VW Baywindow Bus - Guide to Upgrades
by Richard Atwell
(c) Copyright 2004-2011
The Germans built a fine vehicle when the first second generation Type 2 rolled off the assembly line in August 1967. The sliding door is an engineering marvel and the baywindow view is fabulous. I love the way the bus rides and the steering and seating position are just plain fun to experience.
If you are new to VWs you'll find they are not without the quirks either. Some of these can be modernized, others you have to live with. The Upgrades listed below have been used on my own bus for several years. They have proven themselves durable, worthwhile and money well spent.
Foremost, aftermarket "improvements" have to be chosen with care. Most items that come from Asia or south of the border are absolute junk. Here's my guide to essential upgrades and ones to avoid so you don't learn the hard way.
- Pertronix - No matter how strong the engine is you won't get the most out of it without a good spark. The VW ignition system, like the ones in most cars use technology that dates back 100 years invented by a man named Kettering who founded Delco. Even though you can adjust the points for near electronic performance, they will burn and wear within a few thousand miles, long before the recommended replacement interval. This means the timing will drift and mileage will suffer. Pertronix sells an electronic ignition that drops into the distributor and delivers a strong spark every time and is maintenance free. You'll notice a lot more top end power and a little gas mileage boost. $60 from CIP1.com (1847 or 1847V, 1847A is for 009). Installation is a cinch especially if you remove the distributor from the engine. The only difficulty if if you have a distributor with a round condenser hole instead of square, you'll have a little more trouble pushing the terminals through the body. That might take you a couple of minutes extra!
H4 lighting - The stock tungsten sealed beam headlights aren't bright enough to see the highway at night. Halogen sealed beams exist but they are weak compared to a true european style H4 reflector and bulb that's been around since 1971. Although the bulb is standard wattage (55/60W) the H4 light output is noticeably more due to the powerful reflector and bulb placement. Stay away from the cheap units because the reflectors flake and they have poor light scattering characteristics (some don't even fit the headlight bucket). Buy Bosch 0 301 600 118 units ($100 for two units and two bulbs). Avoid the motorcycle shops for H4 bulbs and get standard brightness Made in Germany Sylvania H4 bulbs from the auto parts store.
Note: these European E-Code Bosch H4s are labelled motorcycle in tiny lettering. This is because car makers are not allowed to install H4s into US vehicles according to federal law (FMVSS 108). However, it's state law that matters to drivers and while some states explicitly permit their use, other forbid it. Since 9/10 states no longer require headlight inspections you don't really need to worry (just swap in a set of sealed beam for any tests you have to take). While there are a lot of below spec aftermarket lighting out there for sale, be assured that these Bosch H4s are far superior to the legal sealed beams the government expects you to use. E-code lamps are legal to use in Canada.
Seat belts - Although VW installed adjustable belts in Europe in the late 70s, the USA front seat belts are non-adjustable presumably because the bus was categorized as a truck for some purposes and as a passenger vehicle for others. This is irritating especially when you drop something on the floor and really irritating for your variably sized passengers who are not accustomed to such antiquated belts. The best belts out there are Jetta belts from the 90s and bolts right in without any modifications. These are made by TRW/Repa (VW's seat belt OEM still to this day). $110/ea from GoWesty! VW-211-707. Again, this is a safety issue so don't go replacing the good quality belts in the bus with some cheap ones just to have adjustable belts.
Hot start relay - To start the engine current from the battery must travel all the way to the ignition switch and back to the starter solenoid in order to engage the starter. As the vehicle ages, the resistance in the wiring and starter prevent enough current from activating the starter especially when hot. The workaround is to install a relay to reduce the amount of current that has to go through the ignition switch from 8.25A to about 123mA (60x less). Every bus needs this modification before long. $20 from Bus Depot.
- CHT Gauge - Monitoring the cylinder head temperature is very important. Unlike any watercooled car VW did not put a temperature gauge on the dash. Unlike a watercooled car that boils over its radiator, the aircooled engine seizes or breaks when abused. Dakota Digital is the only company I know of that makes an accurate gauge in the $100 price range. VDO gauges are very popular but their CHT gauge is wildly inaccurate because it cannot sense the ambient temperature like the DD gauge can. Put simply, to compare the two you would be contrasting accurate digital readings vs. inaccurate readings on an analog scale marked in 50F degree intervals. Which sounds better?
