Aug 10 2016

A busy week @ MSA

I’m now in relax mode after a very busy string of days. From getting ready to be on the road to getting on the road and then covering all the action at Mont-Sainte-Anne (MSA), it’s been quite a week. But now I’m less than 200 miles from my next destination (Windham) with more than a day and a half to get there.

Which means I have time to sit here and write a little. Oh… “here” is this little coffee shop in Middlebury Vermont that Andrea and I have been to before.

Carols Cafe

Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe

Meeting #SearchingForSero

I arrived at MSA mid afternoon on Wednesday after a smooth trip through Ontario and Quebec. As I was looking around the media parking area (which was quite full) I saw a Vanagon Westy with quite a load of toys on it. Including four surfboards up on the roof. Not a common sight in Quebec. It was parked, didn’t see anyone there so I went about my business and found my “VR” camping spot that had been arranged with the ever-helpful Marie-Michelle (media relations for the organizer). It was still relatively early in the week so there was lots of room for camping. Friends on Facebook would have seen the photo of a solitary Westy in the parking lot along with a cluster of RVs. Here’s a different view…

MSA Camping

Getting to MSA early means a good camping spot

Keep that spot in mind… I’ll get back to it.


So there I was in the VR camping when a young couple came up to chat and ask a few questions about camping there. Turns out it was the owner of the Westy with the surfboards (John) and his girlfriend Tracy. They were there as media to do a story on the MSA World Cup racing and were looking at camping options. A friend had offered them a spot on his property not far away and they had used that the night before. I told them about how I had arranged it and they decided to talk with Marie-Michelle too. A little while later they pulled up and parked next to me. Only then did I realize who I was talking to. I had come across the story of Searching For Sero via Frank Condelli on Facebook and immediately recognized the camper. Hard not to with the custom wrap…


#FoundSero (photo credit: John Rathwell)

[This photo was taken later in the weekend after all the racing was done but I love it! Thanks for sharing it John.]

Take the time to visit their FB page and their website to read about their project. And be sure to go back in about a week… more on that later.

MTB Action

John, Tracy and I spent quite a bit of time over the weekend talking about a wide range of topics. John is an experienced photographer so we had lots in common however this was his first MTB WC event so I shared a little of what I’ve learned over the years of doing this. It helped me realized that I do actually know what I’m doing 😉 .

And Tracy is an imaginative and creative story teller. Reading through their website will certainly show you that. Both were great company throughout the weekend.

The next three days were full-on racing action with few breaks until Sunday evening. Here are a few shots to show a bit of the story. You can see more in the galleries on my website or the stories on

Remember that camping spot? If you check out the coverage on you’ll see the two campers showed up a few times! Here’s a screen capture Andrea sent me. And I’m sure I show up a time or two as well 🙂

On Tv

On Redbull.TV


As quickly as the weekend arrived it was suddenly all over. I was stiff and tired from the days of climbing up and down the mountain with a load of camera gear so when the three of us went out for a ride/photo shoot Monday morning it took a while for my legs to get with it. They did though and we ended up having a fun finale to our weekend. And then it was time to pack up and go our separate ways. I’m sure I’ll follow their adventures and who knows… our paths may cross again.


Waving goodbye

My destination was Underhill Vermont for a visit with Guy and Joan. They are generous hosts as well as good friends. One of these days Andrea will make it back for a visit too. One night with them, then on the road to make my way toward Windham for the next weekend of racing. I have time to explore so I’ve kept the driving to short stretches and used the rest of the time for other adventures. Including sitting here in Carol’s for a few hours writing this!

Last night was Crown Point campground (across the bridge in New York), tonight I don’t have set destination yet but will keep heading south. Perhaps I’ll camp in Massachusetts just for fun. Who knows! In any case… it’s time for me to wrap this up and get going.

Aug 02 2016

First overnight in Babe 3.0

It’s finally real… I’m sitting in a campground as I write this. Camping. Using my Westy for its intended purpose. First night for this year.

