1973 VW Camper 1.6 Turbodiesel Install

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I have decided to install a VW 1.6 Turbodiesel engine into my '73 Safare Custom Camper. People might ask, "Why?". Well, I have owned my bus since 1988. That's 18 years of merely average fuel economy, poor acceleration, poor heat (when it worked at all), excess noise, poorly designed and/or unavailable replacement parts (dipstick bellows, Dansk heater boxes, thermostat, Solex dual carbs, cylinder heads, etc.) and of course, the never ending oil leaks. It's not that I haven't tried - I have spent seemingly endless amounts of time and money trying to get my engine into top notch condition. A few years ago when I started losing the battle and two new babies were putting a major dent into my free time and money, I basically gave up and just drove my bus until the oil leaks got bad enough that I had to park it. To it's credit, the motor kept chugging along for quite some time.

Don't think because of this that I dislike my bus - far from it. I long to relive the happy times I had in my bus, camping all over the US and Canada. I'd like to take my family along and share the uniquely VW experience of exploring the countryside in our own self-contained, economical rolling hotel room. I did realize that in order for this dream to come true, major work was going to be required and I decided that I couldn't even begin to get started until my youngest daughter was one year old. I used the many months spent babysitting to make plans for getting my bus roadworthy again. The easiest way probably would have been to order a rebuilt engine from AVP which would have run, all told, about $2,000, but... about two years ago I bought a 1991 Mercedes 300D (2.5L Turbodiesel) as a daily driver and have been running it on a waste vegetable oil blend. Soon afterwards, the price of fuel shot up to $3/gallon and I was grinning from ear to ear watching my fuel gauge go up for free while people were paying $80 to fill up their Suburbans. I thought of how wonderful it would be to have such an engine in my bus and after doing some research, I decided that I would give it a try using a VW 1.6 diesel or turbodiesel engine. The benefits would include a major increase in fuel economy (people with diesel Vanagons report 25-30mpg), real heat, better reliability (yes, better reliability) and the ability to run on free fuel. Even with gas back to "only" $2/gallon, it is still a huge savings. A used diesel or turbodiesel engine would run somewhere between $500 and $1,500 and conversion parts would run another $500 or so. Basically, a wash or it could end up being a lot cheaper than staying stock.

Yes, I know that the diesels are watercooled and my bus is aircooled. :-) That is not going to stop me. I know the conversion will not go smoothly. I know it may not achieve stock reliability (unless I do an exceptional job). I realize the difficulty involved with attempting a conversion that few have done and I have thought about it, accepted it and built up considerable determination. I am now at the stage in my life where I believe I have the tools and ability to tackle a project like this and make it succeed. Before anyone asks, I am not going to mount a radiator on the roof, or cut a gigantic hole in my engine hatch, or have an oil pan hanging down 3" off the ground, or any of that other silliness. My goal is for the bus to appear absolutely stock from the outside, and to make only the bare minimum of modifications to the chassis so that it could easily be returned to the stock engine configuration in the future. If I can't accomplish this, I will likely not go through with the conversion. However, I think I can accomplish it.

Julia turned one year on August 22nd 2006 and I have started working on the bus again. I still don't have much time - a couple of hours squeezed in after the kids go to bed, once or twice per week but I am bound and determined to make steady progress towards getting my bus running. So far it has been going roughly according to plan. Below is my running account of the process.

I posted some info on the web here
Relevent portions have been lifted and added to this web page.

2006 July
Bought a conversion kit consisting of all of the Vanagon diesel specific parts. Bellhousing, oil pan, flywheel, etc.. Plan was to use all stock VW parts, if possible, for maximum reliability and availability.

2006 August 17
Bought an '85 Quantum diesel. The car is a basket case but the engine (turbo) appears to be good. After driving it around the block a few times, I was pleasantly suprised at how much torque it had right off idle and how mild the turbo lag was. I can detect the lag, but it's more like a gentle buildup of power as the revs increase rather than "nothing" under 2500rpm followed by a strong surge in power. The character of it is more akin to a small variable-valve-timing gas engine, with the rpm scaled down of course. Not unpleasant to drive at all. The tach isn't working but the engine seems to run out of steam a little early, maybe 4000rpm. I hooked up a boost gauge and took another spin. The gauge shows around 9psi when floored and over 2500rpm. Sometimes only 8-8.5psi. Hard to tell exactly because the needle is bouncing around a little bit. Floored it in 5th at 35mph and saw about 3psi before I ran out of road. Definitely does not make the boost at lower RPMs.

2006 September 04

Finished prepping the garage today. It was a big job because the garage was full of crap. If I had started the engine swap with a garage full of crap, I would have been hopelessly tripping over crap the entire time, which would have driven me crazy. It will be bad enough what with pulling two motors, cleaning everything and trying to match up/fabricate parts. There is enough room now that I can walk completely around the bus plus a large staging area behind the bus where I can assemble, weld, etc.. The workbench is clean and although there is not a spare inch of shelf space anywhere, everything is put away and clean.

