Project Little Van - Daily Vanagon/Adventure Rig


I could very likely fix the case but, with all the wear that I am seeing on the parts that I can see, it is very likely that nearly every running surface is worn down pretty badly.

There was a lot of metal dust running around in this case for a long time.


Started tearing into the trans side of my transaxle.

As I suspected, based on the condition of the diff bits, the inside of my trans case is pretty beat up as well.
This is the inside of the case where some frictions ride.

This it the bit that the ID of those frictions ride.
In case its not obvious, all of these teeth are supposed to be flat top to bottom.

This is what those frictions looked like.

Of course the frictions would be replaced.
I would also be replacing the hub with all the wear with the upgrade parts.

I also found a lot of silver material floating around in the super dark trans fluid.
With the condition of the case and the fact that, as of yet, I can not get the 2nd gear brake band piston cover out of its bore I am inclined to bail on this trans altogether.

The general consensus in the Vanagon world is that you do not want to put too much power through these transmissions.
I am not making a ton of power but I am making approximately 50% more power than the stock engine.
With the upgrades I have planned for the trans it will be able to handle more power.
However, it seems real dumb to take a chance on any part of this trans that might be suspect, especially with the lengths that I am going to make everything else more robust.

Now the search is on for a complete usable, used trans that hopefully is not as wrecked as the one I have.

Between the new (used) trans, this trans and the Audi trans with the upgrade bits I should be able to put something together.

Other than some engine bay clean up I am sort of going to be held up until I can get another transmission in house.

There are plenty of other things to do but I don't have the space to start on another piece of the puzzle.


New member
Hey VWHammer,

Nicely done build, so far ;)
I'm also into these Vanagon builds but I'm an engineer and not really an experienced mechanic, I've had some professional assistance ($$) with the Engine's and Trans-axles. Parts are pretty readily available here in Seattle but Syncro stuff is still really scarce. I've been stockpiling parts for various projects and have been working on my second and third van in parallel. My friends and family think I have issues. This was not my plan but with enough spare parts, one looks for a project. As you have pointed out, projects spawn projects.

I have grown kids so camping is so much fun with everyone having their own van. As I build the vans with my sons, I've been documenting the build but I haven't shared much on the forums as my posts would be sometimes many months apart and that makes folks a bit expectant. I have been blessed by other's builds so I will pay it forward at some point. I'm starting on this forum with my first mini-build-out of a hydronic heat/hot water solution I posted yesterday.

I think your build is quite exciting to "watch". Your explanations are very good and photographs too. It may sound a bit morbid, but I like the unanticipated surprises, especially since you are able to work through the problems and improve on the original design. I look forward to more. Thanks for sharing.

Recommended books for Overlanding


I also love watching these builds but there are not a ton of Vanagon builds on any forum.
It's pretty taxing for most people just to keep them moving.
That is my primary reason for changing as many things as I plan to on both of my Vanagon builds.
The footprint and layout of the Vanagon is great but the mechanics are lacking a bit in my opinion.

Anyway, it's that time again for another post to keep anyone that cares up to date on where this project stands.
Things have been slow.
The search for parts and waiting on parts have slowed things down considerably.

However, I made the call and decided to move on to some other stuff while continuing to search for another transmission.
I figured I could tear into my brakes and suspension a little bit to get a few things going there that may take some time.

Here are the crusty, barely adequate brakes that will never stop this van again.

For those that don't know these vans came with a solid 10.15 inch (258mm) diameter rotor that measures a little over a half inch (12.7mm) thick.
My van is one of the lighter of all the vanagons but it still scares me just thinking about whizzing down some mountain pass with a loaded van, bigger tires and these hot plates glowing orange trying to slow me down for any period of time.
This is probably the second vehicle they had in mind when they decided to install those runaway truck ramps off the side of some of the big downhills.

Anyway, I digress.

I am ditching these in favor of some more serious stoppers.

