route (my beer fridge) without any issues.

Almost 6 months after I’ve completed this work, Hapy's front end is still nice and smooth. I haven't had to take it in to get aligned either. I just drove through some really gusty conditions, and Hapy handled it very well.... better than I did. I should probably put those backing plates on and check the torque values on some things, though.

until next time ...

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Installing torsion arms - Part II

So, if you're following through from Part I, the bus is in the air on jackstands with a new set of upper torsion arms installed. The lower arms are not on the bus yet. We'll start there. Here's a picture that I'll be referencing through the entry. Oh, one other thing: if you have a friend that's relatively handy that's going to be hanging around while you do this, have him/her jump ahead to step 8 (Part III). S/He can do step 8 while you're doing everything else, and you'll save yourself some time.

3) install lower torsion arms.
Remember to have the ball joint pointing down (threaded end pointing towards the ground). I didn't the first time I did this, and realized the mistake when I tried to get the steering knuckle all hooked together. Fun. Next time, I'll look at the pictures I took during the removal of something, so I can see how it used to look and how its supposed to go back together. Anyway, before you do anything, slobber a bog glob of grease inside the arms. Slobber another one. Aw... just put a whole lot of grease in there. Then, butter the outside of the part of the arm that will be going into the torsion tube. Its the shiny part. Now, slide and wiggle the arm into the tube until it kind of clicks, then press them on. You might need some light banging with the muffled sledge, but nothing near what you needed for the uppers (no tension on the springs is why). I was able to kick one of them on with a booted foot. Just like the upper arms, put on the set screws (8mm Allen) and torque to 29 ft. lbs. This can be hard if you don't have an Allen socket. I put my Allen wrench alongside my torque wrench, and torqued that way. I did this for the uppers first, so by the time I got to the lowers, it wasn't too hard to get right. Put on the lock nuts (13mm hex) and torque to 29 ft. lbs as well.

4) install the sway bar.
Before I get into the install of the sway bar, we should look at some of the parts involved. Pictured here are the stock bar I removed and the new thicker 7/8" bar I installed. The shiny gold one is the new one :) You can also see both the stock and new "C" clamps and rubber bushings. Notice the direction of the bushings on the bar? The thinner end is closer to the bolt hole. This is important when you try to get the clamp on. If you're thinking of upgrading your sway bar please remember that any modifications you make to your suspension will change how your bus handles - and it may not be in the way you expect. The sway bar is what reduces the tilting sensation you feel when you drive around a corner. In my opinion, the stock sway bar is too thin on a bus, making cornering quite an adventure especially on hills. The thicker bar is 7/8" thick versus the 5/8" thick stock bar. That may not sound like much (1/4" for you math folks), but you can feel the difference when you take a corner.

I got the thicker bar from bus-boys, but there are a few vendors that offer it for pretty much the same price: $100. The install process is the same: get the bar up there, and finger tighten the bolts, then get the clamps on. If you've never worked one of these clamps, they are "C" shaped steel/brass clamps that are probably 3 inches long. The "C" is held together to make an "O" with a rectangular bit we'll call the clamp lock. The clamp lock slides on from the higher front towards the lower back. Both the clamp and the bolt attach the sway bar to the lower torsion arm. The picture at the top shows this.
You'll get under your bus and start to try to put the clamp around the bushing and the arm and you'll start to wonder how it actually fits. It does. I found that I could do it by holding the clamp together with channel-lock pliers while I slid the clamp lock into the little channels on the clamp. Some folks found this to be the hardest part of the whole torsion arm replacement job. I think that's because it seems like you need a 3rd hand, but once the clamp is lined up right, the channel lock pliers do most of the work. Just tap the clamp-lock down with the side of a hammer or wrench until the protruding tab passes the end of the bushing. Then release the channel lock pliers and bend the tab up. I used my framing hammer to bend the tab. You may find something less dramatic, but the hammer worked with a few whacks. I had to hold the clamp lock in place with the channel lock pliers while I hit the tab with the hammer. If I hadn't, the lock would slide down the clamp, unlocking it.
Once the clamps are on, torque the bolts that connect the bar to the steering knuckle to 25 to 36 ft-lbs (Bentley ch.2 p.36).

- show off your handiwork to your friends and pick a side -

5) attach lower ball joint to steering knuckle.
Thread the shaft of the ball joint through the steering knuckle, and put on the washer and nut. Hand tighten, and then, using a jack, put pressure on the knuckle to seat the ball joint while you tighten the nut. Don't torque it down just yet.

