Archive for category vanagon mods

Vanagon – awning guy line tensioners

Catching up on blog posts, some little things…

I have a Shady Boy awning on the van. Gosh, it must be well over ten years now and it’s worked well for us. But I never liked the plastic tensioners used on the guy lines. Came across some nice tensioners online, made by MSR and called “Camring Cord Tensioners”. Here’s a link to Mountain Equipment Coop listing. They looked pretty cool, thought I’d make some knock offs.

But whoa, you say, why bother making them when they are only about 11 bucks for four? Good question, I have no good answer. And to be honest, a little bit of me dies when I copy a good idea. 

Ok, enough of that. Here’s a pic from the MEC link of the originals.


Nice aren’t they? Nicely finished and anodized. I just guessed about the dimensions and used the stock I had on hand to come up with these.


Thicker wall tubing and not as nicely finished. I replaced the old Shady Boy guy lines with some paracord and the tensioners.


I suppose if you are going to shamelessly copy a design make sure you copy a good design. And this is a good design, tensioner slides up and down on the guy line easily with a twist of the ring, and holds firmly when set.

Shoot, forgot to give approx dimensions for my copies. OD is 1.25″, 1/8″ wall, 1/2″ long. 1/4″ holes, 3, drilled 90 degrees apart.

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Vanagon – update about minor mods

I’ve been kinda quiet in the last few weeks about minor vanagon hacks and mods, my weekend time has been taken up with other chores. But I have a few things percolating in the workshop; some propane fridge modifications, yet another led strip for interior lighting, and a “new to me” connector for the solar panels. 

I think the fridge mods will be the first finished. I have this extra fridge in the workshop that I gave a complete R&R. Having it on the bench let me try out some ideas around enhanced cooling of the fins. I just have to hook up power and propane and give it go.

Oh and I’ve been playing around with the already tried mod of a PWM motor controller for the ventilation/heating and rear heater fans. It works well and would be a reasonable fix if the resistors in the stock system fail. I’m dithering about whether it’s worth installing in a functioning system.

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Vanagon – kitchen unit lid strut support 

I have the older type kitchen lid ( because I used 82 westy kitchen unit in my Syncro tin top to westy conversion), I think it changed post ’88 but not sure. The change was to the leading edge of the kitchen unit, lowering it which allowed a little more reclining of the driver’s seat back.

Anyhoo, I think both versions use the annoying “broken leg” style support strut to keep the lid up. I really didn’t like the strut. Finally today I changed it. Used a gas charged strut bought from banggood, the listing is here. It’s a small strut with 100 N (around 10kg force).  I wish I could have used at least some of the screw holes from the stock strut but hat wasn’t possible.


And how does it work? I’m telling you Simon, ITS THE BEST MOD EVAH!!!

It is good, i was concerned that 100 N was too strong, but the placement of the strut in relationship with the hinge etc turned out to be perfect. And as a bonus, and this wasn’t planned explicitly, there is an “over centre” force from the strut when the lid is closed which gives a satisfying positive latching force. But I do I wish the old screw holes were gone.

Addendum May 2017

As requested, some measurement pics. Enough there to give you a start.

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Vanagon – led rear side marker light prototype

i took the mock up circuit described in my post the other day and rewired, sealed, shrink wrapped, connectores added etc,etc, and installed the led lamp with an unpainted aluminum guard onto the van. Pics show the lamp lit as running light ( as normal).

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Looks fairly ok right? But I have to confess that I misled you in the last post about the led lamp size. Yes it’s not as tall, and just slightly less wide. But side by side comparison with the stock unit makes it look very much smaller overall.

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Bet you didn’t think it looked that much smaller in the first pics. The flasher function works well.

I’m fairly pleased with it, and if I paint the guard black I think it will look better.

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Vanagon – trivial little things 

Maybe I’m scrabbling for content. Content as in copy, not the state of peaceful happiness. In any case here’s some dross.

First up is a Syncro badge. It’s from the same 91 Passat Syncro that gave me one of the instrument clusters I posted about a few weeks back. Kinda nice little thing and it’s interesting that the date of manufacture is February 1990 and it’s marked made in West Germany. Wasn’t until August of that year that the two states officially merged. I find it so hard to believe that someone born then will be 27 this year. 



Next are led lights for the front turn signal/running light. So many choices for this light, I ended up with this unit from Banggood. Supposed to be a “switchback” light, well that’s what I thought. I was expecting the running lights (the white led elements) to go out when the amber turn signal elements are powered. And if you read the reviews you’ll see that at least one buyer had a bulb that worked that way. But both of my bulbs don’t waltz to that tune. The white elements remain on while the amber elements flash.

On the van, the bulb in the holder, by switching the positions of the two power wires ( one the flasher signal and the other the running light power) I could decide if I wanted the white led elements to be the running or turn signal lights. Decided on amber led elements for running lights and the whites for turn signal. Hey they work pretty well but jeeze I wanted that “switchback” effect 🙂

And finally a preview of another silly project I’m working on. A while back I discovered a rear side marker light replacement for the stock vanagon unit. It’s a little narrower than the original but the length is okay and the screw holes are right on. Trouble is that it’s rated as 24 volt. So I ordered some cute little 12 to 24 volt boost converters. Well it turns out that the lights work fine on 12 volts, certainly bright enough to be used as is. But then I had an idea. How about if I tap into the rear turn signal power so that the side marker would light up brighter with the turn signal power. Simply put, the side marker gets 12 volts as usual, but the turn signal power goes through the boost converter. I set up a crude set up and it works out fine. In the video you’ll a spot light to provide some load for the regular flasher unit ( I have an electronic flasher unit installed in the van and that plays nice with the led front turn signals), and you might notice the two diodes in the circuit to stop power going the wrong way. I’ve got some aluminum guards to paint before I install this in the van. I’ll show you more later.

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Vanagon – extinguisher holder

It’s already March and only now do we get the first entry  for the “Silliest Vanagon Mod of the Year Award”

I decided to relocate my fire extinguisher from behind the front seat to the stock westy location at the sliding door. Here’s an old pic of the behind the seat location.

