Vanagon – minor changes to old mods

A while back I made an aluminum grill to replace the stock grill on the rear side of the kitchen unit. I made it such that it would house an USB dual outlet and a voltmeter. Later I rotated it so the outlets were in top.


It was ok, never did paint it. What bugged me was no switch to turn off the voltmeter and outlet. So with more enthusiasm than design skills I made another and this time added switches and painted. Btw I used krylon espresso brown which I was told was a good match for the brown in my older westy cabinetry. The pics don’t really show the colour well but it’s darker than stock.


That thing in the aluminum block is a digital controller I’m using for the fridge fin fan(s). More on that when I post my findings about my fridge mods. Yeah you can see a bit of sloppily applied insulation on the fridge exhaust pipe, that’s much less than originally installed. Again, more on that later.

Now I can switch on the volt meter and USB outlet. The thermo controller has its own on/off function. Extra switch thrown in there just in case.

I did make the vertical slots as long as I could, but I didn’t mean to slightly overlap the cabinet. Doh…


Also refined, ha, the “new style westy table on old style arm” mod, link and link, slimming the aluminum adapter down a tad and adding a plastic spacer, ( the red thing, don’t know what kind of plastic, might be Delrin).


Surprisingly, the plastic spacer improves the tightening action.

And back to that espresso brown paint. I painted the little indicator panel on the kitchen unit front face. Maybe you can see the colour mis match in this pic. Nothing quite like taking a picture of something to make you realize just how beat up a thing is, man, look at those dents etc. Oh and another thing, trying this and that to bring back some life to the rest of the face plate. Paint was chalky and faded.

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Vanagon – spotted in Graz

Peripatetic Simon is enroute to Croatia. He stopped at Graz and sent some pics of two Vanagons. I kinda like this style of hightop, most often seen on military vans. Note the double pane plastic side and rear hatch windows.


Quick camera action, snapped this syncro doka. Sure looks good.


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Vanagon – that clunky airfoil roof rack update

Last year I made a pretty clunky roof rack to hold my old Thule ski box. Seemed like a good idea at the time, using up some airfoil aluminum extrusion. But, and apart from my crappy welds, I think the end result was a bit off. Here is the link to the original post. At that time I was using an aluminum rail attached to the side of the pop top, it worked but I thought it flimsy.

So… I made some new side rails from 1″X2″ aluminum box section. The rear Most section is bent to fit the contour of the roof, and  I put in some slots for visual interest and to access the roof rack mounting system.


That red badge is from a Passat syncro station wagon found at wreckers. Annoying that even though the mounting hole for the badge is cantered on the tube, when the badge snaps on it lies off centre, grrr.



The ends of the box section are filled with section of 2″ aluminum tubing, half circles 1″ thick. Welded and blended.

I came up with a novel method of holding the airfoil rack down onto the roof and side rails. 


5/16″ NC bolts drilled out and holes chamfered, 1/8″ stainless cable with swaged ends (copper). The shorter bolt goes into the underside of the airfoil, stainless threaded inserts in the aluminum. The longer bolt goes through the box section side rail and tightened and locked with nuts.


That works surprisingly well, the cable tension is good, the rack gets pulled down firmly. The ski box is bolted to the airfoils, so that ties the two airfoils together. But even alone, the rack is very secure on the roof. I’ll paint the whole lot black some day.

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Vanagon – what’s this gizmo used for?

Update: vanagon mailing list guesses include prop to keep loose vent window open and holding notes to metal dash. Good guesses and would work, but not the primary intent.

Good friend Stephen gave me this idea. Handy bit of wood with magnet on one end. It’s 1 1/2″ long, 3/4″ diameter. It could be another 3/4″ longer but works fine as is. Extra points if you can guess the wood (I’m looking at you, oldfussbudget). Wood hint, it’s never going to rot.

Oh and yes, can have more than one use, with that magnet and all.


