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Ask The Mechanic – 168 – Replacing the brake master cylinder

For this installment of The mechanic, we welcome a submission from Jonathan Bruton. You may recall his submission for issue TT166 concerning brake overhaul, this is the second chapter of that story.
Not long after I had put my tools away and given
myself a smug pat on the back for having successfully
installed new callipers and discs on the front wheels
of Mortimer Henderson (TT Issue 166), my ’73 Bay, I
happened to see a Facebook post from Nick Gillott
to the effect that the master cylinder also needed
replacing at regular intervals. The master cylinder, as
its name suggests, pushes brake fluid through the
lines to the slave cylinders at the wheels when you
hit the brake pedal, operating the brakes through
hydraulic pressure.
Anyway, I tried to ignore this unwelcome piece of
advice but could no longer do so when it became
obvious that the pedal was getting spongier by the
journey; when I finally got around to checking the
level of the reservoir, it had gone down quite sharply,
and I could see brake fluid dripping out of the hole
in the front pan beneath the pedal assemblies. So,
action was clearly needed.

Once the pan was removed, the first thing to do
was to locate the cylinder, which I had never looked
for or seen. As you would expect, it is bolted to the
frame beneath the brake pedal assembly, and the
brake pedal rod fits into it through a rubber boot,
which itself fits through a hole in the frame and is
designed to keep out dirt and debris. Two brake lines
lead away from it – one to a T-piece which then feeds
the front wheel brake assemblies, and the other to a
pressure equaliser bolted to the offside edge of the
frame, which feeds the rear brakes.
The main fluid reservoir crouches on it piggyback style and is attached via two nozzles that run
through rubber grommets. Finally, the brake light
switch screws in at the back (on my replacement
cylinder, there were two holes for the switch, and
a video I watched for the same job on an early Bay
showed two brake light switches, for reasons I’m not
clear about).

At first glance it was immediately apparent that all
was indeed not well. The boot was in shreds, and the
assembly was clearly leaking, presumably because
dirt had penetrated the seal. But replacing it looked
pretty straight forward, and I naively anticipated that
it’d be done in a single afternoon! It really needed
to be as well, because we only have one parking
space, which has the charger for our main car, a fully
electric Nissan Leaf, which we can’t use if it’s blocked
by a hulking great immobilised van! This has been a
point of friction between me and my long-suffering
partner in the past, but I blithely assured her that
there would be minimal disruption.
In this optimistic spirit, I ordered the replacement
part from JK and offered it up to make sure it was the
same as the one on the van, which it was. So now it
was a matter of whipping off the two 13 mm nuts
holding it on, unplugging the brake light switch and
undoing the two brake pipes, emptying the fluid
reservoir in the process. Yeah, right!
For some reason best known to themselves, VW had
opted for nuts and bolts rather than studs to hold
the cylinder on. Which would inevitably mean that
the whole bolt would just start rotating. Which both
of them did. With one of them, I could get a wrench
on the bolt head and get the nut off no problem.
The other one, however, was conveniently located
in a recess, making it impossible to access with a
wrench, so there was no way to hold the bolt still. In
the end I had to resort to a mechanical nut splitter to
remove the offending nut. With a bit of persuasion
by hammer, I was then able to loosen the cylinder
and start moving it backwards.
The next issue was with the two brake pipes. When
new, of course, the nut rotates freely around the
pipe. After 47 years of exposure to God knows what,
however, muck and corrosion do their worst, and
the nut sticks fast to the pipe. Once I’d been forced
to buy a new 11 mm wrench (inevitably, the only
wrench missing from my set was the one I needed), I
ended up doing what the guy in the early Bay video
had earnestly warned me I really didn’t want to do,
which was to shear both of the nuts right off. After
a few seconds of panic, however, I realised that both
sections of pipe were relatively short and could
easily be unbolted from the other end: at the abovementioned T-junction and the pressure equaliser.

