View original topic: My 86 Westy Upgrade/Mod Pic Thread Page: 1, 2  Next
ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:10 pm

We’ve spent a good amount of time and money with upgrades/mods to our Westy, so I thought I’d post a pictorial of them here like so many others in the hope that our decisions, mistakes, and triumphs may be of help to fellow West owners. Almost every idea here came from the Samba, so I have you guys to thank for them.

Background: We’ve owned a few VWs. In fact, I used a ‘62 lowrider Type II as a daily-driver for almost ten years (and I loved it). We’ve also owned a ‘72 bay window, as well as a Passat, GTI, and Jetta, so you can definitely call us a VW family. After selling the ‘62 and ‘72, my wife really wanted a T3 Westy, so I got her one for our 20th anniversary. It’s an 86 full camper in merian brown. In its first year of our ownership, we took it on 10 camping trips, and loved every minute of it. We bought the van at a great price; it came with a smooth running (and very recently rebuilt) 2.1 WBX in it, as well as the 15" GoWesty wheels and excellent 205-70/R15 Nokian WRC Van tires. The PO had just replaced the fuel lines as well.

The day after we got the Westy. A moldy tent canvas and general dirty-ness were remedied with many hours of scrubbing.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:13 pm



First up: Ask most people what they think is the most useful feature in an RV and the most likely answer would be “Toilet” or bed. I disagree. I think the most useful thing in a camper is a refrigerator. It’s the thing that lets you get out into the wilderness for extended stays and not have to exist on freeze dried food or drink warm beer. The original Dometic fridge that came with our Westy was in good shape and it worked in all three modes, but it was small and inefficient so it was the first thing to get upgraded. A local marine shop had a Vitrifrigo C51iSAC in stock for a good price, so I picked it up.

Fridge all installed

Installation was straight-forward using the information here on the Samba. The hardest part was actually maneuvering the old fridge out of the space. One caveat: I hadn’t seen it mentioned anywhere, but if you want to have a flush install, you’ll have to delete the city water inlet. It pokes out too far, and keeps the fridge sticking out. We did not want to delete the city water, so our fridge door pokes out a bit.

City Water outlet prevents a flush install

To install, I screwed a couple of boards into the sides of the cabinet opening, then wrapped 4 L-brackets that I had lying around with foam and covered them over with electrical tape to support it from the bottom. I then bought an enclosure for the 110V AC outlet in the cabinet and installed it into the under-sink cabinet. I shoved the fridge in and turned it on - it worked just great, and automatically switches from 12VDC to 110VAC when the van is plugged into shore power. The fridge sits so tightly in the space that I didn’t even need the L-brackets underneath. Per other posts here, I looked into upgrading the 120mm fan on the fridge to a quieter or more electrically efficient unit, but the X-Fan that came installed on mine (fan model RDL1225S, rated at 0.18a, 28dBA and 70.18CFM) was tough to beat, so it is still installed.

L-brackets wrapped in foam then covered in electrical tape make the feet

About to slide it into place

The Vitrifrigo has worked nicely, has so much more space than the original Dometic, and is more energy-efficient. All-in-all, we’d highly recommend this upgrade.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:16 pm

The next thing to get upgraded was the electrical system. When you add a nice fridge like we did, you’re going to need to power it. Our approach was as follows:

We picked up two FullRiver 60ah batteries from NorthWesty. The first one went under the driver’s seat, the second one into the small cabinet next to the rear bench. To fit the FullRiver in the battery compartment under the driver’s seat, I had to remove the stock battery cover and make my own.

FullRiver 60ah battery in the small cabinet next to the rear bench

To keep the house batteries isolated from the starter battery, I bought a Stinger 80A relay and installed it behind the lower dash cover. Two bundled 8GA wires connect the relay to the under-passenger-seat starting battery and the under-the-driver-seat house battery. I then ran a 4GA wire from the FullRiver under the driver-seat to the FullRiver in the back. The relay is wired so that the batteries are connected when the key is turned. It’s very simple, and has worked well.