Over the course of the past week since Babe has left the spa behind she’s been tested out on short trips, longer drives and even had battery and solar setup evaluated.She’s had an alignment done and an appraisal too. It will be interesting to read that.

I’m finding lots of things I like… little improvements that come as the result of upgrades. Like the fridge! The Victron solar controller with Bluetooth access is great and I’m finding that very informative based on the limited testing so far. I expect having more data over the next few weeks will make it even more informative. I’m interested in seeing how the solar panels I brought along work. I will have to write a separate entry on that topic… I have 3 panels with me and I will be testing them out in all kinds of conditions.


Victron Controller

And there are things that will need to be sorted out. That’s to be expected though! I will have to make a note of when the doors, with their new seals, stop needing to be slammed. I feel like I’m being hard on this lady! Learning about the new Babe was expected and I’m looking forward to testing out all the subtle details that have changed.


Babe’s adventures since getting back on the road have included:

A fond farewell



A first song.


Danny Michel – Matadora

A visit with Kayla & mom!


First trip to Midland

Lending a hand at Shelter Valley


Solar powered main stage!

And finally… on the road!


Hello Quebec!

And since this is Quebec… le Camping!

le Camping

First campsite for 2016




And with that… I’ll call it a night! Babe is back 🙂

Jul 22 2016

Westfalia Restoration – DONE

I know there will always be some little detail that needs to get looked after. That’s what warranty periods are all about. Babe has had her test drive and is declared fit.

I will pick her up tomorrow… very excited!

So… There will be a follow up blog entry on how it feels to travel in the 3.0 version of Babe, Once I have her back and get all of her camping gear on-board there’s a big trip ahead, Tonight is “just” final prep… Babe is parked outside for the night and probably as eager for a work trip as I am! Hopefully that will be a story you get to read here soon.


Final touches… solar panel + oil chance

Final touches

Final touches


In the wild

Body by Crome

All of the body work is by his hands!


Jul 20 2016

Westfalia Restoration – today in one photo

Only one photo in today’s post… and very few words.

The background hints at how long the day has been. The caption is what Volker shared with the photo.

Almost finished

Almost finished

Jul 19 2016

Westfalia Restoration – reassembly part 4

I went to Volker’s Body By Crome shop yesterday to help get the top cabinet in the back up and do a few little things that I wanted to accomplish. And he’s still working hard to get the reassembly done this week. I’m confident he will.

While I hadn’t intended to write another blog post there are some photos he passed along from the past two days that I was thrilled to see so I’ll go ahead and share them. A few have made their way onto Facebook but in general I prefer to keep the real gallery here.

Truck Fridge

Early into this I planned to replace the original Domentic fridge with an updated Truck fridge. The Domentic was still working. It even made ice cubes in the little tray that another vanagonaut gave me. I wrote about that ice cube tray years back and I still smile when I think about it. And Dake… the fridge has been replaced but I still have the ice cube tray!

I sorted out the details of getting the fridge plus getting the cabinetry, hardware & fittings via Karl at Westy Ventures before a trip to Vermont for the Rasputitsa bike race that Andrea & Kate were doing back in April. I had all of it shipped to our friends Guy & Joan’s place to bring back and avoid paying all the duty. That worked out well and Babe now gets the new fittings and we’ll get to enjoy the new gear!

I said the fridge worked and it still does. I’m sure it will continue to work for years if someone needs to replace theirs and wants to keep it original. They are only capable of cooling things so much though and we’ve found that camping in places like Moab and Fruita exceed those limits. That was a big part of the motivation.

Added bonus: many people use the door from the old fridge to create a new cabinet door to the bigger back storage area and Volker took care of that. Win Win.

