On the vanishing of rust 👨‍🔧


The van is old. Almost 40 years old, as it happens. Built in Germany in the 1980s, happily moved around 2-3 owners (I forget, although I have the paperwork somewhere) and then finally came to the UK in 2007. It then did a small tour of Europe after which the previous owner who I never actually met moved to Australia and has moved onto owning a Beetle these days. Can't shake those old VWs.

Anyways, being almost 40 years old means that big hunk of metal has had a lot of time to get nice and rusty. Has to be said, it did a good job of it.

DISCLAIMER: Before I get into it, I did not do any of this work. It was done by the amazing Doug and friends at Dougs VW Werks, and I'm not a mechanic!

Exhibit A:

There are some particularly bad points on these vans which rust, which are as follows (some I know why more than others):

  • The corners of the windscreen - over the years, water sits there and gradually eats away at it under the seals
  • The window perimeters for practically all of the windows - same reason I guess, although we suspect mine had a more specific reason which I'll get to shortly
  • The doors - they have drainage holes at the bottom which get blocked and then you get the bottom of the doors full of dirt which holds water
  • The tailgate edge/seal - The tailgate gets all of the mud/dirt up from the road when driving which I would guess contributes to it's decline, although don't take my word for it.
  • The dreaded "seam rash" - The seams in between the panels on these vans were originally sealed, although the sealant has long-since dried out and shrunk and so some water gets in there, gradually rusting from the inside out.

Exhibit B: Window perimeters:

All of these bits on my van I had known needed doing, but if you own an old VW (as I imagine many of you do), there is always something else to fix. Unless parts of your van start literally falling off, and especially when they are not structural such as the windows, they get put on the "to-do later" list.

As I'm going to be spending the next year pretty much living in the van, it made sense to finally get it all resolved so it's 100% watertight. The less condensation/leaks/drafts better!

Most of this work should not need doing again, so here's hoping it is money well spent.

So why were all of my windows so crusty?

Doug has a theory! When I bought my van, it looked like this...

What a beauty... 😅

This was not the vans original colour, and certainly not the original paint. This van was originally a much nicer Joker Green and for some reason one of the previous owners was possessed to paint it this horrible fading yellow/beige semi-gloss rough dirty looking colour 🤮

Anyways, Doug reckons that this paint was Cellulose paint which means that it has a very strong ratio of thinners. The original paint would have been 2-pack paint. I am told (because I have no idea on such matters) that 2-pack paint will react very badly with too much thinners and start to dissolve/go sticky.

Seeing as whoever painted the van this colour clearly had very little idea what they were doing, we think that the new paint reacted with the old paint, making it go all goey, and then when the windows were put back in this has been trapped and gradually peeled, pushing the seals out and allowing water in. Not good.

Exhibit C: Tailgate repairs

So, basically, the van is watertight now! The doors have also all been tweaked/adjusted so well that now I have to properly apply some force to open/close them due to how strong the seal between the seals are. Definitely a good thing, rather than everything just being loose and leaky before 😅

So what's left to do?

My van still has the original gearbox from the aircooled engine with 3x the power going through it that was originally intended. To say that it's "a tad noisy" would be the understatement of the century. It's basically screaming at me in every gear. Not the most comfortable driving experience...

I have a recon gearbox ready thanks to the awesome Aidan Talbot and I'm heading up to Scotland on the 3rd January to have this fitted. I'll gain a whole extra gear and locking rear diff 🤤

The end of the van being ready is in sight. That means the start of the trip is too! 🌍


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