The bus hadn't been started in a few months. I had to bring in a second battery because it took a lot of cranking before it caught. But when it finally caught, it settled down to a nice smooth idle and I had my first twang of guilt for thinking of removing this fine air-cooled powerplant. I decided to take it for one last spin around the block. Chokes were inoperative and even in summertime it wheezed and stumbled at part throttle when cold. By the time I was coming back down our street it had warmed up and was accelerating smoothly. Then I noticed some smoke wafting up from the vents and as I backed the bus into the garage, saw the trail of oil droplets following me in. I quickly tossed some pieces of cardboard under the bus as I have done hundreds of times before and just like that all of the guilt was gone.

2006 September 09
I went to the swap meet this morning and picked up a radiator that I think will be perfect. The guy said it was from a scirocco. It's solid brass/copper with no built-in radiator cap (good because I have to put in an external one anyway). It's 23"x13" which is pretty much the EXACT size I was looking for. If I just trim/bend the brackets slightly it will stand straight up and require only a small amount of weatherstripping to seal it against the side of the engine compartment. Here is approximately where it will be positioned:

Started stripping the old engine. Carbs, manifolds, A/C compressor, bracketry, exhaust, rear tin, alternator, fan, fan housing.

2006 September 16

Got the old 2-liter air-cooled motor out of the bus - it's probably the oiliest engine I have ever worked on, which is embarassing but jeez, trying to stop oil leaks on that engine is like swimming up a waterfall. I will be glad to be done with that. It did go a total of 113,872 miles since I rebuilt it back in December of 1995 (I added Mark Stephens stage 1 heads ~1998, ~70K miles ago).

Got out the tape measure - there is about 24" between the rear edge of the bus bellhousing and the rear of the engine compartment. I measured the length of the Quantum TD engine and it is only about 19" from the back of the block to the outer edge of the crank pulley. This is great news - I am going to have 5" or more of space at the rear of the engine which will make it very easy to work on.

More pontificating. The Vanagon diesel bellhousing just isn't going to work. I need five inches of clearance above the top of the transaxle for the top-mounted starter and there ain't anywhere near that much. I would have to cut far into the frame member that supports the bellhousing AND lower the entire motor/tranny assembly another inch or two for it to fit. I don't want to do that. In addition, the vanagon bellhousing HAS NO provisions for mounting so I would have to fab up something custom. I thought about just not having any support at the bellhousing (relying on just the engine mounts and front tranny mount for everything) but I don't think that's enough. The front tranny mount is not as beefy as the one on the Vanagon and I don't trust it to hold that much weight.

Fortunately there is KEP. I called and Mr. Kennedy himself answered the phone. Real nice guy and knows his stuff. I am going to order the conversion kit with the 228mm flywheel. This will require me to buy a new starter and clutch kit but it will solve the bellhousing mount and starter problem (it uses the stock bellhousing and starter location). It also solves my clutch cable problem and I will get a stronger clutch. The KEP adapter plate is drilled for three orientations which will give me some flexibility, though I am pretty much sold on the 50-degree orientation. I have found an 091 bellhousing (more-or-less required for the 228mm clutch).

The stock "moustache bar" engine carrier looks like it can easily be redrilled and moved forward as far as I like. Hopefully it won't be too difficult to adapt the Quantum mounts to the bar. If I do that, I will be reselling almost everything I bought in that conversion kit! Only things I'll be using are the 50-degree oil pan, oil filler tube and oil pickup. I won't need the Vanagon diesel bellhousing, flywheel and engine mounting bars. Oh well, if it works it will be worth it.

Kennedy has thought about the transaxle input shaft length issue. He said the bus input shaft will actually bottom out in the rabbit engine and that they include instructions for cutting off about 3/4" of the bus input shaft to make it work. I'm not scared of this because I have an angle grinder and an extra 002 input shaft in my parts collection. Booyah!

I also have an FI gas tank lined up (has a return line, my '73 tank does not). I will get that in two weeks and swap it out. In the meantime I will be cleaning up the engine compartment and replacing gaskets/timing belt on the 1.6TD engine.

The Scirocco radiator is at the shop being looked over. Still need a kick-ass fan for it, such as a Black Magic or similar. No fans with 18-gauge wiring need apply. I will check out the stock Scirocco fans too, maybe they will be good enough.

I found a guy who can weld aluminum - he says he welds on oil pans for bigrig trucks all the time and can weld a fitting into my pan no problem as long as the fitting is aluminum of course. I think I'm going to buy a male AN-8 fitting and have him weld it into the pan.

2006 October 14

I purchased an 091 bellhousing from a 76-79 bus from a kind member of the Type-2 Mailing List. Here it is cleaned up and ready to be installed.