Unused Space

The Westfalia company did a great job of maximizing space utilization. So I’m surprised to come across unused or under used spaces. The gap between the water tank and the small lower cabinet is one. That’s kind of understandable. The one above the back cabinet took me by surprise though. Volker opened that up for me and we’ll see if it’s actually a useful space.

Power Power Everywhere

I’ve mentioned that adding in the Truck fridge also got me to look at and upgrade the house power setup. Earlier posts have included photos of the dual AGM batteries, GoWesty isolator kit and the new solar port outside. Of course the fridge will take advantage of this and so will all the other gadgets Andrea and I travel with.

First up are three new 12V ports. These are in addition to the two in the dash of which one is powered from the house batteries. One new port got added down where the 120V outlets are. The other two are up where I’ve seen other people install them and I like the effect. Volker did a great job putting those two in so they don’t obstruct the vent and there are no dangling wires.

Then there’s the inverter (a 1000W Pure Sine) and the solar power controller. I’ve read about the Victron MPPT 100/15 in a number of places and everything I’ve read has been positive. In addition there’s the bluetooth dongle that Abel installed and I was sold on the idea when I read his review. Abel uses a well designed 100W Renogy folding kit for his solar panels. I bought one but later worked out a deal for some very compact 75W panels that use fabric frames rather than aluminum. The price per watt is higher but I fell in love with the size and portability of the new panels. So with 100 Ah storage and 150W solar input I think I’m good to go!

So Close!

Things are going very well as Volker does the finishing steps of reassembly. His last major task is putting the doors back together. Not a trivial last step, that’s for sure. It looks like I may have made a mistake though… I’ll have to figure out how to sort that out.

You see Babe had some purple highlights. I never got a good explanation from the previous owner of how that came about but I gather it was his wife’s touch. I didn’t ask Andrea about those pieces and gave Volker a green light to paint them to match the rest of the trim. Personal touches…

The birthday present Fiamma rack Andrea gave Babe is back on after a very brief and perhaps similar conversation. It’s part of her character so forget all that practical stuff. It’s how it should be. Babe has a trailer hitch now so there are other ways to carry bikes. But that rack… well it was gifted to this camper and has special significance. So it’s back on with some protection added over the paint. And that will be one of the many fingerprints of Andrea.

As for the purple bits… if Andrea wants them back I’m sure Babe would agree! Or orange accents? 😉


If you look back through this blog entry you’ll see a lot of people getting mentioned. While Volker is the main protagonist in this tale it couldn’t have happened without the help of a lot of people. I’ve added to the list with this entry because I think the community aspect is important. People from around the world have contributed to aspects of the design. Parts have come from close to a dozen sources. Encouragement… well that’s come from everywhere!

Can I say thanks enough? People who’ve been following this blog know I appreciate all the support and help. For anyone thinking of taking on a labour of love like this… let me tell you…

If your partner is the least bit hesitant. If the person doing the work doesn’t show you the utmost confidence. If you have any doubts. Don’t do it! It’s a big commitment from all involved.

But… if you see smiles?

Bright idea

Bright idea

Jul 17 2016

Westfalia Restoration – reassembly part 3

I’ve gotten the reassembly effort up to this past Friday, now let me get it up to today.

Volker had given me the heads up that there were a number of things he needed extra hands for and one in particular that needed at least two extra people. So I reached out to my VW buddy John to see if he was available. At first I had thought it would be next weekend and John wasn’t available but before I could even ask around to find someone else Volker let me know it would be Friday the 15th. I guess John was just meant to be Babe’s pop-top guy because he was available and so we made plans to meet there. I had a few parts to bring along like the glove box and the water tank that I’d been either storing or cleaning. I also intended to clean the flocking on the inside of the pop-top and hoped to get there early enough to have it done before John arrived. He also had to leave around lunch time to get back to Toronto before one so I didn’t want to be the cause of any delay.

That didn’t quite work out as planned but we did get the top up and John left about on schedule.Those photos you’ve already seen. I’ll add this pair of pics that Volker took the two times John came to help though.

