My 79 Westy Bus to Ford 2.3 Conversion Log

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My 79 Westy Bus to Ford 2.3 Conversion Log

Post by metropoj » Fri Aug 06, 2004 12:24 pm

I wanted to Jounal my progress on the conversion and I really cannot find a whole lot out there on the conversion for busses, more on Vanagons ....

Firstly :

Why on God?s green earth >?

The decision to upgrade my camper to water-cooled bounced around in my head for a long time. With advantages such a little more power, air con, heat, cruise control and the ability to buy parts anywhere were intriguing, the idea of fabrication, radiator placement, HVAC placement, and spending money were not quite as intriguing. The motor I had on the unit was a 1.7l with Weber progressive, was definitely getting tired, the Cyl 3 having lower PSI than the others but pulled strong and never left me stranded thankfully. I am also a closet engineer I guess and the challenge intrigued me. My father never understood the passion of the VW but was a similar type of man, always ready for a challenge, I miss him a lot.

What about a rad ?

OK, the age old problem of rad placement. I?ve seen pictures of a lot of things, some good, some bad. I have never heard too many people say that their ideas did not work at all, so it is up to the individual to decide what is best.

Place I?ve seen rads : Engine compartment on the Aux battery tray sides, the middle of the van under the floor between the rails, mounted in the storage unit of an early Westy ( Roadcow - cot style with the storage at the back top of the roof ), a beautiful fake tire mount on front with rad inside the unit, tucked above the front suspension, mounted in front of motor where rear hatch is located and mounted on the front with a bull bar. The front is the obvious choice for cooling air, but the ugliest idea IMHO. This did not foot the bill for being inconspicuousness ( is there such a word ?? ). I wish I had a patience to build the share tire rad thingy, but that?s not in the cards.

Originally, I was going to place the rad under the floor in the middle of the bus, scoop air to it. The rad would be on hinges at the front and threaded rods with butterfly adjusters on the back. This would allow me to adjust the angle of the rad to help cool it in hotter weather. The hinges will also give it flex to allow for objects that hit it to not destroy it. One guy that mounted it flat had the floor so hot in the van that he couldn?t touch it. I was going to create a metal scoop to channel the heat away from the floor. This idea still intrigues me a lot, gives you lots of room to play with and as big a radiator pretty well as you want !

I ?m also considering a custom built Aluminum rad tucked into the Auxiliary battery side of the van compartment. An electric fan would pull air through the Westy?s air vents and I would screen off the back engine lid ( or louver it ) so that the air will exit. I was also thinking of using a water pump mounted fan system to enhance in pulling the hot air from the compartment exiting the same way through the rear hatch. I also thought of molding an exit ducting system that would separate the hot air from the rad and the hot air from the exhaust. This way, the rad air doesn?t blow hot air directly onto the motor. There is some engineering work to be done here ? The central rad is so much easier to envision !!!

Watercooled choices.

The Boxer Subaru always intrigued me, the prices of belts and stuff like that did not. I had the opportunity to get a 2.5l Chrysler engine EFI with only 50k on it and let that one go which was a mistake. The VW 1.8 was an obvious choice as well but after losing the motor in my Jetta diesel because of a slipped timing belt left a sour taste in my mouth, even though the 1.8 is a workhorse.

The Pinto Beans add caught my eye and I decided that the Ford was a good compromise. Being used in a number of platforms since the early 70?s meant a lot of engineering, reliability, parts and tech help would be an asset. The motor was a non interference motor ( valves can?t hit the pistons ), was a little longer and taller than I wanted but lots of performance parts. The stock block and pistons were also used in the Merker XR4Ti and Turbo birds with 140 bolt on HP. A nice ace in the pocket for later if the needs arise !!

2.3l?s appeared in Rangers, Merkur?s, Mustangs, Pintos, Capri?s and probably more. FYI, The Tempo/Topaz is a completely different motor so it?s not the same at all ?.. The 2.3l had a 20 year reign with Ford, that tells me it was a good motor ? !!! also means lots of stuff available.

