Project Little Van - Daily Vanagon/Adventure Rig


Another little update.
Moving along pretty slowly but moving along none the less.

Finally got around to cutting out my brake brackets the hard way since my laser cutter guy bailed on me.

Used my cheap hand-me-down drill press, the big vertical band saw at work and my belt grinder and managed to whip them into shape.
Finished on the left, rough cut on the right.

Yeah yeah, point and laugh now.
Let's get it out of the way.
I know my brake bracket is shaped like a dingus but whuddaya gonna do.

OK. No more fun in this post.
Back to business.
Did the mod (the notch in the following pic) to the caliper so it will clear the spindle as it moves.

As you may have noticed I cleaned painted and rebuilt the calipers with new seals, sliders and lube.

I don't have the standoffs welded to the bracket yet but I got all the hardware I needed so I figured I would bolt it all together and see how it fits.

Well they fit on the van but do they fit behind my Mercedes steelies?
Technically yes but just barely.

Little tricky to tell from this shot but there is less than a millimeter of clearance between the caliper and the wheel.
Not a huge deal though.
This clearance was with 7mm spacers.
I have returned those in favor of some 10mm spacers so we should be all set once those arrive.

Did a little cycling and measuring on my front suspension to see if my upper control arm mods did what I wanted.
To review what those mods were, I redid the ball joint mount to accept a GM truck/van upper ball joint and welded a bushing in the spindle to accept the new BJ stud.
All of this was to raise the upper BJ pivot point in relation to the lower to address some camber issues that arise from lifting the Vanagon.

I am pleased to say that it appears to work pretty well.
I did some rough measurements with my camber at what will roughly be the ride height and was excited to see that I could get the camber withing spec.
I need to get everything tightened and get the whole van on the ground to really make sure it's all good but there was enough adjustment that I think it will be fine.

That does not go to say that there are not improvements that could be done.
You may noticed in the pic above that the upper control arm is hitting the inner fender area at full stuff.
At this point my tire will likely be real close to rubbing somewhere in the inner fender area.
Its hitting on a gusset that I put on the arm so I am going to grind it down a bit and see how that works.
Since my shock is not bottomed out on its bumpstop I am going to add a secondary bumpstop so I don't have any hitting anywhere.

I mentioned previously the issues I was having at full droop so I am awaiting my limit strap to employ as a band aid fix until I try everything out and decided what I am going to do for REV2.

I also mentioned my new anti roll bar and and the need for end links.
I started on that as well.

I won't be able to mount the link where I had originally planned because the tie rod hit the link when turning.

I am going to weld a new attachment point on the lower arm and move the lower mount up and toward the spring.
To accomplish this I needed to shorten my link some.

I have the new lower mount designed and would have cut it out but my portable band saw died.
I finally got my new one yesterday and hope to get the lower mount wrapped up today.

So there you have it.
Still have not moved on to the rear stuff or any of the engine or trans stuff.
Oh wait I did do a transmission thing.
I filled the voids in my new trans mount with a tough and flexible polyurethane foam in an attempt to keep it from breaking down like the other 3 old trans mounts that I have.

The larger white part is actually the bottom of the mount once mounted on the van.

So yeah, still working on the front suspension.
Will probably have to tear it apart some to do some of the stuff I want to do to get it just right.

Not too worried about my previous deadline at this point because all of the things I planned to do in the van have been canceled.
Obviously I still want to get it done but I don't have the time crunch that I had before so I'm going to slow things down a bit and make sure things are right.


After a few days to install some kitchen cabinets and counter tops I finally got back to some van stuff.

Cut up a few brackets for my lower anti-roll bar end link mounts.

Got them tacked in and made sure the tie rod did not hit at full lock and all seemed good.

However, my logic escaped me that day and for what ever reason I tacked the brackets on with the suspension at full droop.
Naturally after I removed the spring again for some suspension cycling it was pretty apparent that the angle of the bracket at full compression was too much for the rod ends to handle.

