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iansane Dork
3/10/22 10:35 a.m.

Cool! It's fun to get a crazy project on the road like this. Because then you invariably start making the mental checklist of EVERYTHING else you need to do to it.

DjGreggieP HalfDork
3/10/22 12:23 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

It's become more clear that the folks who did the engine conversion were interested in "as fast as possible" more than best practices.

I believe I have a car that was also swapped with this mantra, so much fun going back through things and redoing things properly. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/10/22 12:29 p.m.
iansane said:

Cool! It's fun to get a crazy project on the road like this. Because then you invariably start making the mental checklist of EVERYTHING else you need to do to it.

I have an actual written checklist :) But it's a long-term one, nothing that popped up when the van came back out of the garage. This wasn't a derelict that got resurrected, it was simply an extended upgrade. It took about 2.5 months to get the swap done, some of which was as I waited for parts like cables and some of which was because with winter weather there was little time pressure.

In case it wasn't clear, the van hasn't been down for years. The rebuilt motor took a while but the van's been out to explore and do van stuff since then. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/10/22 7:27 p.m.

Test drive #2, now with all clamps on the cooling system. The van came up to temp and stayed there. Yay!

I don't think the shift lever is flexing, I think that's a tiny bit of flex somewhere else being magnified. It's not noticeable if you shift with a light hand which is how you shift this after the first time you slot a gear, so it goes in the "unlikely to need attention" box.

There seems to be less noise from the shifter box with the insulation. It's an interesting noise, I'm going to see if I can figure it out. It's not obtrusive, the biggest increase in noise is the fact that I haven't put the mattress back in the rear yet because that's how you get to the engine :)

The gears slot home with a very solid "click". It's very mechanical and feels really precise. I really like it.

That is a very wide pattern. Not much chance of hitting reverse by accident, but I think I need to try the narrower setup. 

Top gear is about 20% higher than it was before, so it should be a good cruiser. To recap, the gearing is essentially like this:

new -> old
1 -> 1
4-> there was a big gap here, it's a very useful gear
6-> cruiser gear

GasTungstenArc Reader
3/11/22 3:19 p.m.

In my experience with cable shifted transmissions on 100% heim jointed shift linkages that I built by hand and were every bit as mechanical as yours and with a shift linkage that was solidly bolted to the unibody, I don't remember any mechanical noise feeding through the cables.  However, the exhaust was never quiet (not loud, just not quiet,) and the engine was right behind the driver.  Still, I think I would have noticed mechanical noise.  

Different vehicle, different transmission, different relative locations of driver and trans, different albeit functionally the same linkages.  That's a lot of different.  

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/11/22 7:26 p.m.

The noise sure sounds specifically like gear noise. It's related to engine rpm or gear chosen. On the road, it's not really a problem. I suspect that a shift boot stuffed with insulation would make a lot of it go away. The fact that the trans is 10' away from the shifter makes it easy to identify that the noise is being transmitted.

Anyhow, today was a 40 mile test drive! I had to go in to the office.

Overall, it worked well on the trip out. Like a normal vehicle, honestly. It's definitely not getting full throttle but shuffling around the gearbox feels natural. First likes to have the shafts spinning to slot in but that's not a big deal. Neutral switch has been wired into the trans instead of a toggle switch and I can hear the change in engine note when I drop into neutral at rest. There's no neutral switch on the clutch at the moment. So we're in good shape overall. The new 4th gear (between the old 3 and 4) is perfect for driving in 40 mph traffic, that's a big win.

I did arrive with a short punch list. The shift knob needs to move over 6", so I'll bend the lever. I need to adjust the rear brakes. More amusingly, it appears the Subaru reverse light switch operates backwards compared to the VW one, so the reverse lights are on in all six forward gears and off in reverse. Easy enough to fix, I'd just never actually thought of checking if it was NO or NC.

But when I jumped in the van to go home, it didn't want to play. No starter. I spent some time poking around. No signal to the solenoid. I triggered the solenoid with a length of wire and got the van to fire briefly, but it died after a couple of combustion events. It's like there's a dead circuit that triggers a bunch of stuff including the fuel pump, maybe? Naturally, I'd tossed some tools in the back and I was sitting in the parking lot of Flyin' Miata with access to everything in the shop, but I'd left my wiring diagrams at home. Interesting that it had run perfectly until I stopped. It's cold enough that I doubt heat is a factor. 


So we pushed it inside and I drove home in a 525 hp loaner. I'll head out tomorrow with a wiring diagram and a bunch of other tools and rescue it. It has to be an easy fix, I just have to find it. I'm glad this happened where it did and not at, say, a gas station.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/12/22 9:43 p.m.

Service call!