Perhaps this kind of damage is more consequential
in an early Bay. Whatever, I then relaxed and let the
brake fluid drain out through the fractured pipe ends
into a handy receptacle below. My advice would be
to assume that these pipes are going to be toast and
simply order replacements when you order a new
cylinder; it’s no big deal.
So, having broken both pipes and removed the
retaining bolts, I took the cap off the brake light
switch and pulled the cylinder out, complete with
fluid reservoir. Now, this is attached to the secondary
reservoir in the cab by a length of plastic pipe held
in with two plastic hose clips, themselves secured by
two tiny cross-headed screws. These are a bit pesky
to reach, but I got the lower one out easily enough,
assuming I wouldn’t need to move the uppermost
one, and removed the whole assembly.
The reservoir plugs into the cylinder in two places, as
I said above, and it’s a very tight fit – which it needs
to be – so I had to use a screwdriver to exert some
leverage to get it off. No problem there. It was in
good nick, with no cracks or splits, so I could simply
reuse it. The new cylinder comes with the sealing
grommets, so you just have to use some elbow
grease to push the reservoir on. Just make sure you
get it the right way round! Once it was all in place,
I bolted the cylinder in place, having replaced both
nuts and bolts.
Annoyingly, I missed the delivery driver when he
came with the new brake pipes the following day.
That day being Friday, it meant that the van would
have to sit on the space until at least Monday. I
averted a charging-related roasting by offering to
take the Leaf up to the nearest charging station,
so harmony was restored. Monday came and
the eagerly awaited pipes with it. As they have a
diameter of 3/16 “, they’re very easy to bend without
kinking. The only issue here was that the length of
pipe that went to the pressure equaliser was only
just long enough, meaning that I had to carefully
plan the shortest possible distance.
Having removed the old pipes, it was then something
of an epic task to get the nuts to engage with the
threads at both ends – I would get one in place, only
to find that the other end simply wouldn’t oblige. In
the end, I had to loosen the cylinder body again, and,
after rather a lot of swearing, the nuts were finally in
place, and I could reattach the cylinder to the frame
and reinsert the brake pedal rod into the boot.
Surely it would now just be a simple matter of
reattaching the plastic pipe to the bottom reservoir,
refilling it with fresh fluid, and bleeding the brakes.
Ahem. Not quite.
To start with, there was the second hole for the
missing brake light switch. Not much point putting
fluid in for it simply to run out again through a
great big hole. As automotive bolt threads seem to

be narrower than their DIY counterparts, my local
hardware store was unable to provide a suitable
blank. Happily, they directed me to a garage round
the corner, and the chap there fished around until
he found a bolt with a nipple, which looked like it
came from a carburettor assembly, that had the right
thread and would do the job. Now, it would surely
all work.
With great lightness of heart, I tightened everything
up and started to refill the cab reservoir – only
to discover that the fluid was dripping out at the
bottom almost as fast as it was going in! Yes – it
was the hose. Leaking at both ends. Meaning that,
to investigate, I’d also have to undo the topmost
clamp, which was virtually impossible to reach
from underneath. Filing that away as a problem for
later, I replaced the pathetic little plastic clip at the
bottom end of the hose – where it joined the lower
reservoir – with a proper jubilee clip and tightened
it nice and snug. I then had the blindingly obvious
realisation that it would surely be possible to undo
the reservoir in the cab and lift it out to get access
to the clamp immediately below it. But I couldn’t see
how to release the reservoir. Fortunately, the Samba
came to the rescue, and I was soon undoing the two
little screws that held it in, which enabled me to lift
up the reservoir and shed light on the problem.
Sure enough, the hose at the top end was split, so I
trimmed it and replaced the plastic clip with another
metal pipe clamp. I also realised that the nozzle (I
can’t think of the proper word for the protruding part
the clamp attaches to!) and was supposed to have a
plastic sleeve around it to aid the seal, but this sleeve
was missing from both ends, so all I could do was
make sure the clamps were located on the slight
bulge in the nozzle and done up nice and tight.
And then – glory be! – the leak was finally sorted!
I filled her up and fetched my handy little Draper oneman bleeding kit, which is a bottle with a one-way
plastic hose that fits snugly over the bleed nipple
and doesn’t permit any backflow. When you’re lying
under the van, you can operate the brake pedal from
underneath and watch as the air bubbles shoot out
of the bleed nipple and disappear into the bottle,
to be replaced by a lovely golden bar of brake fluid,
which is a fine sight.
So, there it was. All done. Except that I couldn’t find
the cab fluid reservoir cap. Anywhere. I’m sure many
of you will know what it’s like not to be able to find
the tool you’ve just put down and to have to spend
ten minutes searching for it until you find it in your
pocket or somewhere. Anyway, as my frustration
and incredulity increased, I resorted to rummaging
through the recycling until I found the top of a
squash bottle which could be made to fit. Better
than nothing! Anyway, I could finally triumphantly
drive the bus off the parking space and swap it for
the Leaf, which I plugged in, thereby ensuring that
domestic harmony would continue without a ripple.
And then, there was the reservoir cap. Perched
on top of a wheelie bin, where I’d left it. Laughing
at me.
Jonathan Bruton