Not a big deal since they were only tacked in place.
I will just bust them loose, set the ride height and tack them back on at a better angle.

I don't have any pics of the next part of the build because I was too busy head scratching to think about getting pics.
I was attempting to install an 8 inch suspension limit strap on the front suspension.
The main issues is that the 8 inch strap is really stiff and does not compress that much.
With about all the force I could give it I was only able to get about 2 inches of compression.
There are upper mounts that have a clevis and a spring that can get you a little more compression.
They look like this.

I bought some but they proved to be just too big to fit in the space I had.
Even if they fit I could only get another inch of compression which net me about 3 inches total.
I needed about 4.5 where I was mounting the straps on the lower control arms.

The 8 inches straps may have compressed a bit more under the weight of a vehicle but I felt like that may have stressed the strap and stitching to the point of failure.

I sent the 8 inch straps back along with the clevis mounts in favor of some 11 inch straps and regular ol' double shear limit strap mounts.

I think the 11 inch strap will compress enough and, with the shorter mounts, it should all fit in the same space as the 8 inch strap.

I will know more once I receive the straps and try to fit them in place.

While I wait on straps I figured I would start the clean up and refurb process on the rear suspension bits.

On the rear trailing arms there is a spring mount plate that is welded to the arm itself.
Rust tends to build up between these to parts.
My arms were no different.
it was rusted enough that the plate itself was deformed from the build up between the two parts.
As such I drilled the spot welds to remove the plate, cleaned both parts gave them a coat of Steel-It and welded the plates back on.

Decided to try Steel-It as it is a weld through coating that also functions as a finish.
Naturally it bubbled up some from the heat and required a little wire brush and respray but overall I would say it worked about as well as one could expect.
I will also say that the dried coating seems a lot harder than the regular ol' spray paint that I have used on most of the other parts on this build.

With the arms cleaned up it seemed the right time to get the new bushings installed.

Scrounged around and found all the hardware to bolt the arms on and they are all ready to rock.

With the arms ready it only made sense to get the bearing housings, hubs and drive flanges ready to go on as well.

I will get the bearings installed in the housings and get everything set up on the work bench in order to start more detailed work on my new rear disk brake set up.

Well that's as far as I have made it.

Naturally, with things the way they are currently, I struggle with ordering parts or going anywhere to get things that I might need to carry on with my build.
In the grand scheme of things this build can wait a bit if it needs to so I am approaching everything with regards to everyone's health.

They did cut our hours at work but I decided that I would rather use some vacation time and stay home for several reasons.
As such I have a bunch of free time so between working on our current house and developing our new property I hope to get some things accomplished on the van as well.

Until next time...


Moving along.

To start off I got my rear hubs together with fresh bearings and seals so I can start working on my rear disk brake set up.

I had a friend 3D print some rings to properly locate my rotor on the hub as well as a mock up caliper bracket.

The brackets mount like so and the big radius will allow me to rotate the caliper around the hub axis then mark where the holes need to go for the caliper.

Pretty much the main thing that ended up dictating where the caliper mounted was the caliper bleed screw.
I was hoping to rotate them down more so my park brake cable did not have to turn as much so I could tuck the cable up tighter to the control arm for protection but that did not really work.
The curve will be inside the wheel anyway so I can make the radius pretty big and it will still be protected enough.

Still need to finalize the bracket and send the drawing to the laser cutter.

Decided to mount some rear suspension bits and do a little cycling and see what kind of trouble I run into there.

As a disclaimer, The shocks and some of the mods in this set up were originally done for an air bag set up front and rear.
I bailed on the bags for now but decided to use the parts I had and try to make it work.

As such I ran into a few issues.
If I was going to run coils from the beginning I would have just built a set of coil overs and this would all be a lot easier.

So after some cycling I found a couple problems.
For starters, at full droop my spring will very likely fall out.

The second issue is that the shock bottoms out well before hitting the bump stop.

The main issue here, other than the shock bottoming out, is that, with my intended ride height, I would only have about 2.5 inches of travel before the suspension bottoms out.
That's not going to cut it.

