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Bman Tue Aug 23, 2016 9:21 am

Yes, another 2.1L rebuild thread, but I'm not finding the answers to some of the questions I have in the other rebuild threads:

The T3 in question is a 1986 Syncro Vanagon, nothing much to look at, but it has a working drive train and my goal is to get ther running before the rains hit, as I need to pull the dash on my Doka...

I sold this 86 back in 2008 as I really needed the $$ and in 2014 I bought it back from my friend who said 6 months after the sale, the head gasket was leaking and he had it sitting for the 6 years since. I do not know how many miles are on this Canadian rebuild.

I was originally only going to do a top end rebuild, not knowing anything else of why it wasn't running. We did a hand crank compression test with the engine out to see what if any, compression the heads were holding before tear down.

When we pulled the heads, the cylinder jugs came out with them which changed the game to a full tear down as the pistons were now out and needing new rings.

The pistons and cylinder jugs were looking good, no unusual wear and the interior cylinders were nice and smotth and you could still see the cross patterns of the original machining, we are going to hone the cylinders all the same.

By our assessment the heads and valves are looking good, I saw no clear pitting in the heads and no failures or burns around the seated valves. I am considering a head rebuild locally, it depends on how much it will cost.

My goals are to build a reliable 2.1L either for this syncro, or even my wife's Bluestar which will need an engine rebuild in the near future. I had a budget of $1K for this, but after buying a lot of the parts that is quickly evaporating.

Here is what I'm replacing:
New Rocky Jennings lifters
RJ rebuilt fuel injectors
RJ oil sender manifold kit
New Oil pressure switches
New larger oil pump
All new rings and engine seals
Tune up parts
Water Pump
Engine grounds

I'm for going the head stud replacement as that is another $300.

Our gears looked good and we found no metal slivers in the case corners. The camshaft and bearing also were looking good as well, obviously I will need photos here..

My question revolves around the following, Other rebuild threads talk about replacing the distributor gears, is this reaaly necessary? I know I do not have a direct photo of that here, however I have not touched the distributor during the splitting of the case and there is no observed wear or abnormality. Please keep in mind I'm trying to stay in budget and to have to replace all of this quickly raises the cost.

My other question is in regards to the connecting rods, some suggest out right replacement, I was going to replace the bearings, but is it really necessary to replace the CRs themselves? Apparently I do need to take some measurements to give you more info as I hear they can go oval on you.I understand that CRs can be rebuilt, how are they rebuilt? Seems to me they are solid metal rods, I do understand that the bolts can stretch and should be replaced....but what do they do to rebuild them?

I will post some more photos of the main bearings and rods tomorrow.


jberger Tue Aug 23, 2016 10:01 am

You do not need to replace dizzy drive or drive gear unless they are damaged.

Regarding rods.. I personally do not believe they oval first, then cause low oil pressure. The pressure drops as temps increase and bearing tolerances widen over time. Just saw a "core" motor with an 8" window in the top of the case from number 3 rod.. If you have an inside mic or bore guage you can check to see if the journal is out of round. If so, get them rebuilt, if not then run them.

Wildthings Tue Aug 23, 2016 10:24 am

The cost of new 1.9L rod bolts and reconditioning the rods is about the same cost as buying rebuilt replacement rods. You can go either way, but I would not skip this step.

Bman Tue Aug 23, 2016 10:26 am

Wildthings wrote: The cost of new 1.9L rod bolts and reconditioning the rods is about the same cost as buying rebuilt replacement rods. You can go either way, but I would not skip this step.

Thanks for your input Wildthings.

So what is the reasoning here, do the bolts stretch and begin impacting engine performance?

Wildthings Tue Aug 23, 2016 10:44 am

The 2.1L rod bolts stretch with time and eventually let go. This problem does not seem to occur with the 1.9L rod bolts so those are what people typically use as replacement bolts on a 2.1L.

The 2.1L rod bolts are torque to yield bolts which a lot of people don't like to reuse anyway so you are adding nothing to the cost of a rebuilt buy buying 1.9L bolts.