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 It’s just a bit of pvc tubing mounted to the cabinet and really it worked quite well for years ( originally in my 82 westy and transferred to the syncro). But with the solar panel charge controller on the same cabinet face, making the connections to the portable panels was more awkward with the extinguisher there.

But the harebrain fairy must have visited me during the night, I ditched the pvc tube style mount and and went leather.


I’ve got a bunch of full grain leather off cuts, all different colours and none very large. So silly things like this use them up.

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Vanagon – alternator remix and a real surprise 

Back in January I had to do an emergency bearing replacement on the old wbx alternator. The local NAPA store had the bearings in stock (no name bearings, sigh) and the job went fast and worked. While I had the alternator apart I cleaned up the commutator but I noticed the copper was getting very thin and probably wouldn’t last much longer. I don’t know how to replace the commutator, or even if it’s possible to do that at home.

Yesterday when I picked up the Passat gauge clusters at the wrecker yard I also grabbed a Bosch al34x alternator ( also from a Passat), suffering from a brain fart thinking it was a direct swap into the wbx. Of course it ain’t, the bodies are different.

The al34x is on the left, a broken ( severed wires from stator to diode pack )a parts wbx alternator on the right. Note the different mounting.


So today I tore the al34x apart and mounted its rotor, bearings, diode pack, and stator into the wbx housing. The biggest chore when working on alternators is the fekkin hard to loosen machine screws. The long ones that hold the body together and the short ones on the bearing retainer plate and the diode pack. I’ve seen both slot and Phillips head in these, either way you have to use all your guile to get them loose. 

First the brush pack get pulled (you all know how to do that ) then the plastic on under the b+ and the “blue wire” (damn I forget the number designation ) terminal. The handy 1/4″ drive tool shown, I’ll talk about more later. And the pic shows that the alternator was a “premium ” rebuild. Premium, ha!


That end stripped.


The 1/4″ drive tool set I’m using has screwdriver bits.


And even being a cheap set the bit was up to the task of removing the long machine screws holding the housing together. That is after I used a regular screwedriver and hammer to give each machine screw a good rap. Then same rapping and grunt to remove screws from bearing retainer plate ( plate is internal but you have to remove the four screws before you can get housing apart).


After all that and some love with the soft hammer, the housing comes apart.

Then you pull the rotor out.


Well it looks like I struck out hoping that the commutator would be relatively fresh. It’s not, it’s more worn than I hoped. But that’s not the surprise mentioned in the blog post title. Remember this is a Bosch “premium” reman.


See it? The machine screw? It’s supposed to be in the hole just down and to the left, in the diode plate. I mean really, it came loose? Does this alternator actually work with that screw up there doing who knows what sort of mechanical and electrical mischief? 

It’s bent.


Well I’m in so deep, time and money, so I might as well finish things. The rest of the diode pack screws were not easy to remove. Too late I’m telling them, you can’t make up for your weak buddy. You can move the stator around a bit, careful not to stress the copper wires, to get at the screws. Then pull the diode pack and stator out of that housing and pop it into the wbx housing.


If you’ve made it this far you’ll know that putting it all back together is just the reverse 🙂 just keep an eye on the alignment of the two parts of the housing.


And there we are, guts swapped. Maybe it works but too late in the day now to test it. Man, I can’t get over that loose screw.

Hey, the 1/4″ drive tool I used a lot on this job is a cheapo set I bought a couple of years ago at Princess Auto. If you’re Canadian you know what that store is. I found it on sale, I think under 20 bucks and I have to say I really like it. It’s actually very well made, the ratchet could be finer of course, but jeepers for the money it’s great.

Addendum March 6 2017

Both for my education and to clear up any incorrect terms used above (and a nod to david B.) I submit this cutaway labelling  the parts in the alternator

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Vanagon – anticipation of new wiper washer nozzles

I’m on the list for a set of new wiper washer nozzles designed and built by Forrest Whitmore. His samba thread about the nozzles can be found here.

I don’t know of anyone who is really happy with the stock nozzles and the spray pattern they make. And over the years I’ve been less than happy with the washer pump performance. You sort of suspect some amount of voltage drop at the pump making the motor less than perky. I toyed with the idea of adding a new power feed and a relay but I got enough improvement by cleaning the contacts right at the washer switch up on the steering column.

Then the other week I was digging around the mess in the workshop and found a spare washer pump. So I says to myself, “go on, plumb it inline”.

Yeah but… if I was worried about voltage drop in the stock un-relayed circuit with one pump won’t having two pumps in that circuit be pushing things?

Yes.

But I did it anyway. Maybe I’ll put in a relay later, but for now I tapped the G10 terminal on the back of the fuse panel ( its hot when washer switch activated. It’s a feed for the headlight washer system, an option we didn’t get here in North America).

I simply cut the washer fluid tubing right behind the driver’s side headlamp, heated up the cut ends and slipped them over the inlet and outlet of the spare pump. Oh and luckily I had the plastic connector with pigtails so making the electrical connection to pump was easy.


That black boot ain’t quite pushed on enough in the pic below.


So how well does this work with the stock nozzles? You’ll think I’m exaggerating when I say it works twice as good. More volume and force ( it will shoot over the top of the luggage rack if not aimed right) and I’m going through fluid fast. Fast enough that I checked for leaks today. When I get the new nozzles I’ll post some vid comparing things etc.

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Vanagon – rude and crude pedal lock

A late Xmas present made from 3/8″ X 1.5″ steel ( 3/8″ is admittedly overkill). Padlock goes through the hole in the removable bar.

The design is a direct copy of one I saw on the net ( I think made by a German vanagon owner). There are a few variations on the pedal lock theme, I chose this one as it seemed to be the simplest.


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Vanagon – beating the H4 led subject to death

It’s a provincial holiday here today, Family Day, and what better use of my free time is there but to dick around with the H4 leds some more. 

One thing I haven’t mentioned before is my puzzlement with what the data sheet says. It states, and it does not specify if this is for the pair or a single, “input power L/25W H/25W”.


Ok then, let’s see if we can make any sense of that. On low beam only the cup shrouded led elements are powered up. That’s half of the available elements on the bulb. And on high beam all the led elements are powered. So how come the wattage figures remain the same?