Renewing the front brakes on my ’73 Bay, Mortimer Henderson

By Jonathan Bruton

CAVEAT: brakes are obviously safety-critical components, so only attempt this job if you are confident that you can do so safely! This is a personal account of a process and not an exhaustive set of instructions; the author cannot be held liable for any injury arising from accidents caused by a failure to carry out safety-relevant tasks properly.

Some while ago, in that pre-Covid world in which we could drive places (remember that?), I started to become aware of a tell-tale grinding noise coming from Mortimer’s nearside front wheel. There still seemed to be adequate braking power, nor was the van pulling particularly in either direction when I applied the brakes, so I wasn’t unduly concerned. But I thought I’d take advantage of the lockdown to jack him up, whip off the wheels and take a look at the callipers and brake discs.

The old caliper

You can imagine my horror when I saw that, in the first assembly I looked at on the nearside, the calliper pistons were frozen in such a way that the brake pads must have been forced up against the disc surface. The pistons normally only protrude slightly from the inner surfaces of the calliper, allowing enough space to snugly fit the two pads with a tiny bit of clearance. But as  you can see on the picture, the dirt seals – concertina boots that should move in and out with the piston and protect it from contamination – had long since perished and the pistons had accordingly seized up in extended position. On closer inspection, it also became apparent that there was zero friction material left on either pad(!) – what I was hearing was metal on metal. Whatever braking performance there may once have been was obviously a thing of the distant past! The disc surface was as scored and uneven as you would expect under those circumstances, and the disc was obviously beyond redemption. Things were a little better on the other side, with some wear left on the pads – although the fact that van wasn’t pulling to the right suggests that that brake wasn’t functional either. I toyed with the idea of trying a rebuild but, when it became evident that there was no way I was going to get the bleed valves free, I thought I might as well save myself a lot of bother by buying new callipers for both wheels along with two new discs.

The worn brake pad

The first job, of course, was to get the old callipers off so I could remove the discs. This was relatively straightforward. I first had to undo the two 17mm retaining bolts on the inside of the assembly. I then used a pin punch to knock out the two pins that hold the retaining spring in place before tugging out the old pads. It was then a question of pulling out the clip that holds the hose in place and removing the whole assembly from the disc, being careful not to place undue strain on the metal brake pipe that attaches to the calliper. I also needed to bear in mind that the topmost bolt has an unthreaded section on the shank closest to the screw head. The nuts were pretty tight, however, and I needed a torque wrench to get them off. According to the BUSARU guy, the torque is about 110 lbs.

The top bolt

The tricky part in getting the discs off was removing the two button head Allen bolts. Stopping the drum from rotating was an issue until I had the brainwave of clamping the disc to the backing plate. I managed to free up one bolt on each side by conventional means but soon found myself in danger (of course!) of irredeemably rounding off the holes in the other two in my desperate attempts to get them to budge. I even resorted to cutting a groove into one of them (and the surrounding metal) with a grinder to create a slot for a screwdriver. But nothing could persuade it to move! A quick appeal to the Samba revealed a range of opinions on the subject, from just drilling the heads off (the logic being that the thing was securely held in place by the wheel anyway and wasn’t going to go anywhere) to using an impact driver. I like to do things properly if I possibly can, so it was off to eBay to get myself an impact driver (can’t believe I’ve never owned one!). And, hey presto, a couple of whacks on each side got the troublesome little critters out. I took a quick look at the condition of the bearings, which seemed fine and well-greased, so I left them alone. I then fitted the shiny new discs to both sides.

