Troubleshooting “Space Age” Electronics

On the last few test drives the blinkers had begun blinking very fast. On many cars, even today, which use a thermal timer relay this would mean a bulb was burned out. The bus, however, uses a resistive/capactive timer circuit that’s relatively immune to such load changes. I opened up the ‘black box’ hazard/blinker control module and even though it only consists of a few relays, a pair of germanium transistors*, and a handful of discrete parts it’s by far the most sophisticated electronic part in the bus; actually it’s the only electronic part if no radio was installed.

*This was roughly the time frame when people discovered that silicon was nearly as good of a semiconductor but far cheaper and easier to work with.

Troubleshooting “Space Age” electronics like this is basically the same as troubleshooting modern electronics:
#1 – Replace any/all electrolytic capacitors.
#2 – If it doesn’t’ work, throw it away unless it’s really valuable and further in-depth analysis can be justified.
This repair was no different, though I had to guess at the values since the capacitor code/markings were non-standard and only decipherable to electrical engineers of 1960’s Germany. With new capacitors its back to blinking at a good rate for both blinkers and the hazard signal.

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The clock also needed attention as it stopped a while back. Once I opened it up I found that everything appeared to be OK. I poked the rewind contacts with a pin while the clock was powered on and there was a small spark followed by a successful rewind; meaning the contacts were just dirty. After cleaning the contacts it successfully went through it’s usual automatic cycling. It’s a ‘normal’ old-fashioned wind-up clock in every way except that there’s a solenoid on a crank to rewind it and when the spring unwinds electrical contacts come together to energize the solenoid and rewind itself. Because it always has battery power available, the spring only lasts a minute or so before it cycles again.

Also, not pictured, I finished fabricating the passenger seat frame and added tabs to the seat mount. The seat pads arrived for both front seats; all seats are now complete and ready for covering in the spare vinyl that I have set aside.

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VW Bus Adjustable Front Beam

During the original bus rebuild I had ‘flipped’ the front spindles to lower it some. Stock height on buses was alarmingly high, lowering allowed for better handling and gave the possibility of the bus fitting in the garage with a roof rack. The spindle flip, however, lowers by a fixed 4-5″; just low enough that the front wheels would rub the wheel wells during bumps or heavy braking/cornering. Cornering was particularly exciting since the outside wheel would rub, slowing down that wheel with the tendency to make the turn tighter – or “positive feedback” for those of us that are into control systems (not a good thing).

To remedy this, a way was needed to raise the front back up an inch or two. Old VW’s use a very unique front suspension design with two sets of torsion leaf springs inside of a beam with two tubes. The leaf spring packs are held fixed in the center of each tube and are capped at both ends with the four trailing arms. Minor raising and lowering can be accomplished by changing the angle the springs are held at the fixed center point. The center spring holder is held by divots crimped into the tube which engage with holes in the spring holder; these divots were drilled out which freed the holder. Toothed sections were then welded to the tubes; when the center is bolted in place a nut is tightened against a toothed plate that engages the teeth, holding the torsion spring pack at the new angle.

Lots of things had to be disconnected and then reconnected to get the beam in/out. This made it a greasy, awkward, and tedious job but overall it went well. The only hiccup was that after the beam was re-installed the shift linkage interfered with the adjuster bolts, though I had read this could happen. To solve this problem I welded a chunk of plate steel to the bottom of the linkage to hold the geometry and then ground out a strategic section of the linkage tube. The plate is as strong or stronger than the tube, and it’s in just the right spot to clear everything above/below it. After everything was back together the bus is level and no longer rubs the front wheels!

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Reduction Box Rebuild

This weekend I finished rebuilding the reduction boxes. Luckily I was able to do this with engine/transmission still installed. It’s a relatively simple process overall, but because most of the parts involved are press fit I had to get creative and make/modify various pulling/holding tools. The old bearings didn’t have any signs of complete failure (yet) but most did have rust pitting and a few had a fair amount of excess play. Driving the bus after the swap is a night/day difference in noise. Its still loud, but now that a major noise source has been eliminated it’s just a matter of tracking down all the miscellaneous body air leaks and other minor noise sources.

Also, I finally found a passenger front lower seat section – these are hard to find since they’re specific to the ‘walk-through’ option, especially since I already had the top part and didn’t want to buy the whole thing. The one I found only included the springs without the seat frame itself, but the frame seems easy enough to fabricate and I’ve started on this using scrap metal from the incorrect (vanagon?) seats that came with the bus when I got it.