I hooked a bulb up to a power source and ammeter. The current draw varied with input voltage. At 14V the current  measured 1.20A. At 10V the current measured 1.10A. But curiously, at 11.5V the current measured 1.47A. My power source only goes up to 15.5V, at that setting the current was 1.10A.

That was for high beam, low beam values very similar.

So a couple of things strike me. One is that the current draw had a peak at 11.5V and dropped of on either side of that voltage. Must be something to do with the power regulating circuits in the bulb, I bet it’s obvious to those with a bit of electronic knowledge. The second things is that the current draw was pretty well the same for both high beam and low beam. So that goes a little way in explaining how the spec sheet claims 25w for both high and low beam.
But do my measured values even come close to the spec sheet values? Let’s take the 14V reading, 1.20A. 

(1.20A)(14.0V)= 16.8W

That’s a fair bit from 25 isn’t it? 

Again it’s not clear if the spec sheet is for one bulb or two. If it’s for two then doubling measured value for one bulb would give 33.6W. Closer to 25W but come on…

At this point I get the feeling that either I’m missing something damned obvious or else the spec sheet is inaccurate. 

As I had one of the led bulbs in hand I thought I’d try comparing it to a 55/60W halogen in a couple of 6.5″ e code H4 lamps. These are nice German made Hella lamps, new old stock, unused, meant for the Iltis military vehicle. I thought I’d shine the lamps onto a bit of black card and see what the beam pattern looks like at a very short projection distance.

The lamp(s)


The super sophisticated experimental set up.


Low beam, 55W halogen. Oh I have to add that the batteryused as power source wasn’t at full charge, it’s at 12V. And for some reason the halogen low beam is lass bright than expected. But it’s beam pattern I’m interested in.


Now low beam with the led bulb.


A little different but certainly comparable. More light down low on the led don’t you think?

And now high beam, 60W halogen.


I draw your attention to the defined beam pattern outline, and compare to next, high beam led.


I’d say, and certainly feel free to disagree, that the led beam pattern is slightly less defined. But both quite comparable.

You know it all comes down to the placement of the light emitting elements in the lamp housing. And to how the light disperses from the elements. I think that the led placement is fairly good, but I think (and talking completely without any direct proof) that how the light comes out of the led, how it radiates from the surface mounted elements, differs from how the light emits from a tungsten filament. It’s not an outlandish assertion, the halogen filament is held in space and radiates all around, 360 degrees. The led elements are constrained by being placed on a surface and the best they can do is radiate 360 degrees minus the amount the led back plane interferes ( and that’s assuming that the led elements alone radiate 180 degrees, and I’m not sure that they do).

Ok enough of this for now. I think the thing that will put this exercise to rest will be the side by side comparison with the halogen lights on good friend Simon’s van.

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Vanagon – H4 led bulb update

I’ve been trying out the led bulbs since I first posted about them. I still have the same opinion, low beams good, high beams meh. In rain, and in snow, I’m not seeing a much of a drop in the high beam performance though. 

I took a little time tonight to take some pics with a 80/100W bulb in right hand side lamp and the led in the left hand side lamp. I couldn’t find a good wall close to home, I apologize for using that corrugated metal structure.

Ok, here we go, first up is both low beams on. Left is led, right is 80W halogen. Notice the halogen has more of the angled kick, better defined. The led not so much and there is a stray beam at a higher angle.


Now it’s low beam left, led, only. You can see more of the angled beam kick now, not masked by the halogen. That stray angled beam shows up better too.


And now low beam right, 80W halogen. Nice beam definition eh?


On to high beams, first is both high beams on. Not really much to say about this except it’s a blast of light.


This is the 100W halogen alone. 


And the led high beam. Oh boy that corrugated steel is not making things easy is it?


Just as in the original post about the led bulbs I have to say again that pictures don’t capture the compete picture 🙂

Ok now to a gently sloping downhill dirt road. Same drill, same comparison. You be the judge.



So what do I think? I want to like them, I really do. But I’d give them a 7.5/10. I’d like them to be brighter. And I also have the suspicion that the led element placement that I showed in the original post is not quite right (as compared to the filament position in the halogen bulb). I might take the time to play around with a spare lamp and and bulb, on the bench, and see if some adjustment to the bulb projection into the lamp has any effect. 

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Vanagon – H4 led light bulb experiment

Update, January 17 2017. I need to clarify a couple of things about this experiment. First, the led bulbs were tried in my Hella 7″ e-code (e 4 to be precise) lamps. The lamps are in good shape, no hazing on the lens and the reflectors are in great shape. They do however have stick on impact protection film applied. The beam pattern, specifically the low beam cut off, appears to be very similar whether it’s led or halogen bulb. But yes I should document that, and if I can find a suitable wall close by I will.

Second, I am having a hard time quantifying or even describing clearly my perception that the high beam distance projection seems less with the led bulb. I think you’ll just have to take my opinion on this for what it’s worth.

Oh and one more thing. The radio interference from these bulbs annoys me greatly. I have a fair bit of pwm regulated led interior lighting and have not noticed any interference from those. I have noticed a little interference from my “built into the bumper ” led back up lights, that should have been a warning I guess. Hindsight is so very very clear isn’t it? The interference effect now cautions me with another pwm project I have on the bench. I will test it in the van before going any further.




Ok, before you say anything, I know. I know the arguments about replacing the halogen bulb in H4 lamps with an led unit. And I agree with them. But, I had to try this.

What got me trying was reading a positive report about a Philips led bulb replacement. What was new to me with the Philips was the location of the led elements on the bulb. It mimicked the location of the high and low filaments of the halogen bulb and also had the little shield on the low beam elements similar to what is on the halogen bulb.

I think the Philips led units, and forgive me for not linking to a source, are around Ca$150 a pair. A bit steep for me but then I found what look to be close copies listed on Banggood. And, unlike other led drop-ins, these are passively cooled via a finned heat sink. Others have fans in the heat sink and for some reason I didn’t like that.

So for around Ca$45 bucks I bought a pair, and they arrived on the slow boat last week.


You can see the led element layout in that pic. Just to be clear they are double sided. And you can see the little shield or shade over the distal elements. Just to be pedantic, here it is compared with a halogen bulb.