Stinger 80amp relay installed under dash cover

To keep the batteries charged, I knew I wanted a solar panel. GoWesty sells a 50 watt panel kit, but that is extremely underpowered in my opinion. Before eventually upgrading to a 145W panel that’s permanently installed, I started out with an 80W panel from Amazon and kept it in the upper bunk area when we traveled. I had a long length of 10GA outdoor rated cable so I could deploy the panel wherever there was sun when we reached our camp-spot. But the panel is really large, so moving it around turned out to be a little bit of a hassle, and I was worried about the panel becoming a guillotine in the event of a crash. So I ended up having Jeff at PeaceVans permanently install the 145W panel on the roof. The wiring goes from the panel down through one of the engine vents and into the cabin from there. I also have portable 20W panel that I can use if the roof panel is not aimed directly at the sun.

Original 80w panel was mobile, but was replaced by a permanent mounted one

145 watt solar panel permanently attached to pop-top

To regulate the incoming power from the sun, I bought a 10amp HQRP solar charge controller from Amazon ( It has a Low Voltage Disconnect (LVD), and it’s insanely cheap (at about $30). I use the LVD to connect to a set of relays. The relays then feed power to the fridge, inverter, and 12V outlets. If the voltage in the battery gets too low, the LVD shuts off power, turning off the relays and thus turning off all the accessories attached to them. This protects our expensive batteries from getting dragged down too low. The charge controller is mounted under the rear bech on top of the heater.

HQRP 10amp solar charge controller installed under bench

For 110V AC power, a 1000 watt inverter I’ve had for years was installed in the space under the new fridge. There is enough room next to it for a later Propex heater install. For 12V power, there’s a triple outlet installed on the rear bench, and one at the front as well. Both have integrated USB outlets, which we find extremely useful as we have a lot of charging needs: laptop, two phones, two 12V rechargeable lanterns, video camera, Garmin bike computer, bike lights, and more.

Front 12V outlets and USB adapters

Rear triple 12V outlets + USB

You can never have too many outlets

The last part of the charging system upgrade was a ProMariner 12amp ProSport Gen 2 dual bank battery charger; GoWesty uses these units in all of their refurbished vans. It’s installed on the cabinet right behind the driver seat and is permanently plugged into the 110V outlet under the sink. Whenever I’m in a campground with shore power, the ProMariner has more than enough juice to keeps the batteries charged and everything running. When we don’t have shore power and we’re relying on solar, I’m a little more careful about using higher-power items like the stereo, especially at night, but we haven’t run into any issues yet.

ProMariner ProSpor12 dual bank battery charger

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:19 pm


After shelling out cash for the van itself, as well as all of the upgrades we were doing to it, I found the budget running a bit thin when it came time to start on the audio/video system. Being something of a self-proclaimed audiophile, I was having a hard time putting together a system with the amount of money I had left.

To that end, I ended up with something an audiophile would normally never be caught dead with: a Jensen head unit and amp. Why Jensen parts? They cost a fraction of them amount I had spent on the system in my GTI, they’re still better than most of the off-brand parts, and they met all of my functional requirements. I needed a head unit that did Bluetooth, GPS, and had iPod control, and the Jensen VM9414 did so while costing 1/3rd of the Pioneer DVD/GPS unit I had in my GTI ( And the Jensen Power760 (75W x 4) amplifier was all I needed to power the front speakers and subwoofer (the head-unit powers the rear), while costing 1/10th the amount of the JL Audio amps in the GTI!


There are obviously drawbacks. Sound quality and radio reception of the Jensen parts are good, but not great. The GPS section is very slow. The iPod controls are not great either, and the SDCard compatibility sucks. But everything works as it’s (eventually) supposed to. The Bluetooth has no trouble connecting to my phones, the GPS eventually finds routes (and shows me my actual speed as opposed to my un-calibrated speedo), and the iPod controls give me access to 160GB of music. The amp gets awfully warm (it is mounted above the rear heater!), so I’d like to upgrade to a cooler-running Class-D amp at some point.

As far as speakers, I had two Infinity Kappa 4 inchers to install in the rear (note that the passenger side grill has to be trimmed to fit). I went to Car Toys and had them cut holes and install a pair of Infinity 6.5” two-ways in the lower part of the front doors. While they sound good, the low door position blocks a lot of the tweeter’s sound. I thought that the aim-able tweeter would compensate, but it appears as though I’ll need to go to a component set in the future, and install the tweets higher in the doors or somewhere on the dash.