The bellhousing installed onto the 002 transaxle. Stock single-line fuel tank has been removed. I will be covering the fuel tank compartment with sound deadening material before installing the dual- line, FI tank.

2006 October 15

Pulling the Quantum engine. One of the first things to do was drain the radiator. Looks like it hadn't been done in quite some time. Worked about two hours, biggest problem was the downpipe to turbo junction (rusted fasteners, hard to reach).

2006 October 17

One more hour of work and the Quantum engine came out. Flywheel is 16lbs - pretty massive for a 1.6L but I understand that it's a diesel thing. Same with the starter, it's big. Won't be able to use either with the conversion.

Problem #1: The passenger side motor mount connects to the bottom of the turbo and the oil drain passage is an integral part of it. Not sure how I would be able to reclock the turbo if I use that bracket. Probably would have to make something custom. The turbo is a KKK, by the way.

Problem #2: Water pipe coming out the back of the head extends 2", not including the hose. Clearance for that is going to be tight. The back of the turbo is also going to be close to the firewall which could be a major problem. Won't know for sure until I get it in there. Fortunately, the adapter plate will move the engine back a little which should help.

Problem #3: The accessory brackets. A/C compressor and alternator are on the left side of the engine and would be hanging down pretty low. I'd prefer to move them to the other side of the engine. The crank pulley that connects to the A/C is adjusted with shims! That sucks. There doesn't appear to be any adjustment at all for the water pump belt. That sucks too. I'm starting to think of how nice it would be to have a serpentine setup.

Because of problems #1 and #3, I revisited the possibility of mounting the engine in the 15-degree configuration. I took some measurements and lo and behold, it looks like it wouldn't be hanging down much lower than the stock engine after all. It's only about 9" from the crank centerline to the bottom of the oil pan. The stock engine measures the same, give or take an inch. I will take more precise measurements next time I get out there to work on it.

2006 October 18

I just took some more accurate measurements and was amazed to find that the stock 2-liter aircooled engine was 8.5 inches from the crankshaft centerline to the bottom of the sump while the same measurement on the 1.6TD engine was only 7.5 inches. Yes, I will actually have MORE ground clearance with the 15 degree install than there was with the stock motor! The 50 degree install would have ridiculous amounts of ground clearance but I don't need that. Going with the 15-degree install solves all of the following problems:

... and creates a couple of new ones:

That's likely an improvement overall, as long as the exhaust doesn't interfere too badly with the firewall.

One of the tasks on my to-do list was replacing the valve cover gasket. I bought the whooptie one that is made of rubber with metal inserts. It was six times as expensive as the cork gasket ($12 vs. $2) but in my experience gaskets like this can be re-used many times and do not leak. I found that in order to use this type of gasket, you have to replace the studs in the cylinder head that hold the cover on. The studs were included with the gasket kit but it took me an extra half-hour to R&R them and I destroyed three of the nuts in the process (by overtightening them). No big deal, they are available at Elliott's Hardware, a really good hardware store with old-fashioned personal service. It's what Tru-Value used to be like before the big-box home improvement stores took over. Anyway, while I had the valve cover off I cleaned it up, primered it and painted it Ford blue. I'm still a Ford guy at heart.

2006 October 20

Not much progress. I took off the EGR assembly, thinking I would block off the two ports, simplify the engine and perhaps keep a bit less sludge from accumulating in the turbo. After I removed it, I started having second thoughts - after all, diesels do not have to pass an emissions test so why did VW add egr? Perhaps it really does help the engine in some way. I need to google "egr diesel" and try to understand. If it ends up being beneficial, I will reinstall it.

I also removed the alternator/AC-compressor assembly. It was suprisingly heavy at 46 lbs including the bracket. I had thoughts of leaving it on, but a few things convinced me to remove it, at least temporarily. For starters, the alternator was not working. The AC compressor was working, but the pulley has a bunch of lateral play so I think the bearing is probably on its way out. Also it is the older piston-style compressor which is inefficient. I'd rather use the Sanden compressor that I had on the type IV engine. It will also be a lot easier to install the engine with 46lbs less hanging off of the front of it.

I jumped at the chance to buy the Quantum TD because the guys installing these engines into Vanagons all said that the Quantum setup fit much better, and they are relatively rare. I am finding out that the Quantum setup (specifically, the exhaust manifold) does NOT work so well on a breadloaf bus in the 15-degree configuration. After some more accurate measurements, it has become obvious that the turbo will interfere badly with the firewall and there is not much I can do about it. The only solutions are to go back to the 50- degree configuration, or somehow modify the exhaust manifold, or use a different one. I started looking online and found some great information at Martin Jaegersand's web site. It looks like the Jetta TD exhaust manifold mounts the turbo farther back, away from the firewall. I found one on E-bay and bought it but I will likely have to wait a couple of weeks for it to get here. I will still have to reclock the turbo but there will be no interference with the exhaust manifold from doing this and if I get lucky, I will get the oil supply and return lines along with the manifold for a nice clean install. The only question will be the driver's side motor mount, which will need some additional support.

