Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Head Banging without the Music

One of the unique characteristics of a 1972 VW Bus is how you get at the engine. For those used to leaning over the front fender of your favorite car, cold beverage in hand, while considering your timing, or the next oil change, or the Red Sox pitching staff, its a little different with an old bus. First off, the engine is in the back, which makes for some funny conversations at the annual smog check. It makes leaning on a fender impossible too, though the rounded corners are good for leaning :)

Once you're realized that the engine is back there, you discover that its behind a little door where the license plate sits. Pop that thing up, and you're in wonderland. Alice's wonderland, that is. For in the 1972 bus, that little door is the only way to get at your engine. I think of it as vehicular proctology. Between the coveralls, flashlight and tools, you can barely get in the door, much less do anything. Makes you wish for a little "eat me" cake, but that feeling only gets stronger when you realize you forgot a tool or need a sandwich and try to remove yourself from that doorway. *BANG* the back of your head hits the upper threshhold. That's why I always pop on a snow-hat before climbing into my engine door. I admit, its awfully hot doing that in the Summer, but its better than the inevitable headsmack. This one-door deal is really only a 1972 bus issue, as a top-hatch was added in 1973 and continued through the vanagon.

I'm tired of wearing a ski hat in the Summer. I want to be able to check something on my engine without getting down on all fours. I want to be able to lean against the engine opening and talk about the Red Sox pitching staff, and actually be able to see the engine when I'm doing it. So, what to do... why, cut a hole! Well, that sounds rash, but installing a door on the topside isn't such a bad idea. The question is how big a door? Would putting in a door compromise the structure of the bus or would additional bracing be necessary? Here are a few choices:

Baywindow bus hatch is 11" deep by 31 1/2" wide. Not too big, but engine access is achieved. Additional support or bracing is probably not needed, but I'd probably do something just to be sure. I don't think these are of much real use, though, because they're really quite small. With the coveralls and tools, can you really reach through an opening 11" deep and do anything other than utter muffled curses?

Vanagon Hatch. is 42 3/8" x 25 1/8". Huge. Makes one wonder "how much of your back would not be a door?" Well, I measured my back panel just for kicks and its 34" deep and 42" across to the westy closet. I'll remeasure tonight and repost if the numbers from memory are off. Its actually 44" across by 32" deep, but there's really only about 23", maybe a touch more, from the firewall to the rear door. Regardless, it tight. Additional supports or bracing would totally be necessary. A removable support in the center might be a good idea too. Big enough? Heck yeah. The lid would open like the hood on an old Monte Carlo. Of course, you'd breach the firewall with a hatch like that, at least according to my measurements, so this may not be such a good idea after all.

Type3/4 Hatch is 22" x 31" give or take a 1/4", with 34" on the diagonal from rounded corner to corner. Sounds about twice the size of the bus hatch, but not as big as the vanagon. It would barely fit, but bracing would be a good idea. Also, finding a lip might be a challenge, as the type3 and type4 cars are not as plentiful, and there are multiple layers of steel that would have to be cut through to get the original lip. Considering the closeness in size to the baywindow hatch (times 2) maybe 2 donor hatch frames could make a single lip. Sounds like it could be a lot of work.

make your own is always a choice, but rarely a good one. Lots of cutting, fabricating a door, maybe from the cut out steel doesn't sound like too great an idea. The edge of the cut out would need to be strengthened by something like a home-made lip. In the end, it won't look too good, probably won't be structurally sound, and will probably leak emissions into the bus. Bad idea.

Of the 3 decent ideas, I like the size and lineage of the type3/4 hatch, but the amount of work does give me pause. If I really need engine access from above, it will take more than cutting a hole and glueing in a vinyl window. Accordingly, I'll have to really plan this out before I do anything.

If you're thinking of putting in a hatch, I hope these dimensions were helpful to you. I collected them from different owners and part suppliers and should be pretty accurate. Thanks to the BusCo, theSamba and theDDB for helping collect the measurements.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

new engine opinions: update

I've gotten a great response on this via email. I want to thank everyone that read through all of the different options and offered their opinions. I have some new information about the TDI option, and a 7th option that many readers felt I overlooked.

TDI update
Kennedy Engineering, aka KEP, has responded to my questions about an adapter plate, and have indicated that they can support either the original transaxle or the one on the floor of the garage (091/1), or the later baywindow transaxle (091). Since the bellhousing for the 091 can fit on the 002, I have more options. I'm not sure if that's good or bad at this point.
I also found a website for a guy in Australia that built his own under-mount radiator setup. I'll add a link here later, but it was primarily pictures with very little text. I've also received emails from a company over there (Custom Offroad) that constructs an undermount radiator. They've apparently done a lot of these, but mostly for Subaru engine conversions, and their customers go off-road... in the desert. Sounds pretty convincing that they work.
Last, someone pointed out to me that the TDI engine can be "chipped" so it puts out considerably more power, so I shouldn't have rated it second.

Missing option
A number of readers felt that I overlooked ordering an engine from "Boston Bob". He has a great reputation in the aircooled VW community and has been doing it for a very long time. His quality falls above the BusDepot/AVP special, and is probably on par with Jake (the Camper Special), but not as expensive. I'm sure there are subtleties between the finished product that each can produce that explain the cost difference. I know Jake has been experimenting with higher output engines and trying to build with near-stock longevity. As I understand Boston Bob's approach its: building engines that are closer to stock that last nearly forever. Bob can build more powerful engines just as Jake can build less powerful engines. They have different approaches. Regardless, Boston Bob should have been in the choice list as he offers an improved engine at just above BusDepot prices.