I didn’t try to do any measurements comparing the led element positions with the halogen filaments but you can see they are approximately in the same location.

Another view of the led bulb.


It doesn’t look like those little shields on each side line up perfectly does it?

Installating in the lamp is a breeze. The three prong adapter ring is a twist fit on the bulb. You remove that and install the ring on the lamp and clip down the wire bail as you would with normal bulb. This pic shows the led bulb with the adapter ring removed.


And adapter ring installed.


And the bulb goes in with a push and twist lock. It didn’t seem like a very tight twist and lock, not pleased with that. Oh, and the bulb can be inserted in two orientations, 180 degrees apart. You have to be careful to get it right, to have the little shields/shades in the same orientation as the original halogen.


And there you go, lamp goes back into the van. I did this during daylight so a comparison picture ain’t that special. Mind you, taking any kind of picture of lighting is more or less folly. The pictures never seem to tell the same story your eyes do. But I did take a picture with one lamp having the led bulb and the other lamp with a 80/100 halogen. Both are on low beam, cam you feel the difference?


Yup, driver’s side has the led. Seems pretty bright eh? And with all high K value leds it makes incandescent lights appear more amber.

And what about when it was dark? Didn’t take any shots of the lights but I did do some driving. The low beams are nice, like the whiter light on the pavement. But the high beams are not so pleasing. As an aside, I bet most of you know this already, the colour value of the light seems to make a big difference in how you perceive the light. On high beams I was underwhelmed by the projection of the light. It’s hard to put in words, and I honestly can’t explain the effect, but the high beams just don’t seem as strong as the 100W halogens. Well, yes, I am comparing them to 100W so I have to add a grain of salt. What is very noticeable is how bright the reflective roadside signs appear under the led light. 

Once I got onto truly dark roads the lights appeared to project further. Boy this is hard to explain, all so subjective, but cut me some slack I am trying.

Tonight I lined the van up beside my friends Ducato van. Stock lights on that van and it was raining. Once again I’ll say pictures are really not very good at reproducing the actual lighting as I perceived it but here we go.

First pic is my van with led lights, low beam ( my van is on the right hand side of the driveway in all the pics so there will be a light bias towards the right of the driveway due to the low and right nature of the lamp aiming). 

And now low beams from the Ducato. See how amber the halogen appear


And high beams from the Ducato.


And high beams led.

Even though the pics don’t give a true representation of the lights, I think they do show that on high beams the halogens seem to shine further , or at least reflect back from a further distance. But then again it’s not super distinct.

Oh, one thing to note, the sharp cut off on the E code lamps on my van is still maintained with the led bulbs.

But here is the deal breaker. And it shouldn’t have been as much if a surprise as it was. The damn leds create radio interference. It’s only really bad on weak signals, but it’s very annoying. I bet the Philips bulbs do not do this, I bet it’s a result of the cheap price of the units I bought.

So what now? I’ll run them for a while and try to decide if they are worthwhile. I’m not sure of the things I like about them;

low current draw, the quality of the low beam illumination, immediate on/off high/low switching

Is enough to overcome the things I don’t like;

radio interference, long range reach in high beams, no heat on front of lamp to melt ice and snow.

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Vanagon – headlight low beam failure 

The other day my low beams took a hike, both at the same time. Not the fuses, not the bulbs, not the grounds, not the low beam relay. Power out of the relay but no power at the low beam connector at the lamp.

So what’s up?

Some background, I have two relays in the headlight system. One for the high beam one for the low beam. Here is the rough schematic of how I wired things


So out of the low beam relay on terminal 87, the current then continues on and back into the fuse panel, pin 21 in the A connector block.



See A21? Turned out this connection was the culprit. Was burned and melted. So much so that I couldn’t get the terminal out of the block to replace. What happened to cause this? I’m thinking it’s was one of those positive feedback things starting with a slightly iffy connection, a little resistance making heat which causes more resistance then more heat etc etc. Ending finally in no continuity. Could I have been over loading the connection with 80W lowbeams? The combined current draw for two 80w lamps would be around 12 amps ( at 13.5 bolts) so I’m not really convinced the terminal couldn’t take that. Edit: sounds like I’m trying to convince myself doesn’t it? Maybe it is too much current for the pin, however the  pin carrying the high beam current shows no damage at all, albeit the high beams would be in use less than the low beams. This might all be moot as I have a lower current draw lighting solution that I hope will pan out.

As I couldn’t get the terminal out of the plastic block I cut the wire ( that wire runs directly to the low beam relay) and used the really handy M terminal right close by. The M2 terminal is common to A21, you can see that on the stock wiring diagram above.

Hers the nasty connector ( I tore the plastic clip of the near side) and you see the yellow “jumper wire” to the M2 terminal. It has a bit of black heat shrink on it to give the wire a bit of stiffness, strain relief of a fashion, for the spade terminal.


I really hate working on the back of the fuse panel. And getting the plastic terminal blocks out is a bear. And I always seem to knock some other connection loose with all the tugging and twisting involved in getting the connectors out. 

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Vanagon – propane skid plate prototype

I’ve been mucking around with the notion of better protection of the westy propane tank. I wanted a bit of extra cover to reduce the amount of dirt on the tank fittings and also some protection for the copper lines that lead up into the van. Here are some pics of one prototype. During the making of this one I had a better idea, so another version is in the works.

This one appears to hang lower than the stock skid plate, but in fact it sits a tad higher. I think the unpainted aluminum and the side plate gives the visual effect of sitting lower.

Oh, and I do get a lot of muck thrown up on to the side of the van. Combination of not having my mudflaps on and the 25mm offset of the rims. 

I’ll do another post on this skid plate showing it with side plate off and explaining why there is a half moon cut out on side plate.

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Swellegant table II

So when I made the first Swellegant table gizmo a couple of years ago, blog post here, good friend Simon made sport of my enthusiastic review of it. Turns out he was jealous but it took him until this last summer before admitting it…ha!

Made another, slightly different than the first in some details, and gave it to him. He used it on his recent trip.

Pretty much the same idea as the original, but a little slimmer.