After a little more examination I determined that my suspension at full droop was likely a bit much for the CV joints that I am using.

With all the facts in mind I determined that it made sense to relocate the shock mount on the trailing arm to put the arm in a more favorable position in regards to the shock travel.

More or less this meant moving the mount down 2 inches on the trailing arm.

This would allow full droop within the range of my 944 CV joints and allow full bump before my shock bottoms out all while still giving me the full travel that I had before.

I started with some simple brackets that I would weld onto the stock brackets to lower the mount.

Turns out I did not think far enough ahead and the shock body hit the original shock location so I had to hack a bunch of it off.

I would have been better off just removing the stock mount completely and starting fresh but oh well.

There are a lot of angles and ratios at play in this rear suspension and I apparently overlooked just the right one.
After the mount drop the suspension compresses and technically hits the bump stop but just barely and the shock is still bottoming out.

I decided to keep this one simple and just add an adjustable extension to the bump stop contact point on the arm.
a couple of nuts, washers and a hacked up bolt later and I had this.

I did add a bit too much height as now the suspension bottoms out and the shock still has about a half inch of travel left.

I think I am going to remove the extra washer and grind the threaded portion on the control arm down a bit to lower the bump pad and get the shock to about 1/4 inch before bottoming.

I can then adjust it upwards as necessary should shock bottoming become an issue.

So I think I have the rear sorted.
I will need a limit strap on the rear to keep the shock from being the limiter.
My spring should be secure and, once I add my spacers to set the ride height, there should even be a little compression on the spring at full droop.
It also all worked out that full droop and full compression is approximately the same height front and rear.

While I wait on parts to wrap up the suspension it seems it is time to start on the engine and trans set up.

Have not made it too far with that but I decided to start clean up and mods in the engine bay.
I removed all the wiring that I will not be using and made the decision to cut out the "firewall" to make transmission and starter work easier.

I need to clean it up some and and maybe do a quick spray bomb job but otherwise it is ready for it's new heart.

Pretty excited to get to this step.
There is going to be a fair bit of fab work involved.
I have to build an engine cradle/skid plate mount as well as the exhaust and mounting points for several new accessories.
Then it will be time to route cables and hoses and wires to make it all come to life.

So stoked...

Recommended books for Overlanding


Another little update.

Wrapped up design work on the rear disk set up.

Finalized the caliper bracket design and sent the drawing to the laser cutter.

Yes I know I have the wrong caliper on this side in the last pic.
It's just the one I had out and had pads in so I bolted it on.

It fits under my 16 inch Mercedes wheel just fine.

Have a little over a half inch of space between the caliper and wheel.

This space is even at the smallest diameter inside the wheel.

Not too bad for a 300x22mm vented rotor.

Should have the steel brackets from the laser cutter sometime next week.
I still need to pick a flex line that will go from the Vanagon hard line on the trailing arm to the caliper.
There are several available that will work so I just need to make a choice.

Then all that is left is the park brake cable work and the rear brakes will be sorted.

Pretty pumped that that went as smoothly as it did.

My limit straps for the rear are on the way.
I got the plastic for my rear spring spacers and just need to sort out a nice way to cut it.
Thankfully that should wrap up the rear suspension and brakes.

I think I finally found a decent local supplier for steel and it just happens to be the same place that will be laser cutting my caliper brackets.

I probably should have looked for a local supplier a long time ago because I can not believe how much cheaper they are than the online places.

Anyway, I picked up some square tube today to build my new engine cradle/skid plate mount.

Hopefully the next update will have the engine and trans in the bay.

Until then...
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It always boils down to me juggling 5 things at once with this project while I wait on parts.

I have sorted out most of my suspension stuff and it's just a matter of doing a little more fab work and bolting it all together.
As such I decided to do some more important stuff.

The day has finally come to get the engine and trans back in the bay.

I had some parts lying around to go on the engine so I decided to put some of that stuff on while it was still on the stand and I could access everything more easily.