That's really all I have for today. Because of a family reunion event that is warming up in CA, the bus may not make that Lake Shasta trip. That may be for the best if his engine is in questionable condition and his replacement is not yet ready for install. I'll have to figure out a way of explaining it to Hapy....

Monday, March 26, 2007

Travel planning, the old bus way

For the past few years, we've planned our Summer camping trips in winter. This seems awfully early to most folks I know, but camping in an old bus isn't the same as camping in a class "A". Besides, when better to think about warm weather camping, and swimming holes than during the typical NorthWest ground-soaking downpours. Not to mention the 40 degree temperatures. So far, we've planned a run down through southern Oregon to Lake Shasta, CA and a couple of weekend trips that are more local. The big southern run, though, requires more planning than just throwing a dart at the map.

how far can you sit in that 30 year old seat?
My backside answers: shorter than last year, and you didn't plan it well enough then either. Quiet you. This question, though ties into travel with kids in that they can't stay in a seat for too long either, regardless of how comfy. Seeing how there's no integrated DVD - game console - kid quieting machine in a '72 bus, frequent stops and an abbreviated travel day is necessary. Figure too, that camping in a non-class "A" manner means you have to do more than park to set up. This brings on the second question.

how long does it take to go from pull-in to set up?
Like the first question, I usually underestimate our ability to get set up, but the other way. My wife barely has time to say "we're finally here" between the time we pull in and the kids are tooling away on their bikes. Setting up "the shed" (2 person tent we use for holding the stuff we don't want to trip over in the bus) takes all of about 10 minutes. The rest of the set up of tablecloth, sleeping bags, coolers and stove is much faster than we realize. So, though the class "A" parked next to you may have pulled in and had the tv on faster than you could say "my, that's big", the microbus camper really can go from pull-in to dinner cooking in about 15 minutes. Faster if you put your beer down, but I have to do that enough at work.

now hot will it get?
Without A/C, this is actually an important question. The aircooled bus needs to cool off when the ambient air gets hot. Driving in 100+ degree weather is rough on you and the bus, so frequent stops are necessary to exchange the fluids in your body and to let the bus cool off.

what does the google map say?
I take the google map estimate and add at least half again to it. If they say it'll take 4 hours, I plan on 7. Why? Well, for one thing, the bus top speed is 60. That's straight downhill with a tail wind, etc. It goes 0 to 60 in about 15 minutes, so figure that in the amount of time it takes to go from dead stop to full speed, you could set up a campsite. Besides, between restroom stops, getting drinks and stoppnig to look at stuff, it really is a miracle we get out of the neighborhood, much less our destination.

In the end, we plan our travel around destinations, like everyone else, but we plan around midpoints nearly as much. We will stop every hour for something, even if its only drinks, and we'll get there after everyone else. Since we're making our reservations in March, we don't have to get there early to get the last of the unreserved sites, so it doesn't matter. Now's the time to plan your Summer, and don't forget to consider how far you need to go, who's riding with you, and what you're driving. Stop often, and when you can, take a side road. It can make the trip.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

So you wanna post a comment...

That was totally my fault. Here I was thinking, I'll ask a wide open question, and I'll be able to look through the comments to see what all my wise friends and readers think. Then one of my friends points out "hey, I need a blogger account to make a comment? That sucks, man". I'm all "huh?", and then I see it in the configurations thing. %@#$%! So, you wanted to post a comment, and the thing wouldn't let you? Well, not anymore. Feel free to post a comment, but please try to keep it as clean as, say, your Jr. High gym teacher would (no Carlin can't-say-that-on-tv words, but "crap" or "sucks" is fine with me).
I've gotten a strong response to my engine choices posts via email, and I hope they continue. If you have input, regardless of how valuable you may feel it is, its valuable to me.
Thanks again. I'll post a decision if the right one becomes glaringly apparent.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

new engine options: used / collect parts

The final entry of the multi-part posting. This time its about helping me make a decision on Hapy's stock 1700 engine. The choices are below, and this post is for the last 2: used engine or collect parts. I'll have one post for each choice, so they don't get too long. Hopefully, I'll get some good feedback and be able to make a good choice.

1) keep the limper
2) a Raby Camper Special
3) the TDI engine I have on my garage floor
4) a BusDepot special
5) some used engine off of craigslist
6) build one from parts collected off the 'net, parts stores, etc

The final 2 choices aren't really viable, but I'm adding them as alternatives anyway.

5) buy a used engine off of craigslist or wherever.
This is dicey. Obviously, the person selling it has their reasons. Maybe they're just killing a project. Maybe they're selling a dud. Assuming there's a good compression test to go on, a decent engine could be found this way. This doesn't get me any closer to where I want to be, though: more powerful, better known engine. Actually, the best I could hope for is slightly better power, but a lesser known engine. Which is better? *shrug* They can be found for $500, though. That's pretty cheap. And no shipping, but you gotta be fast, know what you're looking at, have a way of getting it home, and cash in pocket. You have to be willing to drive to the very edges of town as, inevitably, that's where the current owner of your engine lives.