- Windshield Washer - The VW washer is pneumatic: you use a tire pump to pressurize the windshield water bottle and a valve in the steering column releases the pressure through the nozzles when pressed. All ages of VWs work this work and the system sucks. First, it doesn't take much pressure loss (from use or from leaks) to have ineffective washer system even though you have plenty of water. Leaks within the steering column from cracked hose is annoying as well because of the electrical wiring that shares the same space. The solution is to install an electrical pump inline with the washer hoses and the reservoir, bypass the valve in the steering column and activate it with a switch. If you have a replacement washer switch from SWF you'll find extra wiring that will allow you to lift the washer lever as you normally would to activate your pump. The red/black and brown wires were used to activate the wiper motor on 78 Champagne edition II models with the intermittent wipers. If you don't have the wiring you can either wire up a toggle switch below the dash or glue a pin switch by the washer valve to active it when you move the lever. If you are looking for a pump with compatible fittings take one from a Vanagon or a 70's Porsche 911. You will need to ventilate the stock washer bottle cap to allow the water to pump properly.
Note: you must either locate your pump below the reservoir or install a check valve (easily found at your local aquarium store) to prevent the pump from drying out which will require it to prime each time you activate it.
While these parts are brand new, the valve in the steering column can fail and water will leak in the steering column. Save yourself some hassle and cut the hoses to the valve to be 10cm longer than spec. When the time comes, this will allow you to remove the steering wheel and pull out the valve for replacement more easily.
- Front sway bar - the original sway bar is too small and allows the body to roll during lane changes and turns. The easiest solution is to upgrade to a HD bar up front. Do not be tempted to switch to high pressure gas shocks. Although the handling will greatly improve the ride will become harsh and unpleasant especially on rough roads where you need shocks the most. Because the sway bar is oversize you'll need to use larger rubber or urethane bushings. (CIP1.com $80).
- Windshield - believe it or not your windshield is not as clear as it used to be when it left the factory. Think safety-minded thoughts and replace your factory windshield before cracks necessitate a replacement. If the windshield says Sekurit in the corner and has a VW/Audi logo, chances are that it is original. I like PPG replacement glass.
- Scissor Jack - The factory Bilstein jack while well made is not stable for jacking up the bus by its jacking points. Bus Depot sells a Genuine VW scissor jack (237-011-031) for $40 that is fair better than the original.
- Seat padding - No doubt that most bus owners buy a bus with worn out seat padding. When it comes time to re-stuff your seats avoid the foam padding commonly sold. It overstuffs the seats and isn't supportive for long trips. Although not strictly an upgrade you should replace the padding with the original material. These replacement pads are made from sisal, coconut and palm tree leaf fiber. They used to be made out of horse hair decades ago and that's where they got their name from. This padding while appearing to be firm is extremely comfortable for 10-13 hour drives. VW knew what they were doing when they chose this material. My bus is much more comfortable to drive on long trips than a lot of modern cars with foam padding. $18/pad ($36/seat) from Wolfsburg West.
Reflective stripe - this is one of the least expensive modifications you'll ever make. Stripe the rear bumper with 3M Scotchlite reflective tape. This will increase you on road visibility 10x and keep folks from tailgating you. You'll be surprised how cars back off right away as they find they can't take their eyes of your bumper. If you've ever been hit from behind you know the bumper can easily damage the body at the corners. You'll need 80in. of tape but 60in. will cover most of the bumper. $6-15 from Galls. (Either trim the DE181 SIL REF 2" tape or use the DE180 DIL REF 1" tape).
- Steering wheel wrap - The 68-77 steering wheel is very smooth and can be slippery (remember there is no power steering on the bus). The 78-79 steering while much better but gets sticky to the touch after a while and can be hard to clean. A worthwhile upgrade is a leather steering wheel wrap. Most of the ones that wrap around with cord are uncomfortable and seem to shift and become loose. My favorite is the Wheelskins wrap from GoWesty! ($35). It's sewn on so it holds it position and feels great.
