Tag: bostig

Texas Busfest 2015

Last weekend Melina and I loaded up Olly and headed to the Busfest, a gathering of presumably like-minded Vanagonauts and Busnuts in central Texas. It was our first time joining the throng, and we were part of a crowd of over a hundred buses, 27 of which were Vanagons. I’ve honestly never see so many VW vans in Texas, and it was actually encouraging to discover it’s not all Chevy and Ford in the Lone Star State. Not that I have anything against Ford, what with Olly being Bostig’d and all. And for what it’s worth, there was even a Chevy-converted Vanagon present. It was quite impressive.

We took the canoe, and this was also the first time we’ve gone a significant distance with the canoe on the Yakima rack, and the whole thing worked wonderfully. I was able to load and unload the canoe by myself thanks to the Boat Loader extension bar, and strapping it down securely was easy. Only bad thing was that once tied down, the back hatch was inaccessible due to interference with the straps, but if I absolutely had to get in there, it would just mean unhitching the one rear strap.

Olly fared well otherwise, as he does. I kept the speed around 65 mph out of deference to the canoe, but we had the power to go faster. Unfortunately, with the van loaded down, the aging springs and suspension were made very apparent, and I’ve decided to elevate that to the next project. Definitely not something I’m looking forward to tackling.

Two upgrades bear mention.  The first was a new mattress pad for the lower bunk, bought on Amazon. The pad fits perfectly, and added so much comfort to the bed. Also, although it takes up a lot of space when we’re not using it, it’s much more compact than other memory foam type toppers I’ve seen some Vanagon campers travel with.

The second addition to the Vanagon kit is the Rear Hatch Shelter by Bus Depot, and it also impressed us. Having the rear hatch fully open kept the van much cooler both day and night, and it was an exceptionally handy place to change clothes, providing room with fewer obstructions than the main cabin. We need to get a better mat for the ground, but otherwise it’s great.

Of course the best part of the whole trip was meeting fellow Veedubers, who on the whole are a welcoming lot. In particular, it was great to meet the growing faction of Texas Vanagon owners, who have their own Facebook page. Visiting with others I learned a few things, although not most people’s names. Sorry if I can’t remember yours the next time we meet. Probably will remember your dog’s name, though.

I enjoyed, but didn’t record the symphony of boxers I heard during the weekend. Here instead are a few pictures:

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Goin’ Immobile

It hasn’t really been a good spring for Olly. He’s spent a fair bit of time in the garage, which is better than being in the driveway, but he hasn’t gone much further than that. That makes him (and me) a bit sad.

On the bright side, I’ve managed to do a lot of things to Olly while he’s been in the garage. It all started with an idea to replace the heater/vent fan before summer rolled around. Of course, that necessitates dashboard removal, so since it was out anyway, it was a good time to take care of a number of other tasks, like some rust mitigation, wire management, heater box restoration, speedometer cable replacement, brake cylinder replacement, sound proofing, and relocation of the power window switches. While I was in there I removed the stock cruise control hardware and lubed up anything that I could. While I was waiting for parts, I took the seats out and repainted the swivel bases with POR-15 and rattlecan Rustoleum top coat. The bases are much nicer looking now, and turn smoother as well. The passenger side could use some new bushings, but I just couldn’t justify spending $70 for a few pieces of plastic right now. At any rate, pretty much the entire front cab was gutted in the process, and all told that kept Olly off the road for a good month in March.

I also transferred the my existing wiring harness and gauges to the instrument cluster I’ve restored. I love having actual tabs to connect the cluster to the dash. It’s the little things, you know.

Here’s a few notes for future reference, in no particular order:

  • I bought the master brake cylinder from Van-Cafe, and it came with the brake light switches pre-installed. Unfortunately, they are 3 prong switches, so I had to cut out the middle terminal and bend the outer ones inwards slightly so that I could keep the stock connectors.
  • The sound deadening material I used was from SoundDeadenerShowdown.com. I like his products and website, although he doesn’t have a proper online store. Everything makes a dull “thunk” noise when hammered instead of sounding like the inside of a trash dumpster.
  • The padded elements of the dashboard apparently can be removed. This would make painting and restoring it so much easier than the masking that I did.
  • I moved the power window controls to the dash a la GoWesty, but without their million dollar kit. I actually did a lot of research looking for the ideal switches, and would actually have used the stock VW switches if they weren’t so durned expensive. So I found a kit made by SPAL Automotive sold by A-1 Electric. The switches are stock size, and so fit into the VW bezel, and they are illuminated unlike the GoWesty kit. On top of everything, they look appropriate to late 80’s automotive styling, so they don’t feel out of place. I did a bit of splicing to utilize the stock wiring as much as possible, and the result is wonderful. Both windows raise and lower without problem. The switches require a slight lean across the cab from the driver’s seat, but it’s not uncomfortable what with my gorilla arms.
  • I’d like to get some stock fuse holders to add to the fuse panel for a few accessories: the Bostig MIL indicator and the radio.
  • Also, still need to create some kind of filter for the air intake to keep Olly from collecting butterflies.
  • The steering wheel shaft has a bit of play in it, and I assume it’s due to some bushing wearing out in the upper column.

