Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sold! (Long time no post)

I sold my Ghia this summer to a friend of mine who lives in Shanghai. It was a hard decision but we had four vehicles, a new baby, moved to a small town and one of the classic VWs had to go. I decided to keep the Bus because with Dad's Ghia we've still got at least one in the family and the Bus is actually usefull as a mountain bike support vehicle.

However, the Ghia is still in my possession. My Shanghai friend, Philippe, isn't in any rush to ship it over and just got married this summer. He's got time to figure out how/if it's feasible to ship the car to China and if he ultimately can't do it I'll help him re-sell it to someone in the US.

This whole transaction mirrors what's been going on in the US for the last few years: Chinese investors buying our property. Of course, Philippe is actually Taiwanese but I've always thought he was more French/Belgian than even he may wish to admit.

I also hold out hope that eventually I'll be at a point where I could buy it back from him. That, of course, would take some serious negotiating with Reese. We've been pretty poor since the move but our long-term plan shows us actually being able to pay off our debts and start saving money for once.

We've recently moved from Minneapolis to Wells, MN. The goal of the move is primarily for our daughter, Oona, because just about all of Reese's family lives in this small town of 2,500. We're both earning significanly less money but our expenses are, proportionately, even more dramatically reduced. I'm actually self-employed now and I'm able to do that because almost 100% of my income can go toward paying off debt, savings and investments.

Hopefully, one thing we'll be able to "invest" in again will be a blue, '72 Karmann Ghia.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Out of Storage!

I got the Ghia out of storage today and took it for a couple of drives. Started right up and still running like a champ. I cut the wires I was using to hold open the heater flaps and re-adjusted the timing, too.

I learned a little bit more about how to properly set the timing for any VW thanks to my experiences with the bus. Apparently, as long as you're setting the timing to somewhere between 28 and 32 degrees before top dead center at 3000 RPMs you're good. It doesn't matter where your timing is at idle as long as your timing at speed is good.

Before putting it away for the winter I had VW Man fix what I couldn't figure out on my own after installing the new intake manifold: it needed a new fuel pump. When they installed that they also took out my second vacuum line to my distributor which retards the timing at idle. They told me a year ago that part of the distributor wasn't working right and I guess they decided to just get rid of it and block off the port for it at the carb.

That's why I wanted to check and re-set my timing. I wasn't sure if they'd gotten that right.

Well, of course, they appeared to know what they were doing but the timing was still a little bit too retarded. I used a handy little formula to figure out where to put timing marks on my unmarked crankshaft pulley. I based all my measurements off the little notch in the pulley that was at 5 degrees after top dead center. From that I measured 7.4 mm (approximately) to the right for top dead center. Then, I measured 11.5 mm (approximately) further to the right for 7.5 degrees before top dead center. For the last mark of 30 degrees before top dead center I measured and marked about 45mm to the right.

I just wanted to make sure I was getting good advance at high RPMs because you can miss out on some of the motor's power if your spark is a little late. Seemed to do the trick although VW Man's fixes were the real key. The car idles more solid than it ever has.

Of course, it was fun just driving the thing around today, too.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Illogical Pricing Fears

Everyone reacts the same when I tell them about the cracked intake manifold. They usually gasp and then say "That souds bad!"

Interestingly, I'm not stressed out about it much. I know exactly what's wrong, have ordered a $50 replacement manifold (exchanging that for the $70 manifold I initially ordered because the $50 manifold has removable heat risers making for easier installation) and will fix it.

I have a good idea the point of view people have when they react so strongly to the words "cracked manifold." I know most don't understand VW mechanical issues nearly as well as me, so hearing that something "cracked" and it caused the car to not run certainly sounds "bad." I'm also sure they assume such a thing will cost at least $1,000 to fix. They're also doing their best to empathize with me, assuming that I'm distressed about the situation.

I appreciate the heartfelt concern folks show when I tell them about it. But, it's a reminder to me of why I'm glad I've forced myself to do all repairs to this car myself. Had I not bothered to do that I'd be just as nervous as everyone assumes I should.

The approximate time I spent worrying about my car was five minutes. That's the time between when the car initially lost power on the highway and when I spotted the big crack in the manifold. Once the source of the problem was identified I knew exactly what was wrong, how to fix it and, within $30, how much it would cost. Much of fear and anxiety comes from the unknown.

On the opposite end, I get worried, anxious and nervous when I think about scheduling my next dentist's appointment. It's not so bad now because I've been to my current dentist's office twice before so I know where it is and what to expect. But, when I had to switch offices due changing insurance companies I called Reese for help because she deals with medical institutions all the time for work. Until I successfully made the switch from one dentist's office to the next I was anxious and nervous about it: too many unknowns.