Choice summary ranking as compared to other choices (1st, 2nd, etc):
cost (1-6): 2nd
work (1-6): 3rd
power (1-6): 5th
mpg (1-6): 4th
reliable (1-6): 5th

6) buy parts and assemble it myself.
This has the bad side of having to assemble it (Raby) without the power boost, reliability and general well-being found in getting a full kit. For some reason, no other manufacturer has gotten into the space of complete rebuild kits. You can get piston/cylinder (P&C) sets, camshaft and lifter sets, and gasket sets, but there's no complete set. So, you're wading through the shiny magazines trying to figure out what won't blow up if you put them together. There's your recipe for a restful vacation - put one of those mystery combo's in your bus and head for the outback. Uh... no. The pricing probably lands below the AVP, but with assembly. MPG is really anyone's guess... just like the engine :)

Choice summary ranking as compared to other choices (1st, 2nd, etc):
cost (1-6): 3rd
work (1-6): 5th
power (1-6): 4th
mpg (1-6): 5th
reliable (1-6): 6th

new engine options: BusDepot

Another multi-part posting. This time its about helping me make a decision on Hapy's stock 1700 engine. The choices are below, and this post is just about the BusDepot/AVP engine. I'll have one post for each choice, so they don't get too long. Hopefully, I'll get some good feedback and be able to make a good choice.

1) keep the limper
2) a Raby Camper Special
3) the TDI engine I have on my garage floor
4) a BusDepot special
5) some used engine off of craigslist
6) build one from parts collected off the 'net, parts stores, etc

4) a BusDepot special
$1925 ($300 of that is a core deposit you get back if I send the old engine to them) delivers a new 2L engine, including new heads (with improved valve seats) that would fit my existing set up. If the Raby Camper Special is the Cadillac, then this is the Ford Taurus - pretty reliable, not too flashy, not too powerful. At 68HP, its pretty much the same engine I have right now, only newer, with some better machining on the heads. On the upside, we'd know the history of the engine, and know that the parts were supposed to go together. Its already assembled, so I'd just have to pull my old engine, switch the accessories, and stuff it into the bus. That sounds easy, and it pretty much is. Figure a day's work for most, 2 or 3 days for me cuz I'm slow and careful and I usually add things to the list whenever I do something big. Wee...

MPG would still be in the 18 range, like the limper. I think hill power would be better than the limper because I think the limper is one tired engine. (and some folks said I couldn't put the word "limper" in a single sentence 3 times. Bah!) This represents just about the least amount of work, but the engine probably wouldn't last nearly as long as the Raby. Raby engines last pretty much forever (so the owners say, you'd never get him to say that), whereas the BusDepot (AVP, really) ones will last 40k miles. It's aircooled, and all that. Like the Taurus, there isn't really a whole lot good or bad to say about it.

Choice summary ranking as compared to other choices (1st, 2nd, etc):
cost (1-6): 4th
work (1-6): 2nd
power (1-6): 3rd
mpg (1-6): 3rd
reliable (1-6): 2nd

new engine options: TDI

Another multi-part posting. This time its about helping me make a decision on Hapy's stock 1700 engine. The choices are below, and this post is just about the TDI on my garage floor. I'll have one post for each choice, so they don't get too long. Hopefully, I'll get some good feedback and be able to make a good choice.

1) keep the limper
2) a Raby Camper Special
3) the TDI engine I have on my garage floor
4) a BusDepot special
5) some used engine off of craigslist
6) build one from parts collected off the 'net, parts stores, etc

3) The TDI engine I have on my garage floor
First off, I got this engine for a good price. On top of the bare engine, I got the complete list of accessories necessary to install according to (a company that installs TDI's into vanagon's). "but wait," you say. "yous gots a bus, fool." Yes I do, and yes I am. Thanks for taking note on both counts.

A TDI is a watercooled engine, and Hapy doesn't have a radiator. There are different solutions for this, but none are easy, and none are perfect. The Austrailians put a radiator under the floor. Its a real sleeper look, but it depends on fans running most of the time, and I can't find a real person over there to say "its great, mate", so I question how well it works. There are folks in the states that have put a radiator on the nose. No matter how well disguised, its still a radiator on the nose, so of the 2 choices, I prefer the under-the-belly choice. Either way its time and money regardless, and I don't have a limitless supply of either.

The TDI engine doesn't mate exactly with Hapy's transaxle. It doesn't mate exactly with anything except a TDI transmission, actually, so some kind of adapter plate (read: mo' money) would be necessary. I have yet to find an adapter plate that would go between a TDI engine and the old 002 transaxle, so I'd have to either use the vanagon transaxle on my garage floor (a great source of parts, that garage floor is) and figure out how to get it into the bus, how to shift it, etc, or figure out a way to get the engine to mate with Hapy's current transaxle. Neither choice is exceptionally clear from the transaxle and conversion people I've spoken to.

The engine doesn't attach to the frame in the same way as it did in the donor, of course, so I'd have to fabricate something (hire someone) to do that or try to find a pre-built kit. Someone over at Tiico said they had one, but they've become strangely silent now that I'm asking part numbers and such. Not exactly steadying. Still, this conversion has been done successfully, so I would just need to contact one of the folks that have done it and copy their solution.

Last, there's the wiring bit. The wiring in an old bus is about as complicated as the wiring in your uncle's old hunting cabin: 3 wires and none of them do anything. The wiring on these new engines could probably be sold as military secrets they're so complicated. Getting the wiring harness (think bundle of wires as thick as a quarter) to integrate will be a considerable challenge.

