This page is to share information for anyone else with an Aircooled VW, who might benefit from the experiences I have had in setting up and mainting our lovely Lola.
It is also piece of mind for anyone looking to hire Lola that she has been rigerously maintained and preserved!
When we bought Lola in 2014, she had a stock (green) dual port 1600 air-cooled engine, a standard Bosch Dizzy, a standard 34 pict single carb, and the stock exhaust, factory height…of course back then I didn’t have a clue what any of this meant!
She now runs a brand new 1776, Dual ICT Webers 34 Pict, 123+Bluetooth Dizzy, Vintage Speed Exhaust, etc.
She was formerly a Swiss Army Ambulance (1974 to 1999), imported to the UK in 2000, and converted to a tin top camper. She lived in Brighton for a few years, before heading north.
She was in reasonable condition when I found her and over the years the following issues and problems have come up on both the old 1600 & new 1776 engines, which have now been resolved:
FUEL SMELL IN THE CAB – Old 1600 engine - This turned out to be a leaky gasket on the dual port intake manifold.
FUEL LINES – No problems with the rubber, but I just check and replace them anyway. Precautionary! However, the metal fuel line going through the tinware at the back of the engine was nearly worn through. Jay (from BJ Speedshop) spotted this and installed a replacement copper line and rubber gromet to stop this from happening again in the future on the new 1776 engine.
FIRE SUPPRESSION SYSTEM – installing the automatic fire extinguisher is a great insurance policy. I went for a DAUS System with red tubing that wraps round the top of the engine bay and detonates at temperatures in direct contact over 120c.
PETROL HEATER – Factory fitted petrol heater (Eberspacher BA6 6KW) would, after 10 minutes of running, ignite loads of petrol and shoot flames from its separate exhaust. Dismantled under the bus, and still could not find issue. Eventually replaced the 'combined 12v spark plug / glow plug' (very expensive), and she is now toasty.
RUST - Wheel arches and battery trays rusting out and bubbling. To solve THE DREADED RUST, after extensive research, I found a useful book called “Volkswagen Bay Transporter Restoration Manual”. I found this most useful and found out that the author (Fletcher Gillett) was just down the road from me in Sussex (Steyning). Fletcher, who runs Vintage Auto Repair (a few doors down from Carls Wolfsburg Wizards), did a fantastic job on Lola welding wise, and I then took Lola to a bodywork sprayer to have her finished off (Cyril now retired).
Fletcher is an honest genuine friendly mechanic, who really knows his stuff. Here's a link to his website:
END FLOAT – Old 1600 engine – Fletcher identified the End Float on the engine was high, but we could probably get a few more miles (15,000 is what we actually got!) out of the existing engine by shimming the engine. We changed the clutch and the main oil seal whilst we had the engine out.
RESPRAY – I worked with Jason at Illusion Custom in Hickstead. Stripped Lola bare, took all the windows out, and Jason went to work his magic on Lola. Eventually, after Jason nearly crying about the paint reacting, the final coat settled.
Jason did an amazing attention to detail job on Lola and I have had many a compliment on his work! Here's a link to Jason's Website:
DIZZY CLAMP – the standard clamp never quite gripped the distributor properly. Therefore the timing would sometimes go out. I changed this to a Limebug Billet Dizzy Clamp, and have never had a problem since.
SAVE MY BUG (OVERHEAT OIL LIGHT) – These are great. However, I’m yet to test the accuracy. In essence, as the oil dipstick temp increases, the coil expands, and eventually, at temps over 112c (235f) the oil warning light flashes until permanently on.
STOCK EXHAUST TO STAINLESS REPO – Old 1600 engine - I once had a backfire and it blew out the exhaust, damaging it beyond repair. I replaced the exhaust for a British made stainless version of the stock exhaust. These are fine for 1600 stock engines, but the moment you start drawing more through the engine, with twin carbs or bigger heads, it starts to run poorly, with lots of poping and spluttering going down hill. I have found that a bigger exhaust makes a significant improvement. At the time I should have spent the extra £100 on a vintage speed (see below), but hindsight is a terrible thing!
SPARK PLUG STRIPPED ITS THREAD – Old 1600 engine - On the way to Cornwall towing, 4 people in the bus, and Lola decided to spit out the rear spark plug (on cylinder #1). It sounded very loud in the exhaust. The AA man tried metal weld. This didn’t work. So we put a strap round the engine to keep the plug in place. We had no compression, but at least we were burning the fuel off. This noisily got us to the campsite and the AA took us home on a tow truck. I then had to take the engine out (as you can’t get enough access below the air filter oil bath) and used a Helicoil, which lasted the rest of the life of that engine.
