All four shocks on the Westy were in a poor visible state. They were not identifiable due to dirt and surface corrosion. By itself, appearance is not enough for an indictment as after all, they live under the bus. However, appearance was combined with the significant swaying behavior on the highway to call the shocks into question. The choice was a common well-regarded one. A set of KYB Gas-Adjust dampeners front and rear. Install is simple on these vehicles and in a couple of hours, there are fresh shocks at all four corners. Out on the road, the bus is immediately far better in the corners and even for simple right and left turns! There was no long highway test, but I feel confident that it will be better.
1975 VW Westfalia
It helps to have a deadline. A goal with a due date that is not easily moved. In this case, the No Dough show in Port Orange, Florida. It is not really a show as much as a 4 day rally. A rally where you can do as much or as little as you want. And where you can spend as little or as much as you want. The plan is to spend most of the weekend, but before that can happen, the Bus has to be ready.
Ready, means the rear axle with the torn boot needs to be replaced. Ready means the gas smell when you corner is repaired. Ready means the Bus can be locked. Ready means wiring up the driving lights mounted up front. Ready means spark to all 4 plugs, all of the time. Fast forward to the Friday of the event. Departure was originally 3pm, but there is a problem. The new rear axle installs fine, spins fine, but on a test around the block, it binds up and then snaps the cage !! With the whole weekend in jeopardy, I return to the garage, uninstall the new axle, and reinstall the old one with the torn boots using a temporary patch of the boots. Off we go with darkness just a couple of hours away.
30 minutes later, we turn onto the interstate to save some time on the route. Bad idea. You know that awful feeling you get when you get onto an interstate ramp and see that it is backed up to a stop? If only you could reverse a few hundred yards and take the alternate (and in this case the original) route. A bad accident 8 miles up the road has us crawling along for 20 minutes. Not good for an air-cooled engine. We get off at a rest area as a precaution and allow the motor to cool while the accident clears. The axle boot repair looks ok, but has hardly been tested yet. Back on the road, darkness falls, but the Bus is running great, and the driving lights help on the dark rural roads. We passed through a little rain, which reminded me that I forgot to get wiper blades and had not fixed the washer leak. Small issues and we arrived late but grateful. A quick check underneath confirmed that the repair continued to hold.
The next day, with the Westy parked on the beach, a nice breeze flowing through the open top, a cold beverage in hand, and a parade of air-cooled VWs streaming past, all was right with the world…..
One of the noted issues was a fuel smell whenever there was more than half a tank and a left turn. A prime suspect was the filler tube. However, replacing it is a real pain. To get to the clamp, you have to remove a circular access panel. To remove that, you need to disconnect and remove the regulator. Once you have the panel removed, you discover that the computer is directly in front of it. Two bolts and a shift of the battery finally allow you to remove the computer and then the clamp and slip off the tube. In this case, the rubber neck seal was visibly disintegrated and the likely culprit. Replacement is easy although the aftermarket part seems a bit flimsy. We will see if it solves the issue completely.
The first step in the process is getting some sanding done. Here are the very beginning stages...
The Westy is equipped with a second battery used to power accessories appliances and other items inside the bus. in preparation for the maiden camping voyage, I got it installed and wired up to the 500 W inverter that I have had for sometime. I chose to install the inverter in the spare tire well/closet area so that if I upgraded inverters at some point in time, this is where it would likely be mounted. This was also an opportunity to test the Renogy solar charger system, and so I connected them both and powered the Ausranvik cooler for a day. I am happy to report that all worked well, although the inverter is pretty noisy inside the confines of the bus. At some future point, I will re-wire the main house light to connect to the house battery rather than the starting battery.
One of the issues from purchase has been the absence of any dash lights in the ignition position. One obvious cause was that the oil sender was disconnected and intentionally tucked out of the way. Hhhmmmm. Reconnection did not solve the office, but it had juice at the ignition position. I got some new bulbs, but that did not seem to be the issue. Lastly, I got a new sender and Bingo!!! We now have an oil light. On to the charging system light....With the mess of wiring on the starting battery side of the engine bay, that may not be so simple to sort out...
In another significant milestone, the bus went out for a 20 mile jog. This was the third larger concentric circle following the 7 miles a few weeks earlier, and the trip aro7nd the block before that. For a review of the concentric circles theory you can visit that blog post. The first order of business was to stop for fuel, because the gas gauge read either a quarter of a tank or on reserve or E depending on the incline of the bus. It turns out that the bus only took about 5 gallons of gas so the gauge is clearly somewhat sketchy. It correctly read full after the fill up. The drive was thankfully uneventful, with speeds up to 65 mph, braking was fine, and the only real issue was the idle speed being higher than needed between shift changes and at stop lights. There is a possible smell of fuel on hard right turns that needs further investigation...