My Engine Choice :

Goal of conversion : more HP, reliable, non-interference motor, cheap parts available, widely used, conversion kit readily available for mounting, low weight, simple carb and ignition setup, and obviously, one that would fit the back of the camper ! . One other nicety was that the conversion should look as bone stock as possible so motor must fit in without hacking the body.

The van will have a meager increase of about 25 HP but possibilities for stock performance equipment are affordable and readily available. Look into the 2.3l, it has lots of following for performance parts and some of these guys get absolutely nuts with these things ?

So measuring up the space I have to play with in the van, I went to the local salvage yard to do some measuring. I found an old late 70?s Pinto ( one that didn?t burn up ! ) and measured up the block. How does the 2.3l fit the bill ? Perfect! Parts available at any Autozone, Canadian Tire ( yuck ), Pep Boys, and a number of small town shops throughout the US and Canada. It is just long and tall enough to fit in the back thankfully but the motor has lots of side room for later additions such as Air con, etc ?. One issue may be height of carb. I?ll need a different air cleaner that is an overhang type ?.

ALSO : The Ford 2.0/2.3l had it?s roots in Germany !! Yeah, so I still preserve some German heritage in my VW ? Whew, !!

Funding :

Now for the money issue : I had to let go of my 72 Squareback project to fund this conversion. It was sad but I need to concentrate on one project and not two ! The van, especially with the fact that I have kids, would be more useful to us for camping and traveling. So, when funds run low, I put more of my four year stash onto and help fund another VW project. Sometimes one VW must be sacrificed to help another VDub !

Additional Costs:

When people say double the cost you assume, they MEAN IT !! OK, I bugetted 2K knowing it would cost more for the conversion. I couldn?t even get a good quality TIV for that amount but thought that would do it. I?ve spent 1700 getting stuff together so far. I haven?t done the rad yet, or all the fresh brakes and suspension components that should be done to ensure my slightly more powerful, heavier ride will stop and steer.

Engine purchase:
Looking into the local papers, I found a 2.3l EFI D-Port motor from a late 80?s Mustang for a decent price of 400 Cdn. The engine seemed to be in good order and compression test after purchase seems to be OK as well. This model did not have the fuel pump attachment on the block so an in line Fuel pump would be in order ? use the one from my VW van ? Done.

A few months later, an old 86 Mustang went up for sale in the area. This would provide the remaining parts I needed like carburetor intake, a few misc. engine parts, heater core, HVAC unit and a good idea where everything would hook up normally. Price for whole car ? 150 CDN, good deal. The rad was punky and wouldn?t fit anyways, but I kept the electric rad fan and some other goodies.


Now, it?s off to Esslinger Racing in CA for the conversion kit. Jason took care of what I needed over the internet and I called my order in. We talked about the conversion and that some customers had already performed this in their vans and that the motor would fit OK. I was a little disappointed that after spending almost 500 US dollars that they didn?t automatically throw one of their 10 dollar catalogs into the box with the order ?. BOO ! Not a smart repeat customer move. The conversion kit was well built, came complete and is a work of art. A 200mm Beetle flywheel drilled for the 2.3l and a 1 inch thick aluminum plate are included, as well as some simple instructions and bolts for the kit. We?re on our way !!!

Motor Prep.

OK, a lot of junk has to come off of this motor. Firstly, the EFI was not complete and a mess, so, off it came. Also removed was power steering pump, extra pulleys not needed, EGR system. Now, we have a basic motor BUT now what ? I need to mount a carb ?..

Carb Mounting:

Esslinger suggested using a Holley 350 for the small engine, it is used widely for circle track racing and works well. The adapter for the carb to the EFI manifold and a new carb would run about 500 US: not gonna happen !. I purchased a stock Pinto 32/36 Weber progressive for my VW bus and rejetted for my VDub not three years ago, so I wanted to use that carb. Off to the local junk Yard ?.SUCCESS ! The 2.3l in that Pinto had a good intake manifold, that had a Holley 5200 attached to the base ! Problem was that this motor was an older Oval port head and the manifold itself would not work. I also took the Intake and single barrel Carter intake from the 86, so now I had to do some thinking. Fortunately, the intake manifolds are almost all the same, so the mounting base for the Holley bolted right onto the 86 manifold ! Voila, I have my induction system.

