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Ecotec swap, 2wd to Syncro conversion & camper build
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DAV!D
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 7:05 pm    Post subject: Ecotec swap, 2wd to Syncro conversion & camper build Reply with quote

A little over a year ago I bought my first vanagon, an 86 Syncro tin top. With the intention of converting it to a camper and traveling the country while vandwelling.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


The Van looks good in the pictures but it has a lot of rust being it was from New England. I was working on fixing it but was having a lot of issues getting the WBX to run well. This made me choose to do a engine swap, something I intended to do later, however I was frustrated with the WBX and knowing almost nothing about them so I opted to go the engine swap route.

After doing a lot of research I decided to go a different route from normal vanagon engine swaps, but instead to go with an engine which is quite common with the off road buggy guys. The GM Ecotec. I picked up a 2.4 from a 2006 pontiac solstice with a little under 30k on the engine.

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While waiting on parts for my swap, I randomly looked on CL for a vanagon with a bad motor that I could put my Syncro engine into. As luck would have it I scored a 84 Westy that was in very good shape but had a bad motor.

Still waiting on parts and all of 2 weeks later I had the Westy running and driving. Not perfect but it ran pretty good. ( I was on my way to becoming a WBX guru)

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


After a bit of thinking it over I decided to let the Syncro sit and focused on the Westy so I could hit the road. I added a solar system, robbed my Syncro of the CLK rims and ATM tires then hit the road for next 8 months.

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I ended up in Denver for several months picked up a job and started rebuilding my bank account. Eventually winter was close and I needed to get back to FL to get back to work on the Syncro. The Westy was a nice Van but I always intended to sell it. I ended up selling it my last month in Denver and picked up an 86 tin top vanagon to get me back to FL.

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The Tin top wasn't anything special but it was rust free and ran good. I ended up finding some 16" rims and tires on Craigslist to replace the bald 14" tires the Van came with. I also found a Westy seat in a junkyard and fixed up the Van the best I could, to finish my last month I had committed to work in Denver. I roughed it in the make do tin top, surviving the artic blast and a -7 night or two before driving back to FL to start work on the Syncro.

The build shall now start...
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Last edited by DAV!D on Thu Feb 26, 2015 9:13 am; edited 5 times in total
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DAV!D
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 7:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Now that my Vanagon history lesson is over, I will now start with my build. I originally planned to fix the rust issues on the Syncro and build that Van. However after getting back to FL and looking over the body, I've decided to instead use the tin top body I bought in Denver.

I hate dealing with rust and having the 86 2wd sitting there being almost rust free and fairly worthless as far as resale value, I decided I would use it and do a 4wd conversion using the parts from my rusty Syncro to make one nice solid Van.

With that in mind I'll be doing this in a few stages as the tin top is still my daily driver and needs to remain as such. Right now I'm mocking the ecotec swap into the Syncro body. Once it's good to go I'll be transferring the motor, 4wd transaxle, and the Syncro fuel system to the 2wd Van.

Once that is completed, I'll start the tear down and rebuild of the Syncro front suspension assembly and then transfer that to the 2wd Van, completing the 4wd conversion.

I will also be camperizing the Van with a complete custom interior as well as a one off high top build.. (Yes I'm planning to be pretty busy and what I may lack in skills I'll make up for with over ambition. Laughing

Ok so let's get started...

I opted to use the Kendy adaptor for my swap and this is the motor and transaxle bolted together. I did have to bore out one bolt hole on the adaptor for the motor side. It didn't line up properly, not sure if that is a common issue or if there might of been a slight change on the 2.4 block vs the 2.2.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


This is the first fitting of the engine the day before Christmas..

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I decided to use the stock ecotec mounting brakets for the motor mounts and then build the motor mount supports. Instead of using the stock solstice motor mounts which were very big and cost about $50 bucks each, I opted to use Jeep CJ7 motor mounts as they were a better size and I was able to get polyurethane racing mounts at the cost of $50 for the pair.. (Much better deal)

It's been 10 years since I did any welding and even then I was a novice. Don't expect flashy here, this is a pure backyard project. I built the mounts as simple and stright forward as I could. Not pretty but they are functional. They are built with 3.5 inch angle and 1.5 inch square.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


This is a look at the passenger side mount bolted in place..