The distributor and wires could be installed.

Got my remote oil filter mount screwed on

Picked up a fitting and a PCV valve so I could get that installed and ready to run to my catch can.

I probably mentioned this once but that tan plate and freeze plug in the pic used to occupied by the stock ABA PCV manifold.

It was a needlessly large apparatus that worked pretty well at venting the crank case but also did a fine job of carrying oil laden vapors into the intake and coating everything in oil.

I felt it was a better idea to ditch all of that and run a simple catch can between the PCV valve and the intake.

I think I paid $16 for this on ebay and I have to say I am pretty surprised by the design.

As you can see in this pic it has a nice sintered brass filter and simple baffle that should do a fine job of capturing the oil suspended in the vapor and directing it to the bottom of the tank.

It is pretty small but I plan to add a long clear tube to the drain hole on the bottom with a valve on the end.
This will add capacity to the tank, allow me to see the level of gunk in the system and easily drain the tank at regular intervals.

Is this more work than the stock system that just coats the intake and valves in old nasty oil?
Yes but it's a step I am willing to accept.

It also seemed like a good time to get my 250 amp alternator mounted and sort out a belt to run it.

Without the power steering or AC compressor this whole set up turned out to be really simple.
With the angle of the engine it should also be super easy to fix any of it should something go wrong on the road.

I almost forgot that I needed a plate to cap off an opening in the coolant manifold at the end of the head so I whipped that up real quick from some 1/4 inch aluminum I bought for just such things.

Still have to get a suitable gasket material for it but I am not going to concern myself with that at the moment.

After stalling for some time I decided to quit screwing around with all the easy stuff and on focus on the harder bits of the engine install.

I needed to get the engine and trans together using my adapter plate.

Some may see the shiny aluminum starter adapter that allows me to run a much more powerful starter from certain year VW TDIs
Naturally I got the starter to go with it but since I cut out my firewall it is super easy to install it later so I figured why add the extra weight since I had to drag this thing to the back of the van.

With the limited space in my garage, let me tell you that getting the engine to the back of the van and slid in under the van took some time and effort.

I won't get into those details but I finally managed to get it lifted into place.

With the trans mount bolted up to the frame and the engine roughly in place it was pretty clear that the engine needed to come down some to clear the deck lid.

I knew this later model intake would likely not clear the deck lid.
I also knew that the engine and trans would need to be dropped some to save my CV joints on account of my suspension lift and increased suspension travel.

The easiest thing to tackle was lowering the trans mount.

I did not really know how low it needed to go so I started at 0.75 inches and just stuffed some 0.75 square tube in between the mount and frame to space it temporarily.

After this I dropped the engine enough to clear the deck lid with a little room to spare for some sound and heat insulation.

I got it down to about .5 inches below the deck and it became apparent that the engine was not level front to back in the bay.

Don't know if it supposed to be but, after looking at the oil pan and pickup in the pan, I decided that I wanted it to be level.

I decided that I would drop the trans mount another 0.25 inches to make it a nice even 1 inch drop.
I made made a better spacer and gave it a quick squirt with some paint.

I figured I would give that paint a little time to dry before bolting it in place.

I knew I would need a new engine mount cross bar so set out to start fab work on that.
I have friends nearby that have tube benders but naturally no one has any dies for square tube so I had to go about "bending" it the hard way.

A couple pie cuts and a little welding would get what I needed.

I only tacked the bends in case it needs adjusted for install in the van.

The ends of the bar will be notched to fit up to these pieces that bolt to the stock engine bar mounts on the frame.

Hope to tackle that tomorrow and work on the engine mount bars that actually mount to the engine and hold the engine mounts.

once that is in place I can install the axles and begin work on the exhaust.

stay tuned for updates.


Turns out that my one inch trans spacer was about half as tall as it needed to be.
After a little trial and error with some wood blocks I determined that the spacer needed to be 2 inches.

With that in mind I set out to build a proper spacer and get it all mounted up.

This finally allowed me to level the engine and and still clear the deck lid.

