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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    I started driving it to work and realized the ventilation system didn't work. I couldn't turn on the fresh air fan and the heat wasn't hot. I figured the heat was due to the cables from the heat tubes / exchangers not being hooked up.

    The fan though.. ugh. Of course it's WAY inside the dash.

    So I started taking stuff apart.. and a few hours later...
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    The air box comes into view:

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    A short while later it's out:
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    Notice the nest coming from the main air tube to the rear of the car.

    On the ground I had to take apart the box. It has all kinds of complicated flapper doors.
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    Removed the old fan and put this new one in:
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    Later I had to replace the switch too.

    I cleaned everything up:
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    Re-assembled. Re-installed. Of course half the gauge lights weren't working, the horn was dead, the fan still didn't turn on etc.

    Another few hours and the dash was all fully assembled and everything worked. Woohoo fresh air and a high power fan! Most these cars have dead fans if you look to buy one. Mine is the rare gem that actually works now. :)

    Attached Files:

  2. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Next up, the pop-top. This thing is fiberglass and 35 years of sitting outside, tons of UV rays beating on it etc. finally took out the paint, gel coat and some of the fiberglass resin. It was also covered in mildew, heavily stained and had rusty fasteners. Also the weather seals were totally destroyed at this point.

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    To fix it I first removed the rubber seals and the rusty fasteners. I also removed the front luggage compartment which comes off separately.

    I pressure washed the top and then scrubbed with TSP, bleach and a huge brush. Pressure washed again. Then washed with car wash soap. Here's the halfway look:

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    Then I had to sand all the rust off from the worn seal. I also had to use 200 and 400 grit wet paper to clean up the fuzzy fibers before paint.

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    Not shown, but it got a bit cleaner.

    I ordered some Lux Premium Yacht paint. Since this is fiberglass and constantly outdoors, it needs heavy UV protection. I bought the expensive stuff. I taped off the edges and used plastic drop clothes, foam rollers, and a ladder to get to everything.

    I applied 1.5 quarts of primer then let it dry for 2 days prior to paint.
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    I flipped the remaining screws so I could paint around them / over them, so the top wouldn't fall off.

    I sanded a little after primer, but left a rough texture so it would hide defects and give it an OEM finish.

    Then I used 1.5 quarts of the paint, again with a foam roller.

    Once it dried ~3 days in the sun to be safe, I cleaned the edges. I then replaced all the fasteners with brand new stainless steel.

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    Finally installed the three big seals, gluing the center one on and hammering the others. Re-installed the luggage top...

    So here's how she sits now. :) Next up is the paint (I'll just polish and touchup for now), then the interior. I also need to fix one small oil leak and replace a shifter bushing soon.

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  3. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    Awesome project. It appears to be coming together nicely. When's the first camping trip?
  4. hans5849

    hans5849 Serious as a heart attack

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    Ceramic coatings for exhaust are awesome. I just had my motorcycle's exhaust done.
  5. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Oh man I have a lot to add to this...

    Maybe this week I'll be able to post some updates.
  6. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    I look forward to the update.
  7. ninefivezero

    ninefivezero infinite resolution

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    I love Westys, and as you said being a CA car it has a lot going for it in terms of frame/body. So when you gunna drop a Subaru engine in it? ;)
  8. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    It's great to see you around Scott.
    I just saw a project that included slapping a boxer into a squareback. That thing could rip.
  9. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Here's the old seats, which were really tattered. Cool pattern, but the cloth was super expensive to replace (something like 30x the price of most patterns). And you need quite a bit of it. Also the packing was turned to dust and the and some springs were all broken. These seats were basically junk to me. The passenger seat swivels 180 degrees to face the living area and the driver seat rotates 90 degrees.
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    I found these on Craigslist. From the same model year, but an alternate pattern. Like new condition with freshly repacked. I think I paid $200 for them or so. I gave the old ones away.

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    I also covered them with fresh new sheep skin covers. I don't drive it every day, but figure when I do I'll probably be dirty sometimes. Plus this thing doesn't have AC and I thought maybe the white sheep skin would help. It looks nice and tidy and they're wearing well. I'll post pics later. This also protected these old seats!