Electrical issues:

I also took the Electronic Ignition from the Pinto, a Duraspark II system, easy to set up and no points to play with. Vacuum advance seems to work good and all at the bargain price of 30 bucks for manifold, dist and Duraspark unit ! Loverly ! The EFI Mustang had the EEC IV electronic ignition which I evidently blew while checking compression on the 86 Mustand. A replacement module was 240 bucks, so into the junk box it went. The 86 also had the same ignition.

Another issue is that Power Steering pump also supports the alternator. So, I had to take off the brackets from the Pinto, as well as the water pump drive pulley. The newer models used a serpentine belt, I needed the V belt. I also took the fan blade that mounted on the water pump pulley because I thought I may use this to draw more air out of the back of the van along with an electric fan on the rad. Another deal from my local salvage yard late 70's Pinto, probably never sold a part off of that car in 20 years !!

Motor Prep II

Also, I purchased all the goodies that should be done for trouble free motoring: water pump, thermostat, timing belt, tensioner, intake and exhaust gaskets and new plugs.

Stock Exhaust manifold is still a sore spot. I think I want to eventually move to a header and pick up some free HP, but the usefulness of having the bung for O2 sensor will be great for testing the carb setup at first. I?ll just weld in the EGR and other ports in. Also a small crack in both of the motors tell me they tend to heat up a lot between Cyl 2 and 3. This will need to be fixed too.

So the motor is mocked up on the floor with the adapter kit, Holley 5200 intake manifold, stock exhaust, , timing set and all new stuff mentioned on it and ready and set to torque specs to install into the van. Since the van is currently running and quite drivable, I want to wait until the last minute to install it into the van. Nothing worse than a project that you cannot drive until you?re ready to do the conversion.

Whats Next :

OK, the next part is to bring the camper home and prepare for motor installation. This will involve dropping the tranny and motor, pressure wash and prep engine area, attach the tranny to motor and install.

Also have to rip out the working 16000 BTU gas heater (This will be for sale soon) and prep the floor to make sure no rust anywhere under there.

Fabricating :

Rear engine hanger will be needed. I cut the mounts from the 86 Mustang body in hopes to mock something up using the stock VW bar. I have seen people hang the motors off of stock trannies but it?s not a good idea IMHO. Then, it?s remove all old heat ducting off of the camper and prepare for the rad installation. I think I?ll get the floor area media blasted and prepped before the rad goes in. I haven?t decided on rad choice yet, but still leaning towards a centre mounted rad with louvered cover for some protection against the elements. Danzin on the AussieVW site has an amazing set up he created on his own ..... I hope he doesn't mind me setting up a link here :

Check it out, it's a work of art ....

Baby Break :

Since the wife is due mid August with our second child, the project will be in hiatus for now. I hope to get back on it soon. The decision is whether or not to store the van in the garage and give up my winter parking space ! I have my kerosene and propane heaters ready to go at a moments notice if I get the urge to mount that rad .....

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A little more progress ...

Post by metropoj » Thu Oct 21, 2004 8:06 am

Well, now that the colder weather is setting in, the baby is two months old, and the Squareback is now with it's new owner, there is a little more time to hopefully make some progress. The Rad ...... decisions decisions.

I salvaged some nice aluminum door frames from a screen door that are nice and light, have 45 degree angles cut already and would be nicely easy to cut and join to frame in a rad to mount underneath the bus. Just as I was ready to do this, Wilma Busgo made a post on the site that highlighted some pics of a friends bus that was modified to fit a rad in the front. I thought it looked great !!! I was considering this as well because it offered more protection than placing the rad in the floor area between the rails where the stock heater went.