6) attach upper ball joint to steering knuckle.
The hardest part here is getting the threaded end of the ball joint into the knuckle. First, take the eccentric bushing and thread it onto the ball joint. Making sure that the dimple on the top of the nut is pointing toward the exact front, tape it in place with a short spot of tape. Don't go crazy with the tape, only use "just enough" to hold the bushing onto the ball joint for a couple of minutes. Use a pry bar to get the torsion arm up while a helper guides the steering knuckle underneath the ball joint. If you don't have a helper, you can use your foot. That's what I did. Once you're pretty much aligned, remove the pry bar and the tape holding the eccentric bushing to the ball joint.
Put on the brake-line holder, then the washer and finally the nut. The picture here shows them in that order, though its a little blurry. Tighten as much as you can by hand, and then use the jack again to help seat the joint while you wrench it down. Use channel-lock pliers to hold the eccentric bushing so it points directly forward while you tighten. The more careful you are at this point about that dimple pointing forward, the more likely you will be able to avoid the alignment shop when you're done.

Now torque down both the upper and lower ball joints to 72 ft. lbs. I wanted to be really careful, so I slowly raised the torque from 50 up to 72 while switching from upper to lower. Meaning, I did the upper to 50, then the lower to 50, then back to the upper to 55, then the lower, etc. Double check your final torque settings regardless of how you get there.

- repeat steps 5&6 for the other side -

7) attach the brake backing plates.
The install is pretty straightforward. Remember that the side with the lip near the center faces out, and the side that's really flat/plain faces towards the center of the bus. Check the picture at the top of the page and orient your backing plate like that. I used new stainless steel bolts, and I'd recommend it. Although stainless steel metric can be hard to find, they don't rust, so I try use them when I can and encourage you to do the same. I also painted the plates flat black so they would look almost as nice as the bus-boys arms and sway bar. Hi-temp was all I had around, but I don't think exhaust paint was necessary. Torque the bolts to 7 ft. lbs.

--- more next time ---

Friday, January 26, 2007

Installing torsion arms - Part I

For my first real blog post, I’m starting my with the front end work I did over the Summer 2006. I wrote this up in August, and languished until I started this blog. I wrote what I could when I could as I did the work. I split this into a few separate posts just to keep them digestible.

I should probably start with answering the question of “why did you do this?” Well, we took a trip into Eastern Oregon (I’ll post on that later), and started hearing this uncomfortable clunk noise coming from the passenger-side front wheel when we hit a bump just the right way. Also, steering became a much greater challenge. Like I said, I’d owned and driven the bus a while, and steering had been an ongoing issue. I replaced the tires and put on new shocks, but bumps in the road and cross-winds were hard to handle. By the time we left Smith Rock (the blog picture was taken there) near the end of the trip, I had to focus all of my attention on driving because Hapy would want to grab any rut in the road and follow it. I looked at the ball joints by crawling underneath the bus, but you can’t tell how good your ball joints are from looking at them. You need the right tools, or know how to read the symptoms.

Bad Ball Joint Symptoms:
grabs ruts in the road
turning the wheel from stop-to-stop is not smooth
holding the bus straight at highway speeds requires lots of focus
clunking noises that can’t be traced to loose shocks or brakes

A no-tools test of your ball joints can be done by following the steps in the Muir “keeping your vw alive” book. On Hapy, I jacked up one side and I was able to wiggle the wheel on the passenger side and hear the clunking. It shouldn’t have had any movement, so I knew at least that one was bad.

As for the repair, I made lots of mistakes, so it was really painful. Hopefully, these install instructions will help someone not fall into every possible hole along their way.... like I did. The Gensler removal instructions (found in the library under front-end - here) were generally correct, and I have one thing to add: 1968/9 torsion arms are different from 70-79 arms in one way: the lower shock mount on the 1968/9 is 8mm. Starting in model year 1970, it was left at the 10/12mm all the way to the nut. This is important if you’re ordering “new” arms or you’re thinking of getting new shocks.

There's a question about getting "new" arms with fresh ball joints pressed in from bus-boys, versus just buying new joints and taking the old arms to a shop. The only reason for keeping your old arms is if you're one of those really strict original-parts folks that feel that a part from a different car of the same general vintage isn't the same as stock. If you're one of these folks, my blog will grate on your nerves. There are many advantages to using bus-boys arms. First, they hone the steel so there are no burrs, and paint the exposed parts so they look brand new. Second, they only use OEM parts, so the ball joint is the same as you'd buy for yourself anyway. Third, because its a whole set of arms, you don't have your bus sitting in the driveway for a week while you're waiting on the shop. No complaining neighbors, and the job is finished sooner. Last, the cost is probably about the same. I had a shop quote me $200 to remove and install ball joints in my arms. They said that the price started there and went up depending on how much they had to fight the old joints out. "Uh... no thanks". Yes, you have to pay for shipping from Redding, CA, and that could be spendy too, but at least you'll know the exact amount ahead of time. That alone made it worth it for me. I hadn't seen the bus-boys handiwork yet. They turn out really nice stuff. And no I don't work for them, but one of my trashed arms is hanging on their shop wall. More on that below.