I worry that I'll have trouble finding the new office, perhaps spend an extra five or ten minutes searching for it. I worry that the new dentist won't know my history as well as my previous and will mis-diagnose something. I worry that I'll have some really bad cavity that my previous dentist didn't see and I'll have to schedule another appointment. I'm not worried nearly as much about having my teeth drilled or novacane shots, I'm worried about scheduling.

So, from that experience, I understand why people react the way they do when I say the words "cracked manifold." I also understand I can't stop them worrying for me any easier than I can stop worrying about scheduling my next dentist appointment.

Nobody fears the known nearly as much as the unknown. I do have some apprehention about fixing the Ghia, but they're really minor: I may need to put Liquid Wrench on the generator pulley nut to break it free, I may have to get a new nut and bolt for my hacked-together distributor clamp or I may need to locate better hose clamps for new fuel lines. These are just little challenges I know I'll face but they make the experience enjoyable and I'm confident that in the end the Ghia will run at least as well as it used to; probably better.

Most people are just full of dread when their cars break down because most people don't know what's wrong with their broken cars nor how to fix them. There's a lot of anxiety also about how much money their mechanic is going to charge for the fix and then anxiety about finding the money to fix it. Of course, if given the choice between an expensive fix and a "cheap" fix that would work just as well, some people would still go for the expensive fix.

This particular phenominon was discussed in Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He talks about his friend with a brand new BMW motorcycle that had a loose grip. All the grip needed was a shim and the friend wondered where they'd get such a part. The narrator holds up his beer can, indicating that once it's empty it's perfect shim stock.

His friend didn't take to that lightly, feeling insulted that someone would suggest fixing a fancy, expensive BMW motorcyle with a beer can. It's a logical fallacy: appeal to common practice. Just because the proper way to shim a loose hand grip is to use genuine BMW shims (if they even exist) doesn't mean that a cut up, steel (the book was written decades ago before aluminum cans) beer can won't work just as well.

I was reminded of this just a few days ago while visiting with relatives passing through town. They were staying with old friends and these old friends had neighbors over visiting as well. The husband of the neighbor couple had a '76 Alfa Romeo and once he saw my '72 Bus we got to talking vintage cars.

His Alfa has a fuel injection system that's stock and he talked about some day installing dual Webber carbs. A few times he'd chuckle as he talked about how expensive it is to do any fixes on his motor. Then he said a dual Webber carb setup would put him back at least $1,500. I wondered how that could be because you can get dual webber kits for VWs and old Porsches that run you no more than $1,000 and as cheap as $600. It's all the same carb, just needs a different manifold to mount them onto a different engine.

So, unless he's going to spend $500-$900 on small, aluminum pipes, I didn't understand from where the extra cost came. It was obvious he was falling prey to the appeal to common practice. His reaction to my question was to say that the prices in the catalogue were "probably over-inflated" but I'm guessing he's still going to overpay for parts that work just as well as their 1/2 priced cousins. It's an Alfa Romeo! You don't install $1000 carbs when you can find identical ones for $1,500! The car demands more expensive parts and won't run right unless it knows you've overpaid for everything.

But, in his defense I had only just met him. He very well could follow my advice and look online for a better deal. I'll side with my instincts, though, and guess that won't be the case.

Perhaps that's one thing that sets old VW owners apart from the rest? Only a few people on TheSamba's forums recommended I buy a new intake manifold. The rest just said "JB Weld will fix that. You don't need to buy a new part."

And, they're right. There is no hole in the intake manifold itself. It's completely separated from the heat risers, but all I really need to do is "glue" them back together with JB Weld. Heck, I probably could have fixed it on the fly with a pair of hose clamps! The current theory is that as the upper part of the manifold had broken completely loose when I pushed on the gas it just pulled the carburetor forward, tipping it and closing the float needle valve which robbed the carburetor of gas. If I'd just use hose clamps to hold the pipe on the heat riser I could probably have driven the car another 50,000 miles that way.

But, in this case I'm not practicing what I preach. I'm appealing to common practice and installing a new part. I can do that, can't I?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Upper Engine Dismantled

Just had to snap some pictures of the upper part of my engine taken completely apart. Also a nice picture of my intake manifold cracked completely in two!

The naked engine bay. I've stuffed rags into
the cylinder head ports to keep debris out.

Pretty cool, huh?

The rest of the engine in pieces.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Storage

Five blocks from home my intake manifold cracked:

Sounds and looks real bad! But, prices for new centermount manifolds like this one range from $40-$80 depending on new, used, rebuilt or what have you. Last winter I already took the topside of the engine apart so I know how to get in there, remove the manifold and install a new one. Guess I've got a new project!