With that part out of the way I could finally do the final adjustments on the engine and build the rest of the mounts.

More or less I made a plate that bolts to the top of the actual mount and a plate that bolts to the engine and joined the two together.

The passenger side turned out and fit like so.

You may also see where I flubbed up my design work and had to add a little extension on my engine cross bar.
More or less that extra little corner is so I can run a bar forward for the rest of my skid plate mount without hitting the oil pan.
Not sure how I over looked that but I did and it is what it is.

Here was the start of the drivers' side mount.

After some boxing in and a couple of additions it ended up like this.

Finally the engine sits on its own mounts.

Don't let the camera angle fool you.
All of the engine and trans pans sit above the bottom surface of the engine cross bar and will all be protected by the skid plate.

With some rough measurements I should have about 10.25 inches under the skid plate.
Not super but plenty for a 2wd van.

I also did the final welding on my cross bar.

Other than that I finally got some steel versions of brake brackets cut and they fit as expected.

Lastly I I finally decided to mount up my tires and could not help but slap a couple on.

This is with the van at maximum droop which ends up at about 21 inches from hub center to fender lip.
It will end up about 3 or 4 inches lower than this.

I am pretty confident that my suspension mods and tire size should work out pretty well for the soft roading that I would do in this van.

I ordered a metric butt load of exhaust parts so I can get that part knocked out but until that stuff gets here I am going to finish up all last bits of my suspension and brakes so I can get the tires mounted and get the van sitting on the ground.

I am really anxious to see where my ride height ends up.
I can adjust the rear but the front is a little more tricky so hopefully it ends up somewhere between 17 and 18 inches from the hub center to the fender lip.

We will find out in the next couple of days.


A few more baby steps.
There were several things that needed reworks and finished on my front control arms.

Finally got the anti-roll bar end link lower mounts welded on.

Since we are talking about the lower control arm I decided that I was not happy with the lower shock mount.
It had a hidden captured nut and there was some spacers that were a real pain in the butt given how snug the arm was around the shock mount.
I took another idea from my days back in the oval track industry and whipped up a new set up.
I like to call this a semi-double shear mount.
I started by cutting a hole to access the hidden nut.
I then drilled the nut out and fine tuned the hole in the arm with a carbide burr so I could weld in a beefy tube.

I already had a tube on the other side that a socket head cap screw fit into but I opened the hole inside so I could fit in another beefy tube.

This one would not be welded as it will slide when you tighten the shock bolt and squeeze the shock and one more spacer up against the tube the was welded in.

This makes bolting the lower shock mount in tons easier.
There might be an actual term for this set up but I call it a semi-double shear because, while one side of the bolt is not attached to the control arm, it is still supported by the control arm.

I also did a few mods on my upper arm.

I ground my upper gussets down a bit so they do not hit the body at full compression.

I also ground the underside and rewelded so the inside of the arm does not hit the spring as soon at full droop.

It still hits but my limit straps will solve that issue.

I finally welded my front brake adapter brackets up so I could bolt the front suspension and brakes together for the last time.

Once I got that bolted together I bent up some brake lines and a bracket to support them.

Overall the front suspension and brakes took a fair amount of assembly and disassembly to rework a few things but it all seems to be working much better and I am pleased with the outcome.

Can't wait to get it sitting on its own weight so I can see what the final ride height is.
With that stuff out of the way for now I started on some more engine things while I wait on some parts.

I needed to drill a hole and add a vacuum port to my throttle body to operate my gas tank evap controls mechanically rather than electronically.
little did I know that the electronic evap purge valve was eliminated from my harness when I had it reworked.

Anyway I drilled a 0.5mm hole into the throat of the TB just in front of the throttle plate.

That little white dot is the hole.

I then opened up most of that hole to 4.5mm so I could insert a tube.

I made sure not to go all the way through and lose my tiny opening.
It's hard for vacuum to work with tiny orifices so this tiny hole is meant to make the port not really functional during low vacuum conditions such as when the throttle is closed.
The last thing I need is my evap valve opening at idle and sucking in gas vapors from the charcoal canister and wreaking havoc with my idle settings.