The shiny new disc

The next job was to disconnect the old callipers from the brake lines. Now, as the brakes are safety-critical parts, I’d always shied away from doing anything that would involve having to refill and bleed the fluid. But, having watched a number of YouTube videos on the subject, I concluded that I had nothing to fear but fear itself and went ahead. It would have been a good idea to apply some WD40 to the nuts first, though: on one side, the pipe started to twist with the nut (which should normally spin freely around it), which promptly sheared off. So it was back to Just Kampers for a new 24-cm brake pipe (I swear I’m keeping that company afloat single-handed at the moment!).

Offering the caliper to the disk

With the old units out of the way, it was just a matter of fixing the new ones in place, torqueing up the bolts, and sliding in the new brake pads and backing plates, having first applied some anti-squeal gunk to both sides of the plates. Once they were both in, it was the turn of the retaining spring and the two pins (here I reused the old ones because the new pins supplied with the kits resisted my efforts to tap them into the holes). I used a pin punch and hammer to tap them home.

The new caliper in place

Then it was just a question of bleeding the brakes, replacing the wheels and venturing out for a short road test (keeping an eye out for the police – strange times!). Job done!

Kit acquired for the job:

From JK:

Front brake kit (discs, pads, fixings) £94.75
Calliper (nearside) £99.75
Calliper (offside) £99.75
Brake disc screws: £21.00
Morris brake fluid (1 litre) £11.00
Front brake pipe £15.00

From Amazon:
Impact driver £23.94
Holts brake cleaner £5.25
Ceratec anti-squeal paste £3.30
Starrett pin punch £4.39

Total for job: £378.13

Next month event – The AGM and club BBQ

The write up for the 2019 event went like this:

When several people tell you they’ve had a great weekend, including some more skeptical folks, you know you’ve got a good formula. Our club’s annual general meeting, BBQ and camp was again this year held at Great Bourton, just a few miles off the M40.

This again seemed to include a willingness to sit, chat, walk to the local pub (5 and 30 minute options), watch the footie or Eurovision, learn a new craft and drink Tea, coffee and more. Club participants on our spacious rally field this year included 21 vans, 33 adults, three dogs, one toddler and one parrot. There were also seven portions of delivered fish ‘n’ chips, 50 burgers and over 100 pieces of cake.

We had visitors from Norwich, Swansea, Sheffield and Maidstone; Four corners indeed! The essential business of the weekend (the Annual General Meeting itself) was conducted smoothly and efficiently… Thank you for supporting your club. This left plenty of time for the other important activities mentioned earlier! Many members walked away with valued, if not highly original, prizes in our Wrapped Up Raffle… I am making fine use of my Outwell bottle, kindly donated with a number of other prizes by member Ian Crawford.

Other attendees also brought along splendid and amusing options to help raise funds. Thank you all for supporting your club!

I think Kevin’s Craft workshop may have created a new sharing tradition. Who ever heard of Flower Pumelling? Not me, for sure… But along with four other ladies and one young man I became quickly addicted to perfecting the arrangement, taping, turning and subsequent bashing of foraged blooms to create something approaching art.

Mine was far from the best offering, but gives you an idea (see photo). Fab idea, Kevin, thank you so much for sharing!

Fuel hoses

Anyone with a vehicle knows that fuel is really rather flammable. This is why you do not smoke at a fuel station. Anyone owning or driving an old vehicle should be equally careful with the state of the fuel “line”.

From the tank to the engine, the fuel is permanently sitting in metal pipe, plastic pipe and rubber pipe. There is no off switch, so if this ruptures, you are dumping the entire contents onto the ground, so from a financial point of view it is a sensible idea to ensure this is all in good order. From a heartache perspective, it is imperative as well.

You do not want your pride and joy catching fire due to a leaking pipe spraying fuel onto something very hot in the engine bay.

Taking the Type 1 engine as an example, there are multiple systems in place as primitive fuel emissions systems.

The U shaped pipe number 9 is the one that you can see on the roof of the engine bay in a Bay window just above the number plate.

Red pipe numbered 24 needs a long arm and can be reached by putting your left hand up past the rear light cluster up the side of the bus and is quite a tricky little one to replace. If you can smell fuel always, especially if you sniff the air intake on the left side, that is often missing or perished.

