Tag: repair

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.

Paint Your Palette Gray (in your Vanagon, anyway)

I picked up a can of Rustoleum Painter’s Choice Satin Granite spray paint at the local Home Depot, and it is a surprisingly good match for the dark gray parts of a late Vanagon interior. I test painted an old ammo box and took some pictures. As a color nerd, I can say that the match isn’t exact, but is definitely close enough. I suspect most people wouldn’t notice a difference.

Probably going to pick up a case of this stuff to use on various parts of the van.

Galley area, ammo box at bottom. The frontpiece of the stove has yellowed a bit, but is tonally close.
Galley area, ammo box at bottom. The frontpiece of the stove and leg of the table have yellowed a bit, but are quite close.
Bench trim. The ammo box is at the bottom.
Bench trim. The ammo box is at the bottom



The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Trim: Solved

The Vanagon Westfalia t-trim molding used in the interior of the camper conversions is notorious for shrinking over time. As it does so, it starts to easily detatch from the tables, risking possibility of damage to the plywood laminate. I remembered a bit of discussion on the Vanagon.com list a few months ago about how to fix things and decided to try it out myself. A bit of work with a heat gun and some strong adhesive set things right.

The procedure is simple. First, pull the trim away from the table. I didn’t remove it completely, but just went about halfway down the sides of table. I then applied a bit of Gorilla Glue to the channel in the table.

While the glue was setting, I used the heat gun to warm up the trim, working it along the length of the side. After it starts to soften, you can tug on it gently and feel a bit of stretch develop. Once it gets to this point, I stopped and worked the trim into the groove.

Repeat the procedure with the other end of trim, again stretching it up to the corner.

At this point I had one side left to rejoin the trim to the table where the two ends meet. Same procedure allowed me to stretch the trim and close the gap.

Gorilla Glue is strong stuff, but it needs to be clamped for the bonding to do its work, so once it was done, I used a couple of bar clamps to hold the trim in place for a couple of hours. Once it had set, I was able to remove the clamps and let the glue cure on its own. Remove Gorilla Glue promptly for easiest cleanup. If the trim is a bit dirty or scuffed, Brasso does wonders for cleaning it up. Once finished, I had two virtually new tables (except for the legs, which need to be repainted). I’ll use this same procedure for fixing the trim that has shrunken in other parts of the van as well.

The shrunken trim!
Pulling the trim away before reattaching.
Clamping it all down to set.
Voila! The finished product, better than new. Should last another 20 years.


On Fixing Things Right

This past week I finally got around to fixing a couple of sheet fed-scanners we use in the office. They were both making horrible clacking noises, but eventually I got the scanners whirring quietly again, much to the nurses’ joy. The magical fix? A couple pads made from multiple layers of scotch tape, wedged next to one of the axles.

You’re not supposed to mend high tech equipment with a few cents worth of generic office supply. But similar things happen on my Vanagon from time to time. My instrument cluster is held together with a few drywall screws. And wired together with cat-5 cable. Some holes in the body are patched with riveted sheet metal. Some of the paint is rattle-can Rustoleum. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit these things, not because my van isn’t a Go-Westy premium blend, but because these fixes weren’t done right. Some might say I fixed things right when I replaced my zip-tied headlight adjustment screws with a South African Grill. Of course it was expensive. But done right.

On the other hand, those simple home-brew fixes all work. The problems have been solved and I’ve moved on with life, so by that measure they are “right.” But using scotch tape or a found screw seems a bit like cheating or somehow improper. Like maybe I’ll regret it later.

I’ll admit I’m a bit conflicted. When I start a project I sometimes wonder what some of the smart folks out there in List-land would say. Probably something like, “Back away from the JB Weld, sir.” Fortunately I usually have enough confidence (just enough!) to go ahead with my plans. And so Olly keeps trucking along.

On TheSamba forums, the phrase “fix it right” appears over 7000 times. It occurs about 1400 times in relation to Vanagons, and most frequently as an admonishment. As in, “Quit being a cheap bastard and fix it right, you idiot!” For the record, the phrase “fix it right” doesn’t (or didn’t) appear once in the history of the List Archives according to Google. That might say something about the tolerance list community, and possibly indicate why I generally enjoy hanging out here.