One thing I found yesterday is that the house batteries were not happy with being inside for a few months. They were down to 5v and the solar system wasn't awake. I also found that the voltage on the starter battery seemed a little low, although I'd had it on a trickle charger. Last night, I disconnected both house batteries but nothing changed.

Anyhow, I started chasing circuits and found that a couple of significant ones weren't waking up for some reason. First step, check to make sure the ignition switch was switching. Seemed like it. So I plugged the connector back in and went to check for power on the backside - and the starter spun when I turned the switch. Basically, it acted just like I'd had a bad connection at the switch, but I'd reseated that thing a few times.

Meanwhile, as I'd been checking the ignition switch, I'd tossed a charger on the house battery. Was that the difference? I'd been able to crank the engine just fine yesterday but it was acting like the ECU wasn't waking up or something. I really wonder if the dead house batteries had an effect, although they'd been disconnected for a lot of my testing yesterday. The only thing that happened on the drive to work was that the house batteries had received a charge from the alternator and possibly from the solar while the van was parked outside. Did they somehow vampire up all the amps once the engine started, pulling the system voltage down far enough that the ECU shut down? Still doesn't explain why the starter didn't engage, it must have been a connection issue.

I left the van on the charger for a few minutes as I bent the shift lever over so it was closer to the wheel, then embarked on the voyage home. I stopped a couple of times to tweak the positioning of the lever and ended up with a location that feels really good. It's right beside my hand and the side gate now feels right going through the forward gears. I don't think I'm going to mess with the side gate throw, this works really nicely. The shifter now falls readily to hand, as they say.

Got home - including a gas stop to put some fresh high-test in the tank, as it's been a while - and had a charger party. One for the house batteries, one for the starter.

Added a little relay logic to the reverse light switch so now we have the more traditional "reverse lights on when the vehicle is going backwards only" setup. I decided to mount this to the transmission because there were some nicely placed threaded holes that could be used for mounting and for a grounding point. Also gave the ignition switch connector a bit of love, but I'm going to go back in there and check it more closely tomorrow. I have a hard time believing it just happened to have a problem after everything else I did.

One thing I noticed on the drive is that first is the notchiest gear. Remember those counterweights on the lever arm I had to cut off? I suspect they were there to add a little momentum to the first gear slot. As long as I make sure the shafts are spinning, it goes into gear well - either slot first as I'm coming up to a stop or give the trans a little spin by engaging the clutch in neutral. I've had another car that likes this exact treatment, I think it might be the old Land Rover. I slipped right back into that habit quickly. Since there's no neutral switch on the clutch, the van prefers to idle in neutral anyhow so that's my choice for stoplights.

The gear noise may just be engine noise - boxer with a slightly leaky exhaust, so it's got a real beat to it - coming through the shifter. Maybe. It's not loud enough to be a problem, just something that interests me. This is not exactly a Mercedes S Class in terms in interior noise.

It also felt like I was a long way from full throttle. Like, halfway. I stuck my phone in the engine bay and took a video of the throttle pedal. The two "walls" on the left and right are the full throttle stop and the idle stop, respectively. The thing in the middle is attached to the throttle shaft. As you can see, I was getting maybe 2/3 throttle if I'm being generous.

 I spent some time playing with the cobbled-together cable setup and managed to get almost all the way there to WOT.  My drive by wire setup has been moved up in priority, as this setup is terrible and the stock pedal is nothing to get excited about.

Also did a bit of a nut and bolt, checking that everything was secure. I'll do that a few more times as mileage ramps up.

Tomorrow I'll take it out for more test driving with full electron boxes. And maybe see if I can get some video, because the van sounds and shifts like a car now. It's great.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/13/22 8:12 p.m.

More test driving and a fun failure mode.

Took the van to visit a friend who also has a Subaru-swapped Westy. He likes the shift feel a lot and agrees that the new 4th gear - the one that's between the original 3 and 4 - is a great town gear. Overall he was quite impressed, although he thinks the slightly taller first gear would not suit his offroad driving. I'm not so sure that's the case, but his originally aircooled van might actually have a shorter final drive. The high compression 2.5 vs his stock 2.2 might help too. There's only so much offroading you can legitimately do in a 2WD VW camper, so this will not affect my use case :)

I spent some time underneath his '83 and it was interesting playing spot the differences.

The failure mode? Remember that cobbled together throttle cable? Well, the VW part has a big long crimped on end. With the clamp attaching it to the stub of Subaru cable, it pokes out to the side a bit. If I go WOT (or close to it), that end can fall into a bolt hole in the transmission where it becomes trapped and throttle gets limited to about 15%. Easy fix, you just pull it out. But you have to get into the engine bay to do that. What a stupid problem. The drive-by-wire setup cannot be installed soon enough. I put a bolt in the bolt hole for the time being, that should sidestep it.

If you are willing to rev it past 2000 rpm and keep the engine on the boil, performance is quite perky.