I got Olly reassembled long enough for him to star in a movie. I was able to enter Bostig’s spring contest and will post a link to the video once the contest closes.

Olly’s mobility was short lived, however, and ended when I decided it was high time to tackle the wheel bearings. Suspension and wheels scare me, I don’t know why. Probably because these can be really tough jobs to do without a lift and a press of some sort. Also, screwing them up can be really bad. In any case, Olly’s wheels came off so that I could replace and lube all 4 bearings, and none of it was actually that difficult. The job got drawn out when I decided to replace the brake hardware while I was in the neighborhood. I also encountered a snafu involving a broken rear bearing case. It was remedied by Ken Wilford at Van-Again, who is really a great guy. I posted my problem to the Vanagon list serve, and he volunteered to help. A call the next day resulted in a quick payment transaction, and a completely rebuilt rear bearing case was on its way.

For what it’s worth, I have no real complaints about any of the various parts vendors, and use them all. Ken does deserve special mention because he’s very knowledgeable and down-to-earth in his explanations. I’ve also found his YouTube channel to be a nice supplement to Bentley for some quick-and-dirty guides to some dirty jobs.

So now the van is running on all four wheels again. This is a good thing, as I decided to fix the broken window motor in the Bimmer, so now it’s holed up in the garage. The joys of owning 80’s automobiles.

1600 Miles

A year ago I put the Bostig conversion in Olly. It has run spectacularly pretty much from day one, but it’s taken a bit longer to develop unwavering confidence in the engine conversion and my handiwork. A few weeks ago I made a lengthy solo trip from Texas to Nebraska, and I can now say that I’d take this beast anywhere.

Just before the trip, I got around to installing the HC oil pan. It’s yet another lovely piece of work by the Bostig boys and improves the clearance and (more importantly, in my opinion) the departure angle significantly. If you go Bostig, you’ll want one eventually. It has an oil level sensor (simple float type) built in, which connects to an idiot light you can install in the dash. It’s a great touch, but is hyper-sensitive. On brisk acceleration and strong (particularly rightward) turns, there’s enough movement of oil in the pan to cause the float to drop and trigger the light to flicker. I think I may be able to design a bit of circuitry which can dampen that “signal noise.” I don’t want to become so accustomed to tuning out the indicator lights that I don’t pay attention when something drastic happens. But that’s another project for yet another time. Everything works.

At any rate, I took care of a few loose ends here in Seguin, and drove northwards. I took SH-130 to I-35, allowing me to bypass the traffic-jam known as Austin entirely. As far as pieces of divided pavement go, it’s wonderful. There’s next to no traffic, the road is smooth and wide open, and even though the speed limit is 85, most people drive in the 70-80mph range. I kept to about 65-70, and never felt overly outgunned.

Once on I-35, it was pretty much on and off construction up through Fort Worth. That meant it was more congested, but on the plus side, kept the speeds down to 60, which is where the van really likes to ride. Combined with a bit of a tailwind, I managed to get 22.3 mpg through this stretch, my best tank ever in the Bostig. And the van, for that matter. (I broke that record the next day on a back-highways stretch through Kansas).

Oklahoma was easy going, and I was able to stop off in Ponca City to meet fellow Vanagonauts Maggie Dew and Larry Chase. We swapped some Vanagon and home improvement tales, and in the morning, showered and coffeed, I was able to continue northward. I stuck to US 77, since that ends up in Lincoln, Nebraska, my destination. Kansas was a pleasant drive, and I arrived in mid-afternoon. In total, I got 21.2 mpg for this northbound trip.

During my time in Lincoln, my brother got to see the Bostig conversion firsthand, and was really impressed with it. He tends towards the “keep it stock” school of automotive restoration, and generally dislikes mechanical and aesthetic modifications. He thought the

power got a comfortable boost from the Zetec, and he even agreed that while it doesn’t sound like a WBX, it sounds right for a Vanagon. So victory on those counts!

Nebraska Storm

After the weekend, I headed back home. The southbound journey cut directly through a Great Plains storm front and into headwinds through Kansas that killed my gas mileage. The worst tank was at 15.7mpg, and overall I got 17.8. Still, once I got into Oklahoma I was able to draft off of the semi trucks and that put me back into the 20+ range per tank, even despite the headwinds. The best part of the southbound trip was that I drove straight through, and the van kept going strong through the entire hot day, with temps hitting the upper 90’s in Texas.