A TDI engine has about the same power as the Raby Camper Special (96HP -v- 92HP), but it should get 33MPG or better. Also, I'm starting to brew biodiesel for the other 2 cars (Jetta TDI and Mercedes Wagon), so fuel costs would be much lower. Low enough to offset the costs of getting the engine in the bus? At $1/gallon it will eventually, it would have to, even if the cost for regular gas stays flat. The savings is really pushed by how much the bus is driven. If its pretty much Summer-only, then it'll take a while. "Identity" concerns abound with this choice. Even if its a VW powerplant, the shift to watercooled is pretty dramatic. If I can keep the radiator under the belly, it wouldn't be as obvious.

Choice summary ranking as compared to other choices (1st, 2nd, etc):
cost (1-6): 6th
work (1-6): 6th
power (1-6): 2nd
mpg (1-6): 1st
reliable (1-6): 3rd

new engine opinions: Raby

Another multi-part posting. This time its about helping me make a decision on Hapy's stock 1700 engine. The choices are below, and this post is just about the Raby Camper Special. I'll have one post for each choice, so they don't get too long. Hopefully, I'll get some good feedback and be able to make a good choice.

1) keep the limper
2) a Raby Camper Special
3) the TDI engine I have on my garage floor
4) a BusDepot special
5) some used engine off of craigslist
6) build one from parts collected off the 'net, parts stores, etc

2) The Raby Camper Special

This is besically the "Cadillac" of air cooled engines for a bus. Maybe the "Cummins TurboDiesel" would be more appropriate. Peaking out at 92HP and 120 ft/lbs of torque, these engines fly, have better MPG (Jake has said mid 20's), and can actually tow things. Now, just the thought of seeing a bus towing a small boat makes me laugh, but the idea of having that kind of power available without altering the 'identity' of the aircooled bus is appealing. Not so appealing: the price. At $4200, this is not a tax refund only kind of purchase, and I'd still have to put it together. That's precious time, baby. Also, a rebuildable core might be a good idea as I really have no idea what shape the existing motor is in. Considering that it's running, I'm going to go out on a limb and say "its fine". Still, if there's a camping trip in the offing, building on a new block while puttering on the limper might be a good way to go about this. Flame me if you firmly feel otherwise.

Raby and his folks pre-assemble the engine, so you know the parts work together, and actually fit what you're doing. They're well respected lots of years in the biz, blah, blah, blah. Basically, its a killer engine at a budget busting price. If this is the choice, I can sell the TDI engine and stuff and mostly fund this, so cost isn't that much of a barrier, but its still pretty frickin' spendy... and its still burning dino-fuel even if the MPG improves into the 20's.

Choice summary ranking as compared to other choices (1st, 2nd, etc):
cost (1-6): 5th
work (1-6): 4th
power (1-6): 1st
mpg (1-6): 2nd
reliable (1-6): 1st

next... the TDI on my garage floor

new engine opinions welcome

Well... I've been really distracted lately with the 3 car monte I've been playing. Turns out I was right about the Ella - she was fuel starved. After a new low-pressure fuel pump (they have 2!) and a couple of filters (yeah, 2 of them too), she's running great. Hapy is back on the road, but curbside while I decide what to do with him, and I'm hoping that sheer numbers (or one person's clarity) can help guide me.

The decision: replace Hapy's stock 1700 engine with
1) keep the limper
2) a Raby Camper Special
3) the TDI engine I have on my garage floor
4) a BusDepot special
5) some used engine off of craigslist
6) build one from parts collected off the 'net, parts stores, etc

Each have their own positives and negatives, and I'll try to detail them here. Part of the equation is how much time it will take to get road-ready, how reliable the finished product will be, how powerful Hapy will be in the short and long run, etc. This all makes it really hard to be sure of what the right answer is. I'll spread descriptions of the different choices across multiple posts so this one doesn't get ridiculous. Depending on how it goes, I'll either post a grid of pluses and minuses or a summary or something like that. Anyway, I'll start with choice #1: do nothing, and go from there.

1) Keep the limper
Doing nothing is always a choice, but for how long? Will Hapy run indefinitely with the frankenmotor he currently has? Of course not. The trick is guessing when he's going to die and save up for that inevitability or be proactive. This choice is basically saying "let's wait until later when everything is more expensive".
Figure, he has 68HP if we're lucky. On most drives up Mt. Hood I get waved at one finger at a time. Ever wonder where that rushhour slowdown on I-5 South came from? That was me, driving home from work up the hill out of downtown in the righthand lane at 40MPH. Maybe only drivers of other slow vehicles can really understand the stress this brings when you're supposed to be enjoying the drive. The limper engine is also one of the main reasons our routes take us on state routes instead of interstates. Did I mention the MPG? 16. bleck. If I keep the limper, I'll need to at least slap fuel injection on there. That should improve the MPG by a couple, but it doesn't address the time-bomb effect, nor does it improve the boost uphill by much. Also, there is still the time spent getting the fuel injection on.

