Infernal combustion: the #crankedwagen story, part 2

Warning: this post contains petrolhead content (and very little about mountain bikes). We like things of all kinds with wheels. Not all of them are polar bear-friendly. We recognise that. If you’re offended by talk of non human-powered vehicles, may we direct you to our other blog posts?

With the newly-acquired doka back at Cranked HQ, it was time to take stock. Although it looked pretty tidy from a distance, its future role as show display stand meant that it was going to need to stand up to much closer scrutiny. Tell-tale signs of filler and bubbling paint around the seams – a common condition among VW Transporters of this vintage – hinted at deeper-rooted rust issues (anyone who tells you cheerfully that rusty seams can be wire-brushed out, sealed and repainted is talking out of their arse… or at the very least doesn’t mind repeating the whole sorry process every year or so).

So I booked it in at the bodyshop, for a thorough going-over. Minor mechanical fiddles I can do myself. Welding, fabricating, paint and anything involving using heat, big hammers and breaker bars I’m happy to hand over to people who actually know what they’re doing.

In the meantime, I had a few weeks to get to know it a bit more and deal with some of the less pressing issues. I liked the interior. Leather: what’s not to like? It smelt a bit funny, but that turned out to be the door cards (don’t ask). The factory-fitted floor mat stubbornly resisted my in-cab efforts at cleaning, so I pulled it out and treated it to a thorough scrub with Muc-Off and a high pressure hose. It took about ten goes before the rinse water was clean.


Those seatback screens? They were connected to the World’s Most Complicated Head Unit. Apparently it should’ve been possible to play music in the front and a DVD in the rear, or something, but I didn’t have the patience to read the Oxford dictionary-thickness instruction manual, nor the manual dexterity to operate the plethora of tiny, tiny buttons (why do aftermarket stereo manufacturers insist on making them so fiddly?). So it – along with several miles of cable – came out.

The speedo was a bit hard to read. It turned out that the reason for this was an accumulation of over 30 years of dust inside the instrument cluster. So that came out too, for a thorough clean. The sun visors were so floppy they couldn’t be relied on to stay anywhere I put them, so I found some new secondhand ones that did. The gear lever was treated to a new bush assembly, which turned out to make almost no difference to the spaghetti-like precision of gear changing. So I added ‘full linkage rebuild’ to the to-do list.

The outside threw up a similar list of pressing niggles. Twin Ducati cans gave the engine a Beetle-esque burble off the throttle and an Impreza-like growl on, but it soon became apparent that the business end had its own issues.

Various minor oil leaks and dribbles hinted at gaskets that needed attention. The coolant header tank seemed to be full of sludge, so I pulled it out, gave it a thorough scrub and put it back in again. It would have to do, for the time being at least. I treated the engine to new plugs, a new oil filter and an oil change. The oil that came out looked like primordial goop rather than something that would effectively lubricate an engine. Hmm. Not encouraging.

I knew my way around a water-cooled VW flat four, but the Subaru was a steep learning curve. I was perplexed by a rat’s nest of wiring and coolant pipes, held in place in many places by nothing more than a knitting pattern of zip ties. It didn’t look good, but I was reluctant to start pulling stuff apart without a plan. It was in, it was running. That’d do for the moment.

I wasn’t quite done. Baffled by a rear light cluster that seemed to consist entirely of blown bulbs, I removed it to find that it was full – and I mean full – of water. Looking disconsolately at the mess of rust and oxidation that was the remnants of the bulb holder, I shrugged my shoulders and stumped up for a brand new pair of holders, lenses and LED bulbs. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was the start of a pattern.

With the MOT approaching and a big ol’ rusty hole near the driver’s seatbelt mounting point to deal with, it was time to stop my fiddling around and hand the Crankedwagen over to the VW experts at MAD Workshop (it stands for ‘Motoring and Driving’). Cutting, fabbing, welding… that stuff is above my pay grade. If I’d known what I was about to get into, I might well have had second thoughts. Ignorance is bliss, and all that.

To be continued…


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