88 Vanagon GL head gasket

the cleanest & prettiest head gasket job you'll ever see 

August 27, 2007 

Well, the head gasket sprang a leak so it was a good time to go through the engine, clean it, paint it, and replace what was necessary and what I could afford. I took the advice of Zoltan as to what should be done and what shouldn't be done. He truly is a master of his trade and I'm in debt to him for his efforts on my van. What started all this was he showed me the engine compartment of his syncro that he has for sale, and I said, "That's what I want my engine compartment to look like." He said, "Ok, we'll start next week." Whoa! Little did I know I was about to start one of the most gratifying and intense lessons in mechanics.  Zoltan is truly a Westfalia/Vanagon enthusiast if I have ever seen one. He has worked on them almost exclusively over the past 15 years and after seeing the care and detail he puts into vans, I would trust his work over anyone else's. He truly loves these vehicles. If I had the money I would buy any one of his Westfalia restorations in a heartbeat. 

Zoltan gave me a list of things to buy, and once everything started to arrive, we began. That included new clutch kit, engine gasket set, POR15, lots of those little cooling hoses, water pump, right stuff, spray paint, new coolant tank, stainless steel nuts/bolts/clamps, new front right and left window scrapers and probably some other things I forgot to mention. Update - just bought a new radiator due to varying temperatures on the radiator which leads me to believe that it is clogged and is more than likely original.

The before pic of my engine compartment before Zoltan and I got to it:

Engine out of the van on the engine stand w/ the top end and exhaust off:

Exhaust, throttle body, heat shield and miscellaneous parts:

As you can see, it was quite dirty. Many years of dust accumulation and a slight oil leak made it filthy. Here's a pic of the parts on the table after cleaning getting ready to paint w/ POR15:


 If you haven't used POR15 before, it is an amazing product. You can read about yourself on the website, but in a nutshell: bitchin' anti rust paint. It has superb self leveling capabilities, and seals rust and corrosion.  Beware of getting it on your skin, it stays for a while. Also follow the instructions on resealing the lid or you'll never get it off and have to resort to the screw pour hole. Anyhow, it looks great and really makes the parts you paint look brand new. Better than brand new. Here's the block after being painted:

Another shot of the block w/ the new water pump installed:

A picture w/ the heads installed:

Close up of the new head gasket w/ Right Stuff squeezing out:

 And another:

The underside of the engine partially assembled w/ out the head shields installed:

 With the exhaust and a few more components installed:

Everything is put together w/ stainless steel nuts, bolts, washers, clamps, anti seize, and extreme care. Some pics of the fuel rail and fuel hoses w/ stainless clamps:

The front main seal had to be changed due to a small oil leak and so we had to pull the main pulley:

 New seal:

With the new fuel lines and alternator installed:

Here's the transmission (which also got the POR15 treatment), starter, and clutch cylinder bracket. The bracket was actually cracked which I suspect was the cause of some shuddering I was experiencing when shifting gears:

A good shot of the whole engine on the stand almost ready to install:

New clutch:

Another shot of the clutch and whole engine:

And the moment I've waited 2 weeks for, the engine installed in the van:

From the 'other' angle during the first cool down cycle, still filling up w/ coolant:

The engine fired like it was never even out of the van. Everything is running smoothly, with the exception of some lifter ticking. When I pulled the engine out, we realized that 3 of the 4 engine mounts were broken! It is so steady now, there is no movement when revving at all. Amazing what new mounts will do for you! It drove flawlessly, the clutch was smooth, no shuddering, and the engine sounds very solid.

All in all, a truly wonderful experience. If you truly love your van, and have the time, please clean it and paint it, you will not regret it. I was lucky, I'm in between jobs, so I had the time. Plus, the proud feeling you get knowing that you created a virtually new engine using elbow grease and a couple quarts of paint is truly priceless. I would not and could not do it any other way. 

A HUGE thank you to Zoltan for his sharing of information, hands on training, story telling, and generosity! Without him, none of this would have been possible. He deserves full credit for all the work that you see in the above pictures.  

Another huge thank you to the Vanagon.com list community. Thank you for giving me informative and sometimes humorous emails to read while I drink my coffee in the morning! You guys are truly a great community. Had I not discovered the list, this would have never happened and I would have never met Zoltan. 

Now that I sold my car (VW Golf), it's time to acquire a Westfalia and do the same thing! Thanks for looking.


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