The ones next to the fuel tank in the picture by green 24 are all behind the fuel tank firewall and need the engine to be removed.

My local VW mechanic recommends replacing all of the rubber components at least every 3 years and last time , we found that blue 24 in the middle of the picture on the pipe heading to the right was actually disconnected, causing fuel to spill over the top of the tank when turning right with a full tank! We had a clean section of tank and a lucky escape.

In summary. Ensure that your fuel system is inspected regularly by a competent mechanic and relevant parts are changed. The new fuels have either Biodiesel or Ethanol in them, which are not good on modern rubber pipes.

Basic servicing of your air cooled vehicle

Step 1 Changing engine oil
Engine oils should be changed at 3000 mile intervals, to ensure that your engine doesn’t suffer from undue wear and tear. Some people even suggest that it should be changed every 2000 miles. If this seems a little extreme just think about how much it will cost to replace your engine should you have a catastrophic failure due to excessive engine wear! The actual oil change interval is up to you, but I wouldn’t recommend that you go more than 3000 miles. Always check you are using the recommended oil for your engine.

Step 2 Tyre pressures
It is important that your tyres are inflated to the right pressure. Your buses ride will be better and its road handling will be much improved, which also means that it will be safer. Check your tyre pressures at least every two weeks and always before a long journey. Make sure you know the correct tyre pressures for your model of VW Bus.

Step 3 Windscreen Washer bottle
The washer bottle on a VW Bus is located behind the front kick panel to the left of the steering column. The peculiar part of the set up is the fact that it needs compressed air to force the water from the bottle to the windscreen. You can attach a normal air line at your local garage and pressurize to 40psi. Warning, do not pressurize it any more than 40psi because you run the risk of blowing the pipes of the washer nozzles. It’s a lot of work to put them back on!

Step 4 Gearbox Oil
Although the gear box should only be changed every 30000 miles it may need topping up from time to time. The fill plug is located on the side of the gear box near to the clutch cable. The official documentation suggests you will need a 17mm Hex spanner, but mine seems to be 18mm! Use Hypoid EP80/90 gear oil and fill so the oil is level with the bottom of the hole. It is essential that you locate your bus on a flat surface when you perform this task.

Step 5 Spark plugs
Cleaning your spark plugs should be undertaken every 5000 miles or so. The electrode gap should be 0.7mm or 0.028in. You can clean the electrode with a little piece of emery cloth or a fine wet and dry. Personally I prefer to completely change my spark plugs every 10000 miles and check them every 5000 miles or so.

Step 6 Distributor Cap
When you replace or check your spark plugs it is necessary to inspect the condition of the distributor electrodes because they can become corroded. If so they can be cleaned or replaced depending on the level of corrosion.

Step 7 Rotor arm
The rotor arm (inside the distributor), should be checked, cleaned or replaced every 5000 miles or when you check the condition of your spark plugs. They are not expensive so I prefer to replace new for old on every service.

Step 8 Ignition points
The Ignition points should be checked every time you undertake the general electrical servicing outline above. The points gap should be 0.4mm or 0.016in and should be clean. If they are pitted or corroded in any way they will need replacing.

Step 9 Fan Belt
Check every time you look in the engine bay! Its easy. 10 – 15mm play is fine, anymore and you should adjust. There are some small shims that can be removed if the fan belt is too loose.

Step 10 Air filter (Oil Bath Type)
The air filter will need to be cleaned and the oil replaced every 5000 miles. Drain the old oil, clean and fill up with new engine oil. Make sure you dispose of your engine oil properly. Your local council will have an oil disposal unit.

Step 11 Fuel lines and hoses
Check the condition of your fuel lines every time you follow this service check list. If they are chapped in anyway replace them. Remember – no smoking! You can get very high quality steel lines if you prefer. Whilst you are doing this you can check the heater pipes for holes or badly fitting joints and repair if necessary. Having holes or bad joints will reduce your buses chance of keeping you warm.

Step 12 Brake fluid
Brake fluid should be checked and topped up periodically. The brake fluid reservoir can be found behind the front kick panel.

Step 13 Brake Pads
The brake pads can be checked very easily on a bus, although you will need to remove the wheels. To do this jack up the vehicle and remember to always use axle stands. You will be able to see if your pads need replacing, they should be at least 7mm thick.

