Archive for July, 2011

Vanagon – pop top hole trimming part three

Not really much to show from the last couple of day’s work. What I have managed to do is fit the rear plywood headliner. This took many fitting and cutting iterations and the final result could have been arrived at sooner. I had a close fit in mind, but that was hard – wrestling and torturing the plywood into place, doesn’t like to bend in 2 planes at once – so the final result is more of a relaxed fit meaning I have to do more edge treatment. The following pics show the headliner in place but you can see it sags a little and I have clamps holding it in a curve at the front. Both issues will be dealt with by some wood battens, as yet to be designed 🙂

The rear wardrobe is not secured in these pics, but you can see how there will be a bit of a gap between the top of it and the headliner.

I also drilled and tapped (5 x 0.8 mm) the aluminum angle that support the door valence and the kitchen troughs. The stock westy uses sheet metal screws but seeing as the angle is 1/8″ thick, I needed to use machine screws. These are scavenged screws shown, if I get around to it I’ll buy some shiny new ones.

I used the wiring for the rear, driver’s side interior light to power the fluorescent light that is mounted to the underside of the trough. The trough was a bit tricky to install, the hidden ledger strip was a pain to position.

Doesn’t seem like I did much does it? The headliner was the time eater, applying the finish and cutting to shape. I did spend some time pondering the modified hinges for the fold out upper bunk, that is going to be fun as is figuring out how to finish those exposed curves in roof.

Leave you with a picture of the passenger’s side light on the front headliner. Makes a big difference having a light there, no, really it does.

Edit: Ed, if you are reading this, I’m waiting for more updates on your syncro project.


Twist drill, oh really?

Last Christmas I was given one of those big sets of incredibly cheap drill and screwdriver bit sets from my neighbour. I hadn’t touched the set until yesterday when I could not find the 5/32″ bits I was using the day before. I grabbed one of the cheap “titanium nitride coated HSS” bits from its plastic box and used it to drill out 3 pop rivets. I say 3, for that is all it managed to do. Wasn’t much to ask was it? The bit dulled quickly and became bent. I looked again at the bit, didn’t seem right to me, what do you think? A less cheap uncoated bit beside it just incase you forget what a regular bit looks like 🙂


Vanagon – pop top hole trimming part two

Past couple of days has been one step forward, two steps back. First problem was when I glued on some 1/4″ closed cell foam to the backside of the front headliner (for a bit of sound and thermal insulation) and then discovering that doing that had changed the arc that the panel springs into when installed. The result was slight bit of wavyness at the rear edge of the headliner, and a tiny bit at the front. I could have planed off a smidgen from each side of the panel but I’ve decided to see how it works out once all the screws are in place – the rear screws are in and that has helped, the front screws that also hold on the front window curtain are yet to to be installed. I wired in a passenger side light, tapping power and grounds from the driver’s side unit. The rear edge of the headliner was exposed and lay below the aluminum channel that I had screwed in place on the front edge of the cut out hole. I couldn’t find a satisfactory way of finishing that edge so I decided to make a new aluminum piece out of aluminum angle instead of channel. I should have done this from the start, the vertical leg of the angle mimics the turned down edge in the stock westy. Bending the angle was not as easy as the smaller (and thinner) channel, and the end result shows some dents from the bending jig. Here are some shots during test fittings.




That stock westy flex moulding works out fine.

Still have to marry it to the corners

The slider door valence is secured by the hidden angled brackets, but still need to be screwed down on the aluminum angle and to the roof at the very front. I’ve not done that yet as I am still not sure about how to hide the exposed roof edge at the front corner.

Here is a shot of the mid to rear part of that valence in the van. Obvious that I haven’t got the rear headliner installed yet.


Vanagon – pop top hole trimming part one

Trying various ways to trim, and somewhat strengthen, the edges of the sheet metal roof exposed by the pop top hole. Along each side there has to be a ledge to support both the bed and the pop top lifting assembly. At the front edge, you have to install the pop top latch (and support it) as well as merging the wooden headliner to the cut edge. At the rear edge, not much has to be done, just cover that metal edge. I’ll begin with the front edge. I decided to use some aluminum, U-shaped, to span that edge. I bent it to match the roof curve with a very rudimentary jig in the vice. Here it is practicing on a scrap bit. You squeeze a bit then move on a little, etc.

Of course I practiced with the U channel in the wrong orientation then proceeded to do the real bit the same way. Grr, had to straighten it out and re-do. But I got it done, drilled holes for some stainless sheet metal screws and a cut out around the latch. The plywood headliner comes to the rear edge of this channel, and I think will be gussied up with some edge moulding stuff, or something.

