Irvine Adventure Part I

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Lanval
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Irvine Adventure Part I

Post by Lanval » Thu Jul 29, 2010 5:56 am

After Colin left, I was musing to myself about what image might encapsulate what it's like to be with the man; I finally landed on this: Imagine the Sistene Chapel, and the creation of Adam, as here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: ... Chapel.png

Only instead of God reaching out and touching man, it's Colin reaching out and touching a VW engine. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Due to the constraints of work, I could only manage a half-day with Colin (this means 2-7pm) and I felt guilty at that, since I didn't really have anything for him to do. The air-cooled Vanagon that I've had for the past several years has served it's training purpose, and taught me all that I needed to know about Vanagon ownership. It's now rusty body, and some other issues led me to decide that my '82 had reached the end of a useful life when I discovered that the transmission was dying, and the cost of replacing said transmission was substantial.

So the man arrived in timely fashion, and a wide-ranging discussion ensued, about the nature of current politics and the malaise that threatens our democratic experiment, education and my own slow move towards a centered and inspired life. For me, this is close to perfect, and I'd happily pay Colin to simply sit and talk the afternoon away. But it's not his way, is it? So after talking for a bit, he asked what it is I wanted to do with my hired gun.

This wasn't an easy question, since the upshot of the dying transmission was this: I had gone to Elsinore, and looked at used transmissions from the guys at Interstate Used Parts (Jim Lucca is easily the nicest guy in this business bar none; he also has more vintage air-cooled parts than anyone else in this country). The cost of a used transmission was more than I was willing to part with for a van that had so many other issues, but I did see, and bought, an 85 GL Westfalia with a 2.1 engine that had been sitting in a field somewhere for 7 years.

The problem with this is, in a word, rodents. The van had been overrun with mice, and a rat had set up camp on top of the engine. So even though it had been running when it was stopped back in 03, the engine and interior were awash in rodent refuse. The engine itself was rusty, and I had committed myself mentally to replacing it with another 2.1, or possibly a Subaru.

So, in the way of amusing Colin, I showed it to him; he asked me if it was running, to which I replied, "Of course not." Colin, ever-perceptive, and precise in his argumentation fired back; "How do you know? Have you tried it?"

I owned that I had not, but simply assumed years of sitting and the damned rat had ensured that the engine was dead. I might have known... this response, and the legendary toughness of the VW engine was enough to light the fire in the man. His steely eyes glinted, he grinned his colinesque grin, and asked, "Do you have any problem with trying to see if it will run?"

Lord, the man loves a challenge. I had spent the last 4 weeks wondering how to explain to my wife that we needed, NEEDED, to buy a new engine for this van. I think we all know that many wives see VWs as a kind of demanding, expensive mistress, so you know this was not a pleasant thought circling around in my head. BUT; since I had already committed to the concept of replacing the engine, what could be lost in this enterprise? It'll amuse Colin, and failure isn't failure ~ it's confirmation of my thumbnail diagnosis.

First we put the car in gear, and rocked it back and forth... does the engine move? By gosh it does! More than that, if we pulled hard enough, it almost, right on the edge of perception, seemed to be trying to kick over and start! Surely not? Well, having come this far, perhaps we'll go a bit farther.

Next was a check of fluids. The coolant bottle was dry. Luckily, I had several gallons of "pre-mixed crap" from Prestone to put in. Then the oil, which wasn't too bad, was down a quart, but from my stores of automotive items I pulled out a bottle of Castrol 20W-50. While checking out the uber-rusty engine, Colin noted a missing spring atop the plenum that connects to the accelerator spring. I dug around in my box of wonders (I have a largish collection of parts, crap and detritus related to Vanagons) and delivered: "Is this what you're looking for?" Placing the spring in, mild admiration coloring his voice, he noted that, "This isn't 'a spring', it's THE spring. This is the actual spring for this."

I held on to this moment of glory; 'ask and ye shall receive' I say. I raid the 82 for a battery. We run to the store for 2 gallons of gas in my gas can, which upon return we put in the tank, leaving a bit to prime the engine should we need it The questions in play are these:

What will happen when we juice the system?
Has the damned rat done anything really destructive?