Infinity reference 2-way 6.5 inchers low in the front doors

Infinity Kapp 4” rear speakers

For a subwoofer, I chose the Polk Audio MM1040 ( It’s very shallow, has great T/S parameters including an impressive xmax, and works well in small boxes; plus it’s also marine certified. Car Toys had a Bassworx SW10B enclosure for the Polk that is a perfect fit under the rear bench. While its 0.54cf volume is less than the recommended .66cf volume for the sub, I stuffed the box loosely with Dacron poly-fill to simulate the space of a larger box and it sounds decent. Not quite as good, punchy, or as loud as the JL Audio 12W3 in my GTI, but good enough to fill in the bottom end of music at reasonable volume levels and at 1/6th the price of the JL!

Polk Audio MM1040 subwoofer in Bassworx enclosure

The last piece of the A/V system is a TV. With the price of slim LED TVs getting so low lately, I figured it made more sense to buy a stand-alone than installing one of the roof-mounted ones. To that end, I found an LCD desk-mount arm that I figured I could modify to work as a TV mount in the Westy ( As it turns out, I didn't need to do any modifying to make it work! The mount consists of an articulating arm that slides over a vertical tube; the tube then clamps to your desk. By tossing out the vertical tube and using the Westy's middle table mount, I simply slid the articulating arm clamp on and tightened it.... perfect fit! By tilting the TV down, I can even still use the table. The best part is that it can swing inconspicuously behind the driver seat for theft deterrence, and stays stowed there while driving.

TV in deployed position

TV stowed

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:21 pm


As every Westy/Vanagon owner knows, the stock headlights on 86+ vans have a very poor light output pattern. The VW community have come up with a couple of great solutions: 1) installing a relay and higher-power bulbs ( or 2) installing a South African grill with a set of dual round lights with a much better light output pattern ( The first solution is inexpensive and easy to install. The second if fairly expensive and a bit harder to install. I plan on doing both in the future, but I went with a simpler solution at first. I went down to the local FLAPS and picked up a set of $39.99 Pilot Driving Lights ( About 30 minutes later, I had them installed, and they make a world of difference.

Driving lights

I always have a bike rack installed on the back of my van, and it unfortunately partially blocks the brake lights, particularly when I’m actually hauling bikes on the rack. Harbor Freight has a really cheap red LED light strip at only $9.99 (, so I bought it and followed the easy GoWesty YouTube video to install it ( It was only a 30 minute install, and I feel much safer now.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:23 pm


To be useful as a camper, you really need more lighting in a Westy. With today’s super-efficient LED lights (and my 120ah of house batteries) I was able to put some additional lighting in the van that helps out quite a bit, and plan on installing even more.

I modded the stock interior lamp in the back by pulling out the original bulbs and installing two LED light strips inside. I also installed a magnetic reed switch on the sink cover, so opening it automatically turns on an LED light strip hidden inside the cover. I did the same for the under-sink cabinet; a magnetic reed switch turns on two light strips when the cabinet door is opened.

LED light strips are so much more efficient than either incandescent or florescent bulbs

A magnetic reed switch turns the light on when you open the sink cover

Cabinet lighting

We also have two LED lanterns: a Wind ‘N Go Camp lantern ( and a Coleman CPX 6 (;sr=1-3). Both are rechargeable via 12V, and the Wind-n-Go has the added ability to charge by a hand crank.

LED lanterns can both be charged by 12V

We also use a set of Christmas lights that we hang on the awning for exterior campsite lighting, but I’d like to change that soon to a solar powered LED rope light.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:26 pm


The fridge tops our list of mods, but coming in a close second is the Fiamma F45s 10 foot awning from GoWesty. Having a quality awning enhances the camping experience so much, as it adds so much virtual space and provides great protection from the elements. There are a lot of good options for awnings, but after doing much research here on the Samba, it really appeared that the Fiamma (while very expensive) was the Rolls-Royce of awnings, so we went with it. The 10 foot is a great size.

Fiamma awning extends “virtual” space

We have a lot of bikes: road race, cyclocross, mountain, vintage, etc., so we put bike racks on most of our cars. We’ve had roof racks, strap-mounted trunk racks and hitch mounted bar racks, but the best one I’ve ever found is the SportWorks hitch mount. SportWorks provides the bike racks for busses throughout the country, so you know that they’re built tough. The company was bought by Thule and they continue to sell a version of the SportWorks, but there are some complaints that the original was built better, so I’m glad we found one of the originals; we were even fortunate enough to get one of the rare 4-bike versions in perfectly new condition on Craigslist. The 4-bike model is the same as the 2-bike, but includes two additional addons so it can be configured as a 2, 3, or 4 bike version as needed. To mount a bike, you simply sit it on the tray and move the holding hoop over the front wheel. It’s so fast and easy, and works with big or small wheels; no other rack compares.

