Posts Tagged VW bus
Posted on May 18, 2013 by angela
We were on our way to Barra Grande (Ceará), on a tip, and only ten minutes down the road we were stalled.
The bus was ‘missing’, sputtering and jumping and generally not running well. We pulled over on the side of the road and Jason went to work on the engine, while we tried to keep cool. Even at 8 AM, the heat and humidity was unrelenting.
It took a while to figure it out, but our electronic ignition died. Kaput. Jason swapped it out with and old set of points and we were back on our way.
Barre Grande is a kite surfing destination, but was a ghost town today. We took zero photos.
The next day, we knew it was going to be a long drive to Parque Nacional Lençois Maranhenses, so we got up early and hit the road.
Jason had a plan to knock off 250 km of pavement driving via shortcut that would take us directly there. Most of the roads were on the map as dirt, but there was a missing section in the middle. He checked out the satellite photos and was convinced there was a path where ‘the road should be’. This was our plan – we were going to try to follow the Rio Magú for while and then turn north where there is no road on the map.
After a few hours, Jason turned onto the dirt and announced, “Now the fun part begins!”
The bus was running like crap, so we pulled over to tweak a few things – not much help. Eventually, the road turned too sandy (and narrow) for us and we had to turn back. The power lines were our clue that the road would continue and actually went somewhere, but the sand was just too deep. But, we had a Plan B. We headed inland a bit and tried another route. This one turned from dirt, to mud then to deep sand and we repeated this for a few more hours.
The ‘towns’ we drove through were mostly just a collection of houses, with everyone sitting on their porch looking at us drive by like we’re idiots. The road usually turned to mud around civilization, and in one place we got stuck. About 10 guys from town helped push us out, walked with us another 500 meters where there was another muddy place, pushed us through that and insisted we would be able to make it the rest of the way. Then, it started raining.
Our original detour had cost us a couple hours. The roads we found were definitely 4×4 territory, but we pushed on. It most spots it was very narrow and and had brush along both sides, or was a gully – not even a place to turn out to camp. We had to break our rule and drive at night. This made things way more interesting.
For some reason, the roads in the little villages seemed to be worse than anywhere else on the route. As we bounced a scraped our way through town, the townsfolk just stared out their windows at what was obviously a normal form of entertainment. We lost our skid plate at some point, but hopped out and got it.
In one nameless town (none of them were on a map or had signs to indicate where we were), we followed the road downhill to find giant impassable crevices in front of us. There were also giant crevices along both side of the car, making backing up (uphill) a feat of terror. Again, kind folks in town showed up to help, but in true South American style, there 8 guys yelling different things to us.
The car didn’t have enough power to back up the hill, so I had to start pushing from the front, then everyone else started. But in the dark going backwards, it was impossible for Jason to see where to steer the car, and one wheel started sliding down into the crevice. The bus was dangling at a fortuitous angle, with Jason and Bode inside and me panicking outside. Everybody was yelling and more people started showing up. Some logs and palm fronds (these don’t ever really hold a car do they?) were placed under the wheels and a team of guys put themselves in great danger holding up the right side of the bus to prevent it from sliding further down the crevice.
We finally made it backwards up the hill and we were pointed to detour. It’s the rainy season and major washout can happen, but we were a little amazed that someone didn’t use one of those logs to block the road. Regardless, we made it out safe and sound, with at least another two hours ahead of us.
Except, we were running out of gas.
In the next village, we spotted a hand-painted “gasolina” sign on the side of somebody’s house. I don’t know how we saw it in the dark, but we were absolutely lucky. Nobody was home, so we asked next door and the girl had a key. We managed to negotiate soda-bottle gasoline for R$3.50 a liter, until granny showed up and bumped the price to R$4. The grannies are always the toughest businesspeople. Still, at only a 30% markup over posto prices, we couldn’t refuse.