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Vanagon – fooling around with gas pedals

Clossic displacement behaviour, I should have been doing other more important things. But I’ve been sort of obsessed by what I thought was sloppy gas pedal feel. You know, the pedal moving sideways. So instead of looking at my pedal to see what’s what, I put it down to the stock design that uses thin plastic to act as a hinge. Spoiler alert, the hinge was partially broken and that caused the sloppy feel.

But I went ahead and made a couple of pedals to try out. Here they are, pretty rough but as I said I’m just trying things out. I have a spare stock pedal, shown in the pics, I could have just installed that, why didn’t I?

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Yes, pretty crude but good enough to try out. I decided on the middle one, has a spring return built in. Thought it might be interesting to see how helping the throttled close will feel. As usual installing the pedal took longer than I thought. You know I have the factory rubber mat laid over the composite foam underlay that came standard with carpet but not with the rubber mat. The rubber mat therefore didn’t fit in quite as nice as it should. It was ok though, but this time when I pulled the underlay out and it broke up even more than before I decided to trash it. There was a bit of surface rust starting in the driver’s side footwell, I wire brushed that and treated it with rust converter then a couple of coats of paint.

The stock pedal was attached to the floor by a couple of pop rivets. I drilled them out and enlarged the holes to take a pair of 10-24 threaded inserts ( I don’t have any metric threaded inserts) .


Test fitting the pedal.


I agree, without that pressed foam underlay will be more road noise coming through the floor. Haven’t figured out completely what to do about that but made a start by sticking down some thin self adhesive asphalt based tape. Yup, tar based not butyl. It’s what I had on hand and I don’t think off gassing or the tape sagging during hot weather will be an issue in this location. Good god but I ramble on. 

I have to find a better route for those wires running forward. They haven’t been taped down in place when I took the pic, bout where I did tape them really wasn’t that great. You can feel them under the mat.


Mat back in, pedal installed. The top surface of the pedal is removable. I’m thinking I might make another that is slighlty wider at the top, the extra width on the brake pedal side. It feels ok underfoot and I can feel the resistance of the extra spring. I’ve yet to road test it. 

 Ok, tried it out on drive to work. Yes it feels firmer, a little more effort to depress it. But I don’t find it a probelm. But what is a problem is that it’s too narrow. It’s approximately the same width as the stock pedal. I know I must be obsessing over this but it bugs me that half my foot is hanging off the side. Do I have some sort of mental issue, i quickly made another pad to replace the narrow one.

Oh yeah, as clunky as it looks, it’s so much better. No really, it is. I mean it, I’m not kidding. It’s the best things since the last thing I thought was the best thing since…

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Vanagon – Westy luggage rack mod

Good friend Stephan came across a Westy owner who made a very interesting hinged cover for the luggage rack. You all know that area is a source of wind noise and some owners have put in a flat plate to reduce the turbulence caused by the front edge of the rack.  This mod is a bit different and although I’d love to meet the owner and have him argue the reason for the trailing edge design, the entire structure looks very well made.

Got a couple more pics. Yes there are latches on the front.

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Vanagon – Westy pop top lifting bar assembly fix

This post briefly outlines an experimental fix I made to my spare lifting bar assembly. At time of writing, I haven’t swapped it in to the van to give it a good testing, so the jury is still out as to whether the repair works as well as it seems to on the bench.

While I was futzing around doing this repair, Dave commented that I should design something that could be sold as a kit for the Westy owner that doesn’t have access to machine tools, welding, etc. This is a good idea, unfortunately the approach I was taking doesn’t really lend itself to that. But it did give me some hints towards a repair kit. 

I think most vanagon Westy owners know by now that eventually the pop top lifting assembly will wear out at the main hinge joint. It’s a poor design, a harsh steel on steel moving contact with no lubrication and insufficient bearing surface. Many other owners have fixed this problem by various means, welding up the worn surface is one example.

Andy, owner of the nice T3 Atlantic, “Wolfgang” (blog linked in list on right side of the page), recently had his lifting assembly re painted. It was his blog post on that and his comments to me that got me off my duff to try this fix.

I have a spare assembly, from my old 82 Westy. It’s galvanized steel, no paint like in the later Westies. The zinc coating has grown the characteristic white fuzz during storage in the barn. Here’s a pic of the hinge that is the problem.


A couple of notes on the hinge. The horizontal bar extends into the hinge through that collar ( with the screw) and near the end it get worn away. There will be a pic of that coming up. The hinge is folded up fully, as it would be when the top is down, and that steel cable you see running up over the round centre section continues down and back into the tube on the bottom where it connects to a spring. Again, more on that later. But as is, the assembly is under tension and wants to straighten out (tubes are tied together out of shot).

Remove the M5 machine screw from each end of the horizontal bar and then pull the bar out of the hinge. Are the ends of that bar worn, Or have you lived a pure life and the bar ends are sound?

One end. 


And the other end, even worse.


It’s really easy to take the assembly apart, apart from the annoying spring washers. Clip washers, starlock washers, must be other names for them too. I broke most of mine trying to remove them, but you can find new at the hardware store or auto parts place. When the hinge is relaxed, ie fully extended, and the pin that limits further extension is removed, the end of the spring cable can be detached and pulled out the bottom of the tube. Yes, the foot has been removed from the bottom of the tube. Another pin and annoying clip.

Greasy old spring and cable out.

Ok, back to the hinge. Here we have the pair and its the edges on the  “not so round anymore ” holes in the flat bar welded in the ring that wear the grooves in the cross bar. I mean really, what the heck were the engineers at Westfalia thinking?

My fix is to bush those holes to create a larger bearing surface. First I had to make the holes more or less round again. 7/8″ endmill was over sized just enough. Truth is, it didn’t complete make round one of the holes, but good enough.

Hard to see the difference, but the holes are now nominally 7/8″ diameter.

Ok, now the bushings. I had a small bit of bronze (or maybe it’s brass) salvaged marine shafting. I had fooled around making flutes on it with the index head. I was learning, wasn’t a great job, had the head offset so the grooves were asymmetric, blah, blah. But there was enough of the stuff to work with.

And alongside is the little shaft that will replace the worn end of the cross bar. I reamed the ID of the bushing to 16mm, turned the shaft slightly undersized ( about 15.95mm). The OD of the bushing was left untouched on one end, the other turned down to a press fit for the 7/8″ hole that I milled in that flat bar. 