These are front rotors from a 2000 Audi S4 or a 2004 Audi Allroad
They measure approximately 12.6 inches (320mm) in diameter and are 1.18 inches (30mm) thick.
They should provide plenty of heat absorbing/dissipating mass for when I really call the binders into action.
Here is how they compare to the stockers.

These will be clamped by the same 2 piston floating calipers that came on the same 2000 S4 or 2004 Allroad.
These ones are a bit cruddy but I have cleaned a pair up before to use on my older Vanagon when I installed the same brakes.

They were a pretty tight squeeze behind the wheels I had on that van but with a little machine work they fit.
Hopefully I can massages these calipers to fit under the 16 inch Mercedes on this van.
Here is how they fit on the old van.

I had to make a few changes to my old drawings for the brackets that I designed to make these brakes work on the Vanagon.

Somewhere in that change I really screwed something up and my brackets did not fit at all.
They hit the ball joint and a couple of the holes don't line up.

Sorry for the confusing angle but trust me they do not work.
I compared my old drawing to my new drawing and sure enough I screwed it up.
So I sent the new new drawings off to the laser cutter and am anxiously awaiting those parts before carrying on with the front brake mock up.

I am slowing down the rear tires by swapping the big old drums out for a set of 2004 S4 rotors.
These rotors measure 11.8 inches (300mm) in diameter and are 0.87 inches (22mm) thick.
Oh yeah these are vented rotors also.
Sorry, I don't have a pic of the rear rotors but we've all seen rotors before and you can just imagine how awesome they are.
Naturally I am using the 2004 S4 calipers to clamp these rotors.

I don't have any brackets drawn up for these yet so at some point I will tear the rear brakes apart and start the design process there.

Rather than do all of that I figured I would get to work on the air ride set up so I can order up shocks and see what else I need to do.

So the plan is not all that unorthodox in the fact that I simply plan to install an air bag right here where the stock spring resides.

Then I will find a spot to squeeze in a shock somewhere.

I originally planed to use a couple of this 2500lb triple convoluted bag.

However they are pretty fat.
I likely could have made them fit but I thought I would explore my options a bit.
Turns out they these bags are available in a slightly smaller 2400lb version that are considerably smaller in diameter.

I ordered a couple up and awaited my package from Australia.
They just got here today.
Here is the old bag compared to the new bag.

These are actually slightly smaller in diameter than the stock VW spring.
The only question now is whether they will actually be able to support the front of the van.
I am going to roll with them and if it turns out that they are not up to the task then I can simply swap the bigger bag in its place because both bags share mounting dimensions.

I did manage to get the rear torn apart so I could get some measurements for my shocks.
With my front and rear shock specs and a rough idea for valving in hand I sent an email to my boy Junior at Bilstein and ordered up a set of custom valved 7100 series shocks.

Those are about 5 to 7 weeks out so I have plenty of time to work on my brakes and get the rear air bag mounts sorted.
The rear is a pretty simple layout compared to the front because the shock does not occupy the same space as the spring.

For the fronts, however, I kind of need the shocks to get everything where it needs to go.
It will make more sense when the time comes so I am not going to try to explain it.

Hopefully all of this will net me another inch or 2 of travel front and rear.
I need to study and measure the front some more to maybe come up with a couple mods to make the suspension happy with a little more travel.
I am not going to go too crazy but I may at least fab up a new upper control arm to keep my ball joint angles in check.
I will know more about all that later.

Other than that I have been looking at some electric power steering set ups and I just started exploring an electric parking brake.
I want to try to eliminate as many lines and cables as possible for packaging and reliability purposes (he said after buying a bunch of lines, coolers, fittings and mounts for remote mount oil and trans coolers/filters)

Well it seems I said a lot but have not really accomplished much.
Just playing the waiting game right now and working on what I can without getting too many things torn apart and scattered all over the garage.

Eventually everything will get here and my head will be spinning trying to make the decision on what to do next.
Until then...


Active member
My grandfather had 2 VW vans. A older Westy and a “newer” yellow 80’s Westy. We did a lot of camping in those growing up.

You’re right about most people having trouble just keeping them running. I love the detail you’re putting into this build.

