Practicality of Commitment in an Ever Changing Hobby

Lately I have been looking around. Letting my eyes stray away from VWs. Yes it’s true, I have been looking elsewhere. Why? Because there is a question of practicality that comes into play at some point.


My bus closer to when I first bought it.


My bus today.

If you look at The Samba and Craigslist on a regular basis like I do, lately you have been seeing the landscape changing. The split bus has now escalated in price to the point where it’s pre resto cost for a “core” bus is right up there with many a muscle cars. Bay windows aren’t quite there yet but single and double cab versions are scarce and costly and that’s for rusty examples with many issues. When I got my bay it was pretty cheap. However, when you factor in all of the work i’ve done is it? I’ve rebuilt the entire drive train minus the trans, which needs rebuilt. A partial rewire, new engine, complete new beam with all new everything and the entire braking system. Plus it had some chevy seats in it and the walk through was cut up when I got it. It took a donor bus, $6500 and hundreds of hours of work to get it where it is today.  All this and it still needs lots of body work and extensive rust repair, interior and various other seals and parts to make it whole again.  I really like it and it’s fun to take to shows, as long as they aren’t too far away. It’s great for runs to home depot as the roof rack makes for a long hauling space.

So that being said, I’ve been looking at 1998 through 2001 Porsche 911. It seems to be priced right for what you can get. It goes fast and has A/C, cruise and all of the modern amenities that the air cooled VWs will never have. Sorry sweetheart (air cooled vw) I have feelings for your sister, Porsche. We need to spend some time apart….


Update: I sold the bus to a friend who loves it more than me. I lost money on it but it went to the right guy who took it in and then straight to the body shop. I’ll post a photo here when I see it next.

Warm up and cylinder wear.

It’s no secret that I like thermostats. Early on in my auto hobby, I thought it was a good idea to run a my motors as cool as possible. This is so wrong I can’t even stress how much damage it does. I could never understand why I couldn’t keep my oil clean.

Metallurgy is a funny thing. It’s amazing how much engineering and science goes into the process of casting / forging of engine parts. It’s with this understanding of the expansion and retraction of metal at different temperatures that I came to understand the correct way to run an engine. For example, take the imports and newer cars of today. Emission standards and the desire by the consumer market have driven engineering to make engine that run cleaner and last longer. Take a Honda for instance. I have one as a daily driver. Some folks may frown upon this but take note; when my girl bought this car (it’s a Civic). It had the highest percentage of domestic made parts and assembly than any other car in it’s class and price range. Anyhow, getting back to the subject of temp. If you ever worked on or spent any time around one of this small fuel miser compacts, you will note that the fan comes on like ever 40 seconds when it’s at temperature. The point is, it’s so important to keep the engine right at the correct temp. It’s also why it has a tiny radiator and warms up so quick. The idea here is that it run most efficiently at operating temperature so they want it there asap.


usually missing

So let’s look at the VW type one without a thermostat. You hit the key and start it. Right away the fan is spinning. It’s cooling the top of the cylinders, even though they aren’t even warm yet. Meanwhile the bottoms are getting hot but, slower than they should as the heat is finding its way to cooler metal. So eventually the engine gets hot, but not evenly. This wears the shit out of your cylinders. I learned a lot of this from experience and also from Bob Hoover. Take a look at some of the writings he did before he died a while back. So what you end up with is an oval shaped cylinder, improper ring seating and blow-by. Wondering why your oil is coal black in 500 miles? That’s why. Shooting oil out of your breather when you get into the high revs? Blow-by due to a worn out set of rings probably early since they have been running at the wrong temp their whole short life. Plus, if you have working heater boxes in your car, the thermostat really makes a difference in windshield defrost. This is because the fast idle caused by the choke warms up the exhaust first. The thermostat is keeping the flaps closed and all of that fan air pressure is blowing that first bit of engine heat that’s building in the exhaust (heater boxes) up to you and your windshield. Yay!


what is that thing?

Also, take into account that most VWs of today aren’t running the oil bath air cleaner. It had 2 tools built into it that help heat up more quickly; The stove pipe that scoops air from under 2 cylinder and feeds it up into the air cleaner. The 2nd part is the thermostatically controlled flap that keeps the air coming in from the stove pipe until it warms up enough and lets the flap open. Then cold air in from the “snout” of the cleaner is fed to the engine. These very in style depending on which kind of air cleaner you have. Most people don’t understand what they do and how important they are. When I was young I admit that I to replaced a few of the stock air cleaners with the “cool” chrome one. Not only does this kill your warm routine, but it also hurts performance. People will argue with this fact because they see a gain when they add it. The truth is, NOBODY ever serviced the oil bath cleaner so it’s so gummed up, it’s not working well. What the original air cleaner has is a big velocity stack built into it. This helps flow to the carb venturi. Turn one over, you’ll see. Now clean the filthy oil off of your shoe :) Try and find a wax filled thermo switch (see picture) that works. I have 2 of them, they both work (for now) and I have about $150 in the 2 of them. Some oil bath air cleaner units had the warm up flap that runs off a cable connected to the fan flaps. This is probably an easier setup to find and get working these days.

This brings us to dividing point. The true artisan, the guy who will find a way to clean and service the oil bath and restore it’s function. Or the latter, some guy who just slaps a chrome one on la la la down the road.


Harder to find then the loch ness monster.