Installing the Slider and Hatch

After we got the top on Volker went about preparing a few other things and I set about cleaning cabinets. When he was ready we set about carefully reattaching these two big doors. First up was the slider.

As seen in the earlier post the door had been reassembled.The hardware had also been prepared and the channels greased.  There aren’t pictures of it being back in place because our hands were full. Here’s what I do have though.

Then came the back hatch. While the door could rest on a support the hatch had to be held up so the top hinges could be reattached. My neck was less than thrilled with the job but it all worked out well. Again there was a little fiddling to get the adjustment and position right for it. All of a sudden she was looking a lot better though.

slide in place

Back hatch and slider back in place

The Magic of Windows

Then it was time to put all of the glass back in. I’ve never done this. Haven’t even seen it done.I had bought a complete set of new seals and all of them were ready to be used.

Volker warned me that it’s hard to do and very important to do it right so we’d take the time to make sure they were all done correctly. In total there were 6 windows to put in place and we started with the front. Seems I have a magic touch…

In between set and go there was a lot of finesse provided by Volker and a little muscle provided by me. It went it easier than expected though. From there we went on to the back hatch, then the two rear side windows and finally the middle windows with the aluminum frames. They were definitely the hardest to get in as they are a tight fit but they all went in on the first try. If I thought putting the slider and hatch on made a big difference, having all of the windows back in is huge! Oh… and some very special stickers are still in place so she has kept part of her old character. The big rear window sticker from the 2010 MTB World Championships in particular. but also a number of others. Here’s a gallery of windows.

I worked to get the windows clean after that while Volker went on to the next assembly steps. We both called it a day around 6pm. Volker got up Saturday to do some work on her though…

Curtains and Cabinets

From the outside Babe is getting close to done. Still a few things like fuel filler, mud flaps and the like but not much more. Most of the rest of the work in inside. Putting all those wonderful Westfalia parts back in and turning her into a camper. Volker started by putting in the curtain tracks. Before I left I took two of the straps which had broken snaps that I will repair tonight.

Then he moved on to the cabinets. They all had to come out is a certain sequence and they also had to get put back in the same reversed order. One part of the cabinets will be empty for a day extra though. The old Dometic fridge is being replaced by a Truck Fridge. I’m told I’ll love it and I’m confident I will. It’s one of the reasons for the house battery & solar power upgrade. While the old Dometic could be run on propane, 12V & 120V the truck fridge is only 12V.

So… this finally gets me caught up with Volker! Until tomorrow when the rest of the cabinets go in followed by the fridge.Then there are doors to put back together and attach plus putting her new shoes on. Not much more to go.

It won’t be long before she’s ready for a test drive.

Jul 17 2016

Westfalia Restoration – reassembly part 2

The reassembly started earlier in the week and it looks like it will take about a week and a half to complete. Considering how much there is to do that’s an amazingly short time.

Yesterday’s post covered the first few days of getting the wiring, lights, dash, & Westy top back on (with the out-of-sequence pop top being put back on which happened Friday). I skipped a few steps and there has been more progress since Friday as well so let me bring the restoration closer to being up to date.

Foot Well

Two of the last pieces to get installed into the cockpit were the rubber step pads in the foot wells. Volker has a technique he uses that purists probably won’t approve of but I certainly do. And the purists may already have noticed the first step toward this in earlier pictures. The original design has a seam through the middle of the foot well and the rubber pads are held in place with rubber knobs that are pressed through holes in the body. This first photo shows the top & underside of the pad.


Foot well rubber pads

Volker’s technique seals up those holes so no moisture get in from underneath. He also closes up the seam so there’s no recess for grit or water to collect in. You might have noticed that in earlier photos that showed this area as it was being worked on. Here’s what it looks like before the pads got reinstalled.

Foot well

Prepared foot well

So off with the knobs and in with some robust glue.