2006 November 09

I went out last night and tried to swap input shafts in my tranny. The one I was going to put in is too short. I bet it is for a type1 tranny. I will have to cut the stock input shaft instead - no big deal but I wasted a new bellhousing gasket and another hour of precious work time. I also got a FI gas tank (with return line, which I need) from a good friend but when I looked closely at it, it has serious rust inside. Bad enough that even if I could seal it up, I wouldn't feel comfortable doing so (with my luck, a piece would come loose and clog the tank outlet in the middle of Hwy 50, or a back road in Yellowstone, or...). I discussed this problem with another mechanically-inclined friend. I had thought about teeing into one of the vent lines, but we decided that I could end up pumping a bunch of fuel out onto the ground if the other vent was blocked (which could happen if the tank is full and I drove around a corner, for instance). My friend suggested teeing into the filler pipe. After discussing it a while, he convinced me that it was a workable solution. My initial thought is to tee in just above where the large hose goes over the end of the filler tube. I think I will just push the hose back a little and drill the hole there, on the side. That way, if something goes wrong and I have leaks, I can always just slide the hose back up over the hole and clamp it - end of problem. Unless I think of something better, I'm going to drill/tap it for 1/8" NPT and just thread in a barbed fitting. The really nice part about this is that I can access this area through the round black cover on the right side of the engine compartment. No need to remove the fuel tank cover. My original fuel tank is shiny-clean inside so I will be reinstalling it as soon as I'm done writing this. I insulated the firewall and fuel tank compartment cover with self-adhesive sound-deadening material from Home Depot. It is a product for sealing rain gutters and comes in a roll that is 6" wide and 25 feet long for about $14. This stuff is half the price of "real" sound-deadening products like Q-Pads (which I also have some of in my bus) and also has the aluminized coating on one side. It is not as thick as a Q-pad but I still think it will be a significant improvement.

2006 December 04

With the onslaught of cold weather and lack of critical parts at hand, it has been tough to muster up the energy to go outside and work on the bus. I reinstalled the old stock tank a couple of weeks ago and bought the parts I needed to tap the filler pipe for the return line. Then, I found another FI gas tank on TheSamba. It was in Nebraska, and the seller said he couldn't ship it UPS or USPS, but he was able to wrap it up and put it on a Greyhound bus! I have never used Greyhound before, but it worked out very well, thanks to the efforts of the seller. I picked it up at a Greyhound station about a mile away from where I work. Today I unwrapped the tank and took a close look at it. There was dust and a bit of rust inside, but overall the tank was in very good shape. I blew it out with compressed air, removed the original tank (again) and installed the FI tank. One interesting thing - the sender from the '73 is not the same as the sender from the FI tank (he said it was from a '75). The tank was also slightly different where the sender sits. The notches in the FI tank are larger and the parts of the sender that fit into the notches are larger on the FI sender. As a result, I could install the '73 sender into the '75 tank, but I couldn't install the '75 sender in my '73 tank. I would have to file the '75 sender down, or file the notches in the tank out to a larger size for it to work. There was also some question as to which way the sender was supposed to install. There were no baffles in the '73 tank but there was a baffle on the passenger side of the '75 tank that looked like it was made for the sender's float. I forgot about this and installed the sender with the lugs pointing backward (for easy wire connection with the tank in place) which put the float on the drivers side. I hope it doesn't matter, but if it does I am pretty sure I can loosen the sender and swivel it into place without removing the tank.

Since the last update I installed a new timing belt, new water pump belt and also a new oil pan gasket (the old one was very hard and difficult to remove - original maybe?). While I was at it, I painted the oil pan (black) and installed a new rear main seal on the crankshaft. When I got the oil pan off, I noticed that the area around the oil plug had been pushed in, presumably from the previous owner hitting the oil pan on a curb or rock. I pounded it back out from the inside with a mini-sledge (that pan is suprisingly tough!) to approximate its original shape. Next tasks are to fit the adapter to the engine, install the flywheel and clutch and fasten a thick board to the engine mounts so I can move the engine around on a jack in preparation for initial fitting to the transaxle. Still no Jetta exhaust manifold - I have been getting the runaround from the Ebay guy and I've pretty much given up on it. Another guy agreed to sell one to me for what I consider a large sum of money and two weeks later I still can't get him to close the deal. I need to buy new exhaust manifold gaskets, but with no manifold, what's the rush? :-( I am now more than a month behind my original schedule, but I didn't really think I would be able to hold to it anyway. First drive is now looking more like Feb-March 2007.

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