Choice summary ranking as compared to other choices (1st, 2nd, etc):
cost (1-6): 1st
work (1-6): 1st
power(1-6): 6th
mpg (1-6): 6th
reliable (1-6): 4th

next time... the Raby Camper Special

Added after all posts completed:
Since I can't figure out a grid, here are the rankings by category (1->6)
Cost: limper, used, collect parts, BusDepot, Raby, TDI
Work: limper, used, BusDepot, Raby, collect parts, TDI
Power: Raby, TDI, BusDepot, collect parts, used, limper
mpg: TDI, Raby, BusDepot, used, collect parts, limper
reliable: Raby, BusDepot, TDI, limper, used, collect parts

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Clutch Cable Conundrum

I haven't given a great deal of background on our other cars, but now is as good a time as any. This is relevant, eventually. We have a Jetta TDI that we call Flash. We've had him for a few years, and now that the intake has been cleaned, he lives up to his namesake again. Although we originally bought him as a work-commuter car, its been the fam-transporter for the last year. A few days ago, we bought an '85 Mercedes 300TD turbo-diesel wagon that we call Ella. This is the new fam-transporter, that should move Flash back into a commuter car and move Hapy back into a Summer-only funbus. That was how we started the day yesterday, but things got interesting by nightfall.

First, something happened to Ella and she wouldn't start. I had to beat feet home from work so the kids could make their after school events. Ella sounds like she's fuel-starved, but I don't have a filter or anything for this car. So it sat overnight and went off to the shop this morning on the back of a towtruck.

Second, I noticed when I drove Flash last night after the kids got home that the check engine light was on. He ran fine, so I'm thinking its something minor, but I'd like to run the codes just the same. Anyway, with Ella in the shop, the wife and kids get Flash today, and Hapy needed to be the commuter car for one more day. Apparently, that was one day more than he wanted to be a commuter car. Which leads us to "third"...

On the drive into work this morning, Hapy's clutch cable broke. I fully admit, I knew it was on borrowed time. I had recently adjusted the cable and I had practically run out of threading. This told me that the cable was stretching, which only happens at the beginning and the end of a cable's useful life. Since I knew it wasn't new, I knew it was dying. I made a note of it and promised Hapy that I'd deal with it after he was allowed to rest (not commuting every day). I guess Hapy thought I went back on our deal. So, in less than 24 hours all 3 of our cars went from trouble-free to troublesome.

Hapy's first tell was when I clutched to shift into 4th during the morning rush hour and felt a little "doink" through my foot. I knew something wasn't quite right. My first thought turned out to be the right one: the clutch cable snapped, but the pedal didn't drop to the floor, so I was a little unsure. Fortunately, traffic was moving at a pretty steady pace through the Terwilliger curves on I-5, so I was able to stay with it from the Terwilliger on-ramp through to the OR26 offramp. At this point, traffic started to gum up so I took the exit and turned onto a side street. I only clutched once and that was just to get out of 4th so I could coast. This may have saved the rest of the cable and, more importantly, the wingnut on the end.

I was pretty angry at myself for not having kept my promise to Hapy, and the whole vehicular nightmare that we were living: 2 cars down, 1 unknown. After cursing for a minute or so, I climbed into the back of the bus and checked under the rear benchseat for a new cable. Ahh... I had one. I remembered buying it a long time ago "just in case", but I wasn't sure if it was in the bus where it should have been or in the garage. Carry an extra clutch cable, wingnut and clevis pin. I had to reuse the clevis pin, but if the wingnut had been lost, I would have been too - I had no spare.

Now comes the fun part: getting out of my docker-world monkey-suit and into my coveralls to see what's what. There's something very surreal about stripping down inside your bus while the morning commute rushes past the windows. What I don't realize when I'm driving with them is that no one ever looks out their side windows except to check the blindspot. I'm practically naked with the curtains spread wide and I didn't get a single look. Funny.

Anyway, I had my bag of books so I opened the Muir book to the clutch cable replacement section. Turns out he's completely wrong for buses after 1968. I realized this after removing the front belly pan only to discover that I couldn't get to the front of the clutch cable from there. Grr... If you ever need to replace
your cable, the Bentley chapter 5, section 15.5 is right. I was able to pull the old cable out and inspect it for wear. There was an old fray about 2 feet from the end and the end itself was split in 2. Fortunately, the tail of the cable was still there, connected to the clutch arm and the wingnut was still attached. I think if I had gone to town on the clutch pedal trying to will it to work, I would not have been so lucky. I greased the snot out of that new cable while I slid it in from the front. The front end of the tube into which the cable is supposed to feed can be hard to spot if you aren't sure where to look, so make a note of it before you pull the old one out. I could have saved myself a few minutes if I had.

The whole process, from the "doink" feeling in my left foot to pulling back onto the interstate was less than 2 hours. If I had to do it again, I could probably half that time. Regardless, as always seems to happen, every time I do a small repair on the bus, I get that satisfaction feeling of having been self-sufficient again. In
contrast, Ella has been at the shop all morning and we have yet to find out what's wrong. I think it would be terribly ironic if it was the fuel filter. This would just further prove that while doing your own diagnosis and work is important, having the part immediately available is more so. I guess I need to start making a list of Mercedes parts to have around.

until next time...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

AirCooled AfterMarket Axis of Evil (Part III)

It seems like there are 3 different things that all get changed around the same time by folks that mean well, but don't realize they're doing their air-cooled VW a disservice. Maybe they got misled by some flashy advertisement. Maybe they were talked into it by a mechanic that "used to race" so he knew what he was doing. Regardless, if you find one of these aftermarket modifications, the odds are very good that the other 2 have been made as well. This is part III of a 3 part series dedicated to the different AirCooled Aftermarket Axis of Evil modifications. So, if the other 2 were Iraq and Iran, then this one must be my North Korea.