Another of Volker’s techniques is to work his way around the vehicle restoration in a regular pattern so the little details don’t get overlooked or forgotten. It’s oh so easy to jump around from one area to another when there are oh so many things that need doing. Once the cockpit was ready the rear end got attended to.

There was wiring in place for a trailer. An old style and at some point it had fallen down and been worn by a belt or pulley. That got replaced with a current version, nicely tucked in behind the license plate.

Then the license plate wiring got repaired and the lights got replaced. The lights came as a gift from Stuart in Ottawa. He had some NOS Hella lights which he had these because he’s also into restoration – his project is a Bombardier Iltis which was made from mostly VW parts.

Then on to tail lights with a check on the wiring and cleaning up the lenses. Once those were in place and working a new seal for the back hatch was installed. The last parts to get installed in this step was the bumper. This involved drilling holes into the newly repaired corners. This was done as carefully as all the rest of his work of course.

Since it was bumper time Volker also did the front. The front used to be chrome but very pitted and rusty. I had looked at getting a heavy-duty GoWesty front to match the rear but the style had changed so I would have had to replace both. Volker offered to swap in a solid one from a Doka and we agreed it would look good. I mentioned that I’d miss the look of the rubber bumpers and he told me it would be no problem to add them. Looks good to me!

Slider and floor

Another new seal went into the opening for the slider and some of the hardware for it also got installed in preparation for putting the slider back on. The seal is held in place with a weatherstrip adhesive unlike some of the others that are just a press fit.

The previous owner had replaced the carpeted floor with a smooth vinyl wood-look floor and while it held up well for 15 or so years it was due to be replaced. I found the same product at Home Depot but opted for a slightly different colour for the wood look. It’s easy to work with as it has adhesive overlapping panels and is easy to cut. The original sub floor provides cushioning and sound deadening. Once the floor was in place the little propane Sunlite catalytic heater got put back into place.


Did I mention Volker’s been working long hours to get Babe back on the road in time for my trip to Quebec? Remember she only got painted last weekend, everything in this and the previous blog entry have happened in the week since. You can bet the days were long. And with the exception of the work John and I did on Friday to help all of this has been just him. This man is due for a holiday!

In preparation for putting the interior panels back on, including on the hatch and slider, he got some new insulation to replace the old stuff that was there. This will provide additional sound deadening to the already installed Lizard Skin as well as temperature control for those cool nights. As you can see from the photos the new Roxul is considerable thicker than the old.

Before installing any of the sections every accessible cavity got treated with Krown rust protection. That should help avoid a repeat of the rust problems that prompted this project in the first place. And after the insulation was in the panels got put back. Definitely getting there!

More To Come

So all of this still doesn’t get to Friday when John and I were there to lend a hand. I’ll save that for the next post which will including installing the slider & hatch plus all of the windows. That was quite a day. And more happened yesterday too! I heard Volker took a much-deserved day off today and went to the beach with his wife so perhaps I can get caught up with blogging before he does any more work!

Jul 16 2016

Westfalia Restoration – reassembly begins

The paper has all been peeled back and she’s now ready to be put back together again. There’s a lot to reassemble in a Westy that’s been stripped down to the extend Babe has been. First a look at her new paint in the light of day rather than the paint shop bay and then on to reassembly.

This is probably the best indication of her new colour. Yes, she is bright. Her body is nice and solid now though and next up is putting all the parts back in. Starting with some key electrical parts and then leading to the dashboard. First was the setup for new house batteries using the GoWesty kit. Because my camper is a diesel the main battery is in the back which leaves room for 2 batteries behind the seats. These will power everything that’s not related to driving including radio, alarm system, all interior lighting, a set of 12V power ports spread around and other fun stuff.

Starting the Reassembly

Wherever possible new seals were used. A new radio antenna was popped in while the dash was out. Hardware that’s visible got painted either orange or black along the way so even screws and nuts that show are protected from rusting and look like they belong.

