Vanagon – Q and D head replacement – progress

I got somewhere today but realised that there is much more dirty than quick in this chore. I transferred the engine from hoist to stand then set about taking off all the ancillaries.


This pic shows the backside of my muffle mounts. Also shows my stainless steel flex hose repair to exhaust pipe (I whacked it badly on a logging road over a year ago).


More exhaust shame. I’ve re-kludged the end connection of that pipe many times over the years. Oh frabjous day when the new pipe goes in.


Example exhaust stud.


I mentioned previously that I noticed that my water pump was going fast. The pully and shaft was loose, and here you can see how the shaft looseness has allowed the impeller to score the pump body a bit. I don’t think this will affect the function of the new pump too much. BTW, even with the engine on a stand, getting the water pump off is not easy. I would not like to do it on the van.


The oily side of the engine. Hello, what’s this? Spring loaded pushrod tubes. I don’t think they worked very well, evidence of oil leakage especially on the one closest to camera.


I’ve kept the oil breather tower on during all this, just to cover the hole to the crankcase. I replaced the O-ring at the base of this tower about 2 years ago, but it has been leaking badly. I think I’ll re-install with some oil resistant sealer plus new O-ring.


Another view of that oily head. My god there was a lot of baked on crud to remove. I used a putty knife and old screwdriver to scrape the worst off, then some solvent and brass brush. I wasn’t trying to get the engine pristine, just to be able to work on it without getting angry 🙂


The dry head. Normal pushrod tubes here.


Time to take off a head, starting with the oily one.


I used some aluminum welding wire and tags to ID the pushrods. Does it *really* matter if they go back int he same hole? I don’t know.


The head nuts removed and the head rapped in various spots with a dead blow mallet. Then I could pry up the head a tad, remove the pushrod tubes and see to my dismay that the cylinders were stuck to the head. It took a fair bit of hitting with a brass drift and hammer to free the cylinders from the head. I only lifted up the head about 7/8″, just enough to get the drift on the cylinders. Prying on those tabs you see in the pic was not effective. I hope the bottom of the cylinders seal again, I believe they do, but… I have the feeling I will pull them and replace the seals down there. Grr.


Tops of pistons. I don’t know what normal, good, or bad is supposed to look like. I was happy to see the water jacket edge was not corroded.


And the head. The black stuff does note really look like sealant. Perhaps it si a mixture of corrosion and Holts Stop Leak. The exhaust valves look different than the ones on my replacement heads. These have a depression in the middle, the others don’t, just a small dimple. Now which type mean sodium filled stems?


Close up of the crud on the head. And do you notice the yellow paint on this head?


Closer look at valves, is that a crack between them?


Sure looks like it is.


Well there you have it, today’s work. I’m not getting it done as quickly as I thought I would (doh, when will you learn? Ed.), but it is getting done. Tomorrow I hope to get other head off and then start on the re=assembly. Will be so nice to put some clean parts on the beast.

  1. #1 by Joel on May 23, 2013 - 9:34 pm

    Nice days work. And as always nice write up with photos. I gather you have been driving that motor for a bunch of Kilometers? or if you prefer miles. Will you just go with the cylinders and rings as they are or are you thinking about doing work on those?

    • #2 by albell on May 23, 2013 - 10:03 pm


      yup, been driving that motor since I got the van. High mileage, and no idea of the motor’s history. Looks like is has been worked on though – those spring loaded tubes. I just want to get another year out of it, so I won’t be doing anything like rings. I might pull the pistons if I find that I can’t sneak the lower O-ring down the cylinder without a ring popping out. I’m thinking it would be silly not to replace that lower O-ring.



      • #3 by famillysyncro on May 24, 2013 - 5:01 am

        X2 for the nice writeup and nice job as always.
        Doesn’t seems to bad for an unknown history engine….
        How are the wall of those cylinders?
        I hope you won’t have too much problem with that exhaust.
        I am pretty sure you’ll get longer from that motor after your done.
        Now, the question is:
        Inline VW or Flat 4 Subie? lol


      • #4 by albell on May 24, 2013 - 6:29 am

        Hi Jerome,

        well I guess it si not as bad as it could be 🙂

        I’ll take some pics of the cylinder walls. They (like the ones on the spare engine) still have the cross hatch marks visible. I don’t think the cylinders are the weak are of the WBX.

        The exhaust? I have one new pipe (the expensive front one) and one used pipe, the rear. If I have any trouble with them I bet it is going to be with the new one (Dansk).

        I4 or Subie? I tell you, I am like a flag in the breeze with that decision – back and forth 🙂



  2. #5 by famillysyncro on May 24, 2013 - 5:04 am


    It seems the yellow paint is only on the head itself. Is the second head the same? Or may be only that head got replaced.


    • #6 by albell on May 24, 2013 - 6:39 am

      I’ll be taking the other head off today, will see.

      On this Samba thread (, a very very informative thread, the old head had yellow paint on it too. I think these painted heads had the paint all over the face of the head – except for the combustion chamber. My other heads had traces of a black paint. I bet the paint was an effort to reduce surface corrosion where the head contacts coolant.

      But back to my head. The spring loaded pushrod tubes makes me wonder about what was done. They are used when you don’t want to pull the head. Was it just a matter of trying to fix leaking pushrod tubes? In that case, wasn’t a complete success. And all 4? Perhaps, just perhaps, the head was replaced or resealed and someone forgot the pushrod tubes or pushrod tube seals and had to save their ass by installing the spring loaded ones? 🙂



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