When I open the throttle the vacuum gets stronger, the evap valve opens and I purge the canister of vapor in a much better part of the rev range which should be virtually undetectable.

Anyway I sanded a tube until it just started to fit, tapped it the rest of the way in and gave the TB body a couple center punches around the tube to hold a little better.

The tube was already pretty tight but I figured the punches couldn't hurt in case it loosens up a bit with heat.

With that out of the way I rigged up a new coil.

The MK3 VW coil sucks and they fail all the time.
I hope to have eliminated this by taking the coil control module and adapting it to work with an MSD blaster coil.

I had high hopes of eliminating a lot of connections in my coolant lines by running some new hoses, eliminating a few components and rerouting some things.
However after I got my engine mount in place I realized there was no way to just run my lines straight to the engine.
So I got some bends and some couplers and made it work as best I could.

The last thing I accomplished was adapting my kick down lever on the trans to work with my new throttle cable set up.

Still have to build an adjustable bracket that holds the end of the cable at the trans but that's simple enough.

I would like to get all the trans stuff done before I put my passenger side rear suspension on because it is a lot easier to get to that stuff with the suspension out of the way.

Anyway going to work on that bracket and start cutting my spring spacers and pads for the rear so it will be ready to bolt together for the last time and I can get the axles in.

I got a boat load of exhaust tubing, my catalytic converter, muffler and flex pipe so I can knock out the exhaust soon.
A friend is cutting an exhaust flange this weekend so I can get fabbing on the exhaust.

Probably going to work more on connecting all the coolant lines as maybe start on my oil and trans cooler mounts and plumbing.

Getting closer every day.


Back at it.

I managed to get my throttle cable and brackets all fabbed up and everything seems to work as it should.

I totally spaced on the fact that my engine and trans has been lowered by 2 inches so the stock accelerator cable bracket was at a hard angle.
I had to adjust the brackets height and angle to make everything happy.

I am pretty much at the max of all of my adjustments so if things start to get weird I may have to redo a couple things.
For now it will work to get it on the road.

I received most of the stuff to do my fuel system in mostly stainless steel.

I will get to all of that once I get my exhaust knocked out.

Speaking of exhaust, I had enough parts in house to get a good start on that.

I decided on a muffler.

I had a friend cut an exhaust flange from some 304 stainless.

Now I just have to join all of it together.

I decided where I wanted the muffler to go but I could not get it tucked up and in as high as I wanted.

Since my rear valence was mangled all over, I talked myself into simply removing it to make more room.

Then I whipped up some muffler mounts.

The muffler mounts like so...

I added a little extra to the passenger side mount to kill two birds with one stone.
It now serves as my PCV catch can mount.

Once the muffler was mounted I figured I would whip up a quick tail pipe.

Nothing is welded so it's a little droopy in the pic but you get the idea.
I will also be cutting some length off of the polished piece in the pic so the actual tail pipe outlet will be moved closer to the middle of the van to tuck up a little better in the corner of the bumper.

I decided to move on to the other side of the muffler to see how all of that is gonna work out.
This is the general idea.

My secondary pipes that run from the exhaust manifold to the 2 into 1 might be a bit shorter than ideal but I decided it was an acceptable compromise to get everything tucked up out of the way the way I want it.

Speaking of secondary pipes I git a rough start on that front.

These will go toward the CV joint a little more then will make a 180 to make their way up to the collector.

Beyond that I did get a factory exhaust heat shield installed.

With the engine leaned over as it is the intake manifold is pretty much right over the exhaust manifold.
It seemed like the right choice to run a shield to keep from heat soaking the intake.

I bought some insulated heat shield to put between the muffler and crank pulley and belts.
I figured I would use some of that material to also build an extra shield to go over the catalytic converter and the rest of the exhaust on that side as well since is it all above the manifold heat shield.

