Back on the Road

After a little more than two weeks, a few thousand dollars, and countless hours of hard work, Chimera is purring like a kitten and we’re back on the road! We are now moving on to new adventures with a nearly-rebuilt engine. A big thanks to our attractive mule, Elizabeth, who managed to sneak into Colombia with two large, very heavy bags from the US full of auto parts. We are also thankful for all of the extremely friendly and helpful people in El Cocuy who not only loaned us tools and offered assistance, but were also very kind and hospitable and made our extended stay quite enjoyable.

A triumphant view back up towards El Cocuy.

A triumphant view back up towards El Cocuy.

Brushing the Dust Off

When we arrived in La Paz, Baja California Sur, after many long and dusty roads, it was time to give Chimera some love. After all, he/she/it (shim) is our world right now. First we ventured out to get the oil changed. We had purchased a bunch of oil filters before leaving the states in anticipation that it may be hard to find the correct Subaru filters along the way. We pulled up to a shop that looked like it specialized in oil changes and were immediately directed to drive over the pit. Tim did the best he could to communicate in Spanish with the grease monkey and, with some help from the woman working the cash register, we found out that they did not have the proper weight oil (in fact they may not have had any oil at all at the moment). They were meant to get a shipment later in the day, but we were told that we could just go across the street to the supermarket and buy the oil we needed. So Tim headed off to do this while the grease monkey went to work on draining the oil.

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The Viscous Coupler Saga

What started as a simple two-hour task of changing a torn CV boot, quickly ballooned into a month-long ordeal. Before I knew it I had all four half-axles out and rebuilt all 8 CV joints. This, naturally, led to a test of Chimera’s viscous coupler (VC).

Viscous couplers are the devices that transfer power from the transmission, in the rear of the van, to the front wheels while allowing some slip between the front and rear wheels. This slip is what allows the van to go around corners on dry pavement. When the wheels begin to spin out, such as on ice or sand, the VC engages, coupling the front and rear wheels, thus making the van all-wheel-drive.

When I tested the VC, I found that what I thought all of this time to be an all-wheel-drive vehicle, was actually just two-wheel drive. The VC was shot, it was transferring zero power to the front wheels. I weighed my options, and decided that I would attempt to rebuild the VC. Syncros are somewhat rare and the youngest ones are still over twenty years old, so there is no such thing as a new VC, and the trick to rebuilding them seems to be some sort of coveted secret.

Viscous couplers are interesting mechanical devices. They consist of an inner shaft, connected to the front wheels, an outer shell, connected to the transmission, and a bunch of disks immersed in a viscous fluid about the consistency of honey. Half of the disks are attached to the inner shaft, and half to the outer shell. When the rear wheels slip, the disks spin in the fluid, transferring power to the front via the disks attached to the inner shaft. This isn’t a particularly complicated device, but it’s rather sensitive to the integrity of the disks, the shaft that they’re mounted on, and the amount and quality of the fluid.


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Engine Conversion

The VW Wasserboxer engine is notoriously underpowered for Vanagons. We knew we wanted more power and reliability, so an engine conversion was the first project. We decided on a 2.2L Subaru engine, as it is extremely reliable, offered an increase of roughly 145% horsepower, and happens to fit right in the VW engine compartment. We got lucky and found a cheap 1998 Subaru EJ22 engine that was in great shape. Tim did most of the conversion work himself, with some help from his dad. The necessary additional conversion parts include a custom flywheel, adaptor plate, and exhaust system, which Tim bought from Rocky Mountain Westy, conveniently located just up the road in Fort Collins. The following photos show some highlights from the 8-week conversion process.

Unloading the Subaru engineUnloading the Subaru engine Continue reading