We bought a 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon Wolfsburg Edition Multivan back at the beginning of 2016. We drove up to Ft. Collins and a great guy named Larry let us take him for a ride in what is now our van. Now, if you don't know much about these vans (which we didn't) this guy was a bit different than what we originally set out to find. There was no stove or cabinets, but it did have a pop-top, a bench seat that folded into a bed, a strong engine and some big fat tires on it.
We got our van home and went straight to cleaning, pulling out Human Larry's makeshift plywood stove holder and pulling off terry cloth seat covers held on by bungees, so many bungees. Next was to get down to the mechanical aspect of the van, replacing the entire fuel delivery system, checking out the coolant system and brake system.
Just a heads up to everyone, we knew when buying any Vanagon in our price range that we would have to do some work to it. We don't know anything about engines but I do know my way around tools and can figure out a lot if pointed in the right direction. So we bought the giant Vanagon repair book and started ordering parts.
The fuel system was the first to get an overhaul. Hoses, fuel tank, filter, and pump all the way through the engine. We have to thank Kevin (my Dad) for helping step into the unknown and Telecom Surplus (my old job) for the weekend warehouse space. Having not done any of this before and going off internet projections of how long this should take, 7 hours, we were in for a real treat when we went home on day one with a van that, let's say, didn't have a circulatory system. Coming back the next day we got everything put back together and were putting in the last of the parts when a very small, 30 year old, plastic valve critical to the system broke. After calling everyone in the area and no one had it we were forced to order online and went home Sunday night with "mild" frustrations. Monday morning at work was a real treat when the van was parked in the middle of the TSR warehouse and no way to get it out. The part came later that week and everything worked out just fine.
We took our first trip in the van in May and went to Grand Junction, CO for a weekend. We decided to stop in Glenwood Springs along the way and check out the town and stay the evening. We pulled in to town to find a place to eat and park the van for the evening.
That’s when what seemed like a major disaster struck! Coolant pouring out of the back of the van. It seemed like a lot of coolant at the time but we got up the next morning and drove to Grand Junction because the only time it leaked is when we stopped and turned the engine off. I tried a few things that I thought were the problem such as replacing a hose here and there without any success. The guys at the Volkswagen shop in Grand Junction hooked me up with some hoses and clamps and I swapped a hose that I thought was leaking and spilled coolant all the way back to Denver. I had a suspicion it was the coolant tank cap and bought another to replace it. Still no go.
I figured I’d save the guys at TSR another mishap of 5L of coolant and possible stuck van in the warehouse and went to a recommended VW shop in town, Blazer Automotive, and met our second Larry. We’ll call him Mechanic Larry. He took care of us, it ended up being the threads on the coolant tank and not the cap. I was one part, and 5L of coolant, away from fixing that one myself.
We ordered a bunch of parts for the brakes including stainless steel brake lines, and new rear brake cylinders. Jacquelyn has a friend up in Laramie, I’m not sure if Brent wants his name out there, that has a home shop and knows his way around cars. Being the gentle soul that he is he offered to help us out with some of this stuff. Little did he know what he was getting into.
We had some upper control arms and upper ball joints that we were going to swap out at the same time and decided to do those first. Everything went pretty smoothly with the suspension stuff until we got to the second ball joint that was mismanufactured. So we slapped the old one in and moved on to the brakes.
3 out of 4 stainless steel brake lines on Larry the Vanagon came off without too much of a hitch. The 4th was a bugger that we didn’t end up messing with. When we went to bleed the brakes just as any normal mechanic would bleed brakes (furthest brake from the master cycling to closest) we poured in the brake fluid and pumped and pumped and pumped the brakes with nothing coming out the bleed port. We tried the next and the next and finally the closest brake to the master worked. 30 years of gunk in those brakes that we couldn’t push out. So we drank a few budweisers and thought about our options. 3 buds later and a few of Brent’s mechanic friends came over and went to town. 5 or maybe 6 buds later we were bled but not happy. No master cylinders in and a bleed job that you leave about 30 to 40 car lengths when driving on i-25. I know Larry the Mechanic has taken great care of us but we opted for a recommended shop that was a little closer since we had already driven about 100 miles without an alignment and needed a ball fresh ball joint, 1 more stainless steel line and new rear shoes. The guys at Salta Motorsports gave us everything that Larry the Vanagon needed and a phone number to call and ask questions if we ever get stuck.
All systems go and Larry the Vanagon has been cruising great……
or has he?