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This is the driver side mount bolted into place.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


The mouti g brakets will still get cleaned up a bit and painted, but for now everything is just in mock up stage, before its transferred to the rust free body.
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Last edited by DAV!D on Tue Jan 06, 2015 9:29 pm; edited 3 times in total
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buildyourown
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 7:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You are brave to go head first into uncharted territory. The reason I choose a Bostig was it was the best documented and I had the highest confidence that it would lead to a reliable vehicle. Important in a family camper.
I build mechanical stuff for a living. The desire to do something different is definitely there and had it been a personal "fun" car, I would have.


I would take a 2nd look at your motor mount design. There is a reason almost everybody ties them together and creates a cradle. The engine will be trying to twist pretty hard when you hit the throttle. Those mounts look to me like they will flex quite a bit and fatigue the welds.
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DAV!D
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 8:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Now that the motor is bolting into the Van, I can start hooking everything up. First will be the engine harness second will be the water system and last will be the fuel system and exhust.

Prior to leaving on my trip, I had started sorting out the ecotec harness. I had never done an engine harness before but i figured the best way to start was to use any wiring diagrams I could find and start labeling each wire..

This was a painful process.. This was a painful process and something I let sit while I took my road trip.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


After coming back and looking at my harness, I opted to let someone whom knew what he was doing do it. I did learn a bit about wiring but in the end I was going to have to either pay someone to program my ecu so the engine would run as a stand alone or I'd have to buy HPtuners for $500 and then figure it out myself.

I opted to have a samba member do the harness and program the computer for me and this is how it looks now.

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


I'd have to look at the harness again, but it's just 4 or 5 wires that hook into the Vanagon harness. Pretty painless and stright forward, having someone do it for you.. Laughing

If I do another of these conversions in the future, I'll likely do the harness myself just to learn how, but speed is of the essence on this conversion as I hope to have it all swapped over to the 2wd Van over the next 2 weeks.

This brings me up to date on this swap.. Unfortunately I'm getting sidelined for a day, as tomorrow I need to replace a wheel bearing on the 86 2wd. (It couldn't wait 2 weeks..of course not)
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DAV!D
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 8:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

buildyourown wrote:
You are brave to go head first into uncharted territory. The reason I choose a Bostig was it was the best documented and I had the highest confidence that it would lead to a reliable vehicle. Important in a family camper.
I build mechanical stuff for a living. The desire to do something different is definitely there and had it been a personal "fun" car, I would have.


I would take a 2nd look at your motor mount design. There is a reason almost everybody ties them together and creates a cradle. The engine will be trying to twist pretty hard when you hit the throttle. Those mounts look to me like they will flex quite a bit and fatigue the welds.


Yes, that is a concern on the motor mounts.. Orginally in my head I had planned to rework the stock vanagon mustache bar into a crossmember for this engine, but it didn't work.

Due to this I went with quick and very basic, just to get the engine mocked up and positioned properly in the Van. Once I do the transfer to the 2wd, I'll be keep a close eye and at that point I may go back and build a standard crossmember type support.

This is very much an exploratory conversion and I will likely change a few things as I try and test them.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 10:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree regarding tying the engine mount arms together. However. There is a lister on this forum with a VW 1.8 inline using a similar set up to DAV!D's. If I recall though, the arms on that 1.8 are stouter. AFAIK, that swap has some miles on it and arms are ok. i have to wonder if maybe it's possible to support an I4 for the long run in that manner. At very least though, would suggest bracing each arm with plate.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 10:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am still not seeing much rust on that syncro.

Are-you sure about the rust? It seems to me like the original tin-top syncro would be worth more and be a lot less work than starting to transfer everything on another tin-top.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 10:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice work so far!! Cool
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2015 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

DAV!D wrote:



Due to this I went with quick and very basic, just to get the engine mocked up and positioned properly in the Van. Once I do the transfer to the 2wd, I'll be keep a close eye and at that point I may go back and build a standard crossmember type support.

This is very much an exploratory conversion and I will likely change a few things as I try and test them.


That's actually a pretty good way to go about it. You'd hate to make really nice mounts and have to hack them to fit the exhaust.