This may not have been the most grueling road-trip for a van to undertake, but it was two 800+ mile trips in hot weather without incident. Okay, there was the moment where the driver’s windshield wiper worked itself loose in the Nebraska storm, but a quick stop under an overpass and things were set aright. That’s not an incident. That’s just flavor. During the trip, I never checked the oil, never worried about coolant or overheating, never worried if the van was going to get me there or back. And never was I stuck.

I just drove. And driving felt good.

On Previous Owners

I am coming up on six years of Vanagon ownership in March of this year. Olly came to me by way of a dealership in Colorado. Before that he lived for a bit in the Pacific Northwest, but he began life in Texas like so many German immigrants. I take some measure of joy in the fact that I’ve brought him back “home.” Vans are rare in these parts.

I know all of this because of a CarFax report and some receipts I found in the van, but otherwise the previous owners are a mystery to me. I don’t know the names of these vanagonauts or the roads they travelled in Olly. I’d like to think that some of the longtime van owners out there passed Olly and exchanged a Vanagon wave during his 145,000 previous-to-me miles, but that’s purely fantasy.

What I do know is that Olly has been both loved and neglected. For the most part he came to me blessedly stock, although less than fully functional. I say “blessedly” not because I believe that a stock van is inherently better, but because it made learning about the ins and outs of Vanagons a lot easier in a place where there are few references other than Bentley and the list. Electrical gremlins are much easier to exorcize when the diagrams approximate reality.

That being said, there are signs-a-plenty that Olly has been captained by others. Patched metal, taped wires, jumped connections, POR-15’d spots, and stripped non-metric bolts point to both care and neglect. Most often I curse the previous owner’s bone-headedness, like when I find that BOTH the front door wiring harnesses were snipped instead of being disconnected properly just a few inches further under the dash.

It’s frustrating to stumble across such examples the PO’s handiwork while I’m in the middle of fixing something else, but lately I’ve been trying to view these scars as talismans. That the repairs were done at all is an indication that someone, somewhere along the way wanted to keep this van on the road a little longer. That those folks cared about this van, even if they lacked expertise or proper tools. Many vans are not so lucky. Mine was, and so it has to come to me.

For that I am grateful.

So I here’s to you, all you previous owners, for your stubbornness that kept the four wheels rolling even when you had no business trying. For your bravery in owning a Vanagon at all. And for your wisdom to pass the van (and the mess you made) on to someone else when the time came. I thank you.


Bostig Installed

A month later than originally intended, the Zetec is installed in Olly. The delay was due to hold-ups on Bostig’s end, but to be fair, I had quite aggressively high expectations about the timing of the project. When I expressed my frustration to Jim about the teasingly slow trickle of parts, he was quite apologetic about the whole situation, and from then on Nate then kept me posted with progress updates. Unfortunately, my summer travel plans revolved around a completed engine conversion and a deadline, and so therefore fell through.

Even if Bostig had shipped out on their timetable, I realize I probably would have been pressed to complete all aspects of the install in just under three weeks. It wouldn’t have been impossible, but converting an engine is a Very Big Thing, and even in as well documented a system as the Bostig, there’s going to be some quirkiness that varies from vehicle to vehicle that just needs to be worked through. And that doesn’t include rework when you fuck things up due to your own personal level of ineptitude. Mine wasn’t terribly high, but sufficient to keep things interesting. Like when I over-torqued one of the transmission mount bolts. My advice is to avoid doing that.

Another factor that slowed progress is that I did the conversion completely solo. For most of the process that’s perfectly fine, though there are a couple of points when an extra pair of hands or eyes can be helpful. The real problem with working alone was that I had to be my own supervisor, which meant a lot of double or triple checking to make sure everything was right. None of the install is complicated, but I am not an auto mechanic by trade and I hate fixing things I should have gotten right the first go around. Since there was no one to catch my mistakes but me, I took my time.

And that’s how it is supposed to be. Because let me say this: doing the Bostig conversion was tremendous fun. Okay, working in 100 degree Texas heat was not so much fun. And being covered with grease and grime was not particularly entertaining either. But that aside, the whole system is so so well designed that it was delightful to assemble and install. And when you turn the key (and it starts, after unsticking the injectors) it is pure joy. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Of course, that would involve buying another Vanagon, which isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever had.

For what it’s worth, driving the van is fun. It’s got decent pick-up and drives 70 with power to spare. I admit that I’ll miss the chugging sound of the boxer engine, but the Zetec definitely sounds confident and ready. And the engine’s got just enough low rumble to let you know that while it may have been born in a Ford Focus, you should not mistake it for some wimpy girly motor that can’t carry it’s weight. It has found its place in a Vanagon.