Step 14 Axle
The axle will need to be greased every 5-7000 miles. There are multiple points that need greasing. These are the steering idler that is located in the middle of the axle and the four trailing arm bushes at the ends. So a grease gun will be a great buy!

Step 15 Clutch
Your clutch should be checked for play periodically and should have around 20mm play at the foot peddle. You should also grease the clutch cable periodically to help its ability to work efficiently and to stop it breaking because it gets stuck.

The engine battery

Prompted by a member called Robert who was asking, sharing in case it helps anyone else.

Robert had an issue with his starter battery and wanted to replace it but of course is space constrained in an older vehicle. His 72Ah battery was the right size, but how many Amp Hours do you need?

A standard 1.6 litre air cooled engine requires a starter motor such as the Power Lite one from JK. That one is a 1.4 kilowatt starter. Converting kilowatts to amps you need to change 1.4KW to 1,400 watts and then divide it by the voltage, in our case 12 volts.

1,400 / 12 = Around 120 amps.

For two litre engines, you will need a little more. For a customised engine, who knows?!

If you look at The battery charge quick reference guide you know that you do not wish to flatten the battery completely as that will break it. Ideally avoid going more than 30% depleted.

If you know that you never use more than a minute on the starter motor to get the engine into life, that is 1/60th of an hour. Running that 120 amp starter motor for an hour would be 120 amp hours, so 1/60th of that is 2 amp hours.

As long as you have no current leaks and are not sitting in your vehicle draining the battery with a stereo, a fridge, lighting or other circuits on the starter motor, as you can see, a minute to start the engine on a 1.6 litre air cooled engine will drain 2 amp hours out of your battery. Even the smallest and cheapest car batteries will cope with that, but for peace of mind, don’t buy the cheapest battery in the shop!

Metalworking – cutting bigger circles

Here is one that I did not know. I have drill bits that go from 1mm up to 10mm in 0.5mm increments. I needed to drill a 12mm hole in a panel that I had fabricated ready to take a grommet for a cable.

I checked in with a neighbour and he only had 10mm drill bit maximum as well, so I got online to order a 12mm and a 32mm one as well for another cable hole next to it.

Here is something called a hole cutter that comes as a pack of 3 allowing holes to be made in 2mm increments from 4mm up to 32mm. All 3 came in a little pouch for about £10.

And they worked so quickly I was rather surprised:

The 12mm hole on the right for the heater cable took about a second to cut from 10mm to 12mm. The one on the left needs the bigger cutter!

Inexpensive way of making lots of different sized holes!

Ageing your vehicle

If you have a Type Two, here is how to identify the age and type of your vehicle as it left the factory:

2 1 2 2 1 5 7 4 4

First digit – T2 (Bay window)

Second digit – Type of vehicle:

1 -Delivery / Panel van
2 – Microbus
3 – Kombi
4 – Microbus
6 – Pick up
7 – Crew cab

Third digit – The year (2 means 1972 and 9 means 1979 etc)

The rest is your individual serial number for the vehicle.

Replacing a sliding door seal without fully removing the door

by Mike Hobson

In October last year, I replaced the sliding-door seal, on my “crossover” 1972 VW Type 2. Despite being 71 years of age, I did it on my own, so younger members should find it a doddle! The tools needed, were a wooden spatula (as used by my wife in the kitchen), a selection of screwdrivers and an axle stand.
(1) Firstly, set the height of the axle stand, at as near as possible, to the height of the underside of the door. Pieces of wooden packing might be needed.
(2) Remove the cover plate from rear panel (covers sliding mechanism). This is where different types and lengths of screwdrivers are needed. You have to slacken the tightening bar (the screw can be difficult to get to). Once off, I drilled and tapped with the original thread right through, so can be filled with grease.
(3) You can now see the runner, about half way along is a cut-out. Line up with block on sliding mechanism and lift off rear of door and place on axle stands. Once done, presumably old seal will be out. Just hook new seal over projecting runner and then over door, move seal into position and door can be lifted back on to the runner.
(4) The wooden spatula is shaped as required and used to push the new rubber in. Adhesive can be used as required. It is a bit fiddly, but can be done. Adjustment to the door might be needed for it to shut, due to the thickness of the new rubber seal. It will eventually settle down. Job done.
P.S. I am no mechanic or engineer, just an old Joe Bloggs.