You might consider hydraulic mounts on the final design. The "racing" mounts are designed to be stiffer for better power transfer. What that means to a van is more NVH. Especially with an I4. I know Bostig fought this. They used a cheaper mount and had issues and had to go to OEM ford Tauras mounts. THey are big.
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DAV!D
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

SyncroChrick wrote:
I am still not seeing much rust on that syncro.

Are-you sure about the rust? It seems to me like the original tin-top syncro would be worth more and be a lot less work than starting to transfer everything on another tin-top.


Yes it has lots of it. The seams were filled with body filler and the bottom has a lot of rot as well as bad spots on the windows. I knew it had rust when I bought, it, but I planned to fix it. However now having a very clean 2wd body that could make a much nicer Van, I figure that is the best move.

Here are a few pics of the rot..

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


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Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


The inner fenders I can tell have a lot of rot in the rear as body filler has been used to cover it up and then heavy rubber undercoating on top of that. The front steps were replaced already so there was obviously rust there as well and who knows what was covered up.

I figure I can go two ways. Spend a lot of time fixing rust that will just come back..or spend a bit of time swapping things to a clean body and have a solid Van from the start.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

David,

Is that other van truly rust free? In the photo it looks like it has seam rust in some of the seams. Maybe it's just the photo? I'm all for transferring the Syncro parts to a non-rusty shell and not wasting time fixing a seriously rusty original, but I would hold out for a truly rust free van before doing all that work.

Dave
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DAV!D
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vanagon Nut wrote:
I agree regarding tying the engine mount arms together. However. There is a lister on this forum with a VW 1.8 inline using a similar set up to DAV!D's. If I recall though, the arms on that 1.8 are stouter. AFAIK, that swap has some miles on it and arms are ok. i have to wonder if maybe it's possible to support an I4 for the long run in that manner. At very least though, would suggest bracing each arm with plate.


I think that was the swap which gave me the idea for this style mounts. I know I saw some conversion here on the samba which had similar mounts to what I've built.

After toys g around with modifying the stock mustache bar and realizing I'd be better off starting fresh, I then started with an idea to build a crossmember at frame height at the back of the Van to use the engine's front wheel drive mounting points, but scrapped that idea as well.

After that I opted just to go this way, because I had the steel sitting there which is very heavy duty and it was a quick way to build so I could moving on the conversion.

One reason I didn't go with a crossmember is because I'd have to build it further forward to go under the raised secotion of the oil pan and then bring the mounts back from there. It's doable but more time involving.

If I end up going the crossmember route later, I'll likely look around at different oil pans and see if there are better options. This motor came out of a RWD car but there are also lots of FWD versions as well so something else might work better.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

D Clymer wrote:
David,

Is that other van truly rust free? In the photo it looks like it has seam rust in some of the seams. Maybe it's just the photo? I'm all for transferring the Syncro parts to a non-rusty shell and not wasting time fixing a seriously rusty original, but I would hold out for a truly rust free van before doing all that work.

Dave


It has just the very beginnings of seam rust that can easily be fixed with a wire wheel and new seam sealer. There is no bubbling just a bit of discoloration( most of it would likely clean up with a Brillo pad). The worst spots are the rear rockers behind the wheels, that last seam by the bumper which runs horizontal and even it is fixable.

It's really not bad at all and I very seriously doubt I'd find anything else any better than that body on the east coast with out spending an arm and a leg. The rest of the body is nice, the window seals are all rust free, the rain gutters are great and the underside of the Van looks like a typical van from out west.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 11:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting to see your ideas and thoughts re the engine carrier; this is not a dissimilar build to my swap. FWIW, my carrier is quite solid but then it may be a little overbuilt. (2" box) I'd often wondered if plate steel welded between arms would suffice instead of the 1"x2" box I used. Or, bolt the plate to each arm to allow easier access for oil pan removal. I see the cutaway at your oil pan. Some VW I4 "upright" swaps use an Audi or similar oil pan with cutaway running the cross piece at cutaway.

I have to remember that you've got a Syncro though and ground clearance is likely more important than that of a 2WD.

Neil.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 12:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It maybe too late, but you need to pay attention to the driveshaft output flange angle. The engine mounts set that.

Your original idea of using the syncro running gear in a camper made a lot of sense. I am not so sure about this firedrill and ending up with another hardtop syncro. The rust does not look that bad to me either.
]
You could tackle cutting out the rust and repairing easier than a complete conversion. That is just my opinion. Plus it would retain more value if you did need to sell it on.

