The WTF switch

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Tue, 02 Apr 2013
WTF switch on our VW T25
Does your camper have a WTF switch? Rocky has three - two on the dash and one on the outside of the wardrobe. Having a vehicle several decades old means that various modifications have been made by previous owners, that aren't necessarily documented.

I've managed to work out what two of my WTF switches do - precisely nothing! No mystery wires attached, their one-time purpose lost to history. The third, a small toggle switch near the heater controls, still remains a mystery - it also has a mystery LED next to it - the LED is sometimes on, sometimes off, but the switch has no effect on this, and no other noticeable effect on anything else.

I asked on a web forum if anyone had any idea what it might be for - sarcastic suggestions included "next door's doorbell?". I haven't had the opportunity to test that theory yet!

Of course i'll never really know until i've removed a few bits and pieces and traced the wires to see where they go. I suspect it might be related to the leisure battery, but that's a guess, so one day I will work it out. Until then I haven't got a clue WTF it is..
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw T25 /

Upgrading a VW T25 1.6 diesel CS to a 1.9 1Y engine

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Sat, 16 Mar 2013
vw T25 with 1.9 diesel 1Y engine fitted
I've mentioned a few times before how I find the frugal little 1.6 CS non-turbo diesel engine that Rocky came with a bit underpowered. Before we bought the van I did a bit of research on the forums, looking at threads with people asking "is a non-turbo 1.6 diesel VW T25 it really as slow as people say it is?". No-one challenged this assumption! Several people mentioned that they had been driving one for years and were happy with them, despite the slowness. They are also the most economical factory-fitted engine option. So on this basis that we wanted a diesel, and there were plenty of 1.6's around we went ahead and bought one.

With the 1.6, on the flat Rocky will happily cruise along at 60mph, which is fine as it means we can keep up with the trucks. But the hills, oh my. Even on a slight motorway incline we often find ourselves having to drop down to 3rd, which puts us at about 40mph tops. Sometimes this happens mid-way through overtaking a truck, which can be particularly embarrassing. On steep A-road hills, it's often necessary to drop down into 2nd gear, revving the life out of the engine at 25mph, worrying that either the engine, or I, will blow a gasket before we reach the top!

So a few months into owning Rocky, I started to find myself avoiding doing certain trips, or changing my route to avoid steep inclines, and coming to the conclusion that I was compromising too much, and would enjoy the van more if it had just a bit more power. As the 1.6 was starting to reach the stage where it will need some work anyway, I thought I should start looking into alternatives.

There is a wealth of information on club 80-90 and Brickwerks about alternative VW/ Audi/ Seat/ Skoda diesel engines, and doing further research, people have also fitted non-vw engines. The price and amount of bespoke work needed varies greatly - we would be looking at spending more than the van is worth if we decided to upgrade to an Audi Tdi + gearbox, which would require custom mounts and wiring loom. I'd also want to upgrade the brakes if I went down that route.

At the other end of the scale is the non-turbo 1.9 "1Y" from a mk3 vw golf or similar. This is almost identical to the 1.6 CS so is a relatively straightforward swap, reusing the sump, alternator, waterpump and exhaust and keeps the van simple (and I do love simple!), without the need to add an ECU, as you generally would with a turbo diesel. The 1Y doesn't provide a dramatic power increase like a TD or TDi, so I canvassed opinion on the forums - is the upgrade actually worth it? Everyone who had upgraded to a 1Y said yes, it's definitely worth it, is better on hills and in particular solves the "slowing down on motorway inclines" issue that bugs me most.

Several T25 owners have done the 1.6 CS to 1.9 1Y engine conversion themselves, but with lack of off-road workspace, tools and knowledge I thought it was too much to take on without help, so I tracked down Phil Miller on club 80-90 forum, who not only had an engine to sell, but was willing and able (as a professional mechanic by trade) to fit it at an attractive price, and give me a 3 month guarantee on the replacement engine and work.

As i'm keeping the original 4-speed gearbox, I can't expect to increase the top-speed, or cruising speed - the engine will rev just as much as the old one. The plan is to drive it around as-is for a while and if I think there is surplus power, I can look into a higher-ratio set-up, the cheapest option being simply fitting larger diameter tyres.

While the engine was being fitted, I phoned the insurance company to get the policy amended. The company I use calculate the premium for a non-standard engine based on the vehicle the engine came from, so having established that the 1Y came from a "bog standard" Mk3 golf, the increase in the premium wasn't too bad - I suspect the conversation may have gone differently if the engine came from a high performance car.

Today, I went to pick up the van - Phil had done a fantastic job, despite working in sub-zero temperatures in the dark some evenings to make sure my van wasn't kept off the road for too long. He kept me informed on how the job was progressing throughout and made sure that I understood the reasons why things were done in a particular way. Phil has also done a TDi conversion oh his own T25, and, even though it is a more powerful engine, he was really pleased with the 1Y conversion on mine because it went so smoothly and the resulting engine looks like it is factory fitted, with little or no bespoke parts. In fact the the only modifications needed were to fabricate a bracket for the throttle cable, and move a small amount of insulation from the underside of the engine cover to provide clearance for the fuel pump. The only thing that needed ordering that couldn't be taken from either engine was a spigot bearing for the gearbox input shaft.