Ok, the anticlimax, the reveal. It’s used to prop open the license plate hatch when checking fluids. Yeah I know you can use the oil fill cap, but I think this is better 🙂


If you want you can store it stick to the hatch. Or maybe better idea is to use it to hold down notes on the dash.

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Vanagon – almost foiled weekend trip 

Finally, we were able to take off for a weekend trip to one of our favourite places. Weather was to be hot and dry. Packed up Saturday morning and headed out. Alternator light started to glow before we got out of town. Shoot, it came back to me that when I did an alternator overhaul this last winter I made a mental note to replace the brushes soon. Mental note got lost. Had a spare voltage regulator in the van (used, but brushes still workable) and swapped it in. That solved that but then the van started to run oddly. Idle would drop and engine die, ran a little rough. We headed to Simons house to use driveway and I poked and prodded connections etc. Moved the O2 sensor wire away from a spark plug wire. That’s all I could do. Headed back home and the van ran fine. Took the chance and turned around and continued trip. Engine ran well for the rest of the trip. Sooner I put in a new motor the better, it’s so frustrating to trouble shoot this old engine and wiring.

I bought new tires last week. I was running Yokohama Geolandar ats, 215/70 15. New ones were the replacements for the ats, the Geolander GO15. And I went for largest ( some say to much ) that you really should put on the van with stock motor, 215/75-15. Was expecting more of a performance hit than I actually felt. Yes, I did have to downshift on hills that previously I hadn’t needed to, but this was much more apparent on the pavement, not so much in the logging roads ( travelling much slower on those roads).

The ride quality of these new tires are very much better than the old ones. Yes, a little louder on the pavement but smoother ride and on rough roads they soak up the harsh bumps way better. Great grip on loose stuff, and I didn’t notice the lugs getting cut by sharp rocks.


Shade temps were hitting 30-32 C when the breeze dropped. Sun intense, no fog on the ocean ( oh that will come in July and August), just perfect.



Brought the large westy table with us, and it works on the Swellegant™ table mod even better than the smaller table. I’m telling ya, it’s one of the best things I have ever invented.


Dinner was marinated thinly sliced skirt steak on skewers grilled on the Ecoque.


With salad and wrap.


Magnets holding a reflective tarp over part of the side of the van to give the fridge a fighting chance.


If you look towards the horizon, just to the left of that awning guy line, and if you could fly in that direction, the first land you’d encounter would be New Zealand. Amazing eh? 


We pretty well just sat, read, drank, ate, enjoyed the view, looked at the marine traffic. Saw no bears, elk, deer. Nighthawks were there though, and a couple of rufous hummingbirds that really liked the red campchair.

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Tent pegs – German WWII era, really?

Back in the 90’s I bought some tent pegs at a surplus store, it might have been Herbie’s Surplus in Williams Lake B.C. I thought they looked good and the particular design and overall shape blinded me to the fact that they were obviously cast. That’s cast aluminum, perhaps not the best material choice for tent pegs.

Right enough, I broke three of them in short order. Still have two undamaged examples but I never use them. Found them again when sorting out the (again army surplus) stuff sack I keep for cord, rope, clothes pegs, etc in the van. Still love the shape and thought that maybe I should cut up some 6061 aluminum angle to make rough copies.

Here is what I have left.


And the maker’s mark.


Not finished the copies yet, but I did do a search for the name “APAG” which was cast on the pegs. Try that yourself, the name plus tent peg. I got a few eBay listings, for example this one:



Of course i could be wrong, but the maker’s mark typeface sure doesn’t look like WWII era German. And if it was, would they be using precious aluminum for tent pegs?

Addendum: summer solstice 2017

Made my own two versions of the dubious German pegs. They might bend but I don’t think they will break quite as easily as the originals. 