Post lots of pictures if you follow through. Good luck

edit. PS, shameless plug, PM me, I have both lower rockers that are in decent shape from my project. PM for details.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

rsxsr wrote:
It maybe too late, but you need to pay attention to the driveshaft output flange angle. The engine mounts set that.

Your original idea of using the syncro running gear in a camper made a lot of sense. I am not so sure about this firedrill and ending up with another hardtop syncro. The rust does not look that bad to me either.
]
You could tackle cutting out the rust and repairing easier than a complete conversion. That is just my opinion. Plus it would retain more value if you did need to sell it on.

Post lots of pictures if you follow through. Good luck

edit. PS, shameless plug, PM me, I have both lower rockers that are in decent shape from my project. PM for details.


I don't want another Westy. I just spent 8 months living in one and I popped the top maybe a dozen times. Added to that the Westy interior wastes too much space and is very heavy for what it is.

I'll be building out my own camper interior that makes better use of the space for my needs. I'm also going to be building a one off mid sized high top that will look similar to the Dehler top.

As far as the Syncro body, trust me the pictures don't look bad, but it has a lot of bad rust. The rain gutters are trashed as well and there is a hole that was filled under the driver's side slider and one starting under the rear window of the same side.

As for work done today, I had to replace a rear wheel bearing on the 2wd. I had hoped to put it off until the motor swap was ready and just do both sides at once, but I'd say it wasn't going to wait..

Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


Oddly enough the rear bearing was in very good shape, but I replaced both with new German bearings.

Edit...

Also on the transmission angle, I made sure to put it at the proper angle. It's sitting right between 3 to 4 degrees, which matches the front.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 5:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Vanagon Nut wrote:
Interesting to see your ideas and thoughts re the engine carrier; this is not a dissimilar build to my swap. FWIW, my carrier is quite solid but then it may be a little overbuilt. (2" box) I'd often wondered if plate steel welded between arms would suffice instead of the 1"x2" box I used. Or, bolt the plate to each arm to allow easier access for oil pan removal. I see the cutaway at your oil pan. Some VW I4 "upright" swaps use an Audi or similar oil pan with cutaway running the cross piece at cutaway.

I have to remember that you've got a Syncro though and ground clearance is likely more important than that of a 2WD.

Neil.


Yea my set up is also very solid feeling and I only have 2 mounting points going in from the sides through the frame. I will be adding 2 that go through the frame rail as the sock mount used as well. This will secure it from two angles and will stop any sort of movement it could possibly have.

As far as ground clearance, that's why I didn't do the full crossmember. I'll just have to play it by ear once it's drivable to see if it developed any flexing. If it does I'll just build a new crossmember.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 6:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

DAV!D wrote:
D Clymer wrote:
David,

Is that other van truly rust free? In the photo it looks like it has seam rust in some of the seams. Maybe it's just the photo? I'm all for transferring the Syncro parts to a non-rusty shell and not wasting time fixing a seriously rusty original, but I would hold out for a truly rust free van before doing all that work.

Dave


It has just the very beginnings of seam rust that can easily be fixed with a wire wheel and new seam sealer. There is no bubbling just a bit of discoloration( most of it would likely clean up with a Brillo pad). The worst spots are the rear rockers behind the wheels, that last seam by the bumper which runs horizontal and even it is fixable.

It's really not bad at all and I very seriously doubt I'd find anything else any better than that body on the east coast with out spending an arm and a leg. The rest of the body is nice, the window seals are all rust free, the rain gutters are great and the underside of the Van looks like a typical van from out west.


That sounds good, then. I just couldn't tell from the picture if I was seeing rust or not. Sounds like there isn't much of it.

Looking forward to seeing your build!

Dave
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 8:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't tell if my tired old eyes are playing tricks on me, but are the splines on your stub axle all hogged out? If so, I'd hate to see what the hub splines look like.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2015 9:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Zeitgeist 13 wrote:
I can't tell if my tired old eyes are playing tricks on me, but are the splines on your stub axle all hogged out? If so, I'd hate to see what the hub splines look like.


I think it was just the way it looks in the picture, from the rusty dust and the clean spots. The splines were ok and the hub slides on and off with no problems.
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