Notice one end of the little shaft has a flat milled on it and a cross hole drilled? That end will fit into the cross bar with the hole lining up with the existing cross bar hole.

I cut off the worn end of the cross bar and milled back square. Still using the 7/8″ roughing end mill. Oh how I love that tool.

So, and excuse the initial so, so I pressed in the bronze bushings. One pressed home with that satisfying grunt that makes one smile, the other… Meh. Combination of pressing into only 1/8″ thick material and the hole not being fully round ( remember I mentioned one hole didn’t fully catch the mill?). I didn’t want the bushing to be able to rotate in the hole, it would then wear away just like the original bar. The answer? 1/8″ roll pin. Holds the bushing nicely in place. 

Beside it is the little stainless shaft that is pushed into the end of the cross bar.

Lubed the shaft up a little with some light oil and put everything back together. The M5 machine screws on the cross bar locates the stainless shaft, it doesn’t move.

Picture taking to forgotten during reassembly, all I can show you is the end of the hinge where you can see the stainless shaft and a hint of the bushing.

But trust me, the hinge action is now nice and smooth. Sometime soon I will install it and see if it lives up to the hype. And, I’ll have a look at the one currently installed in the van with an eye on making some sort of easy DIY kit or procedure.

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Vanagon – stereo head unit upgrade

For a few months now I’ve been using a Pioneer MHV-X560BT head unit in the van. It replaced a Pioneer DEH-P5000UB that had worked almost perfectly for 8 years. The older unit did develop a ground loop whine and I posted about that back in 2011, link here. But apart from that the unit worked well. It had USB input on back, and I led a dongle up thru the ashtray to connect to devices. Played CDs , various formats but I found myself using CDs less and less in the van.

The one thing that really bugged me about the old unit was its depth. With all the wiring coming out the back, including three pairs of RCA jacked cables, it barely fit into the dash. Fetched up hard against the heater box in back.

So back to the new unit, it has no CD player so it’s about half the depth of the old one and despite the inevitable rat’s nest of wires coming out of the back (again including three pairs of RCA jacked cables and an USB cable)  it fits delightfully easily into the van.

It has built in Bluetooth which pairs up quite quickly and consistently with my devices, external mike for hands free phone,  a remote control, wired USB input.

The controls are not bad but not great. I find them better than the old unit, especially for menu access and also for adjusting things when driving. Don’t get as many bump induced accidental choices.

Looking straight down thru ashtray hole.


Maybe this shot shows reduced depth better. Pic taken at an angle.


The old unit sitting on dash. Looks really huge now.



I stuck the mic here, not the best spot perhaps.


And same ashtray lurking dongle in case of wired USB need.


Btw, the head unit feeds an old Blaupunkt 2 channel amp mounted infront of the glovebox. One channel feeds a pair of BA crossovers that feeds tweeters behind stock grill in door, and 6.5″ units at bottom of the door. The other channel feeds a pair of 4″ speakers back on the overhead cupboard.

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Vanagon – fresh water pump update

A few posts back I described how I installed an inexpensive diaphragm put in the van. I did it quickly, was keen to try it out on a trip. The other day I relocated it to what I think is a better spot.

I removed the in tank pump, the bilge pump type unit I was using as a stock replacement, and pulled the electrical wires out through the hr grommet at top of tank. I sealed the grommet wi a 1/4-20 stainless bolt and nut.


I shifted the little black box that is the water level indicator unit ( for the old style water level system) so that I could screw the pump to the wall between the cupboard and tank.


Electrical connection was very convenient, two wire plastic connector right there, just swapped over from the old pump.


You notice that the little wall that separates the cupboard from the wiring has been removed. I, like many other owners, removed that wall early on to gain a little bit more cupboard room. To protect the wiring from shifting cupboard contents, I screwed on a bit of the cheap carpet I’m using as cupboard bottom liner.


The pumps is a bit quieter back here. Still louder than the in tank pump, but considering the increase in flow and pressure, the additional noise is really acceptable. And for goodness sakes, just how long are you going to have the faucet turned on? 🙂

There is one, or maybe two, more things I’d like to add the the install. First one I will certainly will do, and that is add a relay back up front under the sink. You see, the eurovan faucet wiring is pretty skinny stuff. It’s not a long run from where it connects to existing wiring, but I’d rather that the switch is not handling the full 2.5 A of pump draw.

The second improvement that I probably won’t get around to but would be neat, is a little pressure tank accumulator. It’s what’s used in other RV and marine installs. Not sure if I really need it and if I am willing to devote space to it, I’ll see.

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Vanagon – boring steel wheels

Old Simon, yes the guy who has the hi top 91 Westy and recently the syncro double cab, bought another vanagon a month or so ago. I haven’t posted about it yet, I’ve been waiting for some of the little improvements to it to be finished.

One of the improvements is better wheels to replace the stock 14″ that the van came with. Simon found four 15″ steel wheels but the dolt went ahead and had tires mounted before the centre holes were opened up. I’m still cursing him for that. Without the tires I could have mounted the rims on the big lathe and the job would have been a snap.

The original bore hole size was something around 56 mm diameter. We needed to have them opened up to at least 66.4 mm. I fussed around with making a dedicated boring tool to use in the mill, but I ended up using a roughing endmill and the big rotary table.

I should mention that I haven’t done this job before, take my technique and approach with a hefty grain of salt.

As big (and darned heavy) as the rotary table is, the tire and wheel is bigger. Wheel on the table with inside face up, and the outside face sitting on blocks on the table so that the tire is taken out of the clamping set up. Not a great shot here, but you get the idea.


Oops, I skipped a step, the rotary table has to be centred directly under the spindle of the mill. This particular table has a #4 Morse taper hole and I stuck a little lathe live centre in there and indicated off that. Ok, I have to state right now that this entire boring process does not need to have super precise set up. The wheel is lug centric, the centre hole is just a clearance hole. Still, it was worth it to go through the motions to be semi precise. I centred the table to within about 1-2 thou. Good enough.