Another big problem that is so seldom addressed is manifold heat. VW themselves makes the riser run through the intake and gets it hot. On aftermarket headers the heat riser just pops right out of the exhaust on the outside of number 2 and 4 cylinders. The factory had the heat riser coming out of the number 2 cylinder and then snakes down and around and goes in the muffler right near the exhaust pipe. The factory setup uses the “push” from number 2 cylinder and the “draw” of the exit point that’s right by the tailpipe to cause a steady stream of hot air through that riser. The aftermarket setup just pulses it back and forth. The aftermarket setup provides way less heat if any at all.

Fuel only burns when it’s in vapor form. So if the intake has frost  all over it and the risers aren’t too hot to touch, you’ll never be as efficient as you could be. The fuel puddles and the motor sputters sporadically and smokes. The absolute most common setup you see at shows is a really rich “wack” carb adjustment that allows a car to run ok (crappy) because it has no heat riser / plugged up heat riser or the poorly designed aftermarket 2/4 push pull attachment points.

I’ve learned the hard way that a really slow and steady idle CAN”T be achieved without decent intake heat unless you have dual carbs. The aftermarket still only offers the “pulse” setup on most exhausts. They will never change because the jigs for these systems were made a zillion years ago and that’s not going to change. It’s up to you to modify them if you really want it to work right.

So many people run duals these days that it often doesn’t matter as much as it used too. If you want to run a progressive or other center mount carb you need a lot of manifold heat. actually offers the service of altering the heat riser if you want to run a progressive. They also offer an intake that has heat all the way up to the carb base. A lot of folks think that running a center mount Weber progressive is a crap setup. In all truthfulness it is one of the toughest carbs to get to work completely right. When properly setup, it is the best performing single center mount carb available. The one only issue with the weber setup is the inability to run the stock air clearer and therefore not have the benefits of the warm up. However, if you don’t run the car in cold temps and have decent intake heat, you still will get a pretty decent running vehicle.




The great distributor debate

It’s been hard lessons learned lately (that’s a lot of Ls). I think classic VWs are on the verge of becoming a “real classic”. By that I mean we are getting to the point where parts availability is become enough of a problem that these cars are actually starting to feel rare.

I have been hoarding German carbs for like 2 years now. Only to find out lately that they aren’t the best piece for the job. It’s also become painfully aware to me that the real problem at the bottom of many tuning issues is actually distributor performance.


The submissive distributor!

What I have discovered is that German carbs are typically worn, have throttle shaft slop and are almost never friendly with the distributors that are “around” today. Most of the late German carbs had deceleration valves which are now missing. They also hate ethanol fuel and need dual vacuum distributor to run worth a damn. When shopping for a new distributor you don’t have a lot of options. You can get an old 009 (good for some applications). A piece of shit new China 009 (garbage). There are also a bunch of fairly decent SVDA reproduction distributors available. I have been running a Pertronix brand SVDA that I bought from . I also opted for the “igniter” eletronic points conversion when I bought it. Lastly there is the Mallory Unilite. I really like the idea that this is new, parts are available and it;s TOTALLY customizable. I mean totally. Supposedly, you can even setup the vacuum advance to your own liking. It’s pricy, but this is the next one for me.

When timing the car, the distributor (the Pertronix), worked like it should and had a decent advance. However, no matter what carb I tried (one of the 8 German pict34-3) I tried, I could never get a great combo of nice idle, good take off, no stalling. Here is what I found out.


Viva Mexico!

Some of the carbs previous owners had cranked the idle jet too tight. If you have ever had one of these, you know it by the need to “crack” open the idle jet a little in order for it to idle. Fine if you want an erratic idle and rich running engine. Others were worn out enough that the idle was all over the place. I tried 2 different ones that originally had a decel valve. These ones would work ok, but always would stall coming off of higher RPMS. Like for instance, get off the Interstate ramp and it doesn’t want to idle without hitting the pedal twice. After exhausting my entire supply of carbs and about to give up, I tried a Bocar brand carb that I had on the self and had been neglecting. Why was it last try? The reason is because I fell into that “they don’t work for shit hear-say” trap. The Bocar is the clear winner. Why you ask? There are number of reasons;

  • They are new, haven’t been f%$ked up by every guy on the block
  • The were designed without any emission standards so they have no decel stuff. While they were designed to work with a DVDA dist, they work really well with the retard port (big one on the front) closed off and a SVDA dist.
  • I think they have a stronger vacuum signal. I’m not positive of this because I don’t have the correct tool to measure. However, you get more total advance with the Bocar than with 3 different German PICT 34-3s that I tried even thought they were hooked to the same port.

The combo of the Pertonix and the Bocar make the best power, no flat spot, really nice steady idle with no stalling. It’s made in Mexico not China. Only problem I see is that it’s starting to get scarce. Already the few I see for sale are up to $200+. I haven’t taken it on the highway yet but, i’m guessing it will be pretty nice as it’s timed at 7.5 at idle and goes all the way up to about 33 at 3000 RPM.

There are other winning combos as well. The 30/31 carb works well with a vacuum only distributor such as a 113 905 205 T. The 30/31 also works well with the 009 if everything is setup correctly.

The moral of the story, you better go get a Bocar while you still can. At $200 for the carb and $200 for the distributor (price estimate includes electronic) it’s not cheap. A couple more years and your only option might be a set of small duals and a Mallory Unilite $400 and $300. Lets hope not!