Power to the system brings the fuel pump to life! This however, quickly shows the largish leak coming from the main fuel line. Shut off the power, and Colin wonders, "Do you have any fuel line?" Heh. Back to the box of wonders. Is BMW fuel line good enough for you old-timer? It is, and in it goes. Reanimate the system. Oh Jeebus! Still dumping fuel, this time from a little section of line on the other side of the firewall. Replacing this is not going to be easy, and for 15 minutes Colin works at dragging the line through the hole in the firewall so that he can replace the little line without jacking the car and lying on the ground. This can be tricky, as it involves some crucial plastic parts that he (we) cannot afford to break. He manages it, as he always does, and now back to work.

This time, the pump fires up, the system primes, and NO leaks. We're at least not in danger. So start it up, he says. In my head, the recording goes like this: "There is no way. There is no way. There is no..." But that's not giving the man is due, is it? So I keep my negativity to myself, box it up and mentally burn the damn box. "It is going to work, dash it all, because I have the master of VWs, a man so steeped in the mystic ways of those Teutonic meisters that I must, I WILL have faith." I turn the key. My God! It starts and runs! The rancid smell of cooking rat piss is not a nice smell, and we need to keep an eye on the temp gauge. Is it moving? Not sure at first but eventually it does.

"Turn on the heater and the defroster" he calls over the yammering of a long-dormant set of hydraulic lifters that are pinging away. I do; after a brief set of tests, I can feel, FEEL the warmth of the system blowing through the heaters. The rear heater core WORKS and DOESN'T leak. Amazing. No, astounding. No, impossible. But it's not impossible, it IS.

"How's the clutch, I wonder?" Seriously. He wants to DRIVE it. Isn't one miracle enough? But the man will not be denied, and I have no strength to oppose his single minded pursuit of VW glory, so I move the stuff out of the way, and he runs it back and forth in place ~ a few feet each way. "Let's go for a drive" he calls. Um, there are no seats. I took them out. "No matter" he exclaims and gets in, handing me the camera for documentary purposes. I take a picture of the Colin behind the wheel, the windshield a brown haze of 7 years of neglect filtering the late afternoon sunshine (this is an inside joke because the first two years he came, the windshield on my 82 was unacceptably dirty). He puts it in gear, slowly backs out, and drifts down to the corner of the parking area on tires that have been sitting in the desert for 7 years. "Do you have any problem being seen/embarrassed by this little trip?" I own that I do not. I am mesmerized by this, this, this ~ resurrection. There's no other word for it. That engine was DEAD. I don't care what anyone else says, it shouldn't be running but it IS.

down the apartment path, around, and back up. We go out on the road, to the dismay of the pushy, modern-car driving residents of my snooty neighborhood, but no amount of revving can quite that yammering, that hammering valve. "You'll need to do a valve adjustment to see if it'll help that" calls Colin over the rapid, staccato sound. I nod, acknowledging that I have done that under his tutelage.

Returned to it's parking place, Colin asks, "Now, how do you feel about that?" He is all triumph and glory. Words fail me; what is the value of NOT having to buy a new engine? Is it only the cost, or is it something more? The value of not having to have that discussion with the lady, the value of the story of the "The Resurrection", the value of an afternoon well spent?

But one more surprise awaits us. We sit in the 82 looking through the Bentley so Colin can confirm some stuff about timing and set up. I have an air filter for the 82, and ask him if it'll fit. "I don't know, how does it look?" I figure it looks about right, so let's try it.

I start to disassemble the air cleaner but don't really feel like messing with the S-Boot, and tell Colin I'm too tired to do it now. The wry arch of the eyebrows and my own statement phrased back to me as a question were enough to shame me into the deed. I unscrew the band that holds the air cleaner to the S-boot, and Colin wrestles it out.

Oh. My. God. The entire air cleaner is filled with plastic shreds, dried, dead grass, mouse crap and other crap. The filter is eaten clean through by the little mousie bastard. How did the engine run? I am amazed at the ability of the engine to function when utterly and completely screwed. While Colin cleans out the mouse house (I will never look at Disney so benignly again) I go into the little area where the air cleaner draws from. Soak it over and over with bleach water (mice are disease vectors, and I hate disease) but the layers are too thick; I soak it with the remainder of the bottle, and tell Colin not to worry about putting the air cleaner back. I'll let it wait for a few days and get back to it.

