The '78 Bus
The Story of my Bus
I bought this awesome bus almost 10 years ago for $500 Canadian, from an old German guy named Bernd Shuld who was the second owner, and part of the same family who originally purchased the bus new in '78. It was just random happenstance when I stopped at a Walmart far from my usual delivery route, to get some cold medicine, and saw the bus in the parking lot. I went and talked to the guy as io have always been a VW fan, and inquired if it was for sale!
It was indeed! and he wasn't looking to get a ton for it.
A few days later, I went for a test drive at his house, and closed the deal then and there.
The Bus ended up being a nearly daily driver for me for over a year, and ran with minimal issues other than leaking oil.
At the time, I had a buddy who restored old cars like jaguars and coopers, Who offered to help me stop the oil leak by pulling the engine and fixing the issues, Claiming it was but a weekend job. Me, knowing little to nothing about vehicles at the time, trusted in him. He decided the best time to do it was 12 days before Shambhala music festival in order to make sure it was going to be trouble free for the 8+ hour drive. I didn't like this idea, But again, put my trust in this guy because of his knowledge and experience.
One thing he failed to understand, that I KNEW 100% was a fact, is that my bus was Fuel Injected. A stark contrast to the usual carbureted engines he was accustomed to working on.
The 12 days flew by and many small issues were addressed, And in the last couple days before I was due to leave, When we were attempting to make the engine run once again, The project was halted.
The "Expert" I had put my trust in, could not figure out how to make the fuel injection system function, rendering the bus dead.
After a while, And trying to find help on kijiji from random backyard mechanics, My dad decided to bring it to his "Buddy" but failed to read any reviews or investigate the legitimacy of the shop.
Here the bus sat for approximately a year, as I was fed bullshit from the owner, All the while he took my fuel injection system (worth thousands of dollars) Out of the bus under the guise of "carbureted is better" only to install an improper, Single (Extremely cheap) jeep carb (weber 32/36 DGEV), rendering my buss unreliable and gutless.
Later to find out this guy (robert) essentially runs a chop shop, Steals peoples parts, holds their vehicles, and has many negative reviews saying much the same thing.
This shop is called Stev-o Auto clinic In marda loop, in Calgary.
The Incorrect Weber 32/36 DGEV carb, and the disaster I was left with from stev o- auto once he stole my fuel injection parts. (and this isn't my only set of issues with their shop)
So the bus "ran" for a while and I attempted to drive it to shops and places close to my home. It died constantly and I was often left pushing it by myself on busy roadways.
After months of that, I brought it back to him and DEMANDED he fix the mess he has left my bus in (after paying him A large sum), And rather than leave the bus with him, I opted to stay in the bus and ensure the work was done.
He left me waiting for over 2 hours, And finally comes back and within 5 minutes had it running Semi-reliably again. At least it wasn't dying...
Me not knowing much about vehicles at the time didn't understand. But Robert Did, and he knew it was as simple as changing the points.
I let him know I was planning to embark on a trip 9+ hours away to Merritt BC, and he said it should be fine.
Well, it wasn't long into the trip before the bus lost all power, and we were crawling through the mountain passes at 40kmh or less, Billowing smoke, Hoping to make it to our destination. (Bass Coast festival)
I knew this wasn't going to end positively, being so far from home.
We made it to the festival after a ghrouling 14 hour drive, and was finally able to let the stress of the drive, and the looming engine failure wash away, albeit only temporarily...
Leaving the festival, my crew and I were splitting up to head to separate towns, And I headed (mostly Downhill) To Kelowna, Where I would spend the next week hanging out on the beach, and enjoying the weather.
Pirate Radio Stage: Basscoast 2015
Made It To Kelowna And met Some Other Friends
Rotary Park, kelowna BC
With The Next festival Motion Notion Fast approaching, just outside of Golden BC, I had to make my journey home 7+ hours through the mountains to get my ticket and switch vehicles.
Not having a cell phone at the time, and being wholly aware of the fact that my bus was very unhappy and unhealthy, it was a tough step to take.
"It was as if I was stepping into the Unknown, Yet Knowing What the unknown held For me."
Kelowna is in a valley more or less, so the first leg of my trek was to get out of the valley back into the mountains, and higher ground. Nearing the top of one of the first large climbs into the mountains heading into Armstrong BC, just as I thought I was going to be okay, *KABOOM* POP*BANG*CLUNK*BAM... Followed by a sputter and a cloud of thick black smoke.
The Reality Set In.
The loss of engine power, Combined with the sheer surprise was when I knew I was in trouble.
(I believe the improper carb was to blame, among other things)
Luckily I was able to hobble the bus over to the nearest Tim Hortons, which of course is the only thing around for about 2kms, and was able to get confirmation there was in fact a (very small) town just up the road.
So back in the bus, and trying to start what I can only assume is a blown engine, Luckily it came to life. Barely..
I made the trek 2kms down the road to Armstrong. A tiny town with no Walmart, And no major infrastructure at all, Where I parked at a gas station where I could use a payphone.
After calling home and considering my options, It was time to get some rest, and hopefully find a solution in the morning.