HEAT EXCHANGERS – 1600 & 1776 - The factory ones eventually rusted through. It’s important to have these working, especially in summer, as you need to have airflow over the internal pipe in the heat changer, so not to overheat the rear cylinder heads (the ones closest to the gear box). I went for German quality reproductions, which still had decent fins inside (similar to the originals), but these had the added advantage of a wider diameter pipe that is less restrictive.
FRONT BEAM - The front beam needed changing as it was rusting through. I made the fatal error of purchasing an aftermarket front beam (instead of a Californian import original). Fletcher from (Vintage Auto Repair) fitted this, however, regardless of what we did; we could not get the bus back up to factory height as the leaf springs would not rotate far enough round. This changed the ride dynamic, and the suspension characteristics, meaning a pot hole would make her jump into the hedge! We quickly replaced this for a Californian original and she drove perfectly again.
I would advise against lowering a bus! Unless it’s done properly, and the front arm components are replaced correctly, your bus will drive like a dog! It’s not as simple as just replacing the front beam.
TOW BAR – I sometimes tow a small yellow teardrop trailer with Lola, when we go away in her. I installed a standard towing kit (substantial looking) and a chrome tow ball cover, so no one gets greasy trousers or dresses!
SINGLE CARB 34 Pict Solex Issues – Old 1600 - I had occasional, hesitation that slowly got worse. I also had backfires and spluttering. Something wasn’t right! Eventually Lola cut out on me on the dual carriageway, and I had to pump the throttle to get her going again with the clutch dipped. Later, when stationary, the guys at bluebell campers found the original carb was leaking a tiny amount of fuel, but when running, this was instead sucking in air (making it very lean!). We replaced this carb for a EMPI 34Pict, but this ran like a dog (something wasn’t right with the new carb and numerous others on the forums had similar problems). So we put the more reliable 30 Pict Brosol, and she ran fine. However, a lot slower than before, due to the restriction on the throat plate. I eventually changed this to Dual Carb ICT Webers.
PERTRONIX SDVA VACUUM ADVANCE DISTRUBUTOR (FAULTY) – Old 1600 - When we fitted the dual carbs, we also installed a new dizzy. This ran lovely, until a few weeks later, when it failed on me. I changed it out for the old one I keep spare, and it got me out of trouble. I asked on the forums if anyone else had any issues and 12 people also came forward with the same problem! Speaking to mechanics and rolling roads, I have found others have also experienced the same issue.
NEW ENGINE 1776cc – After the End Float on my old 1600 got really bad, Jay from BJ Speed Shop built and fitted a new engine in Lola in July 2019. I endeavoured to run the engine in carefully for the first 500 miles, before another oil change. The new engine has a free flow system (with a modern oil filter). It has a mild cam, which does generate a little vibrational resonance between 1,000 and 1,200rpm when stationary; however, I have subsequently found out that this is perfectly normal, as the mild cam is opening and closing the valves at slightly different times. This gives Lola a little more torque over stock, especially in the low rev ranges. Here's a link to Jay's Website:
TWIN CARB ICT WEBERS – 1600 & 1776 – After doing a Facebook pole on the forums, with ways to increase the performance (so I’m not crawling up the hills), I found a 50/50 split between people saying put Twin Carb ICT Webers on and those saying, go to a 1776 new engine.
Twin carbs being lower cost, I decided to do this first. I very quickly found Mike at Way Out Westie. Had a good chat with him on the phone and booked him in to fit. He ordered, cleaned up and jetted the carbs for my 1600, and in one day we fitted these, including cutting away the old air oil bath mount with a dremel. We did have to make a few modifications for the air vacuum hose, to fit the carbs, but setup, she ran well and had more power. Mike did caveat that, I am unlikely to see the performance improvement; all the while I am restricting the engine with a near stock exhaust. (later I found him to be right on this point).
Mike is a very friendly guy, and extremely knowledgeable about his passion, ICT Webers, that he even has a very useful installation blog on his website:
(I’d recommend at this stage, you watch a few videos and read up on what the various jets do in a carburettor, and how they work at different throttle positions)
Mike jetted for Lola’s 1600 old engine the following setup with ICT Webers; 145 mains, 165 airs, 55 idles, f6 emulsions, 150 float jets.
When I changed my engine to a Brand New 1776, I called Eurocarb, who specify; 140 mains, 165 airs, 55 idles, F78 emulsions, 150 floats. Jay installed this with the new engine.
Note the Emulsion Tubes being different (along with the mains).