Evil Aftermarket Modification #3: removing the thermostat or more of the temperature regulation system
I've never really understood why people do this, but it happens so often, it has become a practice. Kind of like selling nuclear equipment or materials to non-proliferation countries, this will only come back to haunt you. Eventually. We call these engines "air cooled" which sounds like they're always hot and need cold air blowing on them all the time or they'll melt in front of your eyes. While this is true when you're running through the desert in mid-afternoon in August, most of us aren't doing that. Ever. So why should you care? Your heads can warp if you blow cold air on them when they are not in need of cooling, for one thing. For another, your fuel won't burn properly, driving down your power and your mpg. A thermostat and the air vanes help the engine get to its most efficient temperature, and then helps keep both the oil and the engine at that temperature. "The oil?" you ask. Yeah, the oil. Although we call these "air cooled" John Muir pointed out that we should probably call them "oil cooled" as well because its the oil that transfers a lot of the combustion temperature out. If you don't have the air vanes, you aren't getting air to your oil cooler, and you're heading for an overheating.

How do I recognize this evil?
This evil comes in 2 forms-
First: no thermostat. Get on the ground behind your bus with a flashlight and shine the beam through the exhaust above the lower right-side engine tin so you're looking between the right heat exchanger (manifold) and the block. Is there a cable running from the front end back to a pulley and then up to the top of the engine? No? Someone took your thermostat off and didn't replace it.
Second: no vanes. Open the rear engine door and reach over the top of the fan housing (the big silver thing on the very back of the engine). Is there a bar there that runs the length of the back of the housing? No? They got your vanes too! It is very rare that you'll have lost your vanes but kept your thermostat. This is because the thermostat has a cable running from it to control those vanes, and removing the vanes is much more time consuming than pulling the thermostat plus cable. As much as the removal of the thermostat irritates me, the removal of the vanes is just hazardous to your engine. This needs to be remedied. While you're at it, put a thermostat on there.

How do I eradicate the evil-doer(s)?
If all you're missing is the thermostat, you can no longer get the original styled part. Maybe this is why the old one didn't get replaced. Nah... You can get a newer version type1 thermostat and have it altered to suit a type4 (pancake) engine. I had the fine folks at do this for me and it bolts right in. Tie a small fishing weight to a length of string. Tie the other end to the vane rod and drop the weight through the tin-hole in the top of the engine just to the left of the right-side of the fan housing. If you use a flashlight and a mirror (or stick your head in there) its pretty easy to see that there's only the one hole. Tape the cable end to the string and pull the cable up through the hole. Push the rod all the way forward and thumbscrew the cable to the rod. Wait, you don't have a rod?! Then we need to fix that first.
Replacing the vanes and actuating rod takes a little more time and requires some used parts ( is my personal playground for stuff like this). Its actually easier to do this by dropping the engine, but if you don't want to do that (like I didn't), follow these instructions. You need to remove the exhaust (from the heat exchangers back), and the rear engine tin. Do you have a heat reflector between the muffler and the lower engine tin? No? Yeah, that's not surprising. As long as you're there, you should find and install one of these. It will drop your engine temperatures a few degrees when the engine is running it’s warmest - when you want the temp drop. Anyway, remove the alternator tin (leave the alternator there, though), and remove the fan grill, timing scale and fan. Remove the little tins (covers) between the heat exchangers and the fan housing. There's one on each side and they're about 3 inches by 1 inch and held in by 2 flathead bolts each. If you have the little flappers in there, grab them. If you don't, add them to the list for the used bus parts place. Now, for the heavy part: support the fan housing with something and remove the bolts (in the hole where the fan was) that hold the fan housing to the engine block. You'll probably discover a few flathead screws that you didn't take out holding you up. Pull them and wiggle the fan housing back. There is just enough space to fit the new-to-you vanes into the fan housing. Make sure the bottom of the vanes click into the little hinge pins or they won't operate correctly. Hold the rod steady and fit the housing back into place. Test the action of the rod. No scraping noise? They move freely and make a clatter-clunk noise at each end of travel? You're good! Put those big bolts back in and take a breath. The install is genuinely the reverse of the install. Don't forget to put the little flaps in where the heat exchangers meet the fan housing, and cut a gasket for the little covers when you put them on. Put the fan on squarely and torque it down in steps, don't forget your timing scale. Make sure you place the gasket between the alternator and its tin properly. When you're ready to put your rear engine tin back on, get your heat reflector ready - it is held on by the same flathead bolts. Its recommended to use new fasteners and gaskets when you put your exhaust together. I use stainless steel bolts, washers and nuts whenever I can so I can reuse them. And they don't rust.

I think somewhere along the line someone in Southern California or in the desert states came up with a few hot-rodder ideas that worked in their area. Everywhere else we have dew points, stop signs and morning chill that we have to think about when tooling on these buses. Once you've removed these 3 demons from your bus you will notice that it runs better in all kinds of weather, has better power and gets better mileage.

Monday, March 5, 2007

AirCooled Aftermarket Axis of Evil (Part II)

It seems like there are 3 different things that all get changed around the same time by folks that mean well, but don't realize they're doing their air-cooled VW a disservice. Maybe they got misled by some flashy advertisement. Maybe they were talked into it by a mechanic that "used to race" so he knew what he was doing. Regardless, if you find one of these aftermarket modifications, the odds are very good that the other 2 have been made as well. This is part II of a 3 part series dedicated to the different AirCooled Aftermarket Axis of Evil modifications.