The latch has a backing plate, but whereas in the stock westy roof that backing plate lies in an area supported on one side by the crossmember flange, and on the other side by the turned down hole edge, on my van I don’t have the turned down edge and the crossmember flange is spaced away from the roof by about 1/4″. So I installed a 1/4″ thick bit of aluminum, the same shape as the backing plate, in that space. I didn’t take a picture of that but here is a shot of the backing plate (you can see the gap between the roof and the crossmember flange here). Well you can see a bit of that spacer in the pic below, and I should mention that the holes drilled through the roof are elongated side to side for latch adjustment. The latch plate itself has holes elongated front to rear.

You can see that with that intermediate plate the bolts just barely come through the backing plate.
Now some trial fits with the kitchen trough and the door valence. Door valence first.

See how I have to come up with some sort of trim and support for the corner? Same sort of thing with the trough (trough end cap is not in place).

Now onto the sides, I had to form a bit of aluminum angle to bridge the space between the box section and the roof. It was “just” a case of some cold forging.

Bending the angle to less than 90 degrees stretched the metal where I hammered, so the piece came out slightly curved. No big deal, it will pull back into shape when installed. I had to form a little hump to conform to the roof moulding.

Then clamped into place for trial fit.

The crudely shaped portion over the roof moulding.

This angle will be pop riveted into bot the box section and the roof. Another aluminum angle will be pop riveted to the vertical part of this to provide the support base for the pop top lifting assembly and the bed extension support. More on that later.

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I’ve been remiss not to thank all those who have commented and encouraged me with the pop top conversion project. At times I’m somewhat paralyzed with doubt and indecision during the process, and as I am pretty well working alone (my own choice I guess, I’m pig-headed) the feedback I get either in the comments here or by email have been very much appreciated.

I’m looking forward to doing this again, but with headroom.


Vanagon – mucking around after the pop top hole was cut

Not as much progress as I would have liked today. Was warm for these parts, 27 C or so (yeah, not hot), and I mostly got a suntan on the back of my neck as I mulled over how to treat the cut opening. I am heading to copy what bquip did in this samba thread, but probably won’t laminate plywood for the ends as he did. I’m leaning more to aluminum all round. First thing I did was put on another coat of Sikkens Cetol 1 on the front headliner, this time with fine steel wool followed by a rub with a dry rag. Skipping ahead to the end of the day, the finish was dry and I rubbed on some wax and did a test fit.

The slight buckle at the front will be eliminated when I screw the headliner to the metal above the windscreen. These screws have double duty, they also attach snaps for the front curtain. Boy the picture sure shows up the flaws in the finish. I added a hole on the passenger side for another light. The rear sides are shown next. Actually these pics were taken when I did a first trial fit before the headliner was finished.

The exposed edges of the wood will be covered by trim moulding. I trimmed the roof a bit more on the sides so the roof was flush with the box section. I experimented with bending some aluminum angle to see how well I could match the angle between the roof and the box section. Just as bquip did, I will pop rivet the angle onto the roof and box section then attach another bit of angle to act as support for pop top lifting assembly and the fold out portion of the bed.

I’ll also have to form that angle so it conforms the the ridge on the roof skin (foreground in above pic). Those ledger strips I attached continue on to the rear of the van. I installed them even though I have the later model door valence and kitchen trough which hides the area above the strip (it is exposed on the earlier model westies). I did it so that I could try springing a plywood headliner in the rear. I’m not sure it will work easily, a test with a narrow bit of scrap shows that the wardrobe end interferes with the plywood. I’ll have to do some cutting of the headliner to make it fit. The plywood fits at the rear, shown here.

But not so well at this point.

But I think I can make it work. Edit – I’m an idiot, I just realised that the “valences” (trough on kitchen side, and the one on the door side) will interfere on both sides. I think then I will fit the headliner into the gap between the roof and the box section, trimming at the forward end to fit around the cross member.


Giant Burdock

Last fall I threw some Giant Burdock burrs down on the front garden. It may seem crazy, but I like the plants but I won’t let them spread. The flower stalks haven’t appeared yet but the leaves are huge. Edit – I didn’t know this, “Burdock has the little known yet precise designation monocarpic herb. This means a seedling grows for a varying period of years, usually two to four, until its root has stored enough energy to produce a flower stem. The plant dies only after flowering. In a shady, dry location Burdock must wait a long time. Rich soil, well-bathed in sunshine, lets Burdock send up its huge flower stem in its second year of growth. Other monocarpic herbs are Angelica and Giant Hogweed.” More info here.

