VW - TOUR BUS UPGRADE
OCEAN PLASTIC TOUR BUS - VW Camper, or Combi vans are symbolic of the earth movement, made famous by the likes of Joss Stone, Jamie Oliver and BBC Top Gear presenter, Richard Hammond - all great fans of Volkswagen campers. The Volkswagen van uses the same air cooled 4-cylinder boxer engine as the famed Beetle designed by Professor Ferdinand Porsche. Seen here the front bumper mount was rusted so badly that it was decided to remove it and weld in more substantial panels. Copyright photograph Blueplanet Universal Holdings Ltd 2007, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of BUH Ltd to reproduce this picture.
Okay, we have been loaned a VW combi-wagon for the duration of a joint project with the Miss Ocean event that is planned for next year to draw attention to plastic waste in our oceans. We could not afford to buy one of these outright - have you seen the prices lately? Having looked at this vehicle with a casual eye we noted that it had some work done on the custom front but obviously a long time ago - the basics of which we approve of:
1. The track has been widened with beautifully machined steel billet adapters. This improves cornering, where the standard chassis tends to roll.
2. Wider alloy wheels have been fitted with nice eco tyres. This gives more grip in the dry and more contact with the road with lower rolling resistance.
3. A beefier battery tray has been welded in.
4. A really nice towbar has been custom built, obviating the need to jack the bus for engine overhauls.
All of that is positive, but when we looked closely at this Volkswagen classic we found that years of standing idle had taken its toll, not just on the bodywork, but also on the running gear.
BRAKING - The discs were deeply pitted and the caliper pistons seriously rusted. The net result is that the wagon veered dangerously to one side. That does not sound too bad, and it wasn't in the dry, but in wet or icy conditions that slew to one side could be lethal. For straight line braking you need pistons that move freely in their bores with good rubber seals and gaiters to protect against corrosion. You can purchase repair kits provided that the pistons and bores are not badly rusted. In this case we had no choice - it was new calipers and discs. Copyright photographs, 19 October 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
Our expert VW restorer was given a brief to only spend on parts when the original mechanicals could not be salvaged or reconditioned. The first port of call was the brakes. The objective of any vehicle repair is to get an MOT and then complete the bodyworks. Without an MOT you are wasting your time even looking at a spray gun, except where the bodywork is so dangerous that it could harm a pedestrian, so fail an MOT. Yes, bodywork has to be in good condition these days.
The brake pipes were rusted through in places and the master cylinder a mess. The back plates had gone on the front and rear brakes. We knew that the front calipers had rusted pistons, because the van pulled to one side, and very dangerous that was too in the wet. In the snow some years back it was almost curtains for the driver on a narrow country road.
To justify the expense of repairs, this vehicle will be used as back-up transport during the assembly of the AmphiMax and SeaVax vehicles. That is where the twin sliding doors will be a big help - a rare feature on a combi wagon. This camper also has an alternator as a standard fitting, confirming it as being one of the last off the production line in Germany. Yes, Germany; not Brazil.
To offset the price of new parts, the workshop and equipment was provided on a free basis. A volunteer will complete the front and rear customization and take the body to primer stage - again, saving the project money. A split screen recently sold at auction in the US for $198,000 dollars. This is an example of the crazy figures that VW fans are prepared to pay for these design icons.
STEERING & SUSPENSION - Once the discs were removed the state of the front upright and torsion bar suspension links could be seen. They were cleaned up with wire brushes and painted black. The arms, rods and ball joints were all in serviceable condition. The main chassis is also in good condition - much to the relief of our vehicle restorer and our directors and their bank managers. Copyright photographs, 19 October 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
STEEL PANELS - As you can see from out lead picture, the bodywork was in need of some TLC. More importantly, the foot wells and door step were worse for wear. Amazingly, you can get many replacement panels from specialist suppliers. You have to be a very skilled welder to cut the old rusty metal out and weld these in. Copyright photographs, 20 October 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
LUBRICATION - On the left we see the cause of the wear on the constant velocity joints is a split rubber gaiter. When the rusted in bolt is finally prized free, we re-assembled the shaft and packed the cv joint with plenty of molybdenum bearing grease. We were lucky that the drive shaft was well greased when assembled many years ago. Copyright photograph, 1 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
DRIVERS FLOOR - It had been a fraught week in the workshop where, with the brakes now working passably, we tried to start the engine - and nothing happened when we turned the ignition switch save a pipsqueak click, click, from the starter solenoid. Out came the starter motor for a live hot wire test and the motor spun directly from a battery using jump leads, but when we tried it using the solenoid the contacts failed to engage - so nothing.