    I also bought cheap aftermarket replacement lenses for all the ones that were bad. I can't remember if I posted this or not.
    IMG_4707.JPG
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2018
  10. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Hmm I'm unable to currently upload more than 1 image at a time. I'll work on this another night =/
  11. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    Those seats were a score. CL comes through again!
  12. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    The stock chrome bumper was bent/warped and impossible to find. I located a black steel one for $50 or so. You could still see the lower sheet metal was a bit warped near the muffler heat shield.. but I found a tow hitch bar for $15!!! on Craigslist. I had my welder add a 1/2" square receiver for it (not shown). It made a huge difference on the rear's appearance:


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    Not shown: I also replaced the plastic bumper caps on the side of the front bumper. Reproduction caps were only $10 each.

    Now onto this front grill...

    When I bought the van, many of the grill's "spokes" were broken and bent. At first I cut them off in an even pattern and put black tape behind it to hide some of the ugly. This cost nothing and helped. Still not ideal though...

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    So I forked over a few hundred bucks for some real upgrades. This is the South Africa front grill (OEM in SA), and the kit includes H3 high-beams. Wiring was pretty easy.

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    I also changed these upgraded euro headlights to LED COB bulbs as well. Makes an even bigger difference.

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    I added an awning at some point. Did I mention that? I also wirebrushed and painted the steel wheels which made it look a lot nicer (before/after) using Hammered Finish paint (~$4 can):
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    Then I started taking it on longer and longer drives. Here's an ocean trip, roughly ~150 miles. Maybe the longest drive we'd taken up to that point. We opened the top at the beach, had the dog with us and hung out enjoying the camper space with a picnic. You can see the sheep covers a bit here...

    IMG_2245.JPG

    Around this time I also pulled the old floor area out and resealed/repainted the wood, which made it a lot nicer to sit in.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2018
  13. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    At this point I still had some of the old fabric that was worn out/stained/ripped, and all the door panels and shelving had 30 year old disintegrating vinyl stuck to it.

    While in here, I also removed all the blackout curtains, gently washed them with Woolite, air dried them, and then re-installed. I also turned them inside out, so the faded light brown section was now on the inner window which you can't see except when camping, and they look perfect from outside the car now.

    Here's the shape as it was when I bought it:
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    First step was removing all the vinyl which took a whole weekend. I had to heat and tug and pull all this crap off including the leftover glue. What a night mare.. the worst was on the headliner and on the shelving inside the cabinets. I used aircraft paint remover on the wood which worked great, other than occasionally burning my arms.

    Then I took the old cardboard/wood trim pieces and traced them onto fiberglass sheet (from home depot, for a bathroom etc.) and cut these shapes out. Drilled the appropriate holes, then painted using some nice paint I had from another project.

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    Some pieces couldn't re removed, so I masked them off and painted by hand with a roller


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    I spent a few weeks on this, leaving the van open for days at a time in my shop to let is air out.
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    This panel was complicated and gross, plus the ashtray was nasty.
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    So I filled in and painted all the gross spots...
    And made a rounded rectangle vinyl template to replace the ashtray with something
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    Drilled some holes and a rectangle in it. They aren't as crooked as they look but were oversized so I could adjust them anyway.
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    Some wires.
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    The completed cover for this hole... now it's a volt meter, USB port, and 12V. Nice to have next to where we sleep!
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    Since the board behind it has the same color, it blends in very nicely.

    I don't have pics of all of this repainted and put back together, but Ill find some.

    The camper cushions and foam were disgusting, so I spent a couple hundred bucks down the street on new foam and fabric. He made me all new cushions from scratch and an arm rest. These zip on and off for cleaning if needed (I also bought a utility mat to cover them).. and I made a cover for this back panel, too.
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    Tested everything and the hinges all still fit!
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    I also repainted the interior of all of these cabinerts and fixed the 110V hookup, which needed a new relay.
  14. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    A few pics of the awning:
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    and the homemade badge I made in Solidworks and 3d Printed to replace the worn out badges on the car..