If syncros weren’t so expensive for what you get, I’d put a Subie engine in one.


Teeny update.
It seems my updates are only getting smaller at this point.
I gotta house to fix and sell and I have been waiting on parts from a few suppliers so gimme a break.

Anyway, after a month of waiting on new brake parts I finally called the laser cutter only to fine out that they "did not get my last two emails".

No matter.
I sent the drawing again and called the next day to confirm that they had actually received it.
They did so I am expecting my parts any day now.

As such I decided to give my brake calipers a good once over to make sure that they were up to the task of hauling down my ultra-supreme-mega-camper-mobile should the need arise.

Just to refresh, this is what I am starting with.

After a little inspection.........

After a quick search, I found that most of the rebuild parts I need are available, so I decided a rebuild is in order.

So I tore my calipers to pieces.

It's a good thing I did because one of the pistons in one of my calipers was frozen solid.
I managed to twist it out with a number of tools and without too much damage.

I did a little clean up and got it moving freely within its' bore.

I also ordered up all of the new seals and hardware to make them function like.... they weren't just pulled from a 200,000+ mile hooptie.

I would guess, from the grease build up and plasti dip on these calipers, that they have at least 175'000 miles and have been abused for most of their life.

I tried some degreaser with a wire brush, my needle scaler and a some time in the blast cabinet and there were clearly some spots that were not going to come clean.

I am going to strip the parts to the bare metal bits and hit them with some paint stripper.
Then I will scrub them with some degreaser again and finally hit them with the blaster to hopefully get them down to bare metal so I can prep and pain them.

I am expecting my shocks and brake parts any day now and I have a good plan for the next steps.
As such I am going to take tomorrow evening and tear out all of my suspension parts for a thorough clean up and some paint to get them all ready to go back together the moment my other parts so up.

I also ordered up most of the rest of the stuff for my air suspension and all of that will be here by the end of next week.

After that I am waiting for some dude in Tennessee to sort out shipping for an auto trans that I told him I would buy.
He is working on the price for shipping but I am not going to hold my breath.

Hopefully I can find the trans I need before everything else is finished.

That's about it for now.

I really plan to pick up the pace in the next 2-4 weeks so I can get this thing on the road before it starts to really get warm.

Until then...


Very nice write up on the brakes.
I've been considering doing the same with mine.
I hope they work out well.


Don't have a ton of physical updates but I have been doing a lot of homework.

However, have you ever studied really hard for a test only to bomb it and wanna drop outta school.
Well, it happened to me.

Got my shocks. Yaaaaaay!

Then tragedy struck.

The rears fit as expected but the fronts are a no go.

I totally overlooked the fact that those stupid Schrader valves completely get in the way of my upper mounting arrangement in the front.

What sucks is I was originally looking at the model that did not have the Schrader valve but wanted as much ability to tune as I could so I went with the valves.

The reality is I don't have any of the equipment to play with the nitrogen charge on these shocks anyway nor do I plan to buy it so I should have just stuck with my original plan.

No matter.
I sent my contact at Bilstein a message to, at the very least, order the other shocks without the valve.
However, I also inquired as to whether or not any of the parts from my current shocks can be used on the new bits to save me a little coin.
We will see how that goes.

I am also hoping that it will not take another 6-8 weeks to get the new shocks as I am kind of crunched for time here.

Time will tell.

I still have not torn all of the suspension out of the van as I have been tweaking and tuning my designs to get it as right as I can before I go making any hard parts.

I did manage to get a boat load of the parts I need for the suspension.

First off is my gauge unit that will monitor all four bag pressures as well as the tank pressure.

This has all of the wiring and sending units needed for the whole thing.

Speaking of tank pressure, you gotta have a tank to actually have tank pressure.
So I got one of those too.

3 gallons should be more than enough for what I have in mind.

Originally I was going to go with a pair of cheap compressors because there are a handful out there that have been serving people well.
However I just could not convince myself that that was the best path forward.
In the end I decided to get something that could be mounted outside and has a 100% duty cycle just to make me fell good about beating on it.