So how did it perform? Basically exactly as I had hoped, and probably a bit better! The steep hills on A-roads that I would have needed to drop into 2nd gear, I could do in 3rd, and most places where I would previously have had to drop into 3rd I could stay in 4th. Pulling off in in 1st gear feels much better, it feels safer pulling onto the motorway and once on there I sat happily at 60mph+. On the steepest stretch of M5 (heading north approaching junction 19, where it was steep enough that there is a crawler lane) it did drop from 65 to 60mph, but was such an improvement from last time I did that stretch with the 1.6, that I had a massive grin on my face by the time we left the motorway!

Obviously only time will tell how the engine will last - it wasn't exactly a spring chicken to start with, but has had a tidy up including new timing belt, and there's no reason why the engine shouldn't last for many years to come. I can't say the same thing for the old 1.6 engine - Phil noticed a hairline crack on the cylinder around one of the injectors, and lots of end float on the crankshaft, so it was coming to the end of its useful life. Phil also confirmed my suspicion that the dipstick is too short, and therefore that I had been overfilling the oil, which might explain a few things!


This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw T25 / mechanical /

Painting the spare steelies

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Mon, 04 Mar 2013
painting steel T25 wheels
One day we might buy some badass alloy wheels for Rocky, but that really is at the bottom of the list. In the meantime steelies will be just fine - I was given these spares (along with old tyres of varying quality) by someone who was going to take them to the tip. In a week or two i'll take them down to the local tyre place and get them to fit my summer tyres. I'm just giving them a coat of black hammerite - I reckon with some new shiny hubcaps they'll look passable. From a distance ;)
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw T25 /

Is it worth putting winter tyres on a T25?

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Fri, 01 Mar 2013
summer and winter tyres
Before we set off on our cross-country trip just before christmas, I started looking into winter tyres for Rocky. Unlike other Northern European countries, winter tyres are not compulsory in the UK, and many people don't think they are worth the expense and hassle, as we don't get much snow here. Instead, we dump tonnes of salt on the roads at the slightest hint of frost, which explains why old UK vehicles suffer from so much rust compared to other countries!

Winter tyres aren't just for snow - the main difference to summer tyres is that they have a softer rubber compound which helps them grip in cold temperatures, when summer tyres harden up and become next to useless. They also have a more complex tread pattern. I can't help feeling that UK drivers are a laughing stock across Northern Europe, with our entire road network grinding to a halt at the slightest hint of snow and ice!

With the possibility of snow in Derbyshire I thought it was worth looking into, and I was lucky enough to find a set the right size on gumtree at a fraction of the cost of buying a new set. Funnily enough when I went to pick them up, the couple who I bought them from told me their son had taken them off a T3 he had bought in Austria - he had them fitted just for the one trip, as they were compulsory for the Austrian leg of the journey.

After picking up the tyres, I got a local tyre place to fit them to my existing wheels, and thanks to a very generous person on the club 80 - 90 forum, I now also have a spare set of wheels sitting in my shed ready for my summer tyres to be fitted to. I can then swap them over myself in the spring when (please!) the temperature rises. Winter tyres work fine in the summer, but being softer rubber will wear faster, are noisier (not that you'll hear them above the engine in Rocky), and decrease fuel consumption, so it's worth swapping back when they aren't required.

Predictably I haven't actually needed to drive in the snow yet, and I also haven't driven Rocky in the snow with summer tyres, so i'm not qualified to comment on the difference, but i've heard from many people that the difference is massive. I've been told many a time that a two wheel drive vehicle with winter tyres is better in the snow than a four wheel drive with summer (or the compromise "all season" tyres), but this is just anecdotal.

If you have any doubt though, take a look at this video, showing the difference. If you can't watch the video, or haven't got time, it shows that the winter tyres are drastically better in the snow, and also better in general at temperatures below 7 degrees celcius.
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw t25 /

Campervan Culture

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Fri, 22 Feb 2013
screengrab of campervanculture.com
One website that keeps popping up on my radar is Campervanculture.com. It's mainly about T25/ T3/ Vanagon Syncros, but campervan owners (or aspiring campervan owners) of all persuasions will appreciate the stories and particularly the wonderful videos - someone give these guys their own TV show! I've particularly been enjoying the tales of wild camping - something we haven't yet done in Rocky, but I did plenty of in my old panel van, as a single hippy in the late 90's. As Jed and family show, it's perfectly possible to find great places to wild camp, both in UK and Europe.

I'm also looking forward to reading about the planned Africa trip at the end of 2013.