It's just past 7. In 5 hours, the man has enriched my spirit and mind, and then brought a long-dead voice back to the choir of VW. "When you get this cleaned up, after long hours of washing, fixing and replacing wires, you're going to have one nice van." And for the first time since I bought the thing, and discovered what the rodents had done, I agreed.

With chewed wires all over town, he was shocked and amazed to see that the lights work, and that it runs. Not as shocked as I was, but nevertheless. My spirit restored and the 85's powerplant brought back to life, it was time for him to move on, and he does. He'll be back tomorrow (now today, as I write this) to visit my good friend Nathanael. I'll stop in to see them knee deep in N.'s awesome 80 air cooled.

So now you know why that image is the one. Who else could have done such a thing. An engine that sat for 7 years, ravaged by time, temperature and one (or more) of Ratfink's cousins was brought to life with the gentle, knowing touch of the master's hand. What price, knowledge and patience? :sunny:

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Amskeptic
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Post by Amskeptic » Thu Jul 29, 2010 8:41 am

We have pictures . . .

This engine definitely looked the part of Field Abandoned Eons Ago:

Image

I felt like a little kid sitting on the wheel arches sans seat, but the Vanagon is craftily engineered, the ergonomics were still excellent:

Image

The hantavirused rodent hotel in the air filter:

Image

. . . and the owner of this very eager-to-get-going Vanagon-that-steered-fine-without-the-power-steering-pump-hooked-up ushering you to the hidden delights of rodent damage yet to be discovered:

Image

That was fun, even if the damned rats are damned destructive, and the smell of rat piss pretty much was more overwhelming than the smell of cat piss from which I had just come.
Colin
BobD - 78 Bus . . . 112,660 miles
Chloe - 70 bus . . . 206,845 miles
Naranja - 77 Westy . . . 129,490 miles
Pluck - 1973 Squareback . . . . . . 55,570 miles
Alexus - 91 Lexus LS400 . . . 94,225 miles

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midatlanticys
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Post by midatlanticys » Thu Jul 29, 2010 6:02 pm

Lanval, nice run down of events! You write really well with all the reader's senses covered, but can't say I envy either of you the rodent refuse!! Good luck with the new project!!
"The sad thing about governments is that in every single case, government formed by the people eventually becomes so large it begins to prey upon the people who created it.” -- B. Hoover

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satchmo
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Post by satchmo » Thu Jul 29, 2010 9:23 pm

Lanval, that was just the kind of excellent writing we expect from you and I thank you for your time and effort. Isn't it neat that a visit from Colin brings out the best in our thinking and our creativity, and, by the way, usually leaves us with a (better) running VW?

So are you going to name your new Westy 'Ratfink?'

Tim
By three methods we may learn wisdom:
First, by reflection, which is noblest;
second, by immitation, which is easiest;
and third, by experience, which is bitterest. -Confucius

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dingo
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Post by dingo » Thu Jul 29, 2010 9:45 pm

nice write-up !....enjoyed the read
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';78 Tranzporter 2L

" Fill what's empty, empty what's full, and scratch where it itches."

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Sylvester
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Post by Sylvester » Fri Jul 30, 2010 6:42 am

Great write up! Man I love the story when it is written like that! Now I want a Vanagon! I must paint! Even after three months on the road, Colin still has the fire and desire that will astonish you. Nothing less than Can-Do and let's get it done. His motto should be "Never Daunted".
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue, I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace. Where never lark, or even eagle flew. And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod, The high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

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glasseye
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Post by glasseye » Fri Jul 30, 2010 7:50 am

satchmo wrote: Isn't it neat that a visit from Colin brings out the best in our thinking and our creativity, and, by the way, usually leaves us with a (better) running VW?
Tim
Great story. Almost as exciting as the day you breathed life back in to The Dorper, doctor. :cherry:

This should go into The Book.
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Paul Wolfowitz, speaking of Iraq.