We stripped down the solenoid, cleaned and lubricated the sliding shaft and re-assembled the unit, whereupon she sprang into life once connected with a screwdriver acting as a switch. But when fitted to the engine we still had problems. We figured this was a resistance problem where the body is so rusty. The problem was cured by fitting a new earth from the battery to the chassis and a new positive feed from the battery to the starter motor. We soldered the ends on to be sure of a low resistance connection - and sure enough, the engine now turned on the button. A little petrol was poured into the carburetor and after a few more spins of the starter the boxer engine came to life - at first sputtering a bit, but then settling down to the familiar air cooled sound. This is amazing, because the engine in this bus had sat outside in all weathers for over 10 years. Try that with another vehicle and see how far you get.
As you can see from the picture below the drivers floor was not in good shape, but having started the engine and tested the clutch to make sure that was working, we were on a roll. We marked the floor back to sound metal with a felt tip marker and cut the rusty part out. This is a good time to repair any rust in the main frame, because you can see what you are doing. Copyright photograph, 23 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
NEW METAL - Our parts are mainly coming from that well known specialist supplier of hard to come by replacements; Alan Schofield. Where we are joining old and new we will either seam with a strip of fresh steel underneath, or butt join. We get our steel sheet from Jayar Car Parts in Hailsham. They very helpfully deliver bits and bobs, with a very friendly and efficient service, saving us time that we can then spend cutting or welding - and very occasionally, having a nice cup of tea. Copyright photograph, 23 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to legally reproduce this picture.
MASTER CYLINDER ISSUES - The new master cylinder was unbranded. Having fitted it and bled the system, we found a leak on the fourth thread that is blanked off with a dual braking system using a turned dummy insert. Our mechanic has the patience of a saint, but on the third attempt - having tried fibre and copper washers, he gave up. It had cost us a day. you can see from the middle photograph that there is a hairline crack in the casting that goes deep. No wonder we were having trouble. A replacement cylinder was sent within 24 hours; the shiny one on the right. Our mechanic fitted this with high hopes, but once again it leaked on the same thread. He again tried copper and fibre washers and PTFE tape to no avail. Three times he bled the system before giving up. This cost us another day. The moral of the story is (probably) to buy branded parts. On the other hand, should pattern parts not be sold as fit for purpose. These were not! A leak in the brake system is an MOT fail. We were thinking of shopping around, but once again our regular supplier came to the rescue with a German original part at a very fair price. It pays to talk. We could not be happier. Copyright photographs, 25 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to legally reproduce these pictures.
CAB FLOOR DRIVERS - Under the cab floor there is a chassis member that typically rusts in the corners. Schofield's do a nice heavy gauge replacement, but you will still have to make bracing plates. Copyright photographs, 25 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce these pictures.
CAB FLOOR PASSENGER - This is what you are likely to be faced with. Don't panic. Take your time and cut out the really nasty rusted areas. It is worth replacing the accelerator pedal hinge and pin for a smoother (more controllable feel) drive. Copyright photographs, 25 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to legally reproduce these pictures.
CAB FLOOR PASSENGER - The floor on the passenger side was just as corroded and had to be cut out. The new panel fits well, but will need some extra metal to fill the gaps back to the wheel arch. Copyright photographs, 25 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce these pictures.