Campervan culture Facebook page
campervanculture.com website
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw T25 / travel blogs /

February in the Forest

This post was written 5 years ago, by Jo.
Mon, 18 Feb 2013
camping at Christchurch campsite in Forest of Dean
(First guest post by Jo!)

I've never been camping in February before, but with the sun shining and an electric heater promising to blow warm air onto our cold tootsies in the evening, I could hardly say no. Plus, last year all we had to keep us from the elements was a pop up tent, and I've been camping in April in Devon on a warm day and been absolutely frozen at night. This time though we had our T25 - Rocky.

Not particularly planned, we booked an electric hook up site on Friday night and spent Saturday morning stressing and dashing around the house trying to work out what we needed to put in the camper (lots of bedding) and what we already had in there (not a lot). We took way too long, and got on the road at lunchtime, but being the first camping trip of the year, we were out of practice, out of petrol and quickly out of patience with each other. We'll get this packing lark down to a fine art eventually. From house to van in half an hour would be good. A a flippin' miracle, but good.

We opted for a forestry commission site in the Forest of Dean and despite not having a bike rack, we rammed in 3 bikes in as well, angled to still leave elbow room for putting the handbrake on. I'm still getting used to the freedom of camping with space to pack. After years of tent camping and fitting everything into the tiny boot of a VW beetle, it's a novelty to be able to take board games, pillows, fairy lights and still have room for a nine year old in the back. The site was fine, no tents in site (unsurprisingly) but plenty of motorhomes scattered around and still space to choose from. We parked, threw up the pop up tent that was once our camping bedroom and plonked the bikes inside. We then set about doing the most important thing we do in our campervan - make a cup of tea.

We did a bit of cycling in the woods, played some baseball with a newly purchased foam bat and ball, but pretty much tucked ourselves into the van with the heater on. I'm not that hardy, I like being warm and well caffeinated. With the heater on, the thermal covers on the windows and a film on the laptop, we were totally cosy and warm. The hot water bottles remained unused, it was an unusually still night too which probably helped keep the cold out, and overall, we drove home to Bristol with a gorgeous sunset shining into the van and three very relaxed campers bopping along to some cool tunes. Roll on Spring!
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw T25 / trips /

Drive Nacho Drive!

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Fri, 15 Feb 2013
Nacho T25 parked up on a riverbed near Uspallata
I found this travel blog about a couple from Freemantle, US travelling the world in their Vanagon (T3/T25 to us europeans):-

At the end of 2011 we quit our jobs and set off in our 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon, "Nacho". Our plan? To circumnavigate the globe, slowly, while discovering culture, food, recreation, and emergency roadside Volkswagen maintenance. We are Brad and Sheena. Just wingin' it.
It's addictive reading - I read the whole thing in one evening, spanning back to the preparation of their westfalia camper - some amazing pictures of the custom interior they did:-

Nacho custom interior
There's also plenty of mechanical posts - one story that made me laugh/cringe was the story of how after leaving their bus outside a garage in Susacon, Columbia, they came back to find the transmission removed and a confused mechanic with a pair of vice grips ready to dismantle anything else he could get his hands on. They had only asked to borrow a Jack!

Drive Nacho Drive

Follow them on twitter: @drivenachodrive
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw T25 / travel blogs /

Out to lunch

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Mon, 11 Feb 2013
lunch in cwncarn forest in out vw camper
Much as i'd like to be on an epic year-long road trip, or even just a weekend away, life often gets in the way. The British winter isn't helping, and i'm counting down the wet, cold, dark, miserable days until we can head off on our next camping trip in Rocky. Owning a camper doesn't have to be all about sleeping in one though - with a cooker, seating and even heating available it can become your private portable dining room in any weather.

At the start of December last year, desperate to use the van, even though we couldn't get away for the night, we headed off to Cwmcarn forest in Wales, to give the van a run after having the coolant changed and bled. The first thing to note is that camper vans are classed as cars on the Severn Bridge toll - not sure if self-converted "stealth" camper vans would get away with that, unless they look sufficiently campervan-like? If you can get it through as a car it is virtually half the price of a van.

The Cwmcarn forest drive is a private road so you can park up anywhere convenient for a few hours and explore, before shutting yourself in the van, sticking some music on and having lunch or coffee in comfort. I'm not sure how busy it gets at other times of the year, but we hardly saw anyone except the odd mountain biker riding the trails, or the mountain bike truck and trailer whizzing past occasionally.
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw t25 / campervan / trips /

A Restless Transplant

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Thu, 07 Feb 2013
A restless transplant
This guy left his design job in New York in August 2011 and bought a VW Vanagon Syncro (basically a 4x4 T25). Since then, he has done 50000 miles driving around the west, surfing and camping.

A restless transplant
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw t25 / travel /

#VANLIFE home is where you park it!

This post was written 5 years ago, by Rick Hurst.
Wed, 06 Feb 2013
van life tumblr blog
Fanastic tumblr blog of van pictures, including plenty of T25's - I could look at this all day!

#VANLIFE
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: vw t25 / campervan /