When we got to our final destination of Barreirinhas after a 14 hour day we were shocked at the modern conveniences and upscale tourist amenities, (there’s a paved road from the north). Wwe checked into a hotel and immediately jumped into the pool.
Posted on May 1, 2013 by jason
Didn’t we just rebuild the engine, like, a year ago?
You shouldn’t have to do this. Somehow, we do.
The bus wasn’t starting after getting warmed up, was running poorly and the power was down. After multiple tune-ups and lots of poking around, I finally did a compression check. This is always the last thing on my list – the news is always bad.
I’ve forgotten the exact numbers, but it was something like 90-120-90-90. Not exactly a goner, but on the way. The imbalance from #2 wasn’t going to help things. Then, after running it for a while, I checked again to be sure. When hot, the compression was 60-60-90-60. And, oil on the #1 plug. I don’t completely understand it, but that’s a goner in my book.
So, I sent out some feelers for some help. I contacted the guys I met in Olinda and posted on a Brazilian VW forum. Basically something like “I’m near Natal and need space to rebuild my engine. I you can recommend a place to buy parts, that would be good too.”
Within a few days, I was in contact with Marcello – the president of the Club do Fusca in Natal – and then he put me in contact with Marcio – a local friend with a shop.
I showed up at Marcio’s place and tried my best with Portuguese. After agreeing on a space to do the work (right in the middle), I crawled under the bus and started getting dirty. I had an audience.
I dropped the engine and had it on the bench and down to the case in about 2 hours. Not a record time, but I think I impressed a few of the guys in the shop. Maybe it was just the amount I was sweating. Still, I was offered a job.
Marcio grabbed the heads and took off, while I went to a por kilo lunch with a few of the guys. After lunch, I scrubbed everything that could be scrubbed. In the back of the shop was a tank that looked like ‘the dip‘ from Roger Rabbit. They warned me not to put anything in for too long.
The heads came back in the afternoon and Marcio produced a Mahle rebuild kit. Pistons, cylinders, rings, pushrod tubes, and gasket set. All in one box.
On day 2, the engine went back in, and I did a little more poking around and taking advantage of everything the shop had to offer. All my broken bolts and stripped threads were taken care of. I finally had a puller to fix my leaky steering box (new seals were another thing in the goody bag from Mike). I even managed to weld the broken seat springs – for us, this is a quality of life improvement.
Then – the way every engine rebuild should conclude – a barbeque!
Posted on April 18, 2013 by jason
The muffler is just the latest in a line of bus issues.
The speedo has been busted for the past 5000 kilometers or so. Now, it’s fixed. Red Beard has no memory of it.
Before Angela’s mom came to visit us in Rio, our buddy Mike in Alameda sent along a goody bag. One of those goodies was a brand new GERMAN steering coupler. If you want to know what quality feels like, heft one of these babies next to your old crappy drilled out tire rubber you made at a campsite in Uruguay. I swear it handles better now. I think we’re good for 42 more years. Thanks again, Mike!
Those plastic cabinet handles are the worst. Open and close one of these cabinets a few dozen times a day for… 3.5 years. They break. Often. I’m guessing we’ve been through 6 of these. I carry two spares.
3.5 years is how long it took for our engine rubber to crack up too. Now, we’re good again.
When I bought the bus, despite it’s crappy outward appearance, it had excellent bones. Zero rust. A real California car. We’ve been out of California for quite a while and now we’ve got rust in the usual places. Under the windshield rubber. I can see light through my floorboard. Now, a leak through the back side window into the closet revealed some on that window frame too. Does anyone know the best/cheapest country for rust repair and paint? Some of these spots are going to need attention soon.
All that rust has come from lots of rain – especially since entering Brazil. Of course, it’s still hot… just wet. This means that our 12V fridge works overtime and the solar panels don’t get any sun. Solution: we bought a cheap generic laptop-charger back in Chile. It dawned on me that this little thing can put out 100W. Basically, the same as our solar panel. I spliced in a cigarette lighter plug. Now, when we’re low and have an electric plug available, I just plug it in and it works like a charm. Cold drinks. Infinite radio and lights. Even parked in the shade or rain. I’ve even used it to charge/jump the main battery. Pretty handy.
