Tag: Vanagon Listserve

Tripping the Light Fantastic

daI’ve long been in search of better lighting in the Vanagon. I’ve still yet to add an IKEA puck light LEDs to the cockpit area, but I was nevertheless able to make two more light mods that really brightened things up. First, thanks to fellow vanagonaut Harold Teer, I acquired a second overhead galley light and mounted it above the stove. The improvement is incredible; gone are the days of cooking in the dark.

The second modification was to upgrade the bulbs yet again since LEDs have come a long way since I first installed them in Olly seven years ago. With new, brighter and warmer LEDs from superbrightleds.com, the interior becomes much less clinical, making it far cozier. The new warm LEDs also match the IKEA pucks better, giving an overall more uniform appearance when all the lights are on. One installation note: I did have to slightly bend the prongs in the galley lighting to accommodate the oversized festoons, but that was easily accomplished with a pair of needle-nose pliers. This could be avoided by using smaller LEDs than the 6451‘s I used, but some light output would be sacrificed.

As a bonus, the whole thing looks very vanagonish, as if the light fixture was always there.

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.

On Community


One of the more interesting threads on the Vanagon List this past week had very little to do with Vanagons. Ostensibly about beverage holders and Canadians (are they one in the same?), I say “interesting,” not because any reasonable person should care in the slightest about either of these phenomenon. Although a well designed cup-holder is cause for celebration, the discussion is worthy of note because it was in a larger sense about community.

A successful community is an amazing thing because it is a whole greater than its parts. Unfortunately, the calculus which permits such emergence is unclear. It’s not simply about having a mass of qualified members; there is not really a community of toaster owners any more than there is one of brown-haired folks. The success of a community may once have been about location, but the Internet broke that boundary.

Obviously, for acommunity to work, something needs to be shared. Interest in Vanagons, a degree of fluency with English, and a tolerance of email from people we’ve never met are all qualities we have in common. And questions, answers, stories, and rants–in short, information–is the glue that keeps us together. We follow rules (mostly) about things like content and message trimming. But again, those parts don’t equal up to the whole

Kind of like the vans we drive.

I’ll admit my bias here: I grew up with VW campers, and so I own one now. Because I own one, I like hanging out with folks share that lunacy. I know there are other car groups out there, but this one seems more successful than most. I can’t help but wonder if some of that success is due as much to our differences as to our homogeneity. We are composed of folks who can rebuild engines blindfolded and those who believe both ends of a

wrench are dangerous. Daily drivers and weekend(er) warriors, Syncronauts and Westy pilots. Amateurs, vendors, mechanics, engineers, artists, and the odd philosopher swell our ranks. My, but we are diverse.

Kind of like the vans we drive.


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.