As I was contemplating this idea, my contact in mexico got in touch and is doing some digging to get me a watercooled bay front end ! I really wanted to so this as it was a stock solution so to speak and would be easier to install fron what I can gather. he is going to price out the fromt rad cover, interior rad mounting area, HVAC unit and anything else that can make the non WC bus a WC equivilent. I will keep you guys posted on prices and progress.

Slow and steady wins the race .... Thanksfully, with a lot of the Squareback parts sold, I have some more money to continue onwards. Although, the bis costs right now is all the brake and suspension component replacements .....

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Post by metropoj » Wed Jan 26, 2005 9:31 am

OK, more action, although only a little at this point. Purchased a short FOrd Ranger Exhause manifold form ePay ( !! ). It was a little pricey but the manifold is not a long header like the usual Pinto / Mustang ones so it'll be easier to set it up with a custom exhaust.

I was given a contact from the Samba of a guy [email protected] who buys stuff directly from VW de mexico and ships it up. I purchased a read grille for a 1990-2002 VW Combi. For those of you who haven't seen one, it's basically a square back grille that fits on the front nose of the camper where a spare tire might sit if you have one. I plan to cut away the nose to accommodate then install my rad and fan behind it. The inner floor of the bus will be cut away as well and boxed in to keep the rad from being near my feet :) There are some other posts here that show pics of some home made styles like this ....

Anyways, Antonio Trejo seems like a good guy and I'll keep you posted on the purchase. I will try and get some pics up if anyone's interested on what it'll look like. So far, this grille was almost the same amount as my Damn KEP kit believe it or not. VW changes a hefty price for this plastic grille .....


Post by Guest » Wed Jan 26, 2005 1:38 pm

metropoj wrote:

"Also a small crack in both of the motors tell me they tend to heat up a lot between Cyl 2 and 3. This will need to be fixed too."

A small crack? Where? In both motors? This can't be good! Tell us more.

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Post by metropoj » Thu Jan 27, 2005 12:22 pm

The crack was in the exhaust casting itself. They are kind of webbed together in that part. The head and mating surface looked fine but the manifold didn't. This may just be a stock thing on the stock exhaust manifold, not sure .....

1 motor has almost 300k kms on it, the under under 100k kms both with similar issue. I have also heard these motors vibrate a lot so this may have cuased the issues as well ? That's all I know ....

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More updates.

Post by metropoj » Wed Jul 06, 2005 1:48 pm

I'll try and get some pics posted soon ...

Preparing for Rad Mounting.

Received my Grille from Mexico, it’s nice to have an OEM original piece for the front in this case. I set the grille on the body traced her out and then proceeded to cut out the nose about 2 inches inside of where the grille went. The grille itself holds on by body tabs, so I marked out roughly where the tabs would need to be made in the nose and left some extra material while I was cutting out the nose. I’ll shape, fold and bend this extra material into tabs for the rad to clip to. Later on, I was put on to and ordered up the matching fresh air plastic grille and smoked turn signal lenses to make the front more uniform … and nice new tail light assemblies …..

Floor Cutting :

The next step was to cut away some of the floor because the rad needs to sit somewhere . The plan is to have the rad sit a little below the floor ( directly on or between the support rails of the bus unibody. The issue here will be clearance, as the steering box sits on the drivers side of the frame rails. The floor needs to be opened up to allow air to flow through the rad and exit out the bottom. I have to fab up a shroud to enclose the rad from the passenger compartment and re route the central heat tree off to the side. One area of concern is the E brake handle, as it’s mounted into the fresh air box. I cut away enough area to get the rad as central as possible without interfering with gas and brake pedal functionality. In fact, I may need to build a shroud that allows the E brake handle to still function, kind of ‘W’ shaped so that the air can exit underneath properly.

Fresh air ventilation system :

Hmmm, the cavity of the later units hangs down pretty low. Since I wanted to keep the actual fresh air vents and possibly the ambulance fans intact, I had to cut into this cavity to free up some space. I have cut away that cavity just below that point where the e Brake handle connects to and will need to enclose what’s left of the fresh air cavity if I want it to work.