TurnerX19 UltraDork
3/13/22 10:29 p.m.

Electrically I like the relay solution for the reverse lamps. Mechanically I do not like the relay mounted to the power train, unless it is on a soft rubber mount. To much vibration for the relay, it will likely fail early.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/13/22 10:37 p.m.

In reply to TurnerX19 :

Perfect application for a solid state relay, assuming one can get a 5 pin model.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/14/22 12:12 a.m.

Good point, I'll keep an eye on it. Easiest to leave it be for now and I'll keep thinking about a better solution. I don't need a five pin relay as long as I have NC. I think I do have some rubber isolators but they're M6 instead of M8. There are solutions to that :)

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/14/22 1:28 a.m.

My friend who thought the gearing was too high for offroading? I checked the stock ratios for his van. Turns out he had a taller stock final drive than I did, and my new first gear is quite close to his current one :)

For interest's sake, here are the speeds in each gear at 2000 rpm assuming stock size tires for comparison.

1983 aircooled (his van)
1st 8.8
2nd 16.2
3rd 26.4
4th 39.2
4081 RPM at 80 mph, stock engine 67 hp. No wonder they were slow. This speed is likely theoretical.

1985 wasserboxer (my van)
1st 8.3
2nd 15.3
3rd 25.0
4th 37.1
4314 RPM at 80 mph, stock engine 82 hp.

New gearing:
1st 9.1
2nd 16.1
3rd 24.2
4th 32.2
5th 38.0
6th 45.1
3549 RPM at 80 mph. Engine power unknown, but the stock  version of the EJ25 is 165 and I'm running higher compression.

Weirdly, the VW transmissions don't have a 1:1 ratio.

As you can see from that rpm at 80 mph, I'm going to see a considerable RPM drop. The engine was right in the middle of its powerband at that speed before and was very willing to accelerate if you weren't paying attention. I'll take the van out on the interstate soon and see  if it will still cruise happily there. That was always a question with this 'box, but that nice 4th gear was the decision maker.

BTW, I went back through some paperwork to confirm my final drive and discovered I initially made the order for the reversed gearset in November 2016. It arrived in March 2017 and in December 2017 I started work on the trans and discovered they'd sent a 5-speed kit. I got the 6-speed parts in February 2018 - by that point, the engine had blown and I was about to move so I had other priorities. Not a quick project!

TurnerX19 UltraDork
3/14/22 9:40 a.m.

Weirdly, the VW transmissions don't have a 1:1 ratio.  Not weird at all when you consider that the pinion is not concentric with the input shaft. A 1/1 ratio would have the same teeth always contacting each other, and that is an old school engineering no-no. Yes I have done it in a Hewland where the life span is measured in minutes, but I wouldn't for an enduro car.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/14/22 10:02 a.m.

Every trans I've worked on or dealt with has had a straight through gear where the input and output shafts were coupled together. It's the one to use for dyno pulls as it's the most efficient. That's the same reason the ND Miata doesn't have an overdrive gear, so that 6th has the least drivetrain loss. I haven't been inside the VW trans so I hadn't considered how it might be constructed with an offset input and output (pinion).

That's  an interesting point about not having an 1:1 set of gears meshing. Of course, the classic Mini has that in the transfer gears but they're rarely held up as an example of durability :)

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/14/22 10:05 a.m.

keith said "this speed is likely theoretical" and i spit coffee on my keyboard.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/14/22 1:43 p.m.

Typical rear drive transmissions have a 1:1 because the input and output shafts are usually inline with each other, so you get a gear by just coupling the two shafts together. (I believe the S2000 may be an exception)

Transaxles like this do not have an output shaft, they have a pinion gear on the engine end of the driven gearshaft.

This is where Audi claimed to have done a coup by making the driven gearshaft hollow, so it can drive a differential that has the front output concentric.  This is why Audi driveshafts are to this day reverse-rotation: the rear output is coming off of a reverse rotating shaft.


Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/14/22 1:48 p.m.

Ah, I thought "maybe it's a FWD thing" and looked at the Mini gearing - but of course that's a transverse setup, which is just a rear drive turned sideways. But this is an actual transaxle with a pinion so of course it would have a different architecture unless the axle shafts are in a weird place. Makes sense.

The Subaru trans has an almost-but-not-quite 1:1 (0.972), and I didn't take the time to consider what that actually meant.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/16/22 1:08 p.m.

More test driving over the weekend. I'm driving this bus as often as possible to debug it. I think I'm going to change the transmission fluid, it's generic O'Reilly stuff but the  synchros are not quite as smooth as I'd like. I'll drop some Redline or something in there instead. That'll probably give me a heart attack because we know how much metal a fresh R&P will generate.

Gratuitous picture of a self propelled Vanagon feasting on free range electrons.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/23/22 9:09 p.m.

