In Baja California Sur we mostly stuck to paved and well-graded roads, on which we weaved back and forth between the Pacific coast and the Sea of Cortez, met some VW buddies, woke up to a red tide, and experienced the beginning of Semana Santa madness.
Our Baja California adventure started off innocently enough. We crossed the border into Mexico in the morning without a hiccup and drove for a few hours, then turned off the only main road, the Mex 1, and onto our first dirt road. We drove slowly through a small town, then along the coast for several miles to a lovely isolated beach overlook at Punta Cabras. The typical afternoon wind was blowing strong, but it didn’t deter our excitement at finally setting up camp in Baja. The van is so great to travel and live in, setting up camp really only requires finding a relatively flat place to park and voila! Given the conditions we could also pop the top and roll out the awning, but both of those steps only takes a few minutes. To celebrate the launch of our journey and our first border crossing we popped open a bottle of champagne given to us for the occasion by Emily’s sister.
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.