Need to choose a Radiator:

Based on my measurements, I went hunting for a rad that would fit the bill. Most rads that were high enough were too long and vice versa. I wanted to stick a stock as possible so that I can maintain sources for parts throughout Canada / U.S. travels that are not hard to come by …

Chrysler to the rescue !

I found that all Caravans 87 to 90 used a very square small rad 16.5” wide by 17 tall core, just perfect ! The V6’s had an aluminum finned plastic top and bottom and integrated shroud / fan. 2.5l had a copper core and tanks. I got one of each  to see which one would work best. Fits between the frame rails and does not interfere with the steering box ! Nice stuff. Rad cap is on the top. So, I have to decide if it’s better to have an access panel from the inside to fill the rad or just remove the grille with the 4 tabs once I need to do anything. I also have to make shroud clearance for the overflow bottle as well.

Costs to Date:

So far, my conversion costs are almost split 60 / 40 between maintenance items and conversion parts. An extra 30+ HP is nice if the bus is able to steer and stop safely  ….

Where did the money go so far ?

2400 CDN on motor, 86 Stang for parts, Pinto intake / Ranger exh headers, Holley carbs, Caravan rad, ignition tuneup parts, belts, hoses, pumps, tensioners, Electronic ignition module and Dist, etc etc… 800 CDN on Esslinger adapter alone !!

4000 CDN on brakes, suspension, beam, rotors, caliper rebuilds, seals, cables, new 8 ply tires and rims, bearings, pads, shocks, etc. Anything and everything underneath that van that takes a beating ….. need new CV’s yet ( once these are dead-dead  )

So far, all cash have come from selling off my old stash of parts ( thanks all, glad it all went to good home(s) ). I’m still in the black ….

So far, the costs of the motor conversion are about on par ( because I played by the wisdom of others and doubled my estimates of about 1500.00 ) with what I expected to spend. I still have to buy hoses, exhaust system and coolant pipe / hoses to get water to and from the rad.

More to come !!



Post by jmgeoff1 » Mon Nov 28, 2005 10:06 pm

Just wondering if you have any pictures to post?

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Post by metropoj » Wed Nov 30, 2005 2:31 pm

Sigh, I did and then lost my hard Drive before I got them off of it.

Van is packed away and filled right now with parts in the corner of the garage. All I have to show right now is the engine in the engine bay supported by the engine stand and a big square hole in the front, nothing more :( .... I was concentrating on replacemnt of all front brakes, beam, steering etc .....



Post by jmgeoff1 » Wed Dec 07, 2005 6:04 pm

I got a 79 Riveria that I'm putting a 88 Ford Ranger motor into. I'm having trouble figuring out what size it is (2.0/2.3). I bought the kit from Esslinger for a 2.3 it fits fine. I called a Ford dealership with the VIN# and they told me its a 2.0. I called Esslinger they told me that a 2.3 has 4 cam towers under the valve cover, mine does too, I'm confused, I don't even know what I have. Anyways have you built any motor mounts for the rear of the bus/ front of the engine?

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Post by metropoj » Mon Dec 12, 2005 1:24 pm

Hmm, I don't think the 2.0l made it into the 80's from what I've read, my 87 Mustang was 2.3, as was my 86.

Possibly, because they may share the same block, you got a bastardized engine wtih 2.3 head etc on a 2.0l block. My block doesn't have the mechanical pump, but my 86 motor in the back does.

As for mounts, I have collected some stuff for the mounts, and I probably have some pics mying around at home somehwere. I cut the mounts from the 86 Mustang to connect to the motor. I plan to fab something nice to the original engine hangar to atttach the oem mounts to. Alas, I have not made it quite that far :( I did not concentrate on one task and did a little bit of everything ....

Now, I'm collecting up foam to start molding a shroud to enclose the rad in. I'll lay fiberglass over the top once I got the shape I want and discard the foam mold afterwards. Perhaps some of you other guys would be interested in one after I get one that works nice ? The trick is to not interfere with the Ebrake lever, yet allow enough space for the rad and fan and a nice slope to keep down on the air exiting underneath the van ....