The real loser here is my poor wife. She was looking forward to her usual garage parking spot that was supposed to be available today after I stored the Ghia at my friend Shad's unused, underground, heated parking space.

Two cool things about this:

1 - This is very likely a crack that formed over time and probably from the inside out, causing an ever worsening vacuum leak. That's why I could never set my idle quite right on the carb, if that's true! So, a new manifold should make the car run even better.

2 - I had to get towed home when the car wouldn't run and the quickest, most convenient way I could think of was to beg a huge favor for Jamie of Sunrise Cyclery just a block from my house. He towed my Ghia with his '66 VW Bus!

Here Jamie's hooking up the rope to his van

Making sure the knot is good and tight.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I can't believe how well the brakes work on the bus now.

The brakes were the first major thing I knew needed to be fixed when I got the bus. I had to pump them two or three times to get good pressure in the brake lines plus the brake fluid reservoir wouldn't hold anything. Fluid would just leak out the master cylinder onto the floor.

I considered doing the work myself but with all the hydraulic lines and unfamiliar territory plus the safety issues of brakes I figured it was a job best left to a trusted professional. So, Friday Quality Coaches did a great job installing a new master cylinder, new rear slave cylinders (they came with the bus, stored under the back seat!) and new rear brakes.

That worked great, and I didn't need to pump the brakes anymore. But, my right leg was getting pretty tired pushing so hard to stop the thing. That made sense because it's twice as heavy as the Ghia and the brakes aren't much different. But, I did know it came with a brake booster and that was likely disconnected.

Sure enough, when I inspected the engine I found a big, fat vacuum tube coming out of the intake manifold plugged with a large bolt. I just didn't know where it was supposed to lead to.

This morning I started searching for a fuel leak issue and found the other end of the vacuum line to the brake booster just sitting on the engine. I invested about $10 in parts between a new vacuum line at Napa and a brass coupler from the plumbing department of Home Depot. Once it was hooked up in the Home Depot parking lot I started it up, fearing there was some leak in the vacuum line that would make the engine run like crap.

Good luck so far, the engine ran just fine. Then, I drove it out of my parking space, down the parking isle and tapped the brake.

I felt like I was going to fly through the windshield! I couldn't believe how well that booster worked.

Now I have to use my leg muscles to keep the weight of my leg from pushing too hard on the brake, otherwise I'm screeching to a halt!

I've been told by the Bus experts at TheSamba to keep an eye on it. There could be a reason the brake booster wasn't hooked up. If the vacuum canister/servo unit that is the brake booster has a leak that could show up over time and the booster would need a rebuild. Some place in Texas does rebuilds, apparently, for only $90, so that wouldn't be a big deal.

I'm betting (hoping) that the line was not so much disconnected as it was just not reconnected when the engine got rebuilt. I've heard of problems with the brake booster such as the vacuum line leaking and therefore causing the engine to not idle/run right. That may have been the case before the rebuild and one of the quick, hack job fixes to make the engine run better was to disconnect and plug the brake booster line.

Time will tell on this one. Until then, It's nice to know I can stop exactly when I want.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A day for tinkering

I've been wanting a 12V power recepticle for my cell phone, so I picked one up at autozone for $2.50~ and installed it on the dash. There was an existing accessory hole at the spot between the radio and the Clock. I had to ream it out though to make the thing fit. Works great, now I just have to create a holder for the phone.

I also was having a problem with the right headlight. The high beam was out. So I bought a new headlight figuring that was the problem. Got the lamp, installed it and still no high beam. I was worried then that I did something to the switch when I dissasembled the steering column to pull out the ignition lock cylinder. But the left light high beam was working as well as the indicator light. The switch had to be working, maybe it was the relay? I finally decided to get some help and did a search of the Samba for clues. Duh..I forgot that each headlight both high and low beam are independently fused. Suggested repair twirl the fuse. So I twirled number 6 fuse and voila, now I have a high beam on the right headlamp. Need a new halogen headlight? I've got one.

The other repair I did saturday (which was my birthday, my gift to myself was a day of tinkering) was to fix the right side door. It didn't close tightly. I readjusted the latch so it would close tighter and now that annoying door rattle is gone. Hardest part - getting the bolt that holds the latch in place loose so I could adjust its position.

Last repair was to tighten the oil sensor on the engine. It was loose and as a result oil was leaking into the engine compartment. I'm slowly finding and fixing those pesky oil leaks. A Ghia doesn't have to leak!