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Vanagon – cutting the big hole in the roof

After all my dithering, I finally did it, I cut the big hole in the roof of my ’86 syncro. But before we get to that I had to finish the plywood headliner for the front section of the van. Yesterday I gave it one coat of Sikkens Cetol 1, an oil/varnish finish. Today I traced out and cut it to shape. Then I rubbed it down with fine steel wool and applied another coat of Sikken (this time with a rag, as if applying tung oil). Sorry about the pics, they don’t show the colour right. Notice I cut out holes for lights on both sides.

Change to a metal cutting blade and put some tape on the shoe of the saw to protect the roof paint.

Then drill a hole in the roof.

And start cutting.

“There is a crack in everything that’s how the sun gets in”

Onward and around and hey presto!

Phew! The cut was pretty good, even distances to the box sections on each side and looking good front and rear.

I can get the rest of that degraded sticky foam out now. In the westy roof, the box section (which double as air ducts) is welded to the roof between the cross members, in the passenger van it is not, and the gap is “sealed” with that foam.



Detail of the rear transverse cut.

And the front transverse cut. The pop top latch placed there just to see what was what.

Then I pop riveted in place the ledger strips that holds the front headliner in place. You can see how it sits over the welded in fabric headliner attachment strip. It’s a short one on the passenger side and stops partway along and above the door upper track. It lies at a slight angle.

And on the driver’s side the strip is longer. In the westy, the strip holds up a narrow bit of headliner between the kitchen trough and the downturned edge of the roof opening.

You can see I trapped the remaining headliner up behind the strip. I’ll probably trim it to the upper edge of the strip. Directly below that strip is another one which helps hold in the kitchen trough. That one goes on tomorrow. Looking at the pics now makes me think I should use some strips of headliner to cover the old strip up front (if that makes any sense).





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Vanagon – front headliner gone

The other day when I was mounting the luggage rack I ripped the headliner beyond where it could be wrapped over the “soon to be cut” edge of the main pop top hole. I hummed and hawed, and finally decided to ditch the headliner and do what the factory did and put in a wooden headliner. I have my old westy headliner and I could have used that (I had covered it in fabric back in 2000 when I did a make-over on the old van), but I decided to make a new one and go with a warm wood look.

The local lumber yard had 1/8″ baltic birch in 5′ X 5′ sheets, so I went with that. The width of the headliner is greater than 48″ and I think the length needed is a bit more than 48″ also, so a standard sized sheet of plywood is not convenient. I bought some brush on clear lacquer and tried it one one side. It was ok, but the pale finish which I thought would look “clean” had a raw feel. So I used some Sikkens oil/varnish coating that I had in the barn. That gave the birch a very homey old style look, so good bye eurolook and hello log cabin. Here are the uncut panels with one coat on.

I attacked that awful insulation above the old headliner with a scraper and a vacuum cleaner.

This vintage Nilfisk is quiet and its exhaust is clean.

In the westy, the wooden headliner is held on to the side of the roof by bent ledger strips riveted to the body. The fabric headliner in the passenger van is held in place by a different type of ledger strip spot welded to the body in pretty well the same place. It never ends does it? Just like renovating an old house, surprises await. I’ll take pics of this when I put the wooden headliner in place.

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Vanagon – luggage rack on

It wasn’t making a template using my ’82 westy as source…

Nor was it drilling all the holes…

The side brackets went on smoothly (note, I used dum-dum mastic under all the brackets and on the heads of the bolts).

And it wasn’t the dogs, either getting under foot or acting sullen as in this pic…

It was the driver’s side front bracket that took me an hour to attach. One hole was slightly out of line, ended up drilling it a tad larger.

It is a bit of a stretch to reach the front bolts with the headliner in, and I wanted to keep the front headliner intact back to where the main pop top hole will be cut, but my frustration (it was hot in there!) and my leaning in ripped the fekkin liner. Looks like I will be putting in a board type headliner there sooner than I had planned.

But the bugger is on, and it looks ok. The brackets lined up quite well with the holes in the rack, and only one of the holes at the rear of the rack (where the double rubber washers go) was out of alignment about 3 mm.


Vanagon – removing the headliner before cutting the roof

I cut into the headliner in the area where the roof will be cut out. I had to remove 2 wire supports and some of the glued on insulation. I should have worn a dust mask, the fibrous insulation is a bit dusty. Be sure to leave a good amount of uncut headliner at the perimeter so you have lots to play with when finishing the cut edges of the hole. Looks like I am going to make that hole tomorrow.




