Warning: this post contains petrolhead content. If you’re offended by talk of non human-powered vehicles, may we suggest you look away now?
Looking at the MOT records for the Crankedwagen, it was apparent that it hadn’t moved a great deal in the couple of years before I bought it. Driving it from Bristol to London and back was, almost certainly, the furthest it had been asked to move for a very long time.
It made it, with no dramas.
A month later, it was on the road to Manchester and back. Aside from a sticky gear linkage, it was the same story: it just got on with the job.
Although I was relieved it was also, as far as I was concerned, The Whole Point. The Crankedwagen isn’t (just) a show pony; it was always intended to be usable every day. And that means it had to be reliable. There’s a tendency for certain elements of the vintage VW fraternity to give themselves a pat on the back when their 20/30/40/50 year old van gets through a tank of fuel without breaking down. And, while that may be a reflection of the reality of living with an older vehicle, it’s never been something that’s appealed to me.
It became apparent that, although a lot of the mechanical side of things had already been dealt with, there was still more that needed attention. A weeping water pump gave me the kick I needed to sort that, plus some dodgy plumbing, and have the cam belt and pulleys done at the same time. The list of stuff that had been replaced had, by this stage, become so long that it’s easier to list what was still original at this point. It’s not a long list:
- front brakes
- rear hubs and driveshafts
- steering rack
- fuel tank
And, er, that’s about it. What could possibly go wrong?
On a long journey north the temperature gauge had been doing some things that it hadn’t been doing before. Given that the cooling system had had a complete flush, the pipework in the engine bay had been carefully re-routed, new thermostat sourced and a brand new, genuine Subaru water pump fitted, the catastrophic and very sudden overheating that led to the AA callout was a bit of a mystery.
I suspected a failed head gasket (spoiler alert: I was wrong). I also knew that I’d need to call on someone who knew their way around both old Subaru engines and old VWs. There are surprisingly few people who do.
The AA would recover the Crankedwagen to anywhere in the country, one way. I knew I couldn’t drive it, so that ruled out going home. The guys at MAD Workshop were great, but weren’t familiar with Subaru engines. But then I remembered the name of a garage whose name kept cropping up in a VW / Subaru Facebook group. I googled it and rang them. Could I have the Crankedwagen recovered there and leave it with them for a diagnosis?
Yeah, sure, they said. No problem. See you in a bit.
Which is how the Crankedwagen came to find itself at J’s Garage in Aberystwyth, in the expert hands of Jamie Lockyer. No stranger to modified vehicles (he owns both a Subaru-powered VW camper and a 400bhp, 1.9tdi-powered 1980s VW Jetta for drag racing, both of which he built himself), he diagnosed two issues. First, a bodged exhaust setup that meant the lambda probe was reading from just one bank (the other bank was running massively too lean, and therefore too hot). And second, sub-optimal coolant hose routing.
A new exhaust setup and revised plumbing sorted the lean running and poor coolant flow. But it turned out that the real culprit was 30 years of rust and grit and crap, released from the radiator core by that thorough flush earlier in the year, which jammed the thermostat closed. For a second time in as many months.
The solution was, temporarily at least, to ditch the ‘stat. Running without the thermostat meant no overheating, but also an engine that struggled to reach operating temperature. It was time for a new plan. So I ordered a replacement radiator and heater core, and scoured the internet for a donor engine. It was time to find the Crankedwagen a new heart, strip out all the bodged wiring and plumbing, and build an engine setup that would just work.
To be continued…