Slow Car Fast
January 6, 2012 - Meet Westy.
The backstory: our friend Ryan came across a 1983 Westfalia for a ridiculously low price, and somehow convinced Brandon to convert it to Subaru power. A couple of years later, it was up and running and acting as Ryan's daily driver. We went over to check out the van and Janel really liked the size and storage. It's a good fit between rubbermaid bins and a tent, and a big fifth wheel. So we started looking around.
We eventually found Westy in Crested Butte. Just like Ryan's, it has a 2.2 Subaru engine from a 1994 Legacy in the back. Unlike Ryan's, it also has heat (two heater cores!) and did not require years of work to build. We drove up to Montrose and met the seller halfway, then drove it home without any drama whatsoever. Here it is the next morning.
Welcome the new arrival!
entry 1 - tags: history
January 6, 2012 - We also considered an earlier bus.
There was a freshly and fully restored grey one in town, but it just didn't quite come across as genuine. It was a rich kid's toy and there were some odd oversights in the work. Expensive, too.
But this little green bus almost stole our hearts. It was full of character - I don't think either Janel or I have ever laughed so hard on a test drive. It did need a certain amount of work to bring it up to snuff, and when our Subaru-engined Westy showed up for the same price the decision was pretty easy. Especially since the heater in the green bus wasn't even fully present.
entry 2 - tags: alternatives, green
January 6, 2012 - Here's what we really loved about the green bus.
That upholstery is stock, and completely outrageous. Far more fun than the brown velour in Westy.
entry 3 - tags: green, alternatives, plaid
January 6, 2012 - Here's the living room in Westy.
That rear seat folds flat into a bed. The grille near floor level is an outlet for the rear heater core. There are storage cubbies all over the place and you can run 110v off the outlets in the cabinet when the camper is plugged into shore power.
entry 4 - tags: interior
January 6, 2012 - Here's the kitchen.
Gas stove, a sink with an onboard water supply and a fridge that will run on 120v, 12v or propane. It's apparently not the most effective thing out there, but we'll see how it works. There's also a table that swings out behind the driver's seat and another visible just on the left of the picture. Both front seats can swivel around so you can play cards.
entry 5 - tags: interior, kitchen
January 6, 2012 - And here she is in full camping mode.
There's a bed up top in the penthouse. Such a classic beastie.
Sharp eyes might notice something about the floor in this picture. Read on...
entry 6 - tags: introduction
January 6, 2012 - If you look at the first picture of the interior, you may notice some house carpet in the back.
It didn't look great. So I decided to have a bit of fun while Janel was out of town. A quick trip to Home Depot and I came home with some "vinyl plank" flooring. I was originally going to pick up hardwood or pergo flooring, but this was cheap, quick and easy. It also shrugs off water, something the laminates don't do.
entry 7 - tags: floor
January 6, 2012 - After about 30 minutes of work in the dark, we have a wood floor!
Well, sort of wood. Good enough for now, we can get it wet or sandy and just sweep it out. The only tool I needed was a sharp knife and a T square along with a Philips screwdriver, and there's no permanent modification to Westy. The floor just floats over top of the stock floor and tucks under the cabinets.
This rates very high on the effort/satisfaction scale, and makes me smile every time I see it.
entry 8 - tags: floor
January 6, 2012 - Since this is a high performance house with a big engine, I decided to have a bit of fun with the grille.
The first attempt didn't quite work visually. Too much red.
entry 9 - tags: GTI, grille
January 6, 2012 - That's more like it.
There's a raised rib around the edge of the grille that's just perfect in red, and the badge cost about $8 from eBay. Again, it makes me smile when I see it. Westy is rapidly becoming that sort of vehicle, one that is a bit silly and not serious at all.
entry 10 - tags: grille, GTI
January 6, 2012 - Here's the engine room of the house.
A little dusty, but so far it's doing an excellent imitation of a modern engine that just plain works. There are a couple of details of the engine swap I'd like to fine-tune but nothing major. I like that.
entry 11 - tags: engine
January 6, 2012 - One of the first items on the "bug list" from the initial drive home was a weak rear taillight.