Experiences of overhauling a Volkswagen air-cooled engine

Compiled and written by Nigel A Skeet, previously published in the club magazine.

Sometime in early 1983, our 1973 VW 1600 Type 2’s AD-series engine, developed a major oil leak, which we were unable to trace; leading us to completely dismantle the engine and renew every conceivable oil seal and gasket, plus the steel, pushrod tubes, which were noticeably rusty. Although by that time, I had quite a good selection of tools, including two click-stop torque wrenches, none of them were suitable for removing the 36 mm AF, flywheel gland bolt, which is tightened to a very large torque.
Fortunately, one of my engineering-student colleagues at Cranfield, named Jonathan Wells, loaned me his ¾ inch drive T-bar and 36 mm AF socket tool, which he used for the rear wheel hubs, of his VW based, autocross space frame buggies. Even with this tool, one needed to slide a long steel pipe (being several feet long, it is referred to in some quarters, as a scaffold pole), over the T-bar, in order to produce sufficient torque. When we later refitted the flywheel bolt, we were faced with the problem of how to obtain the correct tightening torque (which is critical for this engine); not having a torque wrench of sufficient capacity. This was finally resolved by weighing myself on the bathroom scales and then standing on the T-bar, pipe extension, the appropriate distance from the socket centre; ensuring that the pipe was horizontal.
Ten years later, in 1993, when we sold the 1600 engine, second-hand, in favour of a VW Type 4 style engine (the virtues of which, Jonathan Wells had extolled to me, in 1983), the buyer recounted a tale of woe, about his supposedly “reconditioned” 1600 exchange engine, whose flywheel bolt had not been adequately tightened. The flywheel subsequently came loose, resulting in a severely damaged engine, which was effectively written off.
On the whole, removing, dismantling, rebuilding and refitting the 1600 engine (my first ever attempt at such things) was child’s play (in many respects, simpler than doing a 200 piece jigsaw puzzle), but removing some of the cover-plates was a nightmare. Many of the cheese-head, slotted M6 screws had rusted in solid and needed to be drilled out very carefully. Noting that the screwdriver slots of conventional and Philips head screws were easily damaged, I later replaced them with 10 mm AF, hex-head M6 bolts, which would withstand higher torque. At a later date, I took the further precaution of coating the screw threads, with anti-seize copper grease. These days, I would also be inclined, to substitute stainless steel bolts and/or Allen socket-head screws, which are what I am using, on my transplanted VW Type 4 style engine.
Many of the cover-plates had corroded where they were exposed to the elements; having been given only a thin coat of paint at the factory. In some places, the steel had become wafer thin, necessitating repair. All the cover-plates were comprehensively treated with D-Rust (a phosphoric acid based rust treatment solution), to etch all the rust out of the pits, and repaired as necessary, by brazing on reinforcement sections, before repainting them with several coats of Finnigan’s Hammerite. When I sold the engine in 1993, these cover-plates were still in excellent overall condition, which I have since sold off piecemeal, during the following years; some as recently as 2010~12!
Removing the old exhaust silencer, proved to be no picnic either, and it was necessary to use a hacksaw and cold chisel, in order to disengage it from the heat exchangers. Had removal of the exhaust silencer not been necessary, it would probably have lasted a few more years. The original exhaust-manifold nuts, incorporated HeliCoil™ thread inserts, which did not rust, but the hexagonal outer portion had corroded badly and no spanner (neither metric nor imperial) would fit them snugly, so “copper exhaust-manifold-nuts”, were purchased as replacements.
We did initially obtain a stainless steel replacement silencer, from the local branch of Qwik Fit Euro, but this would not align correctly (may have been intended for a VW 1200 engine!?), with the cylinder head exhaust ports and/or the heat exchangers, so it was returned to the suppliers. Ultimately, we fitted a Scat ‘Monza’ style silencer, with two integral twin tail pipes, from the USA, purchased from the German Car Company, in Hadleigh, Essex. This lasted well, for nearly 8 years, until Easter 1991, when one of the twin tail pipes dropped off, somewhere on the M40 or M25 motorways. The so-called “copper exhaust-manifold-nuts”, which had been fitted nearly 8 years earlier, proved to be merely copper-plated steel nuts, and had rusted onto the screw studs; one of which sheared off and resulted in the need for an expensive repair to the cylinder head.
