1981 VW Vanagon Westfalia Camper Restoration (My new project VAN)

Discussion in 'Gearhead Garage' started by tweakmonkey, Apr 3, 2014.

  1. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    1981 Vanagon Westfalia

    It's been a while since I picked up a project of this nature and it's probably the 2nd worst initial condition vehicle I've ever purchased (that I planned on restoring anyway). At a glance it's rough, and to be fair it's over 30 years old so it should be a bit weathered. This thing has been driven and taken who knows where, but several things about it made me want to pick it up.

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    First, it's got a manual transmission with an air cooled flat-4, one of the simplest vehicles I could imagine buying. The obvious benefit is that it's a Westfalia camper, so it has an onboard propane tank and vents, a fridge, fresh water container, sink and gas stove. It also has 2 beds, the famous top-top so you can have more tons of head room when using the camper, and a lot of charm. The front seats swivel backward and there's a table that swings out for use. There's also tons of storage space, cabinets everywhere. Compared to the cars I usually own (such as my daily driver 2001 Honda Insight) this thing is like a mansion on wheels.

    00z0z_1kMLqNZJH1N_600x450.jpg

    The car has blue license plates which means it's probably been in California its whole life. This means it's likely seen minimal snow and even rain, so the metal and just about every part of the van is rust-free or in great shape.

    The engine runs well and the transmission works perfect. Everything mechanically seems just fine. The car's super simple with no power steering (?) or A/C. It has manual windows and door locks so it should be ultra lightweight and reliable once it's gone through.

    There's the bad of course...

    The interior is rough: the panels are damaged in places, the lining on the cabinets and counters are warped and bubbled, some of the doors in the cabinets don't stay closed. I don't know if any of the fridge/water/stove etc. work at all, and the headliner and various parts of the interior are badly needing replacing. The carpets are gross. The camper tent shows wear. The window seals and top seals are shot. The paint is rough and the fiberglass pop-top is nearly black, very gray -- not the shiny white it's supposed to be.

    So it'll be a lot of work.

    00s0s_1irkTSPoM3v_600x450.jpg
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
  2. Commissar Smersh

    Commissar Smersh Giant Meteor 2016 #MakeAmericanBrannigan Staff Member

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    I regret sending you that article about vans being better than picksup now.

    Also, green shag. You know you have to.
  3. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    This will be a worthy project indeed.
  4. 86mcss

    86mcss Devouring your Soul

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    i cant tell if this is real life right now.

    ....make it fuel injection? after having owned 2 different VW dub carb'd engines I can honestly say that I do not care what anyone says about them. They suck huge donkey penis.
  5. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    It is fuel injected. Carbs in general are shit so I'm very happy it's fuel injected.

    This is real life my friend. I have a sports car, a daily driver Honda, and now an "RV". I like camping and going on trips, and my little 2-seater cars make it a miserable experience. I think this will open a lot of fun adventures. Also I love restoring cars so it's going to be fun.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2015
  6. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    I had a '68 squareback with a type III pancake. It was alright until it started busting brains. At (then: 1980) $165 a pop, it didn't take much convincing to throw a weber two barrel carb kit on it. I wouldn't mind getting my hands on a 72-ish westfalia just for shitzengiggles. Veedub busses were probably the toughest vehicle I ever took out to tear up.
  7. MSP

    MSP Haunting a dead forum...

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    NICE! If you don't mind me asking, what's the mileage and what did you pay for it? Funny you bought this, I've been eyeing teardrop and pop-up campers, AND Westfalias...
  8. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Mileage says 23k but I think it only goes to 100k, so who knows. With the age of this thing it could be a million! But it seems to drive great
  9. MSP

    MSP Haunting a dead forum...

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    Th '83 I found has the usual small rust spots, 185k miles on the chasis, and 60k miles on a replacement engine. Asking only $3k too. I'd need to drive it of course, but sounds like a steal.
  10. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Yeah you should check it out! Make sure the pop top and camper stuff is in fair shape. Don't buy an automatic or a diesel. And when you test drive it be warned it's a 30 year old van so it might drive a bit ehrm... differently than you're used to. :)
  11. funkgab

    funkgab Junior Member

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    it doesn't look half bad man, much better than some of my purchases =[ but it looks like it'll be fun in northen cali, hell maybe you'll fit in with the hipsters and hippies :D
  12. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Shit.

    I think I bit off more than I can chew!

    I started making lists of things to fix before this thing is really safe, road worthy and looks good... and made the mistake of ordering most of the "look good" parts before making sure it drives OK.

    Long story short I know I'll have to replace a lot of stuff on the exhaust ($$) because a bunch of it's rusted through. Then I might be able to smog it... but I need to replace a few things in the engine bay too. I'm sure I could fix the exhaust outright for about $800 but UGH I don't want to spend that! So I'll try to be craftier.

    Also I went to fill up the gas the other day and seriously like 2 gallons of gas poured from it like a waterfall after I filled up. There's either something wrong with the tank or the lines up top of it. So now I need to siphon and drain out all the gas (14 gallons now!) and remove the fuel tank, then I'll have to replace every fuel hose on the whole car before I feel safe.