Evil Aftermarket Modification #2: 009 distributor (010 and 050 too)
Some folks still swear by them. I swear at them. John Muir said the mechanical advance distributor was better than the vacuum/mechanical because the introduction of the vacuum was really for lazy people. Well.... I'd have to disagree. If you have one of these distributors, you probably find that you have almost no power at the very bottom of the RPM range. Pulling away from a stop sign requires that you really goose the gas. If you've always had a mechanical-only advance distributor (009, 010, 050) you may not realize the this is not how a VW is supposed to run. The vacuum is needed because the mechanical advance is too slow at the beginning of the curve, causing the bog-down effect from a full stop.

How do I recognize this evil?
There will not be a vaccum can on the side. The vacuum can is a circular brass thing (looks almost like a hockey puck) stuck to the side of the distributor near the top where the cap clicks on. Its about 2 inches across and has a little hose coming out of it that connects to your carb or fuel injection somewhere. Some distributors have a vacuum retard as well so there may be more than one hose. The important part is that you have a hose going from the distributor to something else. A 009, 010, and 050 have no hose, just wires... and bad times.

How do I eradicate the evil-doer?
Simply, toss it in a box and get a distributor with a vacuum advance component. Don't sell it or the terrorists win! Your local steel recycler is your ally! There are aftermarket replacement distributors that have a vacuum component. For example, I got a SVDA (Single Vacuum Dual Advance) from for about $150. You can get the stock distributor, but I've found them to be more expensive. The stock part number is 021905271 with a letter on the end that differs depending on your model year. You can find these new at BusDepot or used at theBusCo, BustedBus or Bus-Boys. Installing a distributor isn't as hard as it sounds. Just get your engine to top-dead-center (TDC) - that's where your engine is ready to fire in cylinder #1. Remove the old distributor and put the new one in. The guys at supplied many pages of instructions, so this was a short afternoon's work to get it into my bus and running right. If you go the stock distributor route, there are decent instructions in the Bentley service manual for installing it. I took this opportunity to switch from points to electronic ignition. It cost $70 for the kit and an additional $10 for the labor at AirCooled to put it into the SVDA, but I like the fact that I don't have to mess with points when I do a tune up. Besides, I think the electronic ignition gives a better spark.

How to set the timing once the distributor has been installed has been a topic of great debate. I have found that setting the timing just retarded from the spec for the engine code has been the best for me. Advance too far, and you overheat. Overheat, and you're walkin'. Every bus has a different combination of parts if you aren't strict-stock, so your timing may not be exactly by-the-book either. Static timing of an 009 is practically impossible, so by removing this evil, you're actually making your bus more owner-maintainable. I've carried my old 009 around in my parts bin (the big cabinet under the Westfalia rock-n-roll bed) for 2 years just in case I needed it. I don't need it anymore, but selling the 009 is spreading the wrong message (letting the terrorists win), so its going to the steel recycler. Maybe, though the wonders of recycling, it can become an instrument of freedom.

Next time.... Evil AfterMarket Modification #3

Friday, March 2, 2007

AirCooled Aftermarket Axis of Evil

Yesterday's posting about the Weber Progressive Carb in the Wintertime reminded me of my AirCooled Aftermarket Axis of Evil. What is this Axis of Evil? Well, its not Korea, Iran and Iraq. It is a collection of modifications performed on aircooled vehicles that are all done together for some reason. It seems like there are 3 different things that all get changed around the same time by folks that mean well, but don't realize they're doing their air-cooled VW a disservice. Maybe they got misled by some flashy advertisement. Maybe they were talked into it by a mechanic that "used to race" so "he knew what he was doing". Regardless, if you find one of these aftermarket modifications, the odds are very good that the other 2 have been made as well. Bear in mind, if the VW engineers could have left off a bolt, they would have saved the company a big ol' pile o' cash after producing millions of these engines.
I'll spend my next 3 posts on each of the different AirCooled Aftermarket Axil of Evil modifications. After yesterday's post about the Weber 32/36 progressive, we'll logically start there. Its not the worst of the Axis of Evil, but its not part of the Coalition of the Willing either.

Evil Aftermarket Modification #1: Weber Progressive 32/36 Carb.
I know fellow bus drivers that swear by these carbs. Usually it comes up in a conversation about why they only drive their bus in the Summertime. "Busses can't be used all year 'round," they say. "They don't like the cold." Ahh yes... good old balmy Germany... that's where my bus wants to drive. That's crazy talk. If you don't like driving your bus in the cold because it doesn't have heat, say so, and I'll happily help you fix it. Your bus likes the cold fine. Your centermount progressive carb doesn't. It really isn't the carb's fault, though, its the fault of the long intake that the carb sits on. After the fuel and air mix together, it travels down 15" or more of pipe to the intake port on your head. That pipe is out there in the elements, not heated by anything, so the fuel mixture gets all dorked up and by the time it hits the combustion chamber it doesn't burn right. This carb was designed to sit right on top of the Pinto engine, getting warmed by the engine block. No such luck on theVW, especially the pancake motor in 1972-1983 bus/vans.

How do I recognize this evil?
When you pop the rear engine door and look inside, there will be a silver squarish thing sitting right in the middle of everything. If it is exactly as it comes out of the box, it will have a chrome aircleaner on it. It is sitting on long silver tubes that look like electical conduit. "Aw.. but it looks so pretty," you say. Yeah, pretty, but grossly inefficient when the air temperature drops below 70F or gets near the dew point. Here in the Pacific NorthWest, its a rare day when its not near the dew point except in the Summer..... which, oddly enough, is when the local Weber drivers think is the only time to drive a bus. Coincidence? No, they've been confused by the evil-doers.

