Wednesday, November 29, 2006

VW - Let There Be Light!

So there you are, purring across the desert in the cool of the night and there's a funny sound from the engine room and the purr gets a little quieter and that damned red light comes on. You just lost the fan belt.

No big deal; you've got a spare. And the lug wrench is the same size as the fan pulley nut and you've even got a screwdriver to keep the pulley from turning while you take off the nut. But the flashlight has those Civil War surplus batteries and gives you one last good-bye glow like a tiny red worm and dies. You're fresh outta light.

Doing it in the Dark

If you got a bug, changing your fan belt in the dark isn't too bad. You've got your flashers going of course, and they throw a little light into the engine room. But let's hope you don't drop anything, you'll be pushing your bug back and forth, playing patty-cake with the ground hoping all those stories you've heard about night-time desert creepy-crawlies aren't true. (They are.)

But you have a neat little trouble light in your kit. It's your static timing light. Connect it up, change the fan belt and you're on your way.

Sure is nice to have the right tools when you need them, eh? What? You say it's back at the house? I don't think that's a very good idea, do you? Why don't you keep it in the door pocket with your fuses.

Whatdaya mean, 'What fusess?'

Reality Check

Most good cars provide a light under the hood, another in the trunk, one in the glove box, a couple under the dash, one by the ash tray... Good cars provide good lighting; they assume you'll drive at night now and then. Cheap cars don't do that, assuming you'll stay home glued to the tube when the sun goes down. The Volkswagen is a cheap car (or usta be!). The only lights you get are the ones required by law.

My 1973 Datsun pickup has a little light under the hood, positioned so you can check the oil. It's a very smart kind of light. (Only after praising the Datsun people for their thoughtfulness did I learn that such a light was a legal requirement in some countries where 1973 Datsuns were sold.)

Letting in the Light

I've got four lights in the engine compartment of my 1965 bus, two in the engine compartments of the Ghia and sedan, two on the baja.

On the Ghia and bugs I put one of the lights on a bracket pop-riveted to the blower housing, positioned so as to illuminate the distributor and that side of the carb. The other light is mounted on the base of the generator tower so I can see the dip stick and the timing marks on the pulley.

The light fixtures I used are high quality new-surplus items manufactured by Grimes, the aviation people. They are solid nickel-plated brass jobbies that cost a couple of bucks each. Pretty small; Grimes calls them 'panel lights'. They use the commonly available #1816 12vdc lamp. (That's the GE number; it cross-references to others that will fit.) The lamp is small, about like a flashlight bulb. If you want more light than it provides there is a halogen replacement.

I got the light fixtures from American Science & Surplus (3605 Howard St., Skokie, IL 60076. (708) 982-0870 ) The part number for the lights is #10572. Cost was about two bucks.

(Ed. Note: About two weeks after I posted this in 1995 people reported the fixture I used was no longer available. Which doesn't change the purpose nor value of this message: You need light in order to do useful work, and other fixtures are available. Nowadays [2006] I'd recommend using LED's rather than incandescent lamps.)

Screwing Them On (or up, your choice)

When mounting the lights on the engines I made up brackets from sheet steel or aluminum. On the bus, I used aluminum angle stock and mounted the lights on the overhead of the engine compartment. In all cases I gave the lights their own fused circuit, installing the fuse and the light switch on a small panel tucked up out of the way. The panel is aluminum, shaped to fit, installed with either screws or pop-rivets.

Since I was running an auxiliary circuit I figured I might as well run a good one, going directly to the battery with a 10 gauge wire. This is easily done in the bus and Ghia, where the battery is in the engine compartment. On the '68 sedan I snuck the wire under the body, fastening it securely at several points and protected inside of black polyethylene tubing, the stuff they use for drip irrigation systems. On the '67 baja I pulled the wire through the body channel with the other wiring.

Why such a big wire? For the cigarette lighter. Or rather, for the cigarette lighter socket. (I smoke a pipe; kinda hard to get going with a cigarette lighter.) The socket is fused with a 25 amp circuit breaker. I use it to power a 12vdc air compressor or a trouble light or a camping lantern or a ham radio or... or whatever you might want to plug into a cigarette lighter socket. I guess the thing would even work as a cigarette lighter, although mine comes with a big red plastic plug to keep out the dirt. (Baja-dust is special stuff, capable of penetrating six inches of steel plate.)

(Ed. Note: The cigarette lighter socket proved its worth on the run to Inuvik when it was used to power my 12v soldering iron with which I repaired a cracked plastic recovery tank on a water-cooled Vanagon.)

No one ever notices the auxiliary lights, unless they see them on at night. The lamps are hooded; the light shines where you're looking, not in your eyes, and on the bus each of the four fixtures is behind a rib or strut. The wiring is wrapped in looms and the looms secured with aircraft-type wiring clamps, secured to the chassis with stainless steel sheet metal screws. The switches and panels are out of the way; you have to look for them to see them. No chrome, no colorful curly wires; everything is built for the long haul and so far, has worked exactly as intended.


I plan to keep my Volkswagens until I fall apart. Until that happens I'm going to keep doing what I like to do, which is to head for places well off the beaten track. The lights and the auxiliary power outlet make things safer and more convenient, and enhance the usefulness of my vehicles. Installing them took a bit of work but if properly done it's a one-time thing, good for the life of the vehicle. Such things are worthy improvements for early Volkswagens.

-Bob Hoover

1 comment:

Max said...

Several years ago I discovered the little battery operated lights that strap to your head with an elastic band. Most of the parts places now carry them. You aim it by turning your head and it leaves your hands free. It will even dive under the car with you. In fact it's so useful, I tend to use it a lot for non-emergencies.

I've since learned to carry spare batteries for the headband-light. ;-)