Tag: vw

Texas Busfest 2016

Rearview window.
Rearview window.

For the second year in a row, I attended Texas Busfest, although sadly without Melina as she was under the weather. Which was too bad, because the weather during the campout was, in fact, perfect. Temperatures were mild, skies were mostly clear, and nights were cool. It was a bit windy on Friday night, but that’s why you always bring a jacket.

It was good to see some familiar faces from the VW, and in particular Texas Vanagon communities. Word is that in total there were 85 VW vans, including a record 32 Vanagons in attendance. It wasn’t as big as last year overall, but still very well attended.

Olly ran great, and with his freshly painted bumpers, he looked pretty sharp as well. I used Rustoleum Bumper and Trim Paint, which is darker than the stock charcoal gray, but it has a satin trim that looks good. We’ll see how long it lasts. A number of other Vanagons had their lower rockers painted with Rustoleum Bed Liner Paint, and I think I’m going to go that route. I need to clean up some of the lower body seams, and then that should provide a pretty durable finish. Also on my mind are new seats. Sludge had some installed, and they are quite comfy. And leather! Shooftie has a write up, and if I can get the brackets made, it should be an economical option. I’m not crazy about black, but I could live with it for more comfortable seats.

I picked up some of Abel’s bug screens, and they’re quite nice. Very compact, and I think they’ll do a good job of keeping critters out when the front windows are open. Also, although  designed to be placed on the outside of the van, they’ll work on the inside as well, to deter theft. Now if I can get a three panel canvas for the pop top, and some darker curtains, we’ll be traveling in cool comfortable style.

Maybe you’d like to see some pictures?


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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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.

More Interior Lighting in Olly

The lighting additions I’ve done previously include a dome light over the front passenger seat and one over the sliding door. I’m using LED festoons to minimize the amp draw, and though the light is a bit diffuse and cooler than I’d prefer, when all are switched on, the cabin is lit well enough to enjoy a bit of nightlife. Reading is possible, but my eyes aren’t getting any stronger so it’s not entirely comfortable. So I decided to add some reading lights over the back passenger seat.

By day...
By day…

I picked up a set of Inreda LED spotlights from IKEA last year with the intention of mounting them in the cabin for additional lighting. Not only are they sufficiently bright to make reading enjoyable, but they’re also much warmer in color. As an added bonus, they pivot ever so slightly in their housings, allowing some small degree of directionality in their use. The lights are in plastic housings with an aluminum base. Like most things from IKEA, they’re not expensive (or expensively made) but their silver color and simple styling fit in well enough with the Vanagon aesthetic. The price of a package of four lights was around $45.

I decided to mount them on the cover for the Westy support bar so that they could be used as reading or task lights over the rear bench seats. Additionally, they are individually switched using rocker switches from Radio Shack. I mounted the switches to the sides primarily because there’s more depth in the air duct and shelf units that line the sides of the passenger compartment. The switches are simple and don’t look out of place in the van.

The wiring was straightforward: they are wired up in parallel with the kitchen light, so the lights can be turned on when the van is off, and I was able to do most of the wiring in the cover plate. Individually they each draw about 0.1 amps, so when they’re on with all the other interior lights, the draw is around 0.33 amps. I suspect that I’ll use the older interior lights less, as the light from the IKEA spotlights is plentiful.

The results are spectacular. Next I’ll have to mount one in the cockpit to better light that area. Also, I’d like to pick up some warmer toned festoons for the other light fixtures.

... and by night!
… and by night!


Gas Can Carrier Mount Improvised

I’ve got a Gary Lee rear hatch rack with bike load bars for Olly. Mainly I use it for carrying bikes, but I wanted to see about mounting a jerry can carrier on the rack. Gary’s got a removable gas can carrier for the multipurpose rack, and it looks like a quality piece of work. Unfortunately, it’s pricey, especially when shipping is added. I was able to find a bracket through Summit Racing, and with the help of a modified mailbox mounting plate from Home Depot, I achieved a similar result.

The Smittybilt carrier and the mailbox bracket I got from Home Depot.
The van with the fuel carrier mounted in place. There's still plenty of room for bicycles
The van with the fuel carrier mounted in place. There’s still plenty of room for bicycles


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.

Sliding Door Lighting in the Vanagon

I’ve always thought that one oversight of the Vanagon is a lack of lighting in the passenger cabin. Obviously in Westfalias there’s the galley lighting, but that’s not triggered by opening the door. A closer inspection of the B pillar and the sliding door revealed that clearly it isn’t a complete oversight of VW: there is a cutout for the door switch, indicating it must be an option somewhere.

Adding the light wasn’t overly difficult, but did require a bit of experimentation. First I ran wires, tapping into the existing cabin lighting so that all the lights would be on the same circuit. This was made easier by the fact that I have already installed a light over the front passenger seat. Ultimately I got the wires in place using string and some bailing wire. That done, I had to engineer the trigger for the switch, since the door doesn’t fit flush where the switch mount point is. This I accomplished with a hex bolt and few nuts which allowed a fair amount of precision adjustment.

After that, it was just a matter of cutting the hole for the new light fixture in the right side air duct. I used the standard VW dome light for uniformity of appearance. Now I can see what’s going on when I open the sliding door, and the dome light provides some additional lighting when camping. Easily one of the best mods I’ve made on Olly so far.

The pieces of the adjustable trigger.
The pieces of the adjustable trigger.
The trigger installed, making contact with the door switch.
The trigger installed, making contact with the door switch.
The hole cut.
The hole cut.
And then there was light!
And then there was light!