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airkooledchris
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Re: Irvine Adventure Part I

Post by airkooledchris » Fri Jul 30, 2010 9:02 am

Lanval wrote:... The air-cooled Vanagon that I've had for the past several years has served it's training purpose, and taught me all that I needed to know about Vanagon ownership. It's now rusty body, and some other issues led me to decide that my '82 had reached the end of a useful life when I discovered that the transmission was dying, and the cost of replacing said transmission was substantial.
is it really that bad across the rest of the van? my aircooled Vanagon has certainly seen better days and has its fair share of rusted through bits under windows/bumpers/etc, but it's a freakin warrior and there's something to be said for owning a van that you don't mind getting very dirty or taking down that nasty gravel road/etc....

how is the motor in it? I bet between the two of us we could piece together 2/3rds of a nice one. :joker:
1979 California Transporter

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Post by Lanval » Fri Jul 30, 2010 9:54 am

@Chris:

It could be fixed; I'm not going to. The heater in an air-cooled bus works OK up front, but not well in back. I'm not taking my kid on the annual trip to Oregon in November with a van that can't keep him warm. I could probably use a 12v blanket, since I have aux. power outlets in back, but why?

85 adds these:

A more powerful engine
A/C (my air-cooled had A/C. How well do you think it would work in Baker at 114 degrees, pulling on 68 air-cooled horses...? I wasn't brave enough to try it, but I bet it wouldn't have been pretty!)
nicer interior

All of those things are really about the family. I like it fine too, but don't need it. But my van is to be the center of an outdoor-based, family-oriented lifestyle, so I want it to be satisfactory for the wife/kid.

The 82 has a range of small issues:
slider door handle DOA
headlights occasionally choose not to work
various minor dings/dents

2 big issues:
dying transmission ~ not to be replaced for less than $1000 (it was 8-900 for a used transmission; nearly double for a AA version out of Bend).
rocker rust along the entire middle driver's side, with a fair area of rust-through right behind the front wheel. Interior status of rust is unknown.

Compare that with the newer 85, which has a single rust-through the size of a silver dollar on the windshield, a bubble on one window and a little bit of seam rust in three spots. Much cheaper to fix those, and the body is clean. The 82 would need an all-over body to make it clean.

Now that Colin has revived the engine, all I have to do is:

fix rust
replace power steering rack
clean

and then:

fix the various wires that were chewed (easy for me ~ auto electrical is what I do best)
slowly clean/update the engine

So it's a cheaper easier project, with a stronger set of outcomes.

*****************************

on the air-cooled the engine and interior are good. I'll be taking the seats out and swapping with the 85, since the junkyard seats I have in my 82 (captain seats out of a junked 85) are better than the ones in my 85.

I'll take some parts off the 82, part the rest and send the shell to it's final resting place. It will be recycled for the most part, but even with Colin's distaste for my answer, I'll say this:

Every week, a better, nicer version of my van gets junked in California. If we're going to spend time and money to save a van, let's get one of those. Do you want to hear about the time I went to a junkyard and saw a late-model diesel westy, complete interior and exterior, no rust, everything in perfect condition, missing only the engine? We pulled the kitchen and put it in Nathanael's van, but the bottom line is it happens every week. So it's hard for me to get worked up about one in lesser condition. It just is.

Colin doesn't agree with this, but I've conceded to his viewpoint enough that I promised I'll do my best to recycle the whole thing. I have other obligations though, so there are limits to the extent I'm willing to go to do that.

************************
@everyone else ~ thanks for the support. I'm trying to write a bit more after some time off from life. It was truly my pleasure to spend the afternoon with Colin; indeed, the man does inspire. His passion is infectious, and lends itself to whatever muse whispers in your ear.

Sail on my friend.

Lanval

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airkooledchris
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Post by airkooledchris » Fri Jul 30, 2010 10:59 am

Lanval wrote:@Chris:
The heater in an air-cooled bus works OK up front, but not well in back.
I'm not taking my kid on the annual trip to Oregon in November with a van that can't keep him warm. I could probably use a 12v blanket, since I have aux. power outlets in back, but why?
I can understand that. I do have the BA6 under my aircoolagon and when its truly cold out, there is nothing that would do as well in a space that big - even the watercooled heat.

Lanval wrote: slider door handle DOA
headlights occasionally choose not to work
various minor dings/dents
check, check and check. my exterior sliding door handle is gone, still looking for a replacement.
the headlight issue I had also, until I fixed their ground wire. I just stripped it off right behind the bulb and grounded it to where the buckets mount.
It was a side of the road/dark fix, but it's still holding up rather well - they even got brighter.
Lanval wrote:2 big issues:
dying transmission ~ not to be replaced for less than $1000 (it was 8-900 for a used transmission; nearly double for a AA version out of Bend).
rocker rust along the entire middle driver's side, with a fair area of rust-through right behind the front wheel. Interior status of rust is unknown.
check and check. I did the transmission on this thing about 5 years back, with a rebuild from German Transaxle out of Bend OR.
Awesome place, paid $800 for mine at the time, looks like they are up to $1005 now for the same unit...

lots of rust also, it does make it very difficult to put money into a van that is ugly, slow, cold, rusty, ugly, you get the idea.
especially when you have another that is in better condition sitting in the driveway.