I always have my rods resized when rebuilding any high mileage engine, VW or otherwise, just another step on the process to get a long lived rebuild.

Bman Mon Oct 03, 2016 8:31 am

Back at it again, after a 3 week hiatus for Cascade climbing and weekend work to make more $$$.

I cleaned my cylinders and pistons yesterday and completed the media blasting of the last of my parts so I can begin the engine painting of a few parts.

Upon looking at my #3 and 4 cylinders I noticed what must have been the leaking head part where the cylinder seats are damaged by corrosion, I want to get your opinion about whether these cylinders are still useable with this damage below:

There is a low spot on the edge here (lets call this C3).

C3 from a different angle, that edge looks compromised and I wonder if a good seat is possible with this cylinder?

C4, not as bad, but compromised

C4 another spot that shows a compromised edge and low spot. For comparrison, here is my cylinder 1 or 2, which was pretty decent all around:

So I'm questioning whether to use these or not. I really don't have extra cash for a cylinder/piston kit, I'd have to charge it, but if it is what I have to do for a quality rebuild then so be it. Your thoughts?

Also, I have a few coolant pipes and this thermometer housing with corrosion pits like this:

Can I just JB weld, or equivalent product, this and then reuse?

As you know I'm trying not to replace every part in this engine, so where possible I would like to repair and reuse.

rubbachicken Mon Oct 03, 2016 8:58 am

the sealing edges on the jugs look OK, when you get new seals on them, you will be fine.
and yes JB weld or similar on the corroded aluminum, be sure it's clean and grease first, i've seen it done, unclean, and have had loose chunks of JB weld floating about after a tear down, and needing to figure out where they came from.

Wildthings Mon Oct 03, 2016 9:17 am

Bman wrote:

Also, I have a few coolant pipes and this thermometer housing with corrosion pits like this:

Can I just JB weld, or equivalent product, this and then reuse?

As you know I'm trying not to replace every part in this engine, so where possible I would like to repair and reuse.

I have seen corroded nipples like this smeared with permatex and allowed to dry before installing the hose. For myself I would probably smear it with silicone just before installing the hose. It will be messy when it comes time to ever remove the hose if you use the silicone, but not overly bad.

Bman Tue Oct 04, 2016 6:52 pm

Hey all, trying to figure out what size rod bearings I need. On this photo below which bearing journals go to which cylinders?


We measured from pulley end back:
On the journals using a micrometer. Do I have to convert that to mm? In mm that would be approx 55.016 and 55.041

What does this tell me, am I doing this right? I have new rebuilt VC connecting I get the standard CR bearings?


Wildthings Tue Oct 04, 2016 7:37 pm

Your manual will give you the acceptable diameters for both the main and rod journals.

IdahoDoug Wed Oct 05, 2016 8:46 am


Mix up some JB Weld, line up the corroded parts and spread some joy on those areas. In a couple days, sand them even and they'll be fine. It's a quality epoxy and perfect for this. I did a few on my rebuild last month and its a much longer lasting fix than silicone and doesn't cause any removal issues. A permanent fix.

Bman Wed Oct 05, 2016 9:59 am

Thanks IdahoDoug, I've used the JBWeld on my bike building products and like it, i'll continue the prep by using it on those coolant connectors.

According to the Specifications that I can find on the 2.1L the Connecting Rod Bearings, journal diameter should be:

2.1647-2.1651 inches

I am at 2.166-2.167 which is pretty damn close, I'm using new VC rebuilt CRs so I'm going to go with this.

We looked at the crankshaft and were trying to determine how easy it would be to get into the main bearings #2 and 4(?), I really don't want to take this crankshaft apart, as the gearing all looks good and there seems to be very little to no play in the journals and bearings. I know a lot of you would argue to do it since I'm here. The problem with being in a rural town is I do not have a lot of shop resources to take this to. I'll look around....but I'm considering moving forward as is.