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Post by jackstraw » Mon Dec 12, 2005 10:21 pm

Can any info be had from the grille sales team about how they did the interior shrouding? Not that anything your doing is askew, but maybe they have a shroud for the conversion?

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Post by metropoj » Tue Dec 13, 2005 8:28 am

Hi jackstraw, trying desperately to get that info for a while now, basically, it's a punched in extension of the nose, nothing more. The dash and interior plumbing for cool and warm air is totally different .... I have to improvise a fiberglass shroud because I don't have the time to work on my metal skills to form one by hand ....

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my engine

Post by jmgeoff1 » Mon Dec 26, 2005 3:21 pm

Still need to put in the rad., make some motor mounts, and get a water temp gauge. Was your engine a really tight fit? Mine sure was. I think I'm going to mount the rad. on the left side of the engine bay at an angle so the rad fan blows onto the headers. I hope its cool enough. Send me your email address and I'll send you some pics if your interested.

[email protected][/img]

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Post by jmgeoff1 » Sun Jan 08, 2006 9:27 pm

Hey metropoj, any updates?

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Post by metropoj » Thu Jan 12, 2006 11:18 am

Hi, you can email pics to [email protected].

I contemplated the rear rad thingy but I am committed to the front rad, as I now have 2 from rad enclosures as one came up super cheap in the US so I had to buy it :) .....

I was never sure if the hot rad air should expel onto the intake or exhaust side of the motor, I don't think the exhaust side neded any more heat thats for sure :) ....

Sigh, no updates physically, but been making some plans on paper how to proceed. The van is resting peacefully in the garage on it's old tires so I don't wreck my new tires before I get any miles on them .....

I did some stupid things, got sidetracked on other mechanicals, when I should have stayed focus on one task at a time. That has been my downfall, trying to do a little of everything and not a lot of one thing ...

I had cut out the rear apron off of the bus to facilitate getting the 2.3l motor in and out of the van easier. I agree, it's gonna be a tight fit. If I left the stock pulley assembly on the 87 Mustang motor, I doubt it would have fit. Thanks to the Ford Pinto 'Pony' in my local wrecking yard, the pully is a single belt unit and sits a little more flush. I just took the manual fan blade off and attached the pully to the new water pump. I may find that circulation to the front where rad is may be a problem. I may need a Esslinger hipo Water Pump .....

I have the engine on a rollable engine stand now, the tranny is out as well, I got surprise when I found my 79 had a 091 tranny 6 rib.

I have to torque down the adapter plate to the motor and hang the tranny off of it, hopefully the stand can handle the weight. Once the engine is hung ( I plan to support the engine with a 2x4 from the hatch and put on the stock TIV engine bar from underneath and fab up an adapter to the stock engine mounts from Ford. No sense reinventing the wheel. with mounts )

Rad Install. Well, I'd be curious if anyone is thinking about mounting the E Brake lever somewhere else. I thought perhaps of adapting a T1 style handle or something that would free up a better arch for my rad enclosure. With the current location the rad enclosure would need to be pretty squared off and a steep angle to fit before the floor mount...

Rad Enclosure : I have piles of fiberglass cloth. I am going to use pieces of Styrofoam glued togather and shape it to how I want the shroud to look and install in the bus. then, I'll cover it with packing tape and start layering fiberglass over the top to build up a shell, pop it out and then line it with sound deadening material like the full size Chevy and Astro "Bubbles" that cover the engines. i think this will work well. Also, I'll have a mold available if anyone perhaps wants me to make one for them.....

Heater?, has a 37,500 BTU beast of a unit that I'd install under rear seat and duct to the front and rear , 3 speed fan, killer unit at around 200 USD.

So, plans are int he works on HOW to complete, just not yet done in practice. Hopefully I can dig up some time this year to start to move forward on some of the mounting of the lotor, running the copper 1.5" tubes to front and prepare for heater core / rad enclosure and git er back on the rad .... Since the kids are still small and want to go camping ith the folks, i want to take them on some excursions to east coast before they're too old ....

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