The brake fluid has been changed, and there is no coolant, so that leaves oils. For the first fluid change, I am not fussy about oil type and viscosity, as it is not going to be in the vehicle for very long. It is more of a system flush. I pulled the strainer and was pleased to find it very clean with no real debris. Another good sign of the drive train health.
If the steering was scary, then the brakes were terrifying. They would appear to be adequate, and then sink to the floor without much notice !! The fluid level appeared to be a little low so I topped it up and took the opportunity to bleed them while the wheels were off. Some air was definitely in the line at the passenger rear, furthest from the master cylinder (go figure!). IT will have to wait for a road test until the wheels and tires are re-installed.
The famous Westfalia top has obviously been very lightly used. The canvas is fairly new and is in very good shape, but the bedding and upholstery are in excellent condition which I believe to be original. It is not uncommon that the top bunk gets less use due to the gymnastics required to get up there. Either way, I am very pleased with this area of the bus.
Fourteen inch light truck tires are not plentiful. Few major brands are still producing hoops, and the commercial brands are unfamiliar. They are also pricey compared to normal load range rubber for cars and SUVs. Plenty of people just use car tires, but a VW Bus has enough cornering challenges without sidewall flex! Finally, a set of Hankook Vantras emerged and I pounced. While waiting for them, I cleaned and painted the rims white. They now look a lot better. Once mounted and balanced, the tires feel much better, but the old tires were old and cracking. Most importantly, I feel better driving it.
The Westy has a suspect starting battery. It seems to absorb a charge, but then rapidly falls in voltage over a few days. A test of the charging system seems to indicate that it produces a healthy 13.6v. There is nothing obvious, but the PO installed a digital clock and I think that may be the culprit. Currently I am pulling fuses to see if I can isolate the issue…stay tuned.
The brief test ride of the Westy proved that it is a dangerous machine in current form. The steering had about 20 degrees of arc before anything happened at the wheels. Scary to say the least!! After checking the tie rods and linkage, it was obvious that a big chunk of the problem was the drag link. Both tie rod ends were easily movable by hand. Not good. The replacement had locknuts rather than castle nuts and instantly fixed the issue.
where to begin? Cleaning of the upholstery produced surprisingly good results. The passenger side mirror is properly secured, some POR-15 is applied to a few select areas to arrest the development of rust. Two new e-brake cables are installed and the bus can now stay put when asked. Some vacuum lines are replaced, A number of wires are removed, or properly insulated. The front grill air intake is cleaned out. The idle speed is adjusted. The roof mechanism is adjusted so that it stays closed. I could go on and on...
The Westy adds a new dimension to a vehicle in that it has two batteries. One for driving, and one for the “house” . The driving battery is old and suspect. The house battery is missing. The good news is that this allows some planning around solar. A deep cycle unit is selected that will match up well to the existing inverter I have and the solar panel planned. The goal is that this vehicle will be able to go boon docking for a bit. More on this in an upcoming post.
The tough initial work is replacing the bad sheet metal. Rocker panels, and the bottom of the cargo door, and the main battery tray. Wolfsburg West had everything needed and a large order was placed. It arrives surprisingly quickly in a nice big white box. How symbolic.
Part of the appeal of a mid 1970s vehicle is that the fashion and taste of that era is right there in your face. Love it or hate it. The blue/green plaid interior is not original to the bus, but it is correct for the year. As usual, the rear seat and bunk area is in good shape, but the driver and passenger seats are not so much. In fact, the driver seat is just cloth over springs! To save the original fabric, the seats need to be addressed right away. Sheep skins were a common solution, and great if you are in Canada, but we are not. New covers and pads are available but pricey. The existing skins are in ok shape, but have wear and tear in key places. The padding and internals show evidence of multiple DIY attempts, and the headrests need new zippers, so I hand them over to my local upholstery wizard. Given the plans for this bus, a refurbishing may look better than new product. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
The legend of the VW Bus is centered around its ability to travel (slowly), and become a mobile home. The ultimate expression of that is the Westfalia model. VW sent a Kombi buses to the Westfalia company, who converted them into a camper complete with furniture, sink, cooktop, and a popup tent on top. A Bus has many different potential areas of concern, and a Westy adds new concerns to the existing 40+ year old areas. This bus has some rust along the rockers, rear quarters, and a few areas of the floor, but overall it is in good shape. The body looks deceivingly good from some angles. The popup tent is new, and the interior is surprisingly good. Wiring looks to be a mess. The discovery phase will tell the real story….