Posted on March 4, 2013 by jason
Who want’s to be on TV?
Angela interjected before Bode could answer. For the record, he answered with an enthusiastic “I DO!”
That left me for the tie-breaker. I emailed back and said if they could meet us at the monastery then we could do it. Otherwise, thanks for the interest.
So, after a night of wolf-watching, we spiffed up the bus and met the folks from Vrum! TV.
The crew were all super-nice guys and we had fun goofing around on video and showing off our home. We were interviewed in English and Red Beard had it’s extreme close up moment.
After almost 4 years of being lived in, banged up, and generally abused… the bus still cleans up pretty well. There are plenty of dings and spots I wish were better, but… those scars were earned.
She ain’t pretty… she just looks that way.
Posted on February 5, 2013 by angela
Around 3 years ago, when we were still in Mexico, I received an email from a guy named Jason who lived in Rio. He said to let him know when we got here and we’d have a beer. Maybe because of the name (or maybe because of the beer offer), I remembered.
Fortunately, I managed to avoid misplacing his contact info like I’ve done so many others. And, even better, he remembered us too.
He’s a very cool guy who’s really into cars and starts stories with things like “…one time I was driving a Ford Model A down the Brazilian coast from Salvador to Buzios…” He’s working on a crazy plan to acquire the very last Brazilian VW bus off the manufacturing line (2013 is the final year) and drive it back to the VW factory in das Mutterland (route to be determined). We had plenty to talk about.
And, it turns out… he’s a writer for the Rio de Janeiro newspaper! He asked us to meet up for a photo shoot and interview and it was really fun (but we didn’t manage to find the time to wash the bus!) We’re not sure when it will get published, but if you’re in Rio and can grab us a copy (or a photo of it) we’d really appreciate it!
Posted on January 24, 2013 by jason
Like so many countries, I will have many memories of Brazil based on the places I’ve been under the bus. Literally.
This time, it was beachfront near Mangaratiba.
These brakes are killing me. After a week or so of behaving properly, they started to lock-up again. Not as bad as last time, but I could feel it coming.
We pulled over to do a quick bleed, and… snap. The back left bleeder valve broke right off.
Fortunately, we’re in Brazil.
At the next big town, Angra Dos Reis, I pulled over at the first auto parts store I saw. They had two slave cylinders, so I picked them up for 10 bucks each. No rear hoses, so I went next door. Bingo! 5 bucks. I figure the parts are so affordable, we may as well just overhaul everything that’s reasonable. Now we have all new hoses and a new slave (and a spare spare).
While replacing the cylinder, I had something happen that has never happened before: the bus fell off the jack. It’s a crappy jack, for sure, but I was being careless. Fortunately, I wasn’t under it. The whole thing happened in slow motion – maybe two seconds. Just enough time to realize that I couldn’t do anything but say ‘Oh, shit!” as it fell down.
The jack fell out of the way, so I could get it back up. Even better, two lifeguards were watching and came over to help. They had a jack… and I assume were relieved to find that my legs weren’t sticking out from under the vehicle.
The lifeguards here are the most well-organized I’ve seen anywhere. The entire Brazilian coast is completely covered by these guys – every beach. And, they’re actually firemen. The bombeiros are in charge of protecting the coast, and do a spectacular job.
Anyway, crisis averted. Fireman jack installed, and I finished up. Only the normal distractions and conversations. People come up and stare at the license plate a while, then ask…
“De onde você é?”
First, disbelief. Then, relief that I’m not Argentinean*. I’ve been asked 100 times. At least.
* there’s clearly not much love between these two. And, I don’t think it has to do with Brazilians traveling in Argentina.
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