Then the wheel is humped up onto the table, on blocks, and loosely clamped. I discovered that the collet holder bevelled end fit into the unbored wheel well enough to get a rough centre alignment.


Clamped the wheel down onto the table just lightly and then I indicated the hole, got it pretty well centered ( again, around 1-2 thou) and, as the British would say, nipped the cramps down firmly.


Ok, endmill inserted, it’s a 7/8″ HSS roughing endmill. Moved the mill table over until the cutter touched the side of the hole, set my dial on zero. Yeah, no DRO on this mill yet. I had calculated a total depth of cut of 0.217″/5.51mm on the radius. That would give a diameter increase of 11mm, making the enlarged hole nominally 67mm.


So once touched off, I cranked in a depth of cut ( that varied between 0.070″ and 0.020″, I did a finishing climb cut at the smaller value). I cranked the rotary table and the wheel rotated and the cutter cut. I have a shaky video of that.

Exciting stuff eh?

In the end, the wheels turned out pretty good. The surface finish with the roughing endmill was acceptable. How about before and after shots?

Unbored

Bored (aren’t we all?)


This was one of those jobs where the set up took far longer than the actual machining.

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Vanagon – Westy fresh water pump experiment 

Bought a cheap water pump from banggood, this one. The original Westy in tank water pump had bit the dust a few years ago and I have been getting by using a small bilge pump similar to this.


It works ok I guess, had to adap the outlet to match the Westy plumbing. But it didn’t push as much water as I had hoped. For years I have been using a Eurovan Westy extendable faucet and I had dreams of being able to pull the faucet out through the sliding window and get a refreshing blast of cooling water on a hot summer day. Especially because the faucet has a spray setting. With the bilge pump, and the stock Westy pump before, the promised spray wasn’t that impressive.

I know that many sailboats and RVs use a pressurized water system with a pressure activated pump and an accumulator. Tempting to try this I thought.

So I buy the banggood pump, and arrived the other week. Supposed to produce 100 psi ( well that’s the switch cut off setting) and 4 L/m volume. I rushed out and did a quick install just to see if it will make my shower dreams come true. I simply plumbed it inline and connected its power lead to the switched side of the Eurovan faucet wiring. So the pump comes on when the faucet switch closes. Not a pressurized system and no accumulator. 

Note that I did mount the pump at a slight angle to ease stress on the tubing.  It had nothing to do with the awkward position I had to assume to get in there and screw. Nothing at all. I might find a better spot for the pump.


Does it improve things? Hell yeah. 


Shot of the extension of the faucet. Has to be stored like this to allow the lid to close.  It’s too tall when in its mounting hole.


It is noisier than the in tank pump alone. Yes, to be clear, the in tank pump is still connected and runs in tandem. I’ll pull it out of the tank later. 

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Vanagon – Propex heater install part III

Finally, it’s done. The last bits aren’t as neat as I had hoped, but hey, it works. The console port for the heated air outlet really doesn’t look great. Problem was the console itself is made from such cheap material that it couldn’t stand up to my hacking.


Now the thermostat, where to mount it? Constraints be two. First is I couldn’t be arsed to find some replacement 5 wire cable so I reused the original but with the fire damaged section cut out and the the cable spliced. So the shorter cable limits the range of thermostat placement. Secondly, the cable enters the thermostat from the rear, to make a clean surface mount. That means a hole drilled somewhere and the cable routed through God knows what. Instead of a surface mount I made up a very crude swing away mounting plate from some stainless and added crash bars. Mounted this on the forward face of the kitchen unit, right behind the driver’s seat.

 

It’s held back by a magnet. Swung out its pretty accessible .


So is this a good spot to monitor cabin temperature? 

I’m pants at running wires neatly. Start out with the best intentions but it ends up looking slapdash.

The heater really throws out the hot air. Without a diffuser on the outlet it’s an air stream like a hairdryer. And it’s not whisper quiet. But it will heat the van and that’s the important thing

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Vanagon – Propex heater part two

I mentioned before that Simon had installed his heater inside his between seats console. I was planning to do the same but I got sidetracked by another idea. I needed a box to enclose the heater, a barrier between the heater and the console. Once again the scraps of aluminum honeycomb material I got from Donovan at Western Edison popped up. I wanted a box that wild be stiff enough to take someone standing on it and the honeycomb was the obvious choice for stiff and light.

Here it is, just butt joints all round with a fillet of PL Premium polyurethane adhesive holding it all together. Some of the exposed honeycomb I filled with bondo. I scuff sanded it all over.


And then I must have had a mini stroke as I decided to try sticking on some old veneer I have had hanging around for years.


This is the first time I’ve tried veneering anything. Back in the day when I did woodworking as a hobby I was fully into oldtool, split, hew, and plane type of work. Thought that veneer was somehow dishonest. Oh the arrogance of youth. 

The bit of veneer I had was not large enough to be able to match grain direction so it turned out to be a bit of a dog’s breakfast. And the corners and edges were not perfect. I hit the corners with sandpaper enough to let a thin line of aluminum show.


Mid century moderne? Late sixties early seventies British speaker style? Drunken Dieter Rams? You might have a better description 🙂

I attached a rare earth magnet to the inside of the box and that really helps to hold the box in place as it grips the heater. Heating air intake is drawn from through the mounting plate and in from the gaps at the rear most part of the plate. The floor slopes away so it turns out that the gap is pretty well equal to the air intake opening.


I could just use the heater as is, but then I would loose the console storage. So I decided to cover up my lovely creation (!) with the console. I took it apart and cut sections out of the cubbies, welded ( hot air and a screwdriver , yeah nasty) the cubby bases back in. Now the console fits down over the box, albeit with less cubby storage room.


No, the hot air ain’t going to come up out of that opening. I’ll cut out the rear end of the console.

Oh, almost forgot about how the heater combustion air intake and exhaust lines are routed. It’s a bit of a pain to connect them up over the front diff, but the intake comes back down and is secured to frame rail near propane tank. 

Hey you see the un-secured gear clamp on the black intake line? When I took the pic I hadn’t got that bugger forward and up into place.


And the exhaust line comes back down on the passenger side to end up at the forward edge of my lateral skid plate.


I’m finishing up the thermostat mounting and wiring, and doing the console rear end mod. That’s for the next post.