I recommend adding to the list of parts to have before you start. They're listed below.
2 Torsion Arm Stop Clips (pn 211 401 279) - because the old ones break real easily, especially if they're rusty
2 211-405-319U Eccentric Bushing, Used from bus-boys ($2 ea) - getting the old ones off may be impossible. It was for me. Skip a morning mocha and get them.
the upper and lower snubbers are now available at CIP1, if you need them. If your old ones are either missing or torn up, get new ones in pairs so both uppers or both lowers are getting replaced at the same time.
2 sway bar bushings -OR- a new sway bar kit (bus-boys has a kit with bushings, etc. I think GermanSupply does too). If you're keeping your old bar, the bushings will probably get torn up badly when you are getting the bar off.
4 brake retaining plates (pn 211615231 5.12/pair at BusDepot) if you don’t have them. If you aren’t sure, you probably don’t have them. I didn't.

2 sets of front wheel bearings (pn
211405645K 18/wheel at BusDepot) if you plan to perform bearing maintenance. Its worth doing now if for no other reason, its less work now because the front end will be in pieces. Food for thought.

You may want to add new brake pads to your list. I just replaced my pads a few weeks before I had to do this job, so I didn't get new ones, but if you're anywhere near due, you may want to do it now.

Add to tools list:
small piece (4-6″ long) of wood 2×4 or 4×4 - for making a muffler for the sledge-hammer
masking tape

The re-install instructions were a little thin, so here’s what you do once the arms are in hand. It doesn’t matter if they’re your old ones with new joints or new arms from bus-boys (what I did). Make sure the grease seals are still on the torsion tubes. They are no longer produced, so you’d have to get new ones at a junk yard or one of the used parts vendors.

1) verify the springs
Check the leaf-springs sticking out of the tube. Are they all clumped together and shaped roughly like a square? Mine weren’t, and chances are yours aren’t either. Wipe the end with a rag and tape the springs together so they form a square, or at least as close to a square as you can. Round won’t cut it, nor will triangle, nor trapezoid… you get what I mean.

2) install upper torsion arms.
Slide and wiggle the arms on so they kinda click in. There is slight tension on the springs at this point. Pick a side, and crank the arm up with a pry bar. Tape the short section of wood (2×4 or 4x4) to the top of your sledgehammer and use that muffled hammer to bang the arms on. Do not use an unmuffled sledgehammer. The arm should move a little with each whack. Don’t swing it like you’re trying to split a log, more like you’re knocking on a door or something. If it doesn’t move a little with each bang, double check your springs (#1 above). If they hang up a few mm from the grease seal, double-check your springs (1 above). The only thing that should be slowing your progress is the friction on the pry-bar and the tension on the springs. Any other resistance means your springs need a re-check. Did I mention the springs? Once the arm sets against the seal, do the other side. My right hand side (RHS) went in nice and easy, but the left (LHS) was a bear. Remember, don’t hit too hard, just enough to push against the spring tension. By now you're wondering why I'm making such a big hairy deal about hitting the arms with a muffled sledge. I make that point because the first set of upper arms that I tried to install I didn't us a muffled sledge, and I didn't check my springs. I beat the crap out of those arms trying to get them on, and effectively destroyed them. I send them back to bus-boys, and they are now hanging in their shop as a shining example of how not to install your torsion arms. The second set I bought from them I installed with the muffled sledge method I figured out, and that worked great... once the springs were properly aligned into a square.
Oh, yeah, put on the set screws (8mm Allen) and torque to 29 ft. lbs. This can be hard if you don't have an Allen socket. I put my Allen wrench alongside my torque wrench, and torqued that way. It actually worked pretty well after a few tries. Put on the lock nuts (13mm hex) and torque to 29 ft. lbs as well. Now your upper torsion arms are in place.

—More next time—

reference picture:


I bought a 1972 VW camperbus in 2003 for $1500. I have been slowly repairing and improving upon it in my spare time. The interior was a moldy original Westvalia camper. The engine was heavily butchered by the previous owner: aftermarket distributor, aftermarket carb, etc. The shifter was all bent from the last owner not dealing with a transmission linkage issue. Still, the bus sat straight, had a good body and I loved it the minute I first saw it. My boys named him “Hapy” because of how he made us feel when we drove around in him. We've camped with Hapy, and used him as a daily driver most of the last few years. This blog is dedicated to the work that I perform on him, the trips we take with him, and the things we see and learn about cars, people and ourselves along the way. I have taken notes of everything I've done over the last few years, and I'll be posting that info along the way as well as detail on new projects and trips.