Im sort of in the same boat actually. When I picked up my 79 bay I found it hard to even think about gassing that sucker up anymore, but im starting to find a place for it in my life as the dog hauling, junkyard running, beach trekking campmobile Ive always loved - but now I do these things without feeling terrible about it's state of affairs.
Lanval wrote:So it's a cheaper easier project, with a stronger set of outcomes.
there really is no getting around that.
Lanval wrote:on the air-cooled the engine and interior are good.

...part the rest and send the shell to it's final resting place.
tell ya what, if my motor dies before your transmission dies, ill sell you a good used one for cheap (maybe 30k miles on it, if that)

if your transmission goes before my motor does, sell me your motor?
:flower:

awesome writeup, I felt equally inspired after my visit with the master - I just fail to take any pictures when he's here. after the first hour I forgot I even care about such things and try to be as much of a sponge as possible.
ideally ill retain 20% from each trip so by my 5th visit in 2013 ill be taken off of the neanderthal mechanic list.
1979 California Transporter

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Post by Lanval » Sun Aug 01, 2010 1:41 am

So here's what the air box looks like now:

http://picasaweb.google.com/lathropMA/N ... 2839473058

How's this look? When we pulled the air box out, this was about 1 inch in rat droppings, leaves and other stuff. I found a dessicated rat head on the ground this afternoon.

http://picasaweb.google.com/lathropMA/N ... 7023773234

I hate rodents.

Lanval

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Post by nathan@el » Sun Aug 01, 2010 2:08 pm

Look pretty clean Lanval! How did you end up cleaning the air-box out?

And hopefully that will be the last of your rat discoveries in that van!
Orange 1980 Vanagon L Westy
~190,000 miles on body
~20,000 on engine

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Post by Lanval » Sun Aug 01, 2010 5:55 pm

first, a bunch of bleach water.

Then, a bunch of simple green.

And a lot of paper towels. A LOT.

Oh, and rubber gloves.

As an aside, I've run into a problem over here. I was notified yesterday that I am not allowed to have 3 cars, and even if I were, I can't have a car without current tags. They pretty much gave me 72 hours to clear out before the new van gets towed as "abandoned". Thank God Colin got it running.

I put new plug wires in today, and drove it for just a few minutes. Either it has a significant miss, or it's having trouble getting gas. I bet the latter...

So: Tomorrow morning I will have the 85 towed over to Nyscoe and see if they can get it smogged for something not unreasonable. If they can't get it smogged without doing a full tear-down or something like that, then I have a short-term back up ~ a local storage place. But that can't go on long term.

Let's hope Nyscoe can get it smogged.

L

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Post by Amskeptic » Sun Aug 01, 2010 6:17 pm

Lanval wrote: I put new plug wires in today, and drove it for just a few minutes. Either it has a significant miss, or it's having trouble getting gas. I bet the latter...
It drove FINE with the RAT-CHEWED wires, did you get the correct electronic ignition wires/connectors?

Lifters quieting down?

:flower: :blackeye:
BobD - 78 Bus . . . 112,660 miles
Chloe - 70 bus . . . 206,845 miles
Naranja - 77 Westy . . . 129,490 miles
Pluck - 1973 Squareback . . . . . . 55,570 miles
Alexus - 91 Lexus LS400 . . . 94,225 miles

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Post by Lanval » Sun Aug 01, 2010 7:18 pm

Right wires, but not Bosch; it was not easy to even find the right wires on a sunday morning, so be nice to me.

It was hiccuping at around 3000 rpm. I wondered if it might be fuel supply. In all fairness, it does drive pretty well considering. The shifter is tight and short. Wow. Turned easy. I wonder about the power steering....

L.

edit ~ it did seem like the lifters were quieter, but I had the hatch on. And I only drove for about 2 minutes.

L.

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