My bore cylinder measurements were:

Specs I find call for: 3.701-3.702

My Pistons were measured at:
3.717 all inches

A difference of .002 to .006 inches for piston to cylinder with .008 being the maximum clearance per the VW specs. I figure I would match my largest pistons to largest cylinder for a minimum clearance of .005.

I guess the question is how far do I want to pay for assurances and piece of mind, a lot of work to get to this split case, and yet at the same time there is a limit on how much I can keep throwing at this project in both time and money. A question no one can truly answer but myself.

Wildthings Wed Oct 05, 2016 10:47 am

Matching pistons to the cylinders to get more uniform clearances is fine. I would suggest checking the skirt clearances with a feeler gauge though.

AtlasShrugged Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:00 am

On rebuilds I will use an inside micrometer snap gauge to check for ovality of the bore and a micrometer to check the pistons..usually on the lower skirt, compared with the factory recommended measuring point on the piston for wear.

If the bores are not oval, and the pistons size up okay, then I will check the bore to piston clearance with some long ribbon gauges, rather than doing the math..which can fool you sometimes.

.002 to. 004 is a good range for piston to bore..with .004 being very close to limits I like to see. .008 is very loose.

Measure the bore/piston without the rings of course..ribbon gauges can be found here:

Bman Wed Oct 05, 2016 11:54 am

Thanks for the input, I will recheck my measurements.

I am also realizing that I'm going to have to pull the crankshaft apart to get at the main bearings to replace, my Aircooled friend suggests that I heat the CS up to hot and the gears will expand and then slide off, then I can measure the journals and determine if I need standard or over sized main bearings. i admit I'm nervous about doing it, but perhaps its not as hard as I fear.

What do the WBX re builders do to access these bearings?

Bman Sun Nov 06, 2016 4:46 pm

Ok slow moving project, but moving nevertheless. I had a local shop pull the gears and replace my #3 bearing this week. We then assembled and torqued the rods on the crankshaft and put the case together, with other new bearings and assembly grease. WE got confused with the case halves asembly torquing thinking the large case nuts were the M8 and over torqued and stripped the smaller nuts. The case is together with some of the recommended sealant between them. But we have 2 M8 nuts we will need to remove to retorque the case. WE were going to try a nut splitter to get the nuts off and prey our studs are all good.

If the nut splitter does not fit or work does anyone else have a suggestion for this stage of the rebuild?

I am almost at the end play checking stage, I do not have any shims.....what should I order from VC to be ready for that job and how would you proceed?


fraggle00 Wed Nov 09, 2016 11:45 am

I did the same thing with the stripped nuts. The studs ended up fine. Good luck!

Bman Mon Apr 17, 2017 12:37 pm

This is my new project, and while my Doka is my first love and will always get the best parts, most of my attention and extra cash is now going into this 1986 VW Syncro. I have a history with this particular Syncro and I originally bought it with the body damage seen in the photos, I always hated that damage and wished for a straight body; in fact I originally re-bought this Syncro back from my friend in the thought of using it as a donor for my Doka or 89 Westy conversion. Howeve,r as the project progresses I'm beginning to abandon that plan and I am looking to "restore" this stock 86 Tintop to my idea of the utilitarian vehicle that it is. I do not want a garage queen, but I do want a functional and reliable syncro.

Currently this is what I have:

This is what I'm aiming for:

A current preview of available syncros on the Samba shows an over priced saturation of Westy Syncros, the $50K vehicle for the, for the $50K camper, and its all good, each his own. However, I tend to inspect the vehicle sales ads for syncros within my DIY price range and so naturally I look at the tintops. I like their simplicity, and the utilitarian people hauler basics. I'm starting to notice that a decent syncro tintop is becoming a rarity on the market, especially those that are stock and under $20K. Are they being gobbled up and converted to campers? Seems to be a logical conclusion to me. I already have my Westy, 1989 my wife's parents were the original owner, I want my own people hauler to take my friends and I to the trailhead, or maybe up the logging roads to go shooting. If there is one thing camping in my Doka has taught me, I don't need a Westy interior to do it. Either way, there seems to be more syncro westys out there now than the tintops; no this is not an official poll, just an observation. All I'm saying is that I'm attracted to this utilitarian platform enough to save this old syncro.

