Vanagon Sunset

Vanagon Sunset

Friday, January 27, 2017

Subaru Conversion Complete... mostly

I had high hopes of blogging my way through the process of this conversion, but I got so wrapped up in it, I didn't have time to write down a word.  So, I'm doing my best to jot down a quick re-cap on the last 3 weeks of my efforts.

Here's the project in a nutshell:
1982 Diesel Vanagon "Ferdinand" converted to a 2001 Subaru Engine:

Ferdinand the Van
It took me a total of 23 days from start to finish (granted I'm not exactly done), but I took about 3 days off in the process.  I'm a merchant mariner and am home usually for 30-40 days straight and can commit to full days on projects like this.  I don't recommend doing it this way because you'll get burnt out, but I managed to knock it out in about 145 hours.  It was some long cold and wet days, but I managed to pull it off.  Having a supportive and "understanding" wife is helpful.  She understands the importance of our van in good solid "road trip worthiness" and was all for the project from the beginning.  I pulled some long days under the van, and having a nice bowl of soup or something ready for me when I came in, was amazing to say the least.

I ordered up the motor and most of the parts during my last "at sea" work phase so that they'd be ready for me when I got home.

motor and trans mated up
-The conversion kit came from Rocky Mountain Westy, as well as a new radiator and a few other accoutrements including Schwenk springs which I have not installed yet.

-The wiring harness and motor came from the donor car at the local subaru wreckers and was re-wired by Rocky Mountain.  They did a great job and everything worked the first time.

-The motor (SOHC 2.5) was from a 2001 Subaru Legacy GT was to be "reconditioned" with new head gaskets, timing belt and water pump.  More on that later.

-The transaxle came from a local wrecker who has lots of vanagons and I had it rebuilt and regeared from a local trans expert who specialized in VW transaxles. I changed 3rd gear to a 1.14 and 4th up to .77.

-The remaining parts of the puzzle came from GoWesty, VanCafe, RSFab (Big Shot Shifter), etc.
Subaru Conversion Kit from RMW

Here's some of the stumbling blocks I encountered along the way.

RAIN!  California had record rainfall this January and since my van doesn't fit in the garage, I was working on the side yard with a small carport that covers only half of the van. I used a large EZ up when possible to keep me dry.

COLD:  When it wasn't raining, we had some 30 degree mornings that slowed my bones a little.  I'm 47 years old and I don't move like I used to, so needless to say, the coldness took its toll. Thank goodness for my propane heater that puts out some serious BTUs.

I didn't originally plan on replacing all of the cooling system, but came to realize that the diesel had smaller diameter coolant lines, which then led to a replacement of the radiator as well.  Since you can't find replacement radiators for diesels too easily, I upgraded to a newer model and had to source the mounts from a newer van and fan shroud and order some new hoses in the process.  I also had to rewire the fan sensor on the radiator. Not difficult, just time consuming.

Getting the harness in was pretty easy, although getting tucked and placed properly took little time and patience.  I just had to solder a few wires, run a few others and connect a few things here and there.  Super concise instructions from Rocky Mountain Westy and it all went pretty smoothly. They had awesome turnaround on the harness by getting it back to me in about 2-3 weeks.

My shift linkage would not work with the new trans and so I then had to source a whole linkage set up from a donor and replace all that as well, then replace shift balls on the trans, etc.

figuring out the wiring harness
I opted to use a Bosch starter from a VW TDI Golf and an adapter plate that I purchased from Rocky Mountain.  This starter has more torque and turns the engine over quicker than the stock vanagon starter.  I sourced the starter from a local wrecker with a warranty.

Once the harness was in and the motor/trans were mated, it was time to install.

The install went pretty well.  We busted that out in about 4 hours (3 of us) and it lined up pretty good and solid with only minor mods to the van itself so that the carrier bar would fit nice and perfect on the frame rails.  The rest of the connections took time and a few more parts orders.