There’s still a handful of things to do. I’ve got some parts coming, including a brake booster line attachment, which will need installation. I’m still doing some road testing to make sure everything is in specification. Electrically, everything’s fine. Fuel trims seem good. The cooling system is working, but is running much hotter (210-225 degrees F) than the WBX did, so my stock gauge and idiot coolant level light are quite angry. I know there’s some air that still can be bled out of the system, which should help bring the temps down slightly. And I didn’t switch the radiator send and return lines as Bostig recommends. Jim says that shouldn’t be a problem, and has even assured me that my temp ranges are fine, but I’d still like to see what I can do to cool things down. In any case, I definitely need to examine the gauge and temp sender, as right now they’re effectively useless. Eventually I’ve got to find an A/C guy who can make some new lines. Things to do, but they will get done.

Originally I thought I’d drop the Zetec into the van in a weekend, tune it up, and then roar off to the mountains of Colorado. That didn’t happen. I didn’t get the vacation I wanted this summer, but I did get the van I wanted. There will be more summers (and Texas autumns, winters, and best of all, springs). I’m quite confident that when those seasons arrive,  Olly will be up to the task of taking me to the places I want to go.


Bostig Installation

I awoke this morning at 4:00 am, likely due to the fact that the remainder of the Bostig engine conversion kit is scheduled to arrive later today. I’ll admit it. I’m anxious. I don’t just want the parts, I don’t just want them in the van and running. I want to be in the fucking Rocky Mountains, my top popped, cool beverage in hand, listening to the wind blow through whatever few ponderosas the pine beetles haven’t yet ravaged, knowing that I climbed that last hill at 70 miles per hour in fourth gear, with power to spare.

The real problem here is that the kit is arriving on my doorstep nearly three weeks late. That wouldn’t be a problem except that, well, it’s a problem. When I considered doing the conversion, one of my original questions was Bostig’s estimate of the likelihood that a delay could happen. I was told that a delay could happen, but wasn’t likely. A few days, tops. Well, it happened. The kit was supposed to ship on the 28th of June. It Shipped on the 13th of July.

I should be clear that I’m not mad at Bostig. It’s just that I made a whole set of plans based on the idea that I would have the parts sometime during the first two weeks of July, not the end of the third week. As a result, I’m going to miss my 20-year high school reunion (that’s tomorrow) and my vacation time, flexible though it might be, is slowly being eaten up.

So I’m stuck here, waiting for parts to arrive, hoping that the boys from Boston got my order packed and shipped correctly, that UPS doesn’t fuck up the delivery, AND that it all fits together in the van without a hitch. Yes, I choose to be optimistic.

But enough about me, what about the engine?

I am really excited. I found a low-mileage (29,000) Zetec at a nearby salvage yard in Lockhart, and though I paid too much for it, I got to pick it myself and pick a few brackets and suchlike off of other Zetecs they had lying around. Also, I didn’t have to mess with deliveries, and learned first hand that I would need a cherry picker to just get the thing out of the van. I’m sure there are strong, resourceful folks out there who could get by without an engine hoist. I am weak, and decided that my back (and bank account) would be far happier if I spent $250 on a hoist rather than $500 on chiropractic bills.

I prepped the engine to the extent that I could, including swapping out the white dongle for the purple one on the fuel injection electronics. I also got SK-A from Bostig ahead of the rest of the kit, so the adapter and clutch are also now installed. All of that happened in textbook fashion, although I wonder if there are any other textbooks out there that require slicing a chunk of engine off the block.

Extracting the wasserboxer and its various lifelines has so far been the toughest task (aside from the waiting). I’ve never fully dropped a WBX from a van before, and if you thought it’ll be just like an air cooled with a few more hoses, well, you’d be wrong. It’s heavier, bulkier, and infinitely more messy. I know I never put that much coolant in the damn thing. When it finally came free I danced triumphantly, like I imagine my paleolithic forefathers might have upon pulling the moist warm heart from a wooly mammoth.

That being said, there is a part of me that grew nostalgic as I was removing bits and pieces from the engine. It IS like an old air cooled engine in that it is very German. Which is to say that I know it like I might know appendages that are actually attached to me. Which twists the simile of the previous paragraph very strangely.

In any case, the WBX is out, cleaved from the transmission, and now sitting desolately in the corner. Meanwhile, the Zetec is slouching next to the van, coolly waiting for the arrival of parts, parts, parts. Olly’s engine bay is clean and ready.

My spies tell me that the shipment went “Out For Delivery” at 6:03 this morning. I’ll try to not squeal like a schoolgirl when the UPS guy arrives.IMG 1793

Olly and the Zetec get to know each other.