I am changing the title of this thread to reflect more of a total vehicle project build. I am a weekend warrior DIY tinkerer and will do some work myself and out source other work as I go along. You can either like this thread, follow along or ignore it, I'm doing it to "SAVE THE SYNCRO TINTOPS" and to also serve as an online journal for the van.

I originally bought this Syncro in 2003 before the values of the syncros truly sky rocketed. It was my first Vanagon I bought after co-owning my wife's Westy. I knew nothing about syncros then, and rarely did anything other than cosmetic work on my vehicles. I owned the vehicle from 2003 to 2008 when I had to sell it to support the family. Fortunately I sold the syncro to Tallfred, a local friend and was able to keep the rig local. TF ran the van for about 6 months until a head gasket blew and then the van has sat until I started this engine rebuild (approximately 7 years).

prior to the rebuild within 20,000 miles ago I had the following work done:
1. Rear brake shoes and cylinders 4/2003
2. Clutch Slave Cylinder, clutch bearing replaced 5/2003
3. Front differential axles replaced 10/2003
4. New 14" tires 11/2003
5. Front Diff. Oil change 4/2007
6. Power steering rack boots replaced 11/2007

I repurchased the syncro back in late 2014, saved my money and developed the skills (or balls) to attempt my first engine rebuild by summer 2016. Just 2 weeks ago I was able to finally get the rebuilt engine back in:

This was what I started with:

My final product:

Going in:

Stock exhaust:

I'm pretty happy with the progress, although slow and over numerous weekends. I' don't think its necessary to list all the parts I replaced, but I'll give a snapshot:

Connecting rods and bearings
main bearings
Rocky Jennings rebuilt fuel injectors
All new sensors and pressure switches
piston ring set
Rebuilt VW heads
High Vol. GoWesty oil pump
tune up parts
water pump
All new seals
Rocky Jennings hydraulic lifters
New ground and Alternator wires
Rocky Jennings oil manifold kit
Thatvwguy Hard Start Relay
Radiator and radiator cooling ducts
New rear heater core
Select Coolant Hoses
New battery
driver rear rebuilt CV axle
Powder coating on engine tin, coolant pipes and syncro under carriage protection bars.

I drained all fluids, coolant, gas and oil and replaced with new. I also swapped out the fuel pump (and fuel filter, Whoo Hooo! Syncro FF merit Badge!) with a spare. Part of this project was also discovering and cleaning all known grounds on the vehicle.

The engine went in 2 weeks ago, at about 10 days ago I tried starting the vehicle for the first time, NOPE, no start, no spark from the coil.

I tried swapping coils from among my spares and Doka (known good) and still no spark. I then learned from the Vanagon Owners Group on Facebook that the Hall Sender on the distributor was a vital component of the ignition system and even with a good coil one would not get a spark if the HS was faulty. This information then led me to seek help from an electrician friend to map out and diagnose my ignition troubles. We had 12 volts at the coil, we eventually found 10+ volts at the HS wire harness and we mapped all the connections between the coil/HS to the ECU. We confirmed all wire connections and even swapped the ECU into my wife's 89 for a test. We eventually swapped a spare distributor in, but still no start. By then it started raining and the weekend was done.

This past weekend my friend, Chris returned and we determined the spare dizzie and HS were defective as well. I then swapped out my wife's dizzie and HS to the syncro and tried to start it, still no start. This then led Chris and I on a long diagnostic adventure through most of the day. This is what we know to be true and good:

1. Signal from the ECU to HS is confirmed
2. Fuel pump is pressurizing (ECU working)
3. HS is getting 10+ volts from the ECU along the HS harness
4. ECU is getting 12 volts from the battery with ignition key position
5. ECU is getting a start signal from the ignition switch (pin #1)
6. Pin #25 from the ECU to green wire on coil is a good connection
7. Vanagon Idle Control Unit is working
8. ECU pin #6 to all the sensors is known good.