Mounted up in the van
fellow Subie-Vanagon friends helping with the install
Once I got everything plumbed with new stainless coolant lines and heater hose I had to get all the electrical connected and secured. Then it was on to shift linkage, accelerator cable, brake booster lines installed and the fuel system to include the evac canister, fuel pump/filter and the tank.  Pretty straightforward, but time consuming work. I also had to locate and source a few sensors because I neglected to get them from the donor car, but pretty easy to find at the local wreckers.

Stainless Steel Coolant lines
Diesel vans don't have typical fuel systems, so I had to install a fuel pump and filter as well as a charcoal evac canister and flush my tank completely (more on that later).

Then I had to add on the RMW exhaust system (extremely sexy parts btw) and get my battery connected up.  I moved the battery from the engine bay to under the back seat.  Pretty simple process, just time consuming.  I plan on adding an auxiliary battery and solar panel later as well.
laying out the exhaust parts

Exhaust Installed

Battery and ECU under the rear bench

Intake/Air Filter
I spent one evening trying to get my shift linkage dialed in with the new Big Shot Shifter from RSFab, but come to find out my shift ball on the trans was shot, so it was back to the web and more parts orders.
Big Shot Shifter from RSFab
bad ball
I also completely disassembled my axles and CV's in the process and ordered new Lobros after realizing mine were shot.  I put on Rockford boots in the process and packed everything with Redline grease.
Realization of everything being toast

New Lobro CVs and Rockford boots ready to go.

After the axles were in and torqued to spec, I had to solder in a resistor to my coolant gauge so that it would read correctly.  I used a 33hm resistor, however I think I might switch to a 22ohm since now it reads a little on the cool side when temps are at normal range.   I didn't add a tachometer, but instead ordered a OBD2 bluetooth dongle and an app for my iPhone that shows all the engine's vitals.  The app (Dashcommand) and the the Bluetooth dongle I'm using is the GoPoint BT1 for Apple and it works great. I just need to get in there and fine tune the readout to that it's pertinent to my needs.  You can also download various other dash layouts from certain cars. I have an old iPhone that I plan to leave in the van for this purpose.
DashCommand App
So, after everything was installed and ready, I filled all my fluids, primed the oil pump and fuel pump, and gave it a few cranks.  Turned over fine, but no fuel delivery.  The fuel pump that I had was used, but working fine when I bench-tested it.  Once I installed it however, it decided to crap out.  So, my friend brought over his spare and we installed in within a few minutes the motor fired right up and purred like a kitten.

We spent about an hour on getting the cooling system bled and then called it a night and everything seemed groovy, no drips or anything.
The next day, when I fired it up, I noticed a small drip of coolant from underneath that progressed throughout the day.
coolant leak coming from the water pump
After a little inspection, we concluded that the water pump was leaking through the weep hole and that the pump had not been replaced as part of the original agreement with the wreckers.
So, then after sulking a little and talking with the wreckers on how to remedy the situation, I decided to continue the rest dialed in until I can replace the water pump. The wreckers offered to do the water pump install for me, but I'm a little hesitant after installing all my custom exhaust around the timing cover.  I'm just afraid that they'll hack it up or something.

So,  I got the van ready to test drive and pulled it out onto the street.  We went for a ride around the block and it seemed to really want to go with plenty of smooth power, until I hit 2nd gear and the motor bogged down. Fuel delivery problems again.

After a little inspection of the pump and filter, I realized that my tank, originally a diesel tank, had some good gunk in the bottom that was now breaking up with the gas that had been sitting in there for a few days at this point.  Even though I rinsed it out the best I could with fresh gas a few weeks ago, the crud wasn't letting loose until the new gas had time to eat away at it.  

So, now I plan on putting in a new tank instead of messing with the old one any longer.  However, I'm scheduled to go back to work in a few days for a 30-40 day hitch and am not going to spend any more time on the van until I return.
We had planned on taking the van down to a Vanagon meet-up in San Francisco this weekend called "Burning Van", but its not ready and we'll be attending the event with some friends in their van instead.

Once I return home and can work out the kinks, "Ferdinand" will be an awesome little runner and weekend adventure vehicle.  For now, he's just a side-yard dust collector with really nice parts underneath. 

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