I decided that I wanted to get a Volkswagen Vanagon as a project vehicle that I can use for camping, towing the bikes and suchlike. Here are the pictures from the advert:

here was a huge list of things that I wanted to address, but it drove the 150ish miles back from San Jose without a problem, at an average of around 60mph and around 16mp(US)g, which isn't at all bad :o)

I started getting things together - so I had a huge pile of parts in the living room :o)

The stock shocks had had it, and allowed the van to wobble a lot. Bring in some Bilstein heavy duty shocks that I got on eBay. I could compress the old shocks by hand, and they'd stay down and sacked out. The new shocks - I couldn't even compress them. Plus they're yellow. I should spray the brake calipers yellow, shouldn't I?

hile the wheels were off, I pumped through some new brake fluid. The old stuff was gross.

Then I swapped the new ones in.

There's a lot of information out there about tyres, and I ended up with some from Big O.  I don't think they're strong enough, even at >1600lbs each, so at replacement time I got some Yokohama Geolandars - light truck tyres.

I had thought about getting a set of these, but they were 16"ers, and would raise the van enough that the skylight would hit the garage door frame on the way in. The old tyres were approaching their limit, and they could do with replacing, and the wheel trims were ugly, but stock :o)   I'd decided to go to  Rhein 15" alloys as used in South Africa, so I could install bigger brakes later.  Now, 215/65/15" tyres are the same rolling radius as the stock 185/82/14"s. The thing is, it's hard to get a strong enough sidewall (minimum load index of 96) in this size, so with the Big Os, I stepped up to 235/60/15"s, a whopping 0.05" taller :o)  The Geolandars are 215/70/15"ers, so a little taller, but the speedo's a lot more accurate.

There was all manner of little dents, scratches and chips. It was 21 years old, so what did you expect? I puttered around fixing as many of these as I can, sanding things down to bare metal and priming them, then drove it over for a complete respray.

This followed the usual pattern of paying somebody to do something for you, but badly :o(

The first time I went over, they were aware of the droops in the paint, but thought I'd bring it back for them to fix. Um, no, I'll leave it, thanks, and while you're at it, you can fix the dent in the door properly.
The second time, there were a few droops I missed the first time, and a bit that hadn't been painted at all. The third time, I figured I'll just finish it myself :o( Oh well. I had thought about a really bright orangey yellow colour, like I'd had on my Chrysler Sunbeam in the UK, but that's kind of hard to live with.  It's now bright white, the colour on Chevy pickups, so it should be easy to get touchup paint :o) VW don't have a bright white colour.

he stock Vanagon bumpers are made out of tin foil, and they're supposedly all but destroyed by anything over a 2mph nudge. At some point the previous owner declined to drop
the $150 for a new one, and just bolted a plank of wood onto the bumper mounts.

I got a set of the Van Cafe bumpers, and Scott helped me fit them - we were picking steel swarf out of ourselves all night :o)

No, the windows aren't really, really, clean, they're not in again yet :o)

A lot of the rubber seals had seen better days, so I've replaced all of them.  Pop top, doors, windows, engine bay, all of them.

The canvas awning was threadbare, and had several holes in it. I've replaced it with a new one just like the VW part, but you can get them in acrylics, with more windows.

The instructions say to take the roof off, but I just unbolted the front supports one at a time and hooked the tent over them - make sure you get it the right way up :o)
I then replaced the wooden parts in the roof that you staple it to, and first pinned, then stapled the tent to those, before screwing on the metal holders. Then I did the bottom set.

I managed to tear the tent while installing fake gutters for a roof rack. So, I ordered a Just Kampers 3 window tent from a US supplier, then sent it to Beandawg Artworks and had it tie dyed. As they wash out the waterproofing, I had to hang it up in the garage and spray it with with about 2 and a half bottles of 303 Fabric Guard. 

When we went to fit it, we found that it was too small, and that somebody had tried to fit it before and torn the corners slightly :o( So, this all needed to be done again, with a new tent.