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Bus back together

This weekend the transmission arrived and I got everything back together. While waiting on the transmission I completed a few miscellaneous things:

  • Replace bearings in the dynamo/generator (it’s not an alternator like in ‘modern’ cars)
  • Fabricated replacement clutch cable, including making a new end link on the lathe. The end links were then crimped onto the cable with the 12 ton hydraulic press and soldered in place, so they shouldn’t be going anywhere.The clutch cable had partially broken and was stretching with each press, causing the clutch not to disengage all the way. This is what took the bus out of commission in December. Since it was still connected at both ends and not completely loose it seemed OK until I removed the pedal pan and saw many broken wires.
  • Fabricated the special barrel nuts needed to connect the heater control cables to the exhaust heater boxes.

The test drive went very well, it’s noticeably smoother but noise levels are still quite high inside. Part of the noise level is a minor exhaust leak that I’m tracking down, but the new smoothness also allowed me to notice for the first time that a majority of the noise is from the axle reduction boxes. This was confirmed by carefully running in 2nd gear with the back wheels on jack stands – the bearing rumble then became even more noticeable. Replacement bearings are on the way and I should be able to swap them out with the engine/transmission still in place.

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Bus Engine Rebuild – Part 2

This weekend I started putting the engine back together, and I’ve decided to replace a number of parts:

  • Camshaft – A few of the lobes were worn down, limiting valve lift. Replaced with a very mildly modified cam that will provide more power to go along with the new higher transmission ratios.
  • Lifters – Lifters had worn slightly concave rather than the correct slightly convex.
  • Connecting Rods – All rods weighed the same but were not balanced end-to-end and there was not enough material left to grind off and correct the problem.
  • Bearings – The bearings were OK but it’s easy enough to replace these while the case is open.
  • Pushrod Tubes – These could have been reused but were a little beat up and now is an easy time to replace, ensuring no leaks.
  • Oil Cooler – The old cooler was made in 1971, no telling how much build-up there was inside preventing heat transfer. Replaced with a larger cooler from a later engine style.

It’s mostly reassembled now, including shimming the crank/flywheel for proper end play and verifying with a dial indicator to 0.001″ (end play is critical on aircooled VW’s). I also modified the fan shroud to accept the bigger oil cooler and also re-built the thermostat. The thermostat is a sealed copper accordion that expands when heated. For some reason mine had expanded permanently; these are no longer made and becoming increasingly rare, so I had to fix it. Luckily I was able to find information about others who have had the same problem and I was able to fix it in the same way; the fix consisted of unsoldering the end plate, compressing the accordion, dropping in a bit of rubbing alcohol, and resoldering the plate before it had a chance to evaporate. The thermostat is now completely contracted at room temp and begins to expand around 80°C, allowing it to push on a linkage that opens cooling flaps in the fan shroud.

The new bearings are “structurally guaranted[sic]”, hopefully that’s just a typo and not a clever way to dodge claims – “they weren’t guaranteed, they were guaranted

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Bus Engine Rebuild

A slight change of direction with the transmission rebuild. I was looking forward to going through the transmission and readjusting everything to make it work again, but to get more speed I would have needed to swap out the ring/pinion gear as well as 4th gear. The cost for these gears separately was not too much different from the cost of a rebuilt transmission that included these gears. Because of this, there’s a rebuilt transmission on the way that already has the ‘correct’ gearing. Since this is a hobby I normally don’t think about time too much, but this also buys me a lot of time that gives me a chance to instead go through the engine while I’m waiting for the transmission to arrive.

I started going though the engine this weekend. There wasn’t anything necessarily ‘wrong’ with it, but it was put together somewhat hurriedly prior to having the bus at the wedding; I’ve since had a chance to second-guess a few things I did, especially with balance. I stripped it down to the case and this time gave it thin coat of black paint; heat has been an ongoing issue and changing the color to flat black will actually improve heat dissipation slightly. Overall everything looked good, bearing wear looked normal.