    On the bright side I clay barred the exterior and it looks WAY better already. Ordered end caps for the bumpers, a new grill and some other stuff for the interior. The interior's the last thing I'll mess with though.
  13. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    Those costs add up quick.
  14. funkgab

    funkgab Junior Member

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    why not just get a generic exhaust welded on there?
  15. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    It's a pretty complex exhaust. The headers supply the heat for the cabin heater (heat exchangers) and it's a flat-4 which limits options for piping and cats. I might have to make something custom.
  16. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Yes and no - The restoration stuff definitely is expensive but since I do all the work myself and have access to a shop rate parts supplier (especially for Germany cars!) I think while I might spend a couple thousand bucks restoring this thing, it will be SWEET when I'm done :)

    Took apart a few engine pieces today and found out why it idles high when it's warm but not when it's cold... there's a rip in the intake Z-tube after the air sensor. Also it looks like most vac lines and ALL fuel lines are original inside the engine bay. Really crazy to see some 33-years later in a running vehicle! If this car had coolant, it would've had two sets of hoses replaced by now easily!
  17. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    Still, a worthy project IMHO. It'll be a sweet rig when you finish.
  18. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Spent about 12 hours working on this beast this weekend...

    Quite a big job! Drained all the fuel out, dropped the tank and inspected. Tank looks great, but the lines on top were really old as expected. So I replaced those and the cross-over tube that's notorious for leaking. I have to order a couple things that go on the expansion tanks at the top, but I also replaced about 16 other fuel lines on the vehicle, every line up to the engine and on the return. I also replaced the fuel filter and fuel pump.

    Fixed a super loud squeeky shifter (metal on metal) - the bushing was up above the gas tank so it's a good thing my friend spotted it when I was in there.

    Fixed the heater, the cables weren't connected properly to the ducting.

    Fixed the oil leak, it was a massive one coming from the valve cover and dripping right onto the exhaust so it stank like burned oil.

    Also replaced the O2 sensor which was only $16 - apparently the manual recommends a new one every 30k miles and this one looked very old.

    Now I need to address that exhaust issue. Also the driver side window won't roll up so I need to fix it too.

    Overall I'm still really happy with the condition of this van, it's great mechanically, it's awesome to stand under a 30 year old vehicle made for the kinds of trips this thing has and see zero rust.
  19. Commissar Smersh

    Commissar Smersh Giant Meteor 2016 #MakeAmericanBrannigan Staff Member

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    The benefit of it being in California it's whole life! The rubber may be rotted completely but not having to deal with rust is awesome.
  20. hans5849

    hans5849 Serious as a heart attack

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    You should put a free candy sign on it
  21. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    I keep hear that but I think it has too many windows to be a rape van.

    But I do say old chap, this van requires some patience!

    Every time I fix something I find something else that requires me to order more parts.

    I removed the propane tank and spare tire/cover to do some resto stuff since they're so ugly, and found the clutch master cylinder was leaking. So I'll replace that, and the slave.. and the lines. The brake pads are shot of course so I'll do the brakes this week too.

    I fixed the window rollers, then found that the odometer doesn't work and the gauge lights don't illuminate when the headlights are on. They're also adjusted very badly.

    My friend has a set of upgraded lights I'll put in and I found why the odometer is dead: it's a little gear on the speedo that's notorious for failures. I'll order a new gear. And I need to order lights for the cluster. Hopefully that fixes the light problem.

    I found the exhaust isn't as bad as I thought but I'm having a hard time sourcing a new cat. I have a new muffler, tail pipe and some gaskets. I'll have to weld a bit to fix it...
  22. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    If anyone's doubted my sanity when buying this thing, I've already had 2 people leave notes and knock on my door trying to buy it. People want my van and I haven't even fixed it up yet!
  23. funkgab

    funkgab Junior Member

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    well you know the project list will never end, but thats still cool that people want it
  24. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Oh my, has it been a year!!? '

    Here's what I've changed on the van among tons of other little things..

    -Brake master cylinder / hoses
    -Clutch master cylinder / hoses

    EW:
    10389287_10152517220903632_979692416101213453_n.jpg

    Ordered new seat belts but haven't installed them yet.

    The stock lights are shit and were adjusted poorly, so I put in the German H4 headlights that never came to the US.

    Left-stock, right, poorly adjusted H4...
    IMG_2096.JPG

    Now with both H4s and adjusted properly.
    IMG_2099.JPG

    Pretty sweet for an 81 Van! I'll also have H3 running lights and the new grill installed soon.

    I did a bunch of clean up to the engine bay, and cleaned a bunch of stuff in there. New alternator, new battery, new belt..

    Little things..
    10153157_10152381656198632_7789066684520180153_n.jpg
  25. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    The exhaust was a lot of work... very complex with heat exchangers and the cat etc. Header was damaged. Problem is you can't buy this stuff new, unless you want to pay a ton of money.
    934766_10152480341998632_1024708462697919338_n.jpg

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    So I had to blast everything clean. Some of it was stainless steel and turned out great.

    A few parts had to be re-welded and I had to weld it all together once it was mocked up.

    I bought a new muffler and Magnaflow cat.

    Re-assembled everything with my new pipes and gaskets...
    10250337_10152480419643632_8515417453563073619_n.jpg
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    Used high temp paint on the mild steel / non-aluminized or SS parts.

    10485681_10152480419648632_922943405906010714_n.jpg

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    Assembled and installed everything one last time. Guess what? Smogged with amazing numbers. It runs so clean now and it's super quiet!