Vanagon – pop top hinge install – making holes

I marked out the hole locations on the roof and drilled them. Made the holes oversize a bit, about 3/8″ diameter. I admit to dicking around and procrastinating with this pop top install project, but now that I have actually removed a little metal from the roof I’m committed.

Then I hammered down the metal where the hinge sits, just a little bit so that the hinge sits vertical by itself. I did a nicer job on the left side than the right which was my first attempt. I scratched the paint on that side and had to use some touch up paint. Added insult to injury was the paint spattering.

I thought that installing the threaded backing plates would be a pain, but it turned out to be very easily. I used double sided tape to stick on a bit of aluminum flashing to the backing plate so that I could maneuver the plate up inside. I could stand on a box outside looking through the drilled holes and reach around in the van to move the plate into position. I had the notion that I could squirt some caulk in the drilled holes so that the plate could be stuck onto the inside surface of the roof, but as it turned out the plate wedged in tight and doesn’t move out of position.





Ok, so next step is to go over the big hole dimensions and then… cut it out.

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Vanagon stock wheel and tires

German pdf listing the stock wheels sizes and tire specifications from the factory for 2wd, syncro, and 16″ syncro.




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Vanagon – pop top hinge install – layout

Slowly, I’m getting ready to cut a hole in the top of my syncro and put on a westy pop top roof. I’ve linked to the basic idea in a previous post. I’m fussing over where the rear hinge is attached. This Samba thread has some good info. I copied the hinge bolt locations from the roof of my ’82 Westy and used a plexiglass template to transfer the hole locations.

This where the holes transfer on the right hand side.

And some rough measurements.

The measurements are within a millimetre or two of what was posted on the Samba. I’m still unresolved whether to flatten out the hinge area, but I am leaning that way.


Vanagon – pop top assist struts

“Jack Bombay” makes a great kit for attaching gas charged struts to the pop top lifting mechanism to help lift the top. I have helped install 2 of his kits onto friends vans, and I recommend buying the kit from him. But, a friend gave me 4 ball end attachment bits and I had some old but still fairly strong rear hatch struts, therefore to save face I had a go at making my own set up. All I can say is if you don’t have a welder, then it is really not worthwhile doing it. I made mine from stainless steel angle, hacksaw, grinder, belt sander, files, and sweat.

Below is one on the rear hinge. There is a black steel strip underneath the hinge base (barely visible) which is the tapped backing plate I will be using when I attach the hinges to the roof of my syncro. I have not angled the tab where the ball end is screwed on, Jack Bombay’s kit has it angled towards the tent a few degrees, I forgot to do it until I saw this picture. But the lack of angle does not seem to make any difference. Get the idea that I was tired of this little project?

More pics, showing the pop top end of the struts. These struts do not have a ball at that end, so I am using a bolt, nuts and washer arrangement. I hope there will be enough lateral play in the set up so that it won’t bind (was no need to worry, worked perfectly).

That’s a roll of “dum-dum”, a butyl based non-hardening mastic that I will use to seal bolt penetrations in the steel roof, and on the underside of the pop top canvas lower securing track where it goes over the raised portions of the roof.


Vanagon – pop top insulation

Well I’ve finished my experiment with trying a new kind of pop top ceiling treatment. An earlier post showed how I had stripped the old worn flocking off the ceiling and I had the idea of attaching a closed cell foam ceiling treatment. I did not want to glue the foam directly to the top, but rather have it removable. What I ended up with is not what I had envisioned, but isn’t that often the case?

I attached (screws every 20cm) some 1/2″ X 1/2″ aluminum box section to the sides of the top, that moulding that the canvas attaches to. This will be to support steel straps across the ceiling that the foam is glued to. The also will serve as a wiring chase.



Here is a shot of the aluminum box tubing at the front, same thing is happening on the sides and rear.

The difficult decision was how to treat the skylight, latch, and pop top strut attachment points. I decided to cut generous openings in the foam and then cover the exposed ceiling with the same polyester fabric I used to cover the foam.

I used 3M 77 spray adhesive to glue the fabric to the ceiling and the foam. It wasn’t 100% effective, I have some spots were the fabric did not adhere. It is probably user error. The fabric was glued to the foam, and the steel straps to the the other side of the foam. I used some velcro to hold the areas around the cut outs, you can see how the “pad” is not tight to the top in the pic, it is better with the velcro.

After a couple of days, more wrinkles appeared, grrr. The aluminum section on the left hand side is not attached in the following pic.