The previous owner had actually replaced the base of the light in order to try to fix this but to no avail. When I pulled it apart, I also pulled the lens off the other light. And lo and behold, the the bulbs were different. Could it be that easy?
It was. Westy is not fighting back at all.
entry 12 - tags: lights, repair
January 6, 2012 - Another low effort/high satisfaction modification was a shifter extension.
Yes, it's much cooler to put in a short shift kit these days. But now the shift knob is within reach!
When we picked up Westy, it had a tendency to pop past the reverse detent and you'd find the shifter wandering around in a plane where no gears could be found. I had a look at the shift mechanism (which is above the spare tire under the nose, Vanagons are weird) and discovered that a plastic/teflon guide piece was gone. I had some UHMW material left over from making skid plates for the Targa Miata, so with a bit of work I created a new one. Voila, a much more solid shifter. Although it does have some trouble shifting into 1st sometimes, that seems to be back in the transmission.
entry 13 - tags: shifter, ergonomics
January 6, 2012 - The first night drive of Westy revealed that the only functioning light on the dashboard was the one for the tach.
Everything else was a secret. So I ordered a bunch of LED replacements. Why LEDs? Well, they look cool and deal well with vibration. But more important for a camper, they're very low draw. This isn't a big deal for the dash lights, but the interior light shown here now puts out a lot of light and uses almost no power doing so. Perfect.
Actually, it might be a bit too much light. I could probably do surgery back there now. Good thing the floor is immune to fluids then.
entry 14 - tags: lighting
January 6, 2012 - Westy is fitted with a second battery and a solar panel.
I haven't delved too deeply into the wiring yet to find out exactly when the house battery and the starting battery are active, but they should change roles depending on if the ignition is on or not.
The switch ties them together, which lets me charge the house battery while the engine is running. Or, if I forget to switch it off, lets me run down the starting battery while camping. So I installed a red switch guard so it's obvious if they're tied!
I'm looking forward to trying the solar panel.
entry 15 - tags: wiring, batteries, solar
January 6, 2012 - While we were still in the initial "do you think we should get one?
" stage, I decided Janel should get a VW camper for Christmas no matter what. But not any VW camper. Lego has a beautiful model of one. Janel was a bit surprised when she opened it, but once she got started on building she was hooked. We built the bus over two very long evenings. 1332 pieces. Snap. Snap. Snap.
Naturally, Janel being Janel, we started by organizing. Every piece was sorted and stored in a big set of drawers stolen from the garage - that's them to the left. Only then were we allowed to begin with building.
During construction, my job was to have all the bits for the next step ready for Janel to assemble.
entry 16 - tags: lego
January 6, 2012 - The engine started to take shape first.
This was early on (step 10, as can be seen in the picture) so the fever had not yet taken hold and Janel was still coming up to speed. Later, I was too busy scrabbling for parts to take any pictures!
entry 17 - tags: lego
January 6, 2012 - The finished interior.
Very cool. There's a little lava lamp in an alcove in the back and a plant on the other side. The rear seat really folds down into a bed and the table folds away. You can put the glass in the cupboard under the sink when you do that.
It's been a long time since I put together an official Lego model. There are some clever techniques in here I hadn't seen before.
entry 18 - tags: lego
January 6, 2012 - Meet the mini camper!
It's a substantial piece, about a foot long and solid. Those with long memories will recall that my journey into the Seven started with me building a model of a Lotus Seven. That was over 8 years ago. Janel came on the scene in time to help paint the frame of that car. How far we've sunk since.
entry 19 - tags: lego
January 6, 2012 - All set up for camping.
The top pops up and there are little details that delight throughout. And yes, one of the brackets for the roof rack got moved out of place. It's fun to drive this around the table. Now, as soon as the weather warms up, we'll be ready to drive the full-size version!
entry 20 - tags: lego