How do I eradicate the evil-doer?
There are a few options for reducing the negatives of the Weber (containment of the evil-doer), or you could toss it completely for the correct induction system for your make/model/year.
Option 1: you could add insult to injury by trying the GM Cavalier trick. The Cavalier had a similar problem with its induction system, so GM added a heated gasket to warm the system. Whaddaya know, it fits between a Weber and that ridiculous electrical conduit intake. I have not personally done this, but I have heard that this does actually work, but you need some kind of thermal sensor to tell it to turn itself off. Sounded dangerous and little like like nonscience, so I tried...
Option 2: find a source of warm air and route it into the aircleaner. This helps the carb work better down to the mid 40F's, and drivable into the mid 30F's. I went into more detail in yesterday's post about this. The best solution is replacing the whole thing with what was removed in the first place - either dual carbs or fuel injection. These are more expensive options, but doing it right isn't usually the less expensive way in the short term. It is usually the less expensive way in the long term, though.

Dual carbs and fuel injection are not harder to dial-in than the Weber, nor are they harder to routinely maintain. What's hard is finding what's wrong with the used parts you have. Run a Weber for 30 years, and see if you don't have a similar "what's wrong with it" head-scratching session. The Dual carbs and fuel injection that came with the bus have 30 years of millions of owners experience to draw on. Removing the evil-doer in this case is easy; its the establishment of a stable system after the fact that's the challenge. That's usually because you're doing the work with the parts you have, not the parts you wish you could have. Hmm.. that sounded eerily familiar.....

Next time... Evil Aftermarket Modification #2

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Cold Weather and the Dreaded Weber

The Pacific NorthWest has been experiencing its last throes of Winter these last few weeks. Ever since Puxatawney Phil didn't see his shadow, it seems like the weather gods have decided to prove him wrong: there will be more winter. Here in the Pacific NorthWest, we've had "wintery mix" which means rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail and snow shifting from one to the other throughout the day. Did I mention gusting wind? Oi. It makes driving a little more exciting, but traffic a real bear.

When the air gets this cold, it takes a long time for Hapy to warm up. When I first bought Hapy, he was missing a number of pieces that helped to keep him warm - making his warmup never complete in winter. I'll go into those part identification and installation adventures another day. Even after finding and installing all those parts, though, the non-stock Weber Progressive 32/36 carburator would not perform well in the cold. If the air temp fell below 50F degrees, he would buck and toss like when I first learned how to drive a clutch. If you're having the same experience, I'd suggest you try this:

First, find a snorkelled air cleaner that fits the top of the Weber 32/36. I bought a "Sprint" air cleaner from Pierce Manifolds for $15. This fits perfectly on top, and bolts down with the filister bolts you use on the chrome air cleaner the Weber came with. This will allow you to control warm and cold air entering the carb.
But where does the warm air come from? Look at the right side of the firewall when looking in through the access hatch (top or rear). Is there a steel elbow that points up that's maybe 2 inches across? No? Is there a square hole with 2 bolt holes on either side of it? Yes? Ok, you're missing 2 key pieces of tin for getting the warm air into your carb. Now, if you have a fuel injection (FI) firewall, you may not have either of these items, so you may have more tin to replace. Honestly, if you have to go that far, you may want to consider returning to FI. Anyway, the pieces are on this diagram, numbers 42 and 43. Number 42 is the elbow on the inside of the firewall and #43 is a longer elbow that bends around the fuel pump (if you have a mechanical fuel pump) and to the firewall. I got these 2 pieces from my man Ken at theBusCo.
Getting these pieces to align without dropping the engine is a challenge, especially if you have a mechanical fuel pump, as the longer elbow needs to fit between the fuel pump and some of the engine tin. You do have a hole in the tin where the long elbow comes down, right? No? Ok, you have newer tin so you can either buy a "new" piece or cut your old one. I cut mine and I now regret it as I have to plug the hole to put FI back on. All of the pieces do fit together, and it can be done by yourself, but its much easier if you can get a friend or a willing child to hold the small elbow in place as you thread the filister bolt through and tighten it down. When its raining, and you're working in your driveway (as I was), you really appreciate hot tea afterwards... and a long shower.
After the tin is in place, and the snorkel is attached, you've finished the hard part. You need a flexible air hose to connect the small elbow near the firewall to the lower part of the snorkel. I got a standard sized one at the local GI Joes. Route the air hose under the long intake runners so its out of the way and any residual heat will warm the runners a little.

To make use of the new equipment, lift the flapper on the snorkel all the way. This will bring just the warmed air up into the carb. In Summer, lower and click-shut the flapper so only cool air enters the carb. This is important as in the Summer using only warm air can overheat your engine. Also, you get better power with cold air entering the carb, so you may want to play with where you set the flapper. You should find that by using the snorkel, you can drive your bus down into the 30F temps before you have the bucking return.

This Winter, especially these last few weeks, I have driven my bus in 35F temps uphill on the interstate. I have had to stay in the right-hand lane, but I've been able to stay on the road. Two years ago, that would not have been possible. If you're having troubles with your Weber and either can't afford to get FI ($250) or don't want the hassle of working on a FI powered engine, you can get the tin, snorkel and the hose for under $50 and a couple hours work. Just try to find a dry place to do the work.