This is the Viair 450C
It has a IP67 rating and can supply 100psi at 100% duty cycle.
It was twice as much as the pair of cheapo compressors that I was considering but should be able to handle much more harsh environments and more abuse.
I hope.
So with the air source sorted it was time to control all of the pressure to the bags.
I decided to take a chance on a cheap-ish solenoid unit and controller from ebay.

I have tested the unit on the bench and everything works as it should.
It will be mounted inside the vehicle so I think it will do just fine.

In a pinch I have designed in the ability to air the bags up manually should everything else fail but the bags.

I still need a safety blow off valve and a drain valve but those are easy enough to come by and I will get them later.

I did at least spring for a decent compressor switch.

Back to the physical side of the air bag set up.
I picked up a set up adjustable coil spring buckets that I am going to use in the rear so I can really fine tune the suspension.
The gold things in this pic.

The hopes are to have the ability to get the air bag pressure just right for everyday use then I will be able to fine tune the ride height where I want it.

The adjustment in the front will be totally different than the rear but it will accomplish the same thing.
Overall I will have about 2 inches of height adjustment over the ability to adjust on the fly that the airbags offer.

I did get a couple other boring bits as well.

Got some new bushings and washers for the radius rods in the front.

Also got some new nuts but they are not here yet.

I had big plans to replace these parts with some new joints that might allow a little more suspension travel but the time does not allow such things at the moment.
I will get this beast on the road and think about that upgrade then.

Other than that I did manage to get all the crap I need to rebuild my front calipers.

Ok I think that's it.
I am finishing up the kitchen remodel but I am trying to squeeze in a day or 3 here and there to work on the van.

I totally plan on driving this thing this spring so real stuff with start going on any day now.


Don't have a ton of physical updates but I have been doing a lot of homework.

However, have you ever studied really hard for a test only to bomb it and wanna drop outta school.
Well, it happened to me.
I totally empathize with this! I almost always fall into the trap of being enticed by the next better model with additional feature(s) and I have been burned more times than I care to ever remember. And it always seem to come down to millimeters which makes it even more infuriating.

However, keep fighting the good fight because this build is awesome. You've got so much good stuff going on here and I'm looking forward to future updates.


Yeah I'm going to keep on keeping on as my fortune cookie just told me...
Literally, I just got a fortune cookie with that message in it.

I have already talked with my contact at Bilstein and we are working on a solution.
We may be able to relocate the valve on the shocks I have to give me the room I need.
It would be a lot nicer to have the valve.
With the valve any shop that can rebuild shocks would be able to service them.
Without the valve you need a much more advanced machine to assemble them under pressure.
Not many places have this machine.

Anyway I will take a look when I get home to see what I can do but I am confident that I can make something work.
There are a few options to work with.


Don't have a ton of physical updates but I have been doing a lot of homework.

However, have you ever studied really hard for a test only to bomb it and wanna drop outta school.
Well, it happened to me.

Got my shocks. Yaaaaaay!

Then tragedy struck.

The rears fit as expected but the fronts are a no go.

I totally overlooked the fact that those stupid Schrader valves completely get in the way of my upper mounting arrangement in the front.

What sucks is I was originally looking at the model that did not have the Schrader valve but wanted as much ability to tune as I could so I went with the valves.

The reality is I don't have any of the equipment to play with the nitrogen charge on these shocks anyway nor do I plan to buy it so I should have just stuck with my original plan.

No matter.
I sent my contact at Bilstein a message to, at the very least, order the other shocks without the valve.

What 7100s did you end up w/ for the front on your 2wd? I've narrowed it down to a couple models & would love to know your part number and how you had them valved for compression/rebound.

I ended up w/ reservoir 7100s for the rear wheels, originally design for the front end of a 4runner - perfect fit & well matched for my pop-top weekender weight.

(And I'm impressed with the attention to detail on your build - your front brakes are making me rethink my build.)

I'm currently engine out and up on stilts, but everything will be going back together this summer. I'm in the middle of replacing my hard brake lines, as the originals from'86 do not inspire confidence after a years spent in New England.



