Monday, February 13, 2012

Unwanted in Fremont

Like many of my purchases, this one began with a Craig's List posting.  I had been watching Vangons on CL off and on for a few years, just to keep up with what was available and the price range.  I found that Vanagons with Westfalia conversions were plentiful in the Pacific Northwest and the west coast in general, with a rather wide range of prices (as low as $1,000 and at the other end of the scale over $100,000) depending on how the vehicle was originally equipped, and how it had been maintained and upgraded.  Odometer mileage seemed to be irrelevant.  Many of the rigs had hundreds of thousands of miles on them, and besides, due to a weak gear, many odometers had long since stopped spinning off the miles.

On the street in Fremont.  Soon to be mine!
I became interested in a particular 1982 Westy with a diesel engine and 82,869 miles on the broken odometer.  The price was reasonable.  The seller was no longer using the van and described it as being in good condition for its age, with some upgrades, new parts and just a few issues - the main one being that top speed was around 45mph.  I made an appointment to get out to Fremont, a funky little Seattle neighborhood.

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Truthfully, I was not very impressed when I first saw it on the street.  It was my least favorite Vanagon color - Assuan Brown (Assuan being a type of Egyptian granite that seems to have some flecks that are similar to this paint color - thanks Siri).  It had orange, yellow and brown stripes that were fading and checked.  The windshield had a couple of daises and a large crack running in two directions.  Inside, the contact paper used to cover the bare wood panels was peeling off.  The propane tank was empty so I could not check the stove or refrigerator but was assured they had worked before.  The pop-top canvas was in decent condition with one tear and a small hole. Tires were ok with a new spare. The battery cable was disconnected because it had been draining while sitting. And of course there was the engine but having had diesel cars and trucks in the past, I was ok with that especially when I learned how much more fuel efficient this diesel is compared to the gas engine.

We connected the battery, warmed up the glow plugs, and it started right up.  There was a little snick shifting into second gear.  We cruised slowly out of Fremont.  The constant velocity joints were rattling a bit.  Brakes were ok, a couple of pumps to get a hard pedal and a little pulsating indicating a warped rotor or drum.  The Fremont Bridge span was the first stretch where we could get some speed up.  Sure enough, at about 45mph it sounded exactly like I needed to shift to a higher gear, only there wasn't another gear to shift into.  Without a tachometer, I couldn't tell just how fast the engine was turning over, but it sounded like it was really winding up.

I had done a little research prior to the test drive and knew that these vans were geared very high (5.86 final drive ratio with 4 speeds) to make up for the ridiculously low 48 horsepower of the 1.6 liter stock engine. This combo evidently worked well making local deliveries around European burgs, but was not ideally suited to the North American Interstate Highway System.  By 1983, a five speed transmission gave it a little better top end, but the diesel option was dropped after only a few thousand units were imported although about 600,000 units were produced for markets in other countries through 1994.  This Westy had been upgraded to a 1.9 liter engine producing 68 horsepower (a whopping 41% increase!) but the rest of the drive train remained stock, limiting its road speed due to engine revolutions. There are various way of getting around this problem such as installing as older air-cooled transmission,  changing the gear ratios in the existing transmission and/or mounting taller wheels and tires.  It was just a matter of how much money you had to throw at it.

But the more I thought about it, the better it starting looking to me.  It definitely was in very good overall condition for being 30 years old. I decided I could fix the minor issues and live with the color.   And I really didn't mind traveling in the slow lane, so I made an offer which was accepted and, leaving a cash deposit, made arrangements to return the following morning with the balance of the cash and take it home.  My first Vanagon - and my first Westy in 29 years.  I was elated.

Next - The first few days

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