The exhaust is the last difficult bit of this build.
After it is out of the way I can begin final install of all of the stock-ish bits and get this thing fired up.
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Tiny update on a big project.
This part of the build took a minute.

I have done exhausts before but typically only cat back stuff and never really in any kind of confined space.
Just for the record I am running a tubular 4 into 2 exhaust manifold that could be found on many MK4 VWs (AEG engine code specifically)
From there on I needed to run two 1.75 inch secondaries that I hoped would be at least 32 inches long and as close to equal length as possible.
These would run to a 2 into 1 collector that merged into a single 2.25 inch pipe.
After many hours of head scratching and several "extra" cuts I think I sorted it out.

Pay no attention to the lawn care junk or the recalled harbor freight jack stand under the van.
My garage is small and I have been holding off on the trip to harbor freight for health and safety reasons.

Besides the jack stands work just fine for holding up exhaust pipes but I digress.

Anyway, one of my secondaries ended up a touch over 30 inches and the other a bit under 33 inches.
The primaries on my exhaust manifold are not equal length so I am not going to stress over a couple inches in the secondary length.
If fits where I want and is close enough so I have no issues with the compromise.

It's all just tack welded for now.

I took it all off so I can drag it to a friends shop with a proper back purge set up and much more experience tig welding stainless and thinner walled stuff.

I left it in a few pieces so it can be welded more easily.
After that it will have to come back home and be all fit up so I can tack the last parts together and take it all off one last time for another trip to the same friend to weld up those parts.

After getting most of the exhaust parts hanging from their mounts it was pretty apparent that the vibe isolators (the little green mounts in my previous post) that hold the muffler in place were not enough.

The whole thing was getting decidedly floppy.

I bought some new firmer mounts that were also a little taller.

This did the trick.

While I wait on the exhaust welding I figured I would work on the muffler heat shield.
I used some of the insulation I mentioned in my previous post and wrapped the muffler.
My primary concern is how close the muffler is to the crank pulley and the fiberglass bumper.
This stuff is supposed to be pretty good as what it does so we will see how it goes.

Once the whole exhaust is installed I need to build a few more heat shields to keep radiation to the intake and CV joints to a minimum but that shouldn't be too tough.

Next on the list is an intake set up.
Had plans to use some generic air filter box I bought on the ebay but I am not pleased with how that's all working out.

Now the plan is to source an air filter assembly from an early 2000s v8 mustang.

This will make sourcing air filters much easier.

Anyway I have all sorts of parts coming to make this work and will carry on with whatever I can until some of this stuff shows up.
Until then...
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Couple more updates.
Built some brackets for my new air box.

I also built an adapter to mount the MAF to the air box but I apparently did not get any pics of that.
It's not terribly complex or cool but I will get some pics and post that up next time.

After the box mount I could finally see if I can get the air box connected to the engine.
Using a pile of generic intake bits and a stock intake flexy bit I was able to make it work.

Also manage to get a section mounted where I can mount my intake air temp sensor and the outlet from my catch can for my PCV system.

Unfortunately the air box takes up the space where I intended to mount my coolant expansion tank so I had to rethink that.
I think I am just going to build yet another bracket and put it right about here.

I got all of my coolant lines routed and secured under the van all the way to the engine bay.

Once I got to the bay I needed to build another bracket to support the coolant lines where the "firewall" used to be.

It's not quite finished but it will function to hold the coolant and heater lines so they're not just flopping around all willy nillie.

Other than that I sorted out all the lights and junk that I wanted to run on the van and managed to get many of those parts in house.

So the real generic rundown is as follows:
Aftermarket "e code" Vanagon square inner and outer headlight assemblies.
Aftermarket tail light lenses
LED bulbs for every other marker, blinker or brake line on the van.

Mercedes G wagon led side marker lights.

I took a chance on a relay harness from ebay to run proper power to all the new headlight assemblies.

It was not super expensive but also not so cheap that I was concerned about the build quality.
There may be some generic relays but the build quality of the rest of the piece seems pretty good for the money and all the wire sizes seem appropriate for the current.

