Monday, November 28, 2011

Vanagon Seat Belt Installation/Upgrade: Part I

A few weeks ago, I predicted that my next Vanagon project would be the installation of shoulder belts (three-point retracting seat belts) in the rear. I completed the rear passenger side over the long holiday weekend and I'm very pleased with the results.

All Vanagons, 1980-1991, are equipped with a factory-threaded hole to mount the seat belt reel, so no drilling of the frame or welding is required. The hole, however, is hidden behind the rear paneling/upholstery.

the new retracting seat belt reel mounted on the rear panel
Remove the three small screws that hold the rear panel to the wall of the van. Peel back the edge of the panel and locate the mounting hole for the reel, which in my vehicle was occupied by a plastic screw/cap. Remove that screw. Note the location of the hole (you can measure, or just eye it, as I did) and mark where you plan to drill through the upholstery panel. Using a 3/4" or larger bit, drill through the panel to access the factory-threaded mounting hole.

The reel comes with the installation bolt and a spacer. Remove the spacer from the bolt, place it behind the upholstery/panel, and then feed the bolt through the reel, then the panel, then the spacer, and finally into the threaded hole. In other words, the panel is sandwiched between the reel and the spacer. Use a ratchet to tighten down the bolt, but before applying the final turns (to 40-50lbs of pressure), orient the reel to face the rear seat at 90 degrees. That's it for the reel. Secure the panel with the three small screws.

new lap portion of the belt mounted with
the original bolt
Next, lift up the bench seat to gain better access the mounting point of the old lap belt. The hardest part of the whole project is the removal of this mounting bolt from the original male seat belt anchor point (not because it's physically hard to turn, but because it's extremely difficult to reach with hands and tools). I briefly contemplated removing the whole bench, but finally found a way to contort my hands and fingers to apply the ratchet. Remove the bolt and set it aside.

Discard the old seat belt or keep it as a memory of your less safe travels. Mine was secured with an overhand knot! My friends' excitement for traveling in the Vanagon was always taken down a notch when they saw that particular "safety" feature. Using that same bolt, thread it through the mounting hardware of  your new belt, make sure there are no twists in the belt webbing, and tighten down the bolt in that same factory-threaded hole. Congratulations!  You just upgraded your seat belt!

These new seat belts use the same female piece, so as long as that third anchor point and seat belt hardware are in fine condition, safer travels lie ahead for your family and friends.

Part II will detail the installation of the driver's side rear three-point retracting seat belt, a process that will involve cutting through the cabinetry of my Westfalia.

To be continued...

Ample justification for an upgrade?
Feeling secure and satisfied

Thursday, November 17, 2011

For $70,000: "Old New" Bus, or "New Old" Vanagon?

photo credit: MotorTrend
Both Automobile and MotorTrend magazines reported this week on the return of Volkswagen's T2 "Bay Window" Bus to the European market. These are not restorations, they are new Buses rolling off the factory line in Brazil. This has been going on for years, and occasionally a vehicle was privately shipped up to Europe, but now for the first time since the Buses were discontinued in 1979, Volkswagen's official Dutch distributor is creating a new European Bus market.

The 2012 Kombi has an updated dash panel, a 1.4 L water-cooled engine, a radiator up front, and some new interior and exterior accessory options, but it's otherwise identical to the German-built models of the 1970's. The price? 45,000-56,000 Euros, or the equivalent of $62,000-$77,000. Yikes. As the articles point out, with that price tag and the unlikelihood that these Buses would ever pass US emissions standards, we won't be seeing these cruising the California coast any time soon.

photo credit: MotorTrend
That hefty price tag got me wondering whether I'd really want one of these "Old New" Buses even if they were available to the US market (and I had that kind of cash!). For the money, I think I would much prefer what I'll call a "New Old" Vanagon, restored, and more importantly, updated. Take, for example, this 1991 Vanagon Full Camper that GoWesty recently sold for $61,000. Among the many updates and add-ons too numerous to list, it sports a new 2.5 L engine, solar powered auxiliary battery system, modern kitchen, modern cooling, modern exhaust, modern suspension, 16" wheels, and so much more.

1991 Vanagon Camper from GoWesty
As I've said before, I couldn't care less about maintaining OEM authenticity. If there's a better product or replacement part on the market than the original part designed over 20 years ago, that's what I want in my Vanagon. If I ever trip over a pile of $60,000, I'm looking to GoWesty, not Brazil, for my next VW camper.

Monday, November 7, 2011

New Hirschmann Vanagon Antenna Installation

The original Vanagon antenna was damaged when we purchased the van, crimped half-way down the mast. This didn't impact the reception, but I learned a few weeks ago that it did affect the retractability. Before pulling into the car wash, I attempted to push down the antenna, and down it went, straight to the ground via the wheel well. Because of the crimp, the downward pressure snapped the antenna below the base.

I looked to GoWesty for a quality replacement and purchased their OEM Hirschmann, fully-retractable antenna with a stainless steel mast and chrome base, a fair price at $19.95. According to GoWesty, "these are the real deal, the very same part that came on your van from the factory. Heavy duty construction built to last years!" I hope so. The first one lasted over 20 years, so that's a good sign.

Installation is easy:
  • Remove the grill by releasing each of the five plastic "screws." One half-turn with a flat-head screwdriver does the trick.
  • Remove the driver's side headlight assembly (four small phillips-head screws).
  • Remove the nut from the base of the antenna (adjustable wrench works well).
  • Remove the old antenna from below via the hole in the headlight cavity.
  • Cut the old antenna wire at the base and hold onto it tightly.
  • Securely tape the end of the new antenna wire to the old, cut wire.
  • Remove the ashtray assembly from the dash, revealing the back of the radio.
  • Unplug the old antenna wire from the back of the radio (if you can't get at it, you may have to pull out the radio a bit).
  • Carefully pull the old wire out through the dash hole until you reach the new wire that you attached with the tape.
  • Remove the tape (This was the hardest part! I was terrified of losing the wire deep in the dash and used a lot of duct tape to secure it.). Plug the new antenna wire into the radio.
  • Feed the new antenna up through the antenna hole, orient the new antenna base, and tighten the nut.
  • Re-install the headlight assembly and grill.
  • Enjoy radio reception!