So, I got the replacement tent shipped straight to Beandawg Artworks, and they tie dyed it roughly the same as before. We waterproofed it, then spent a while cursing at how tight it is to fit, but it looks great now :o)

I had been planning to install the bottom first, to get it in there tighter, but it didn't need it.

The VW logo had been broken out of the grille, breaking a part of the grille too.

Damned Beastie Boys...

I fitted a new, South African style upper and lower grille. It was a little fraught, as you have to drill mounting holes into the van, and wire up the new lights, but here it is.

The CD player skipped whenever I went over a bump, suggesting that it wasn't fitted properly. I later figured out that it was the CD-R disc that I'd been playing in it.

I wanted to replace it anyway, with a Sony unit that supports MP3 encoded discs, and an external CD changer.

Now, the funny thing is that I fitted a second battery, to run the van when it's parked, and wired the stereo straight up to it. This means I can have sounds wherever I go, without having to put the key in the ignition.It was powered up all the time, and all lit up. I installed a switch so the stereo can be turned on and off independently of the van.

The CD changer went in a cupboard under the sink, where it's easy to get to for changing the magazine. Also in there is a dual battery charger - the van has a 110V power input on the side for the refrigerator (which works on 12V, propane and 110V). I used the spare power socket under the sink for the charger that'll keep both batteries topped up whenever the van gets plugged in. A lot of camping sites here have power and water hookups for RVs and trailers, so I think this is actually a pretty good idea. I took out the circuit breaker there and refitted it underneath, and installed a GFCI plug, and a separate switch and plug to turn on the inverter that runs from the auxiliary battery.

I decided to get the same setup in the car and the van, and couldn't get this head unit any more, so it's been upgraded again. Another Sony, so it was just a matter of popping the old one out of the cage, and putting the new one in.  I've installed a dash cover, as the original dash is showing the effect of being parked in the sun.

There was an oil leak on one of the heads, which is never a good sign on a Vanagon.

I'd bought it to install a Tiico engine, and got it fitted at Stephan's Autohaus. There were a lot of problems - the engine that should have been here in May wasn't here until October, then it had a cracked head and the wrong adapter plates (I have an automagic). Eventually, the owner demanded, and got, a whole new engine from Tiico, and it took a scant few days to fit. Of course, by then, it had been in bits in his workshop for about a month :o|

What you're looking at is an inline 4, 2 litre engine. The stock Vanagon puts out maybe 80hp on a good day, but this one puts out ~135 :o)

While it was there, it had a total gearbox recondition, an air conditioning upgrade to run R-134 coolant (that you can actually buy), new fuel injectors, a new powered steering pump and eventually a new starter motor, as the one on it couldn't start it properly, now the engine has higher compression. It's basically a new van, now :o)

I installed a rear spare wheel carrier. Since swapping to the alloy wheels, I couldn't run a full size spare. I've kept the 14" spare wheel under the front, as it has a similar rolling diameter, and mounted this to the rear to carry a spare 15" alloy. I had the mount powdercoated black, and made up a bracket using angle iron and allthread, as the bracket it came with was for the thinner steel wheel. I've added a cheapie cover as an experiment.

I spent a while working on central locking (that was fun, as the sliding door needed an interconnect switch, obviously). While fitting that, I decided that as the rear hatch lock didn't lend itself to central locking, I'd use the actuator for a remote trunk release. That needed a relay. As did the lock on the sliding door (the controller didn't send enough current). Might as well fit a remote button, and an alarm while I'm at it... so I did. While running wires into the rear hatch, I decided to run extra wires and put some 6" speakers in there, too. And the alarm needs an immobiliser circuit, so I wired that in.

I also fitted a reversing warning system - it beeps when I'm about to hit something. The problem is that it's powered off the reversing lights (the only time I care about what's behind me), and they don't always light up, so you can't rely on them and back up with impunity. Just as well, really, as otherwise you could back up and fall into a monster great hole that the sensor didn't see :o)

I bought 2 LED rear brake lights and soldered the wires up so that they both work.