Dash Reinstall

Finishing up the dash & cockpit included installing some parts that had to be rebuilt. The heater cover Babe has is very hard to find so I took it to Cam at the Plastic Surgeon. It was a real challenge for him to get it back together as it kept breaking as he worked on it. I’m definitely in the market for a replacement for that part if I can ever find one. The other piece he fixed was the back of the instrument cluster. The back corners from the speedometer were broken off and I’m told this is quite common. It happens from pushing on the trip meter reset button which puts a little strain on the plastic. As it gets old it eventually breaks. Hopefully this fix will hold. An upgrade on the dash is the replacement of the original cigarette lighter and the BMW style power outlet beside the steering wheel. They are now both proper 12V sockets with one powered from the house battery and the other off the vehicle battery.

Installing the Top

Early in the process all of the parts that had been removed got restored and then painted before being put away. That included the fiberglass top sections too. For the front cargo box this included seal, screens on all of the drain holes to keep out the compost, new footman’s loops and decals.The back got new seals, new decal, a good cleaning for mold and lift supports. I’m including the two parts being installed as one entry even though they were done days apart. The pop-top is heavy and awkward and requires extra hands to put back on. I was fortunate to get John’s help for a second time! He was there to help take it off too. So he got the see the restoration very early and now very near the end. I’m very grateful for his help, Friday wouldn’t have been as productive a day without him.

More progress has been made. Lots more. As Volker put it when he sent me photos from yesterday, “a good day’s work”. I’ll leave it with one last photo to give a better sense and will write another blog entry tomorrow to cover the gap between getting the top on an where she is now.


Slider, hatch and windows installed

Jul 09 2016

Westfalia Restoration – paint day

I dropped by to see Volker yesterday to deliver Babe’s new shoes (courtesy of her good friend Clifford) and he was getting close to being done with the final body prep work. And he was hopeful to be able to get to that today. Without further ado I’d like to introduce you to Babe’s new look.


She’s got her new Matador Orange coat on

Finishing Touches

Earlier photos from Volker prompted a discussion about the techniques he uses. Photos that showed different colours of filler in particular. Yesterday I learned about another trick in his bag of goodies. The product is called Low Spot Finder Guide Coat and is a very light black spray that gets sanded off. Anywhere it still shows is a place a little more filler is needed. That was yesterday and the early part of today.

Then it was time to get the inside and the top ready. One last spot of rust revealed itself as he was getting up that done. It was likely caused by some debris sitting in the rain gutter too long and getting pushed around by wind and rain. Once that was addressed it was time to prime those sections and then mover her next door to the paint room.


Then it was time… Babe got moved into the paint room for the first time. Her doors and a few other parts had spent some time in there but this was her first visit. Volker & I had discussed how he would do the painting. He likes to go over the rock guard section first so that it actually gets an extra coat. After that first spray he then planned on putting some small plugs in the factory mud flap holes since Babe has a set of South African flaps she wears. They then get painted over along with all the rest of the exterior. Almost all of the interior also got painted with the new colour. The only places that remain Assuan Brown are the engine compartment and the floor that gets covered with soundproofing and in Babe’s case a wood floor.

Here’s a gallery to illustrate that.

Next up… reassembly!

Jul 06 2016

Westfalia Restoration – she made a break for it

Volker sent me a new batch of photos and I had to laugh at this one…


Babe made a break for it!

This is the first time Babe’s been outside this year, I guess she must be just as eager to go camping as I am. Part of the reason I laughed was because I had been there to visit yesterday and drop off some parts and Volker hadn’t mentioned this. And Babe was perched in her usual spot. Although she did have some wheels on and was taped off in preparation for the finishing touches before getting primed. And as I think about it more I’m guessing she slipped out after I left (the lighting in the last photo tells me Volker worked into the evening).

Since this is hot on the heels of yesterday’s update I’ll keep it short and let a few photos tell the story of this update.

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