Being at the end part of a multi week trip, my funds were mostly exhausted, And I had very few options to get the bus back home.
A tow would cost way too much, And leaving the bus wasn't an option. That left me with trying to find another way...
Luckily, Armstrong had a Uhaul dealer, and even luckier, they had just 1 car trailer, and just 1 vehicle capable of towing it!
Of course I decided to borrow some money to make the trek home with my bus, and my belongings.
I was extremely heated due to the shitty situation, And was essentially pedal to the floor all the way home in this massive moving truck, towing my 5000+ lb VW bus Passing people. Needless to say, its sketchy pushing the limits of those trucks.
Despite this solution being cheaper than any other, it still cost roughly $1000 to get back home, And I used up all my available funds for gas to the point that when I ran out of gas on the edge of town, I was lucky to have my jerry can with 15 or 20 liters left in the bus to get me back home.
Barely made it across town, and was able to get the bus unloaded, and we put it in the alley.
After a while we decided to stop insuring it and move it into the garage where it has sat for several years now.
While in the garage, The old, and blown up engine was removed, and my mom and I took up learning to do some body work, and to repair the massive amount of rot and rust the bus had endured over the years. Not only did we repair the major holes near the battery, I welded in a bunch of new metal in the engine bay making it almost like new! And then that was followed by a generous coat of bed liner.
Some Of the Worst Rot: BEFORE
Large Sections Of Rusted out metal
The Massive Body Hole Repaired Like New
Repairing the metal in the engine bay
Fixing Massive Holes, and missing pieces
Bondo Time. just a little bit
Primed and ready for paint
Painted bodywork, and bed linered engine bay!
During this time, I acquired a second engine from a guy who did a subie swap, and crashed his bus shortly after.
I paid $150 for the complete engine (minus tin ) and 2 solex carbs. Figured I got a pretty decent deal.
Still didn't know alot about vehicles at the time...
Went ahead and installed the new engine and did a compression test, to find out that at least 1 cylinder needed some work.
This is where I really started to learn about theses old girls....
Both of My 2000cc Aircooled VW Engines. Youll notice the coating of gunk and oil on the blown one on the left
So out came the engine yet again (if you are counting, this would have been the third time that I pulled the engine out),
And apart came the top ends of both the old blown engine, and the "newer" unknown engine, To reveal one piston on the old engine completely decimated. Destroyed. Demolished. Along with the jug, head, and valves, it was a disaster. That explained why the bus died in BC, and also explains the cloud (and coasting) of oil the bus puked out and received.
The cause Of the Explosion and oil Cloud outside of Armstrong BC
Cleaning the replacement piston
I took the (non damaged) parts from the blown engine, and replaced a head, piston, jug and bearings into the newer engine on the cylinder where I measured low compression. This low compression cylinder had a broken piston ring causing the issue, and had I attempted to run the newer engine, it likely would have caused much more damage, leaving me with yet another blown engine.
After replacing the top ends, and reinstalling the engine in the Bus for a compression check, I come to find that now diagonally opposing cylinders are lacking the proper compression PSI. This can be considered one of the worst issues regarding the engine and its operation, as it can damage the crankshaft, and should not be ran as such.
By this point, my lack of success, and frustration had got the better of me, and I basically abandoned the project for a while. I decided it was better to just work around the bus taking up most of my useable space, instead of focusing my funds and attention on getting it running.
There it sat with minimal thought for another roughly 18 months, until in 2019 i decided it was time to try again.
So, out came the engine once again (yes that's the fourth time now, its getting old, but I am getting better at it), And once again, off came the top ends. Rocker covers, Rockers, heads, jugs, and pistons. Knowing the experts at concept 1, I Decided to grab a new set of pistons and jugs.
the owner (ken) and I got talking, and he said "of course I will be happy to sell you this top end kit if you really want it, but do you know what condition your bottom end is in? What about your heads?"
I explained that this was an unknown bottom end and I was hoping to put some new (higher compression) pistons in it to get it running finally.
Ken promptly explained in detail about how that could cause even more issues and further expenses (not far) down the road, And how my best option would be to completely rebuild the motor by having the crank ground, replacing the cam shaft, replacing the heads, jugs, pistons, bearings, Adding proper exhaust J-tubes, and the correct carbs.
(This is where I found out the awesome solex carbs I got for$50 are not going to work on a 2000cc engine. they were for a far inferior 1600cc engine.)
The Solex Carbs I have
So, off I went without the new pistons, and started to disassemble the engine to its basic components.
By this time, I had worked on the Bus enough, and have done much work on dirt bikes, atvs, and other engines that its something I thought possible.
Needless to say it was not a piece of cake to disassemble the bus engine despite the lack of complexity. There are many hidden screws, nuts, and bolts.
This brings me to the current days. The bus remains not running, The newer engine remains apart and in rubber maid bins, and drawers, and the blown engine remains on a cart under the stairs.
This project has taken too long, and I miss driving my awesome bus. Installing the engine is not even close to the end of the bus build, as there is much cosmetic, and minor mechanical work to be done still, But there is no better time than now to get this girl running.
2022, this bus Will RUN!