Well geez. it's been a minute since I have updated this thread.
I essentially have 30 days to make my van drivable so I have been working on the van a bit more than posting about it.
For the time being I have bailed on the air suspension as it was taking up too much time with all the machine work.
It made more sense to have an engine and trans and semi standard suspension before all this fancy air suspension.
I will work on the air set up a little later.
As it sits right now there is no engine, no trans and no suspension front or rear.
It will start going back together next week but I have to choose my battles wisely.

Ok enough about all that.
First let me roughly answer the question above.

I ended up with a B46-1085S with valving that has about 50% more compression and 60% more rebound than the standard Bilstein HDs that are available from several places.
I have an actual part number for my valving that I can post later but I can't guarantee how it will work with any regular spring set up as I designed it to work with airbags.
These shocks are a bit longer overall and have about 2 inches more travel than the standard vanagon shock.
These also have a Schrader valve that will definitely interfere with the upper shock tower.
However, the 7100 classic is available with similar travel but without a Schrader valve.
This set up loses the ability to be rebuilt by most places because they can not be charged as easily.
This can be valved just like the shock I spec'd out but it is also a bit longer.
Other than the Schrader, either one of these shocks may interfere a bit with a standard vanagon suspension but, since I was changing things for the air bag set up I did not really work out how it would work in the stock location.
I lowered my lower shock mount on a set of arms to account for the air bag set up

I have both a stock lower arm and a modified arm and may test both to see what works best.
I think it will work with stock arms but I can not say for certain.
I will know more in a few days.

I should also mention that I have also changed some suspension bits to function better in the lifted configuration.
I have effectively raised the upper ball joint pivot point in an effort to both change the camber curve and make it so the camber adjustments are back within acceptable range on a lifted Vanagon.
This all serves to have more suspension travel while lifted.
More or less I modified the upper control arm to accept a taller ball joint.

Well I hoped to get more into things while answering your question but its late and I hafta bail.
Sorry to be so vague but I will make a point to update progress with more details in the next couple of days.

Until then....

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Slightly curious, but what was the process you went through to get the custom Bilsteins made? I'm trying to find an option for a better shock on a 1969 econoline, and the options are a bit slim.



The only real "custom" part of the whole thing is the valving.
I simply picked one of their shocks that was the approximate size and travel that I needed.

The rep at Bilstein gave me this link Motorsports&typeId=91954861479982800
I applied a few of the filters on the left side and at least narrowed it down to one of the series available, 7100 in this case.
To come up with the valving I started with the Bilstein HD shock that is already available for my van.
Of course Bilstein would not disclose the exact numbers for that particular shock so I had to go with percentages to increase the valving.

I had an advantage that I know for a fact that the stock Bilstein HDs are way too soft for the vanagon.
There is also a company that sells a custom valved set of the Bilstein HDs (XHD)for the vanagon and they list the percentage that they increased the valving to make it better.

That was my baseline.
I knew I needed more dampening in both compression and rebound but not as much as they have.
They state specifically that those XHD shocks are generally for the much heavier full camper vanagons and that repeated cycling as in an off road situation might make them overheat with the additional dampening.

With that knowledge I just took a wag at the valving that I might need.
The 7100 shock is much better suited to off road use than the regular Bilstein HD and is also larger so I assumed it could dissipate a bit more heat.

As such I picked a number that was some percentage higher than the regular HD but not as high as the XHDs that are available.

One could sit and do the math and probably come up with a better method than what I did but I did not feel like taking that much time.
Besides if the valving is too much then they can always be changed for a minimal amount of money.

Either way I had to pay for an hour long dyno session for the front and rear shock
That ran $60 an hour so the total for that was $120.
Then all that is left is to buy the shocks at whatever price the ones you pick might be.

Essentially I just sent a message to Bilstein customer service or sales or some email I found on their site asking if a particular shock would work in a particular situation that I have in mind.
We then got into the whole custom valving talk and it proceeded from there.
The sales/service reps are quite helpful.