SportWorks bike rack

Since it required a 2” receiver, I went to Jeff at PeaceVans who happened to have a used under-bumper receiver that he sold to me for a fair price; he even painted it black for me. It’s worked out fine, but the 4-bike rack extends so far out that I’d like to have the receiver higher up. A number of custom bumpers exist that have the hitch integrated into the bumpers (thus sitting higher than an under-the-bumper style), so I’ll be upgrading someday to one of those.

As most Westy owners know, the exterior camper hook-ups are prone to breaking and over the last several years the replacement units were absolute junk. There is a long story to explain the quality of replacements (which were at one point apparently being assembled by a single Mexican guy until he retired and moved back to Mexico), but the good news is that the original molds were purchased and restored by Trevor and Cheri at ( They also make a replacement Delta Six OEM faucet that we bought. Unfortunately the camper hook-ups were not available yet from them when we needed replacements so we went with some GoWesty units ( The GoWesty parts are made of much thicker plastic, and have worked fine. They are spendy though at $140, considering they are just hunks of plastic!

GoWesty Camper Outlets, plus aluminum block-off plate under the flue cover

We also purchased a replacement water pump for the sink from GoWesty, but it turns out the original pump was fine - it was the faucet that was blocked. After attempting to blow the blockage out of the faucet with a compressor, we gave up and bought the Delta Six unit as mentioned above, so now we have a new OEM pump and OEM faucet. Many people upgrade the faucet to a modern ShurFlo unit (, but I like the look and functionality of the original parts. As mentioned in the fridge comments above, we also kept the city-water hook-up that many people delete. We enjoy having it, and use it with an inline water filter and pressure regulator to get nice clean water into the van.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:28 pm


We carry two heaters with us when we camp, a Pelonis ceramic 110V heater for times we have shore power (, and a Mr. Heater Portable Buddy ( that runs on propane for times we’re without shore power. We’ve used the Pelonis in mid-30 ° weather and were quite comfortable. We haven’t had the chance to fire up the Mr. Heater yet.

Pelonis ceramic 110V heater

Next to the Mr. Heater we’ve installed a Kidde fire extinguisher - a must have for any RV, or any vehicle that comes equipped with LP accessories (or an engine bay prone to catching fire!).

Mr. Heater Portable buddy and Kidde fire extinguisher


The shifter extension and wood shift knob from Van Café are really nice, but the shift extension was silver, and my shifter is all black, so I had to wrap it in electrical tape to match. I’m going to check for some black heat-shrink wrap tubing to pretty it up a little.

Just installed the shifter extension and wooden knob

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:28 pm


I’d love to get an on-demand LP water heater and shower. I’d also like to get some wood veneer from GoWesty to cover the black fridge door so it matches the rest of the interior. I believe there’s enough space under the fridge to mount a Propex heater next to the inverter, so I definitely want to look into that. Finally, I want to upgrade to the Morningstar Sunsaver 15a MPPT solar charge controller with optional meter to see real-time charging data.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Nov 03, 2012 1:29 pm