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Vanagon – rear shelf support

The interior cabinetry in my van is pretty tired. Don’t forget it’s from my old 82 Westy, I swapped it all into my 86 tin top syncro when I converted it to a camper. One of the more distressed parts is the rear overhead shelf. The laminate is cracked and the entire span was sagging. Doesn’t help that I carry and axe and other heavyish stuff up there.

So I cut some 1/8″ thick aluminum plate, drilled holes for screws and milled larger ones to reduce a bit of the weight and give it some visual interest. I also drilled a hole to mount one of my new led dimmer switches ( same as the ones I showed in recent post). That switch replaces one that was mounted to the wall. It controls the strip of led lights attached underneath the shelf, right at the rear edge. You can see the edge of the aluminum U channel that the strip is mounted in right below the new support.

I’ve used Robertson head sheet metal screws to attach the plate. I hate Robertson headed fasteners, yes it’s irrational, but I hate how they look. I didn’t have anything else on hand, but I’m thinking I’ll replace them with oval head Phillips machine screws with nuts on the inside.

Should I paint it? I don’t know. Maybe just some more rubbing with maroon scotchbrite and some wax.

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Vanagon – new led strip light dimmers

I’ve modified my led light set up in the van a little since last update here, one change was to move the strip above the sliding door to a higher position and to contain the strip in a channel and add a diffuser cover to it. And the other day I replaced the dimmer switches with what I think are much nicer units.

Got them from Banggood, link here.


Annoyingly, I didn’t get the nut on the threaded shank shown in the the image. Looks to be a M20 x 1 thread. I managed to cobble up retainers to hold the switches in place.


Made an aluminum mounting plate and mounted that to rear most air vent. Switch action nice, light touch turns on or off, long hold dims or brightens. Blue glowing ring so you can see them in the dark. I tried measuring the current draw for the glowing light, I got 2.5 mA reading but the number crept up to 11 mA after a few seconds but then dropped back to 2.5 when I touched the switch. Must be something to do with the capacitance switch gubbins. The blue glow is not bright enough to be obnoxious.

They are made from plastic, chrome plated, but they seem to be good quality. They did come with the connectors as shown, the same type I had to buy separately for the old switches.

Only 2 switches wired up so far, one for the strip above the sliding door ( can see that in the pic) and the other fro the strip above the kitchen. The two spares for future lights.

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Mods – quick and dirty solar panel stand

Friend Donovan at Western Edison let me have some scraps of 3/8″ thick aluminum honeycomb material. One of the bits was large enough to cut out a simple tab and slot stand for my solar panel. As crude as it is, it worked well enough on our trip last weekend. 

The panel is an older model Siemens 75 W unit. Good friend Dave gave it to me last year. He bought a pair for an ungodly low price. And just last week he gave me the other one ( he was toying with me). So I have two of these panels and that’s forcing the issue of whether to mount one on the roof. On last weekend’s trip I had one on the stand and one sitting on the luggage rack, might be better to have one on the roof racks at least during the summer, I don’t know.  Btw, they both connect to the same charge controller.

I never planned on having the solar and battery set up I have now. To be honest it’s way more than I need, but it’s interesting to play around with the set up in the van.



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Trip – warm and clear weekend in June 

Last weekend was quite warm, but unlike later in the year there was no fog or even haze in the west coast. The air was clear enoug that you could make out the buildings on Tattoosh Island.


Again, just to bug Simon, a shot of the super useful “Swellegant” table mod. 

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Vanagon – making a new roof rack

I get these ideas sometimes and for better or worse I follow through. Even though I have been using a perfectly good Thule rack system ( the type that has pads that sit of the roof top and hold down clamps that grip that black rail thing I installed for the purpose), the airfoil section aluminum spar material that was lying around the shop was too tempting.

Here’s the old Thule rack.

It’s the type of spar material you see used as spreaders on sail boats. This version is pretty stout, 1.5″ at thickest and a chord length of 5.5″.

The idea was to have two racks and not have them wider than the pop top. And the Thule ski box I use would be attached directly to the rack, not using the stock U bolt set up.

I cut the spars to 53″, and cut some shorties to act as pedestals. I coped the short bits to fit the airfoil section and welds them to the cross pieces. I also cut out some 1/8″ aluminum sheet and used that to close up the ends. This pic shows one with end closed, the other still open. You can see the slightly thicker section of the spar in the open end. All my attachments go to that thick section.


I glued some rubber sheet to the bottom of the closed in pedestals/feet later.


That groove running along the lenght of the spar falls pretty well on the middle of the thick section. On one end of the soars I drilled and helicoiled holes for the Thule box attachment. On the other side I used some 5/16″ riv-nuts as anchor points for eye bolts in case I need lash points for some future thing. Blanked those holes off with plain bolts for the time being.

And this is how they sit on the van.


The hold down mechanism took me a while and I ended up with a simple, if a little clunky, solution. For now the stainless brackets hook onto the rail, but when I am happy with the position of the racks I’ll bolt them to the rail and cut off the hook end. It’s a 5/16″ bolt attaching the bracket to the spar (helicoil in spar), I know it looks sort of week, I think it’s strong enough. It certainly pulls the rack down hard to the roof. Later you’ll see that I put in short sections of rubber hose to cover the naked bolts and make that part look less flimsy.

I am planning on painting the rack white, same interlux briteside one part polyurethane I used on the pop top itself. When it’s painted I think the rack will blend in with the roof, take away the raw industrial look.

It’s funny, the box still looks like it tilts towards the centre of the van. The cross spars are level, maybe the box itself is warped.


It’s not that bad looking, try to imagine it painted white. The painting will happen when the weather warms up, maybe this week. Oh and one more thing, the new rack lowers the box an inch or more.

,

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Vanagon – a ladder, not a tire carrier

Someone I know needs to be able to get to roof top carrier. She’s been humming and hawing about the options available. The RMW ladder that fixes to the jack points wasn’t that appealing. I made this today and if she doesn’t like it I’ll keep it. It actually works.

It folds up, pieces are connected with bungee cords just like tent poles. Fits into luggage rack on Westy.


Unfolded.


Hooks onto gutter.

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