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VW Bus Transmission – The Sequel

This weekend I finally pulled the engine and transmission from the bus – each time I’ve done this I’m amazed at how few connections there are and how relatively quickly it goes. The goals for this effort are to figure out what happened that caused the breakdown last year as well as fix the problems that had been occurring since the original ‘rebuild’ (more of a clean and reseal). These problems included:

  • Immediate pop out of 1st gear and inability to hold in gear. This effectively meant no 1st gear, requiring always starting in 2nd gear.
  • 4th gear popped out under load, but could be held in place by a bungee cord. This worked, but is a really inconvenient way to drive and would eventually cause excess wear on the shift forks and slide gears.
  • Gear oil leaking from center. This should be an easy fix, I didn’t originally realize the paper gaskets used for  the reseal were not treated; using gasket sealer this time should solve this problem.
  • Too slow. Currently the bus red-lines in 4th gear somewhere in the low-to-mid 60MPH range, which mostly rules out interstate travel. More flexibility to do longer trips and even to more easily run errands locally would be nice to have. The engine is a little bigger than stock and should be able to handle the higher load, but gearing changes will be needed to get the RPM’s down.

I started disassembly and found that the internals seem to be in incredibly good shape, the teeth show little or no wear even looking under a microscope. All the gear ratios match what would be expected for a ’67 bus except 4th – for some reason it has a 0.88 ratio rather than the 0.82 ratio that would be expected. The 0.88 4th gear would be consistent with a beetle transmission, so I think this information combined with the amazing internal condition tells me that the transmission was replaced with a new or re-manufactured beetle transmission (while keeping the bus axles and reduction boxes) at some point very late in the bus’s history. The top speed would have dropped dramatically after this change and perhaps this contributed to it being parked semi-permanently in the early 80’s.

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Atlas/Craftsman Lathe Reversing Switch – Finished

Tonight I finished up the lathe reversing switch linkage by stamping and painting the cover plate and making a knurled knob that roughly matches the others on the lathe. The lathe allowed the inside diameter of the knob to be bored precisely enough to get a good interference fit on the shaft – no need for any fasteners.

Lathe Reversing Switch Handle Lathe Reversing Switch Handle Lathe Reversing Switch Handle Lathe Reversing Switch Handle

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Atlas/Craftsman Lathe Reversing Switch

Originally the Atlas/Craftsman lathes spun in only one direction; because of this they came with only an On/Off switch integrated into the lathe’s headstock. At some point in my lathe’s past the On/Off switch was removed and a reversing ‘drum switch’ added. The drum switch gives the flexibility to spin either directions for special uses (cutting metric threads, power tapping, etc) however it’s it’s too big to fit in the lathe’s headstock.

The previous owner had the switch mounted on a wooden arm extending up from the lathe’s workbench; re-using this idea would work but since I’ve moved the lathe to the shop countertop the arm would need to be rebuilt and I also don’t like the aesthetics or the need to reach over the spinning work to turn it on/off. Another option would have been to mount the switch under the lathe base, however for the carriage to clear the switch would require raising the lathe – it was already at a good working height and raising would effect stability/rigidity as well as being susceptible to dripping oil. Lastly, it could have been mounted just anywhere on the ‘outside’ of the lathe (on a guard door, past the tailstock, etc) – none of these locations seemed great and overall this just seemed like giving up.

So what I ended up doing over the past few nights was locating the switch in the only volume of space just big enough for it, under the motor. This location has the added benefit of making the wiring short and simple. As-is, this is of course very inconvenient, but I chose it with creating a linkage in mind. The addition of the linkage allows the original On/Off switch hole to be utilized (previously this was just an open hole), puts the control in a convenient place, and makes it look like it was designed this way. The linkage was a challenge and took a few iterations to get right. It consists of a 1/2″ OD steel tube that runs through the headstock, supported by two metal plates I fabricated. At the end of the tube I welded on a nut to accept a bolt that bolts on another arm I fabricated. The arm has a bolt welded through it that engages with a slotted lever welded to the drum switch’s lever. The resulting contraption actually works very smoothly: pushing IN runs the spindle forward, pulling OUT runs it reverse, and returning to center is Off. All that’s left to do is create a matching knob and mark/paint the switch plate.

Reverse Forward Off

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Atlas/Craftsman Lathe Carriage Hand Wheel Fix

The hand wheel for the carriage (longitudinal/Z axis) of the lathe had a bit more up/down slop than I liked. To remedy this I used the lathe to fix itself. First the ‘apron’ (front plate) was removed from the carriage and mounted in the milling attachment, the smallest boring bar that came with the lathe was used to widen and true to the hand wheel hole. Similarly, I skimmed the surface of the hand wheel shaft to ensure it was perfectly round. With the larger apron hole and slightly smaller shaft I was able to create and fit a brass bushing to take up the space between. The outside diameter is a press fit into the apron and the ID has about 0.002″ of clearance to allow it to turn but without the slop previously seen. I only took pictures of the first step, I’ll take more for future lathe projects.

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