• Jensen VM9414 7” touchscreen AM/FM stereo, CD/DVD w/MP3, GPS, iPod control, Bluetooth
• Jensen Power 7604, 4x75 watt-channel audio amplifier
• Polk Audio MM1040 10” Subwoofer in Bassworx box
• Infinity Reference 6032 6.5" coaxial front door speakers
• Infinity Kappa 4” coaxial speakers in rear
• DP Video rear view camera w/night vision
• Coby 19” LED LCD TV / Inland articulating monitor mount
• Clifford Matrix Alarm
• 20W Mono-crystalline portable solar panel
• 145W Mono-crystalline solar panel (installed on roof)
• 30 feet large gauge outdoor rated solar cable with MC4 connectors
• 20amp Tracer 2215-RN MPPT Solar Charge Controller with MT5 remote display
• 10amp HQRP charge controller for portable solar panel (w/ LVD used to power relays for fridge, inverter, 12V outlets, etc.)
• Vitrifrigo C51iSAC AC/DC fridge
• 300 watt DC->AC watt inverter
• Car-PC (Windows 8, AMD E-350, 8GB DDR3 RAM, 60GB SSD)
• Pilot PL-2202C auxiliary halogen driving lights mounted on front bumper
• Third brake light (red LED light strip)
• Dual house-bank FullRiver DC60-12 60ah batteries (120ah total!)
• ProMariner Pro Sport 12, 12amp dual battery bank charger
• Stinger 80amp dual battery isolator
• Rewired interior and dual batteries with large gauge wiring, multiple relays
• Wood shift knob and shifter extension
• New windshield wiper arms and hardware
• Fiamma F45s Awning, 10 foot with GoWesty mounting brackets
• GoWesty exterior camper hookups
• Heavy duty 2” receiver hitch, class?
• Sportworks 4-bike hitch mount carrier
• Triple 12V outlet with USB charger (rear), Single 12V outlet (front)
• Replaced fluorescent bulb with dual LED strip lighting in rear
• LED Lighting for sink and under-sink cabinets (automatically activated with magnetic-reed switch)
• New AC outlets in cabinet
• New in-tank pump for sink
• New Delta Six (oem-style) faucet
• Pressure regulated water hose for city-water hookup
• Propane filler extension
• 30amp -> 15amp campsite hookup adapter
• Wood shift knob and shifter extension from Van-Cafe
• Mr. Heater Buddy propane heater
• AllergyLuxe fiber bed
• IKEA rug (for under awning), smaller rug for front, IKEA baskets and storage containers
• Pelonis ceramic AC heater (for use with campsite hookups)
• REI Camp Stove cooking set, REI campfire grill, French press, Bialetti Moka pot, tea pot
• Coleman enamelware plate / dish / silverware set
• Camp chairs, bag style
• “Serenity” and “Firefly” vinyl decals, “Peace” emblem (replaces front VW emblem)

A Passat, Westy, Passat, and GTI parked in front of the house. You could definitely call us a VW family.

kbeefy Sat Nov 03, 2012 3:25 pm

Nice post, good work.

b00t Sun Nov 04, 2012 7:02 am

You have done some nice work here....great stuff and well documented. Congrats...

wemfam Sun Nov 04, 2012 7:26 am

Good job man, lots of good information here!

singler3360 Sun Nov 04, 2012 9:01 am

Thanks for your posts and thoughts on the decisions you've made. Good stuff.

shadetreetim Sun Nov 04, 2012 11:23 am

Nicely written post. Cool upgrades. Reading it makes me want to go camping. Thanks for sharing.

goshanego Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:17 pm

Nice work. Nice Van. Just a quick thought. I have used a heat buddy inside our house (much bigger than van of course) during a power outage and it made my wife and I feel sick (loopy) - personally I would not use one of those in such a small space. Maybe save up and get a propex from Karl. Just one unsolicited opinion. Happy & safe travels.

insyncro Sun Nov 04, 2012 1:25 pm

Great post.
Good lookin van, enjoy.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Dec 08, 2012 6:32 pm

Since my last posting, I've made a couple of updates.

First, I attended the Westy Meet down in Marymoor and was very inspired by all of the nice Westies there. In particular, there was a white 91 owned by Steve who had some really nice LED lighting on his Fiamma awning and in the cabin. I'd already planned on purchasing the cery same lights from Amazon that he has, and now I know how I'm going to install them.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Dec 08, 2012 6:34 pm

Next, I installed a Car PC into the van. It's running Windows 8 with a 60GB SSD. I bought a Mini-Box M2-ATX-HV 12V regulated power suuply board so I could run the PC directly off the house batteries. This saves power over
having to run it through an inverter. ( It sits under the fridge, and the low power AMD-E350 CPU runs very cool. A remote keyboard with touchpad let me control it.

ChilliConCarnage Sat Dec 08, 2012 6:36 pm

I picked up a rear vew camera from DP Video. Since I already had a head unit with a screen, it made for an easy install. It's hooked up to a relay that is triggered by the amplifier turn on wire fro the head unit. It works even in very low light (notice the lens surrounded by IR LEDs).

Since we live in the city, we're often having to parallel park on busy and packed city streets, so this camera will be very useful. Also, we have a very long bike rack (up to 4 bike capacity!), so this will allow us to keep an eye on the bikes as well.

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