What we are unsure of is if the ECU is reading a signal from the Hall Sender. At this point we suspect the HS is bad on the original dizzie, but why the 89 dizzie didn't start it is still a mystery?

Here is a photo of Chris setting up his oscilloscope to read the electrical wave patterns. While we failed to get a reading on the syncro we did attach it the the 89 Bluestar and cranked her up, while I can't explain it, the oscilloscope was able to show the repeating pattern of the ECU/HS signals that ran the injectors and sparks. At least we now know what signal we would be looking for through the wiring.

At this point I have a new distributor and Hall Sender on order. Until we can put that known good part in and continue our tests, we have exhausted all avenues in our quest for a drive-able vehicle with this ignition system.

Bman Mon Apr 17, 2017 12:53 pm

In the meantime, I continued to work on all the other details to get the syncro ready to roll. During this rebuild I added the Rocky Jennings oil manifold to re-locate my oil pressure switches top side. This weekend Chris and I installed the wiring for an oil pressure and volt gauge. I am using a T3 Technique dual pod in the cigarette hole on the dash.

I ran 2 new wires from the engine bay to the front through a corrugated sheath and tied it to the top of the driver's side wire bundles underneath the vehicle. I then ran the wires through the speedometer grommet into the dash area. We ended up using the yellow wire for the oil pressure gauge, the blue wire is an extra wire for a future oil temp gauge, I have a oil temp sensor in the stock high bar place by the water pump, the blue wire can be used to send that signal up to the dash.

We then built the gauge wiring harness, piggy backing the grounds to each other and the live wires. We then located the ignition activated wires for the hot wire and gauge bulbs:

Soldered up our connections and double heat wrapped the landings:

The gauge hot wire was tied into a yellow/black stripe wire off of the ignition switch harness, while the gauge lights were landed to a grey/red wire off of the light switch harness.

Bman Mon May 01, 2017 9:19 am

Well my build continues.

With help, I've been able to get all the glitches out of the ignition system. I replaced the distributor with one of these new dizzies with the Hall Sender in the plug:

When I first took the cap off I swear the seller had duped me a Hall Sender unit, but everyone assures me this is the new wave of HS in the plug. So in she goes. Try to start...nada. So we then suspect that the wire harness is suffering a bad connection and to be sure we must pull the bastard and run through it all, I was reluctant to do this as it is factory sealed and what could really go wrong there? But alas, the rat chewed wires to the Idle Stabilizer Unit, were repaired incorrectly a few weeks back and so we corrected that mishap. Then to rebundle and re-install:

Not too hard to wrestle that octopus back in, but it will never sit as it originally did. Go to start....nada still.

At this point my whole ignition system checks out OK, so back to the basics....spark, fuel, air...etc.

1. I pulled plugs #3 and #1 confirmed spark to both.
2. Confirmed #3-4 and #1-2 fuel injectors are squirting pulsed gas ( new RJE rebuilt injectors)
3. Confirmed air coming out of tail pipe, no blockage. Tried to start with snorkel bypass, nada...
4. Tested fuel pressure; steady 34 psi, dropped 1 psi over 10-12 minutes:

5. Compression test: #3: 85/80psi; #4: 75/94psi; #1: 80psi #2: 80psi
I'm concerned that my compression is so low after a rebuild, but I'm not going to panic as this is probably a "no start" clue. If compression was stopping my starting issue I would expect a zero reading.

The last possibility, or ONLY possibility at this point is that the timing of the engine is all out of whack, we have been messing with the dizzie, and although I am sure we have got it in right, I believe I need to confirm Top Dead Center and proper valve response. I'm not too sure or savvy about that, so I'm going to seek help with the timing to move this forward.

Advice I am getting is to confirm dizzie position and re-adjust the valves. Once I get dizzie and engine at TDC, I'll need to confirm that both valves on #1 are closed....

In the meantime I went ahead and finished sanding, cleaning and painting the front grills:

Bare Bones Ass:

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