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Vanagon – a couple of minor fridge mods

Attention!!! Maybe some of these mods don’t work. Doing some tests now to confirm. Yes this is embarrassing 🙂

I’m going to try my best to not run down any rat holes in this post, for there are many when it comes to the fridge. I’ll try to stick to the mods that I recently made. Over this last winter I’ve had a couple of westy propane fridges in the workshop, in for some D&C ( that’s dusting and cleaning, not the other). With one of them, I tried out some ideas. First was to insulate the section of corrugated stainless exhaust pipe that really pumps out heat into the van. Just a couple of wraps of Fiberglas tape, exhaust pipe tape.

The next mod was a couple of aluminum plates clamped to the fridge cooling fins to help channel cooling air. I know others have made an enclosing shroud back there, I tried that about twenty years ago and I wasn’t very successful in getting a good fit. This time I reckoned that the plates would maybe do 80% of the job with 100% less effort.

In addition to the plates, I added a bank of three small, very quiet and low current draw, squirrel cage fans.

Here’s the test mule with the mods. At this time there was only one wrap of insulation on the exhaust pipe and I added a programable temperature controller and probe to control the bank of fans.


I bench tested this with propane, 120 V ac, and 12 V dc. I fiddled with a programable temp controller and finally decided that even though it was sort of fun to be able to adjust the fan set point and adjust the dead zone ( in effect, adjustable hysteresis) , it really wasn’t needed.

Also found that on propane, the exhaust pipe still gets hot. Not skin scorchingly hot as it was un-wrapped, but still a heat source. Decided to double wrap.

This weekend I duplicated the set up onto my own fridge. I had added a second fan to this fridge some time ago, and I had replaced the stock fan motor with a slightly larger unit. This was working ok, the second fan was fairly quite. Skirting round a tempting rat hole here when I say that I think the stock fan blade works as well as anything in that placement.


I removed that computer fan and installed the bank of three squirrel cage fans. The fans are wired in parallel to the stock fan. And added the plates.


Plates are held on by hooked ends, the straight ends threaded and nutted.


The fans are mounted to a bit of 1″ wide, 1/8″ thick aluminum. Little bit of a dog leg and screwed at one end, the other end cable tied to fridge tubing. It’s in there quite securely, no movement, no rattles.


Double wrap of insulation on the exhaust pipe.


I don’t think the insulation will have any adverse effect on the exhaust tubing. I think the stainless will take the additional heat.

A couple of tips on reinstalling the fridge. One thing I did some years ago was to re-thread the intake/exhaust flange for M4 bolts. The original sized holes had stripped out. The socket headed cap screws are nicer to use.


When you’re trying to line the fridge up to install the sheet metal screws inside the cupboards, a slim awl or a pin as shown is a great help.


And the propane connection to the fridge can be a little frustrating to attach. The line up might be off and the access is awkward. A short wrench is invaluable, this old family heirloom is what I use.


You know, I’m not an expert on these fridges but I’ve found that if all the components are working, the electrical connections good, and the combustion chamber ( and gas jet) is clean, then the fridge lights up easily. Believe me, I’ve struggled with the fridge at times, but I think those days are long gone.

Touch wood

Addendum, later that day…

Dgbeatty commented that I should look to the finned heat exchangers inside the fridge and re-do the thermal paste. That bugged me, I should have thought of that when I had the fridge out. I replied that I had tried to remove the fins years before but had no luck, they were stuck enough that I worried about breaking something. But I tried again and this time they came off.


That old thermal paste came off with WD40, then a rub with isopropyl alcohol.


Of course I don’t have a tub of thermal paste to re-apply, so I did what any redneck would do, I used anti-sieze. I don’t think that’s as daft as it seems. The MSDS for this anti-sieze states it contains 5-10% (by weight) aluminum powder.


And all back together. Replaced the the little CPU fan I had wired up to the top of the fins ( idea is to circulate the cold air, don’t use it that often) with one of the little squirrel cage fans. At the side of the fins. What the heck, it’s going to move some air.


Thanks Dgbeatty for getting me off my duff.

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