Custom heat-shield - Most heat-shields do not fit the bus windshield but The Heatshield Store (formerly CanvasWorks) makes one that is a perfect fit. Order #201 for the front windshield and thanks to me #201R-A is now available for the rear (not listed in their catalog - it's a special order)
- Clock - The factory clock looks great when installed in the dash. Sometimes as low as $20 from the junkyards or eBay. They were optional items but factory fitted to 78 Champagne Edition II buses.
- Improved Instrument lighting - The stock lighting is adequate but somewhat dim. Sometimes it's as simple as replacing the old 1.2W bulbs or cleaning the dust off them. The rest of the time the easiest solution is to upgrade to 2723 2.3W bulbs. They are the same size as the original 2721 bulb but twice the wattage at the expense of 1/3rd the lifespan. They make a huge difference to the clock which has it's bulb located at the top. Keep in mind that double wattage means double current draw so limit the bulb replace to 2 or three because the stock wiring can only handle 3A and the headlight switch will have to sink more current when you dim the instrument lighting. You won't see a benefit from replacing the warning lights in the fuel gauge anyway.
The arrows in the photo indicate where the bulbs go to light the speedo and the fuel gauge. Notice there are only two (the clock has it's own bulb). Because the clusters are backlit you aren't going to see as dramatic an improvement as you might expect but the higher wattage bulbs do help. To really brighten up your display you'd have to cut more holes for extra bulb holders to add brightness.
Aftermarket tail light housings and lenses - smoked, clear or otherwise, avoid these. They look terrible and aren't effective. Insist on Hella (OEM) taillights and housings from Bus Depot ($60/ea). They are the only ones that fit right, look right and work right. Aftermarket versions of lighting housing and lenses are often so bad used is almost always a better choice.
- LED bulbs - you can buy LED varieties of 1156 and 1157 bulbs. Although LEDs appear brighter than incandescent bulbs they have two major drawbacks. First, they only cast light forward, not side to side to be picked up by reflectors. Second, they are so bright for the lens they tend to display a whitish light the size of a quarter instead of lighting up the entire lens red. These are dangerous and will reduce your visibility from behind at night.
You will find that most resellers of LED lighting won't specify lumens. This is the typical measure of light output and often the LED lumens are nowhere near the level of the bulb they are trying to replace when tested with lighting equipment.
The best reason not to install them is technical: the taillights are a fresnel lens design. This means that the position of the light source (the filament in the case of an incandescent bulb) is a factor in the brightness of the light output. Since the emitter on LED bulbs is not in the same position you end up with dimmed output.
See for yourself.
- Headlight switch - If yours burns out avoid the Chinese and Mexican versions. They are complete junk. The only reproduction worth purchasing is from Ventura Warehouse Group and it's also the least expensive at $15. It's made in China but designed to VWG standards. Of course a NOS Mera switch from Germany is nice also.
Window cranks - The majority are made from pot metal and will break in months rather than years like the originals did. BugPack is the only company selling the reinforced shaft design (a copy of the later style reinforced original). The original is shown on the left and the POS on the right. Get BugPack #6004.
Blue coils - There is only one Blue coil that isn't flawed for one reason or another. Get one locally by inspecting the box/coil or order one from Bus Depot or CIP1.
See my article for all the details.
- Mirrors - All the aftermarket mirrors look terrible. Some don't even match left to right. Get Hagus (OEM) mirrors from Bus Depot ($30/ea) or the Wolfsburg West Repros.
Gas caps - Blau made the original stainless steel locking and non-locking gas cap. There is a black Blau gap cap being sold everywhere that does not fit the bus fuel opening properly.
Get the harder to find chrome version at your favorite VW parts supplier: Blau BL03035-SV-020 (VW 211 201 551R)
11/01/04 - Created
11/06/05 - Added instrument lighting
02/08/06 - Added scissor jack
09/07/11 - Fixed broken photos, added translate button, updated footer
07/15/19 - Google update: new adsense code, removed defunt translate button