Well live and learn. I’m really tempted to glue on some tan short pile indoor/outdoor carpet to the roof and only use the foam pad in winter. Oh, and another curve was thrown my way with this project, the foam expands and contracts with heat a lot more than I imagined. It meant that the pad could not be closely fitted and probably contributes to the wrinkling.



Biggish BBQ

Concrete blocks and scrap stainless.

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ATA – VIH Sikorsky S-61

Engines just fired up. You can see some snow still on the hills (probably just north of the Koksilah valley) below the climbing Dash-8.


Finally feels like summer

Pat Bay, late evening July 3.



A use for that handle

Handle in previous post used as part of this prop. Crude but works.


Interesting handle

I was making a prop for one of my son’s plays today and I needed a short handle. I rummaged around the file drawer for an old leather covered handle that almost worked as a file handle. It had some sort of “nut” pushed deep inside that never really gripped the tang of the file.

I used a screw to pull the “nut” out, but what’s this?

An old .303 cartridge.

I wonder what the story is behind the handle.


Vanagon syncro – transmission oil change with complications – Solved!

A week and four (!) attempts later I finally have the leak fixed. It’s a tale of woe and I guess you could say blindness on my part. When I re-installed the cover plate and noticed the drip at one of the lower cover bolts I assumed the leak was coming from a poor seal at the plate. So I drained the oil and left the cover plate off overnight. Next day I cleaned the mating surfaces well with brake cleaner and used Permatex grey RTV on the sealing surface. Filled the transmission and it still leaked, a small drip at one of the cover plate lower bolts. Now I was peeved. Emails to Daryl at AA Transaxle gave me some confidence, he suggested that I make sure that the cover plate was flat and that the 6 mm socket head bolt under the cover plate was good and tight. So once again I drained the transmission (cover plate off again) overnight. Next day I set about making sure the cover plate sealing surface was flat. I tried flat filing but even with the file loaded with chalk, aluminum filings would ball up and scratch the surface.

So I switched to lapping the cover on a bit of granite using a couple of grades of carborundum grit and WD40 as a lube.

Coarse grit:

Finer grit:

You can see a few larger scratches, must have had some coarse grit carried over. But that doesn’t really matter in this situation, what I wanted was the the cover plate sealing surface to be flat.

Back at the transmission I removed the old silicone sealant which what I thought was squeeze out from the original install of the cover plate, right adjacent to the cover plate hole rear side. This was where I was blind, I should have thought more about why there was so much clear silicone there. I also carefully filed what I thought were slight ridges around the bolt holes on the cover plate sealing surface. Here is an example (you might guess that I was grasping at straws here):


As another example of me being gormless, I even smeared some RTV on the area where I removed the old silicone caulk on the case seam. Why did I not put more on and further up the seam? I don’t know.

Cover plate was caulked and put into place.

I was generous with the caulk – well that’s what I have been told 🙂

I let the stuff cure for about 5 hours before I filled the transmission with oil. Can you guess what happened? Yes, still a little drip. Chagrin does not adequately describe my feelings at this point. I went under the van and looked carefully and I noticed oil seeping out from the top edge of the little it of RTV I smeared on the case joint (pictured above). If I put a corner of a rag on that spot the drip at the lower bolt would stop. Why had I not noticed this before. More info from Daryl and a sinking feeling that I might have to pull the transmission and reseal the case joint. But I decided to make one more attempt. Again, an overnight drain of the oil and this time I scrubbed and degreased the case joint all along the side of the cover plate hole. I bought some of the expensive RTV sealant, “The Right Stuff”, it had a few good recommendations and is a fast curing goop.

Picture here of the cleaned area (cover plate sealing surface was later cleaned of the old grey Permatex):

I also gave that socket head bolt another bit of twist. Then I smeared on sealant over the case joint, and on the cover plate sealing surface, not very pretty:

I let the stuff cure for a few hours then refilled the transmission and went into town on errands. I was not optimistic about success, but I’ll be dammed if the damn thing is now sealed tight! One day later and it is still dry. I’ve come to the conclusion that the original silicone caulk that I removed from the case joint area was put on to stop a leak. I bet it was done when the transmission was rebuilt.

I learned a few things from this fiasco. Apart from being more observant I discovered that when putting on the skid bars/plate on the syncro, install the bolts loosely until all are in place, before tightening. That makes it so much easier. I also found that my Snap-On transmission wrench (17 mm hex) was awkward to use on the fill plug (but very good on the drain plug) so I cut a section off my 17 mm allen key and used the short bit on a 17 mm socket, and even better, on my 17 mm ratcheting spanner.

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