Update! I've been driving the van as much as possible in order to shake it down. I find I'm driving it more like a car than a VW bus now, more frequent shifts and higher revs. It's quite sporty as houses go.

Shifting into 1st can be a little difficult. I'm wondering if there's a little bit of drag on the clutch or if it's junk trans fluid. As noted previously, I will change that out with the good stuff. But I also noticed that I don't think I'm totally burying the pedal, so I'm going to experiment with that. I checked for bubbles in the slave but didn't find any.

First high speed test today - took it out on the interstate. The question was how the engine would like the taller top gear. It's pulling 3000 rpm at an indicated 70 mph, which given my tires is probably (looks up stock tire size, oh wow) 74 mph. Huh, guess I'd better remember that. I had it up to an indicated 80 (actually 85, apparently) and it was happy. Climbing a long grade at 70 indicated it wasn't all that happy maintaining speed, but the higher cruising speed put the engine closer to the power peak so it was happier to accelerate there. I'm good with that, it's a nice feel at 70 and I can always drop into 5th which is my old top gear. So yay!

Definitely some engine noise transmission through the shifter box. I'm going to just stick a bunch of foam sound insulation on it.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/22 12:47 a.m.

Well poop.

I've been driving the bus everywhere to get miles on it, and I'm probably at about 150. Janel and I were loaded up with mountain bikes to head out on the furthest trip yet (24 miles each way including some interstate and dirt roads). We were heading down the hill from our house at about 25 mph when all of a sudden there was an immediate and significant increase in gear noise. I pulled over and looked underneath, everything seemed fine. We were only 1/2 mile from the house so I turned around and headed back.

It became apparent that the noise only happened on decel - either engine braking or coasting in neutral, anytime the pinion wasn't driving the ring but was being driven by it. That sounds to me like a shim fell out or something. I called up the guy who built the trans and he's going to take a look. He remembers how much machining they had to do on my pinion to get it to work. Of course, that involved pulling the trans and prepping it for another trip to Denver. 

Sigh. Well, at least it didn't take me long to pull it. I've done this before. And at least it failed very close to home on a day when I had nothing else to do but ride bikes in the sunshine. We tossed the bikes in the back of the pickup and were at the trailhead about 15 minutes after originally planned.

The trans is being ferried to Denver by a friend of the shop's owner, it should be picked up on Thursday. Hopefully they'll get a chance to crack it open ASAP and give me an ETA on the fix. In the meantime I have a few other things to finish up on the van, but I kinda liked having it mobile again.

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/22 10:28 a.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Keith, I'm disappointed. You wrote:

by a friend of the shop's

He is either "a friend of the shop" or he is "the shop's friend".


Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/22 11:02 a.m.

You think you're disappointed, my Mom the English teacher will be very upset with me.

I have gone for a third option to fix! ;)

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/22 11:15 a.m.

I will point out that this has given me the opportunity to do a full nut and bolt on the engine install. I mean, I had to remove all the nuts and bolts. But I was able to tell if any were loose or if there were any leaks in the various connections I built :) There weren't, so that tells me I don't have any fundamental problems yet.

It will also let me replace a plastic coolant pressure tank that's showing signs of incipient cracks, so that's good. Maybe I'll take the down time to install the DBW setup.

AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter)
AngryCorvair (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/28/22 1:33 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Well done!

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
5/2/22 12:33 a.m.

Hey, remember this? I got the transmission back on Friday. Big props to Zach at ZF Design for not only opening it up to investigate, but also arranging for transport of the unit back and forth to Denver.

Unfortunately, he didn't find anything that would explain that step change in gear noise. He did find some things he wasn't completely happy with. He also spent some time investigating binding from side loading on the halfshafts, I'm not sure why he went down that path but more on that in a bit.

For those who know more about gear patterns than I, he sent these pictures.

Acceleration side.

Decel side.

His notes:

Here's the decel wear pattern on you ring gear. As you can see the majority of the contact is right where it's supposed to be but there's this little odd tail on the left side that I can only attribute to the ring and pinion not being as precisely ground as say an OEM gear set (which you can also see in some of the heavier machining marks in the gear)

Basically, it was making noise the whole time (as noted in earlier updates) but we can't figure out where the step change in sound came from. I'm not crazy, I had someone in the van with me at the time. I'm going to take a good look at the shifter to see if it was something there.

Zach micro shot peened and micro polished the gears and did what he could to improve them. He generally is concerned with the quality of design and manufacturing. He also feels the reverse cut gear won't scoop up oil for lubrication but will instead tend to shed it, so he recommended 1 qt of Mobil Competition 75W140 (because it's sticky) and then just under 3 qts of Motul Gear 300 75w90. I had Redline ready to go in because we're a Redline dealer, but I'll listen to Zach on this.

I'm really glad I took this to a pro.

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