Other than that I talked with a headlight guru to sort out the best of the best bulbs to run in my new housings.
Those bulbs should be here any day now.

So that's about as far as I have made it recently.
Lots of things going on and with no real deadline I am not so concerned with the finish date anymore.

It will be done when it's done but it won't be too long now until I am at least ripping this thing around town and to some of the local campgrounds.

Stay tuned...


Keep the updates coming. I have been following both of your builds from the beginning and now I find myself building an '86 Vanagon. I had to go back and read everything closer


Yeah things are moving along pretty good so more updates are on the way.
Might even get around to a 4x4 van update sometime soon.

For anyone brave enough to get into the Vanagon please allow me to inform you that they tend to be a bit of work.
I love the layout and the platform but most of the mechanicals need replaced or upgraded to make them anything I would trust to take anywhere.
However, there are fixes for just about every one of the Vanagon's shortcomings.

I am addressing most of the afore mentioned shortcomings on my build but I might not have followed the forum playbook when it comes to how I fixed things.

I get flak all the time (from some Vanagon purists) because I am doing things a little differently and claim that I am making things simpler with some of my upgrades.

Most of my mods that I deem a simplification are balked at because I replaced VWs systems with my own that maybe has a few more parts or I add a system that did not exist on Vanagons in the first place.
How could something be simpler if there are more things to fail?

My set up may have a couple more parts than VWs system that I replace but generally mine are built with more robust parts and can be maintained and repaired more easily on the road.

But people still protested.
How dare I think I can do anything better than the engineers at Volkswagen did back when they designed the Vanagon.
I mean they spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours on design and testing to get everything just the way that they wanted it and all for a reason... Right?
Yes but all so they can build them as cheaply as possible and make as much money as possible from each sale.

I'm not dissing VW or any other manufacturer for this but just stating what many people already know.
Cost is generally the primary driver that dictates what makes it on a vehicle that ultimately gets released to the public.

Ok I am getting off topic with my rambling here.
My point is these vans are a blast even with their issues.

I remember driving this one home after I initially purchased it.
The suspension was super loose.
The mismatched tires were all dry rotted and just waiting for the right pothole to finally find an escape from it's tortured and neglected life.
The brakes barely worked and the exhaust was falling off but it just brought a smile to my face as I bobbled down the patched and re-patched and not-so-patched outer city streets taking in the unobstructed view from the stubby nose of this clapped out block.
I wasn't even mad when the engine failed catastrophically about 20 miles into my 70 mile drive home.
I knew an engine swap was in my future but I figured that it would at least make the drive home.
I was wrong.

There are VW people, of which I am one.
They understand some of the quirks that come with owning any VW.
Then there are Vanagon people which are, 95 percent of the time, usually also lifelong VW people.
This makes the pill a bit easier to swallow when it come to how bad a bad Vanagon can be.
From an outsiders perspective none of this makes sense.
None of this will ever make any sense until you actually drive one.

Recommended books for Overlanding


Ive been following your journey on turning this Vanagon into a machine and hopefully a reliable one at that.

Vehicles are built to a price and to the standards of the day, which are based mostly on cost.

A lot has happened in the last 30-40 years, better oils, better suspension, better braking assemblies, better tolerances, better electrical systems.

Having a vehicle you can't trust isn't nice, you may have a few issues, but as you have built and fitted most of all the underpinnings of this van, it will help solve and fix the little issues if they do arise.

Enjoying your build, as i love the shape of the old Vanagons, but i enjoy the reliability of my VW T6 Camper and easy access to spare parts

Keep up the great work(y)


I am not a purest. I am all for upgrades and mods that get the job done. The one I picked up was my wife's she bought in college. She had sold it about 15 years ago and the guy gave it back to us. It does not have an engine and it is almost a total gut job. It sat for 8 years with cats living in it. I was thinking subaru 2.5 swap but I am not sure. I am getting a good education from your build and looking to upgrade where I can.