Saturday, October 18, 2008

A visit from Valentina.

Valentina arriving in Petaluma.

On Thursday night, we had a visit from Valentina and Valentina's driver, Marc. For those of you unfamiliar, Marc and his girlfriend, Eliana (who stayed at a friend's in the East Bay since she was not feeling well), have been traveling America for the past four months in their 1978 VW Westy, Valentina, which they bought on Valentine's Day last spring. After about 2 months of work, they set out from Florida, headed to Alaska, made it, and are now headed down the West Coast. An impressive journey to say the least. You can read about it here.

I caught up with Marc from a thread on and from when they visited Ludwig and Ludwig's family en route. I sent an email offering a place to sleep and clean up if needed when they were coming down through the San Francisco area. It worked out that, most of all, Marc needed some space to work and a timing light. Since I have done the timing a few times on my VWs, I offered help.

Valentina has been having a history of trouble with lurching while at the top of the RPMs in each gear. A symptom many followers suspect has something to do with the advance on the distributor. After a good cleaning in Seattle, the bus was able to go a while without trouble, but soon the problem returned. Marc and I were to clean the distributor in the hopes that the problem was dirt deeper in the mechanism. After that, reinstall the distributor, set the timing and off he'd go. Should be easy...

Marc showed up in the afternoon and we got started pretty quickly, moving Valentina around to in front of the neighbor's garage and pulling the distributor out. This was my first time working on the later-style engine, so things were pretty unfamiliar (especially the fuel injection part of the set up) but very interesting. Valentina's a full 11 years newer than Big Blue, and while many things are the same, almost everything is slightly different.

Marc getting the distributor out.

The cool thing about an engine hatch is that it makes for an interesting, "from the engine's view" perspective.

Marc, working in my "office" on his distributor.

The beast in question. Notice the Pertronix in place of the traditional points.

We cleaned the distributor as best we could without taking the entire thing apart. Marc has a Pertronix installed, and we got down to the point where the next step would have been taking the Pertronix piece off the shaft of the distributor (the black, round piece on the shaft in the photo above). We stopped there, giving the dizzy a dousing of cleaner (which, really, did not seem that dirty) and then put lubrication in. We checked the vacuum advance which seemed to be fine and checked the mechanical advance and everything seemed to work fine. I also took 2 of the 3 sections of vacuum tube off and checked them for leaks and blockage and they seemed to be fine. The vacuum system seemed really odd to me (to have a T joint in a vacuum line, see photo below) but I referenced the Bentley manual and it's correct.

An odd t-joint in the vacuum line.

The tools used in the cleaning and lubrication.

After some problems getting the distributor to set back in correctly (during this procedure, Marc actually got shocked. I'm not sure how), we finally got it in and then went to set the timing. We hooked up the timing light, turned the engine to fire the #1 plug, turned the key on, and the light stayed on the entire time (it should only come on at the point in the rotation that the plug would fire, thus you would get the light "coming on" at a point, vs what we were getting).

Knowing this was wrong, we walked through the steps and then, after about 15 minutes, Marc and I broke through a little bit of a communication barrier. The entire time he was referring to a timing light, he was talking about a strobe light. I was thinking he was talking about a static timing light (a test light) (to tell the entire story here, at this point my dad agreed with Marc that I am using a "testing light" and that a "timing light" is a strobe light.) Potato, potato. Anyway, my garage is void of a strobe light. I haven't set the timing on a car that way since timing my 1971 Toyota Landcruiser back in high school.

And, it seemed, there was no way to use a static timing light with the Pertronix installed. We broke for a rushed dinner (thanks again, EP!), sent out a urgent call for ideas on TheSamba, Marc made a call to the driver of Ludwig, who suggested using the strobe, and then we took Little Blue down to the Kragen and found the cheapest strobe they had.

Marc in Little Blue.

Marc at our local Kragen.

The tool we need!

Back home and working in the dark now, Marc fired up Valentina while I held the strobe light and adjusted the distributor so his marks matched. It's amazing how quick and easy it is to do something when you have the correct tool. Hook up the strobe, turn on the bus, twist the distributor. With the timing set and the distributor tightened, we took Valentina out on a shake down run. Marc ran her through the gears, backing off a higher gear to put Valentina in the top of each lower gear and the bucking problem existed no more. We checked the timing again after the run and all seemed fine. Job done.

It was good to met Marc and I was happy to have a chance to learn some things about the later VW engines. After getting everything done, we sat down in the garage for another 45 minutes and talked about VWs and travels and what not. It was good to meet him and I wish him and Eliana safe travels. It's a good bus and I hope the worst of the road problems are behind them.


Ludwig's Drivers

Shocked? I'm shocked! I hope the key wasn't in the "on" position while the distributor was getting removed and replaced. Wait: why am I saying this here? (comment to be continued on the equivalent posting on Marc&Eliana's blog....)

Big Blue's Driver

The key was in Marc's pocket at the time of the shocking. I wasn't under the lid with him at the time, so I'm not sure what he touched...


Well said, Brett! So, after driving Valentina for a while, the distributor problem is about 90% better, but not completely resolved after all. The good news is, I have to be in the extreme high end of each gear to elicit the engine bucking. Before, we could drive up to 53 mph in 4th gear before problems began; now we can get up to 69-70 mph just fine, but after that the problem manifests again. The same goes for all the other gears. Not nearly as serious as before, but I'm looking around for a replacement distributor until I can get mine completely cleaned and rebuilt.

About the electric shock. The key wasn't in. What could have zapped me? Maybe it was some sort of weird electrical impulse generated by my own mind. Have you ever experienced random acts of neurons misfiring? Was it a dream or was it real? Very Vanilla Sky-ish.

Ludwig's Drivers

Was the negative battery cable disconnected? That's your culprit.

Big Blue's Driver

Are you saying that, if it WAS disconnected, that's what caused the shock? Or the other way around?

Ludwig's Drivers

The other way 'round. No ground=no shock, culprit=connected negative cable (disconnect it on the body side; it's easier).

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