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    Using special filler and sand/paint etc. I need to finish this actually.


    I had some paintless dent repair on the big dents which helped a lot. Still need to touchup and clean/sand and paint some larger areas.
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    Not sure if I posted this up but James started a new project.
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  15. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    Old pic now but here's what happened when I started driving it home and back (40 miles)... one morning it didn't start. I towed it to the shop.
    Turns out the air temperature sensor box had a bent arm that rubs on a conductive surface, like a record needle. I bent it a little more and it drove fine. Learning new stuff all the time =/

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  16. mistawiskas

    mistawiskas kik n a and takin names

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    I like Jame's project....a lot!
  17. ninefivezero

    ninefivezero infinite resolution

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    Ditto, I saw a handful of those being used by europeans as overland vehicles while I was in Africa, and a one or two in Iceland as well.

    Your bus progress is looking great Dan!
  18. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    With some of the big stuff out of the way, the perfectionist in me started taking over. Every time you went to open the doors, you dealt with something like this...

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    If you opened the fresh air vent, you dealt with this:
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    And the vinyl+cardboard door card wasn't even staying on.
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    So I took all this stuff off and cleaned everything that wasn't totally ruined with TSP, followed by some soap and water. I ordered new "door handle cups" ($9 each I believe) and a new pocjet for one side that was cracked ($15)

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    I painted everything with "Duplicolor" black vinyl and plastic paint. I love this stuff. Even on soft rubber, it looks great afterward and lasts forever. I have used it on projects for years.

    I then re-assembled everything, and at the same time cleaned up inside the bare metal of the door, adjusted the windows, re-keyed all the locks (ordering and cutting new factory steel keys!), replaced the side mirrors etc... I bought new fasteners and was able to re-use the original door cards. It's not the same OEM brown but I think it looks nice:
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    Attached Files:

  19. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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    I also replaced and tightened up all the shifter bushings which makes the transmission WAY better to operate. You hear how bad these vans (and early buses) drive, often complaints about the shifter. It's usually the plastic bushings are completely worn or not lubricated.

    Having driven it to and from work those 40-miles a dozen times or so, I felt confident that I could take it on a longer trip.

    So we planned our first road trip! I booked a camp site near Eureka, CA, to witness the Kinetic Grand Championship (a crazy cool pedal-powered parade+endurance bike rally of sorts):
    http://kineticgrandchampionship.com/

    route.jpg

    The route is mostly highways, 50-70 MPH, with plenty of backroads near the end of the route. We'd camp at this very cool redwoods park we found, and drive the ~50-miles to town and back each day for the event.

    It was scheduled for late May, and temperatures on the drive can reach 100 degrees north of Santa Rosa at that time of year. The van's air cooled, and has NO air conditioning. Luckily it has a white roof and great ventilation, plus curtains... but still, a little sketchy.

    Days before the drive, I got nervous. I realized the 14" wheels and Kumho tires, which were holding air and had plenty of rubber left, were 5 years old. Also, the van has done a lot of sitting over the years.

    Out with the old:
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    Plus, as a sports car guy, I know that 14" wheels are TINY these days, and offer very poor performance due to a lot of sidewall on the tire (especially on a heavy vehicle like a loaded van). The easy solution: buy new tires. The better solution: buy bigger wheels, too.

    So I sourced out and bought these 16" German steel wheels, that look a lot like the originals. They're a tiny bit heavier than stock, but stiffer especially when you consider the smaller sidewall on the tires you'll buy. And they look better. I also bought brand new Michelin Defender tires.

    In with the new:
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    I also painted the wheel center hubs.

    After installing everything, a few test drives confirmed: HUGE UPGRADE. The van handles like a modern vehicle now! The low-center of gravity flat-4 engine combined with these sticky premium tires, made this van drive as good as most new cars. I was in heaven.

    For the first time, I fell in love with this van.
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    MaesterB says thanks for this.
  20. hans5849

    hans5849 Serious as a heart attack

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  21. tweakmonkey

    tweakmonkey Webmaster Staff Member

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