This ran fine on the rolling road, with an AFR of 13. However, when running on the motorway at 60mph for long periods of time, the engine temperature would spike to over 112.5c (235f) through the Save My Bug Dipstick on the Oil Warning Light. Immediately checking the spark plug colour, I could see it was a little white (should be a dark biscuit colour), and therefore the Main/Air Jet ratio was a little lean. Air-cooled engines like to run slightly rich.
Installing an oil cooler was touted as an option online, but this would simply mask the problem.
I spoke to various air cooled specialists. Alfonso from Wrexham advised that he runs the F78 emulsions, and similar jetting sizes to what Eurocarb have specified. This was mirrored by what Graham said from Rawspeed Tuning in Plymouth. However, Mike from Way Out Westie Specifies for a 1776, 160 mains, 180 airs, 55 idles, f6 emulsions, 150 float jets. The big step up in sizing could be down to the different emulsion tube. The jury is out on whether this is the case though.
Remember, every engine is unique; some have different cams, different heads, different rods, etc. So there is no definitive science, regardless of what anyone claims.
A number of different sources suggest taking the venturi (29mm on an ICT which is the size of the throat inside), and multiplying it by a factor. On some websites (like aircooled.net) it specifies is sometimes 4.1 to 4.3x the venturi size, and on others like 5x, others 5x plus a bit.
This is a huge range between 120 up to 160!
Furthermore, some advise simply richening the mix, by just increasing the main jet. Others say that both main and air should move up.
So to recap, I am at the time of writing running; 140 mains, 165 airs, 55 idles, F78 emulsions, 150 floats.
So we tried 150 mains with 170 airs on the rolling road. It made no difference to the horsepower or torque, however, the spark plug was a better colour (a biscuit coloured dark brown). The issue is that it could be more thirsty, for no additional power benefit. I am going to monitor MPG, but I believe the solution might be to try 145 mains 165 airs. This is just a little richer than before. Andy from the Rolling Road uses an nice analogy;
"Engines are not like bonfires, thus, chucking more on does not necessarily mean more out!"
STAINLESS STOCK TO VINTAGE SPEED EXHAUST – 1776 new engine - I didn’t expect much of an improvement when switching from stock to vintage speed on a new 1776 engine, but the engine was quieter, you could talk to the people in the rear from the front, and the engine note now has a nice low hum. The drivability is smoother, no exhaust popping downhill, and I found myself still in 4th gear at 30 mph going up a 10% gradient! It was also easy to install with quality fitting kit parts, however, a couple of the screw threads on the exhaust itself stripped before the 16nm setting on the wrench was reached. I ground down and placed some new nuts behind this, which resolved the issue and it tightened up nicely.
The rolling road didnt not show any real improvement (less than 2%) over stock stainless between 2,000 rpm and 4,000 rpm. However, lower down (below 2,000 rpm), there was a noticable improvement in torque between 8 to 10%.
VDO OIL TEMP & PRESSURE (DON’T WORK WELL IN SUMP EXTENDERS) – 1776 - The kit went in okay, the pressure worked perfectly. I had a lot of trouble with the Temperature Sender Sump Plug and Fahrenheit Gauge (Dial).
It works on electrical resistance in the sender, which reduces as the temperature increases.
The Sender Plug I installed was giving resistance values in the 1,200 to 300 ohm range hot and cold, where the gauge has (written on the inside of the sleeve), 322.1 to 18 ohms. According to VDO Birmingham the product numbers showed up as incompatible, but the supplier got a different answer from the team in America (very strange). I think I had a dodgy sender, but I wasted days finding this out!
The good news; I changed the Sender and the Gauge to the Celsius version and it worked.
The bad news; the sender in the sump extender would never read over 55 degrees. It’s not a good place to measure engine temperature!
I changed this to the VDO Dipstick Sender and voila! Accurate readings around the 75 when warm on tick over.
123 Distributor + Bluetooth – 1600 & 1776 - SDVA MAP Curves & Programming for air-cooled 1600 / 1776 – After the Pertronix broke down, I asked what alternatives had other people installed that are RELIABLE! The options I found would be financially all or nothing in approach.
- stay with the standard points and condensers,
- bite the bullet and install a 123 dizzy that could be programmed specifically for what the engine needs.
Putting a programmable 123 dizzy in (not the 20 pre-sets version), I found I couldn’t quite get the timing right. I programmed various curves, including the 009, the one size fits all VW, the 034, all never quite fired right. Later taking Lola to Andy in Sittingbourne, we ran her on the rolling road, and added 5bhp and 10ftp torque by reprogramming to the curves at the bottom of this page.
Andy says that he has seen and fitted hundreds of 123’s, in a range of different vehicles, and that only a few have had mechanical wear (in use), easily repaired by sending off to the manufacturer.