I had never been impressed with the standard, single-piece, exhaust-silencer clamps, intended for the VW 1600 Type 2, so instead I used a pair of two-piece, VW Beetle tailpipe clamps, which are more fiddly to fit (see Transporter Talk, Issue 27, February 1997, Pages 24~25), but provide a better seal between the heat exchangers and silencer. To be sure of a gas-tight seal, I also used a liberal quantity of Holts Firegum; a well-known brand of exhaust system sealant.
During the engine strip down, it was discovered that the valve guides were excessively worn, so the cylinder heads were taken to a local engine reconditioning workshop, in Basildon, Essex, for refurbishment. This proved to be yet another encounter with shoddy workmanship, resulting in one of our cylinder heads being consigned to the scrap bin. It was alleged that the damage had arisen, as the result of some earlier bodged attempt at replacing a single valve guide. The workshop manager disclaimed all responsibility, and showed us a cracked exhaust port, together with a rough-hewn valve guide, which had supposedly been removed from it. In our own minds, we were convinced that this was a deliberate falsehood, but could not prove it!
The cylinder head also exhibited deep bruising of the cooling fins, consistent with violent blows from a large ball-peen hammer; marks which we knew had not been present, when we submitted our cylinder heads for refurbishment. As a consequence of this episode, we were obliged to purchase a new, replacement cylinder head, from another supplier. Although this was for a VW 1600 engine, with the same sized valve heads as the original, the exhaust valve stem diameter was 9 mm, rather than 8 mm. I suspect there may have been other, more subtle differences, which were not apparent to my then untrained eye.
Such differences, may have contributed to cylinders 1 & 2, running hotter than cylinders 3 & 4, which I noticed some years later. Since then, I have learned that there are at least nine different VW 1600 ‘twin-port’ cylinder heads, with three different, standard combinations of valve head sizes, plus probably various differences in combustion chamber shape, volume and deck-height (i.e. squish or quench) clearance too. With hindsight, we should have noted the part number, cast into the rocker box of the defunct cylinder head (assuming it was originally ours!), but in those days, we believed there was only one type of VW 1600 cylinder head and were unacquainted with the significance of the suffix letters, in VW part numbers.
Whilst the engine was still out, it was a good opportunity to remove and inspect the petrol tank, which exhibited some corrosion around the fuel outlet, beneath the vehicle. Although there was slight pitting in places, the thickness of the steel had not been significantly compromised, so it was sufficient simply to etch out the rust pits, using D-Rust and repaint the refurbished surface. Other areas of the petrol tank were also showing signs of superficial rusting, which were similarly treated.
Having removed the bulkhead plate to gain access to the petrol tank, it was apparent that this too was rusting in places, so this was also refurbished before repainting. In common with the engine cover plates, the petrol tank and bulkhead plate, had received only a thin coat of paint at the factory, so all items received several coats of Hammerite; paying particular attention to those areas, which previously had rusted.
Prior to painting, I had twenty one, captive M6 nuts (with hindsight, M5 nuts might have been better!), welded onto the back of the bulkhead plate, coinciding with the top, middle and bottom, of the seven vertical ribs; anticipating that at some time in the future, I might wish to fit, electronic ignition and perhaps other accessories, which would need to be mounted in the engine compartment.

1973 VW 1600 Type 2, removeable fuel-tank compartment bulkhead, with nineteen M6 nuts, welded onto the back of the seven vertical ribs.
Note also, the additional holes in the bodywork, on either side of the bulkhead, for supplementary electrical cables, pipes or hoses, to enter the engine compartment.
Any accessories could then be fitted, using custom made mounting brackets; avoiding any later haphazard drilling of holes in the bulkhead (which might penetrate the petrol tank), to accommodate self-tapping screws. About ten years later, a local VW Type 2 owner of my acquaintance, who sadly lacked this kind of foresight, somehow managed to drill three holes in the forward face of his petrol tank, when fitting secondhand motorcaravan furniture, in his Microbus. Fortunately for him, I had a secondhand petrol tank for sale!