I decided to fit some modern reflector headlights, so a pair of H4 lamps went in to the new grille. Only to find that the wiring really wasn't up to running them on full beam

with the driving lights. Cue a relay setup to power the full beams. I went back and did the low beams next, as I had spare relays knocking around from the central locking adventures ;o)

After a while, I launched into the future and went for some LED headlights - the halo is set up for the running lights, and flashes orange when you use the indicators.  The only problem is the white light from them makes the halogen driving lights look like crap, so I'll have to look at them next.

I finally got tired with the huge cupboard in the back that you could only access through a small door. I think the idea is that you use the hanging rail in there, and put clothes in it. My clotheses are all folded and rolled - I want to put sleeping bags in there. So, I sourced the panel that acts as the refrigerator door panel (thanks, Malcolm), and with Dad's help, installed that on the "wall" there. This opens up a whole new world of storage opportunities.

The stock brakes aren't all that bad around town, especially with fresh fluid, but I never felt that they'd hold up that well on a long downhill run, trying to stop a couple of tons of van.

It needed new brake pads, and there was grease on the centre cap of one wheel, suggesting that the wheel bearing was leaking, so I broke down and got new brakes. Lines. Wheel bearings. And so on. The new rotors just about fit, and the calipers actually forced the removal of the wheel weights :o) The wheels are now on studs like the rear wheels, rather than bolts. That's a positive in my book.  The rear brakes needed the pistons replaced, and the drums were done at the same time.  Soon, I'll be able to do stoppies.

I bought some GoWesty hookup replacements - the water hookups (city and tank refill) now use standard plug in hoses, rather than just throwing water all down the side of the van.

I installed an 80W solar panel in the luggage rack.  First I made up some mounting brackets, then I ran the wires through the roof, under the headliner and down the door pillar to behind the kitchen, where I pulled it out to an MPPT controller.  This is set up to charge the auxiliary batteries (4 22AH wheelchair batteries joined together), and they're connected to the car battery by a smart relay - when either battery is fully charged, the batteries get linked so the other side gets charged.

I've been playing with seats.  First I installed some cheapie new seats I got on eBay.  They're OK, but the side bolsters make getting in and out a bit more exciting than it was with the stock seats.  I had thought I'd look at getting the old seats rebuilt and recovered at some point, but that gets expensive pretty quickly.

I found an article on the Samba about using Stow 'n Go seats, and they looked like a good solution, so I went ahead and had a crack at that.

I realised that we never use the fridge because it sucks - the best I've ever heard of is a 40F drop in temperature, which is probably OK if you're camping in
Alaska, but when it gets to >100F here, you can't even get cool drinks, let alone cold ones.  I decided on a Truckfridge TF49, as it's 12V only, and has a proper compressor, rather than an ammonia cycle.  I got it from WestyVentures, as Karl's really helpful.  Having spoke to Karl, I decided against the 110V model, as when I have 110V, I'm charging the batteries anyway, and the 110V model is just the 12V with a 12V adapter built in.

Having taken out the old fridge, I moved the electric socket up under the sink (so it's out of the way), put in some insulation behind the fridge and blocked off the old fridge vent.  I then built up some bolsters on the side walls, so that the fridge fits tightly, and has something to screw in to.  At first I just boxed in the extra space, but eventually I found some of the tan laminate at GoWesty, and I installed it all properly.

The wheel arches get a fair number of stone chips, even with the mud flaps.  I'd painted them with truck bed liner, but there were still chips showing up.  Enter the Terrawagen fender flares.  They were a pain to install, but they look good, and should solve that problem.  I've lost the mud flaps, but I might try and chop them up to fit at a later date if I decide that's a problem.

The pedals were wearing, so I bolted a big foot pedal on the accelerator, and found a pair of foot pedals and used just the brake :o)


Camp Far West Lake                Laguna Seca for the MotoGP race   Fred's camp site in Emigrant Gap


Emerald Bay, Tahoe                        Joseph Grant State Park


Fred's at Emigrant Gap           Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park  Cape Lookout State Park, OR  The Arlington Airshow, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA                          Diamond Lake, OR                  Crater Lake, OR               Gold Hill, OR

Hat Creek, CA