CAB FLOOR - Both sides are looking much better. You will need to fabricate some 'L' sections from sheet steel. You cannot expect any supplier to make every part that you'll ever need. Copyright photographs, 25 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
STAINLESS - One of the most irksome jobs is replacing the exhaust system on any engine. They only last about three years if you are lucky. A custom built system like that shown above is not expensive when you consider the mechanics time replacing your pipes - and as a bonus your vehicle will perform better and look a whole lot nicer. This is the quiet buggy pack made of high quality steel that is supplied polished with gaskets, but not with the clamp fittings or studs, nuts and bolts. Copyright photographs, 30 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
CARBS & INLET MANIFOLD - This is our Webber carburettor and inlet manifold. Copyright photograph Blueplanet Universal Holdings Ltd 2007, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of BUH Ltd to reproduce this picture.
RESTORATION - These vans are all pretty old. This is a very rare twin sliding door wagon from 1978. At this age, unless garaged in very dry conditions there will be a lot of rust that a purist will want to eradicate. Our advice here is not to cut out too much - only the really bad sections. Then again, it is sometimes quicker and cheaper to weld in new formed steel parts, especially where chassis members are being repaired - when strength is the priority. Copyright photographs, 30 November 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
DAILY MAIL -
According to an article in the Daily Mail this camper van could cost the same as a
The fully restored 1957 split-screen Volkswagen was listed with a guide
price between £80,000 to £120,000 at auction at Bonhams at the
Goodwood Festival Of Speed on June 24 2016.
ROAD SHOW, PUBLIC AWARENESS EVENTS
If we can secure follow on funding for 2017, we plan to mount a tour of the UK to show the SeaVax to interested groups and corporations. This VW surfing wagon will be the lead vehicle, supported by other team vehicles, including our BMW i3, that is giving us valuable experience with EVs and battery practicalities. We'll need our vehicles in tip, top condition for these road shows as they will reflect on the production project team and logistical management of this high tech enterprise.
WELDING - We are going to need good quality welding equipment to repair the rusted sections of this bus. Some of the replacement panels are necessarily thin steel - and we want the joins to be stronger than the original factory specification. Our old SIP 150 amp MIG is a bit temperamental, with the wire drive and gun some 30 years the worse for wear and the amperage selector switch now sticking.
NON STOP WELDING - We are on our second large bottle of gas already. You cannot replace old rusted panels without joining the parts - and while you are at it - doing a good job. This camper is to be used for road shows and other events such as the Miss Ocean Watersports competition that is designed to draw attention to plastic and other ocean pollution. Copyright © photographs, 1 February 2017, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
Fortunately, R-Tech came to the rescue with one of their fantastic digital inverter based machines superbly packaged and delivered to us in record time on two pallets. R-Tech TIG units can go down to just 5 amps of current, meaning that you can weld just about any thickness of metal. We needed the hefty 450 amp capability of this neat machine to fabricate the AmphiMax chassis, a real test as to the ability to cope with opposite scales of the welding spectrum. The MTS 450 will be fitted with a water cooling system to increase the continuous work cycle. We also have a TIG 260EXT machine from R-Tech with high frequency start for precision welding and a spool-on-gun rig for welding aluminium fuss-free - where long feeds can sometimes cause problems with this metal becoming jammed in worn cable or PTFE guides. If you have special welding needs, it would pay you to check out the R-Tech range. Copyright photographs, 21 October 2016, all rights reserved. You will need the permission of Bluebird Marine Systems Ltd to reproduce this picture.
SIGN WRITING YOUR SURFING BUS
It's art Jim but not as we know it. How would you paint yours? It's not as easy as you think, but everyone should express themselves because it is good for the soul.
A NICE SAMPLE OF VW ART WORLDWIDE - The Volkswagen camper, or kombi van has inspired generations to get out their paintbrushes and pen a message for others to read, or simply to express oneself. These days it is usual to vinyl wrap a vehicle, but the design and layout of any graphic is very similar no matter what medium you are working with. Click on the van above to see our gallery of VW art.
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