Thursday, September 12, 2013

The point of a Vanagon!

A quick note I wanted to share from a customer that I just got:

Headed up the Oregon coast to Portland and then back to New Mexico. >3000 miles round trip. I'm no "mechanic" (had troubles with burping the cooling system), but I have learned about every system with the Bostig and don't really feel like there is anything that can't be fixed. So, why not stray far from home? That's the point of a Vanagon!

Couldn't put it better myself!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Getting Vanagon priorities straight when it comes to DIY engine conversions.

I just ran across a post on theSamba in which conversions were being discussed. One quote popped out at me because while it's not uncommon, it is the single root of so much known and largely unknown misery in vanagonland that it needs to be addressed!

The quote was (in reference to the Bostig):

"what about power Wise ? 
fuel economy ? 

I understand the reliability side ,...but reliability without other qualities is so/so ...... "

This is exactly upside down. Without reliability, NOTHING else matters. It doesn't matter one bit if you've got loads of horsepower potential but the engine isn't running! It also doesn't matter what fuel economy potential you have if you aren't running.

People often make the mistake if thinking as follows:

"Well, I'm going to a lot of trouble and expense to re-power my vanagon, so I need to make sure that it has enough power so I don't regret it, decent fuel economy and miles per tank, and it would be great if it was the same shape as the original install (or anything else arbitrary, like country of origin for instance)."

The trouble here is that the most important aspects of the whole project are assumed! Namely: reliability and consistency of result!

Ask yourself these three questions:
1) Is there such a thing as a perfect system that will never experience a problem?
2) Which is easier, troubleshooting consistent systems, or inconsistent ones?
3) Will you be allowed to fail?

The answers are:

1) No
2) Consistent systems are easier to troubleshoot
3) No, we ensure our customers don't fail

Without reliability and consistency of the product you're purchasing to install and use in your project, you simply have no basis for an expected outcome, good or bad. That is what sets the Bostig apart. No other offering can guarantee an outcome because they fundamentally lack consistency. Sure Dave's subaru 2.5 conversion might have been trouble free and awesome for the last 25,000 miles... so therefore your subie 2.5 will be also right?  

Absolutely not. In fact they may be so far divorced, that the best analogy would be to say that since Grandma makes the best cookies, and she uses eggs in her cookies, if I use the same eggs... I'll make the same cookies. Would anyone in their right mind claim that?  No, and guess what... engine conversions are a LOT more complicated recipe to prepare and execute than cookies. 

Roll the dice, or roll with us, entirely up to you. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Organically grown car guys/gals

We want to avoid turning Vanagon people into car hobbyists organically. That's the hard way. Eventually we all learn that as the car hobby depth increases, it actually turns into more down time and less travelling, for a painfully long period of learning the hard way.  Worse, it wastes a lot of money. It doesn't mean you won't reach the point where it can go the other way again, but many people can't bridge that gap and abandon the whole idea of the vanagon if the failures are frequent or large enough in cost.

The phenomenon of cars being worked on until they're totaled (like in an accident, and the car is so screwed up by the owner that it no longer has any value) is little known outside of gearhead circles. The worst one I've witnessed personally was about $80k poured into the car before eventually being parted out to try and recover.

We remove the hard part of the learning curve to ensure success in things you set out to do to with your Vanagon to begin with. If you want to geek out on upgrade paths, cool, there are lot's of options and loads of people to talk online all day about finer points with. If you want it to work so you can get out there, and stay out there till you're done, come talk to us.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Optimal Torque Curve for a vanagon

Someone recentaly asked this question on the Samba, and I replied with the following. It reflects my philosophy on building vanagons:

I've seen several charts showing power bands but what would be optimal? The westy is heavy and bad uphill. 

Good question. First you have to define "optimal". It will be subjective. For many on this board, optimal will simply mean "most" which is literally self-destructive and very costly to embrace as a philosophy.

My answer would be: You should shoot for as little torque as you can stand to drive with if your top priority is to use/travel with the van and keep costs/maintenance time as low as possible. If you are a local only driver, have more than one car, go to lot's of shows, really enjoy having the most baddass thing out there as a top priority, then that comment doesn't apply and go for the gusto but don't exceed 220 Ft/lbs of torque.

It is really important to understand the entire system as well. The vanagon actually *isn't* very heavy at all for a light truck. The issue is that they have so much room, they can be loaded and made VERY heavy.

VW designed the vanagon chassis and the entire powertrain to be very lightweight, and use gearing over a large torquey powerplant. Hence the 96 HP 2.1 liter and final drive ratios *starting* at 4.86 The final drives are the real clincher of this point. Even 4 cylinder wranglers are at 4.10. If you talk to any American truck guys, they will be shocked to hear that our final drives regularly go to 6.17 to accommodate 31" tires.

If you look at the components of a vanagon transmission compared to other light trucks or even passenger cars, it's obvious that they built for light weight and gearing not torque and low revs. This is the reason why when you try to do something like a 5 cylinder TDi, or go to 31" tires you start breaking things, and will continue to break things until you concede and go back. Many people will also "upgrade" parts like move to 930 CVs to reinforce perceived weak parts of the driveline. While the individual portion of the driveline is strengthened, the rest won't be, and has very low limits so the end result is really just moving failure points around. You're only as strong as your weakest link, and in this case you're quite lucky to be able to *choose* that link ahead of time, so you know where it is going to fail before it does so you can be prepared for it, and manage the risk/outcome.

In the case of 930s you move it from an external easy to get at part (the CV) to the flange/internal break, which my good buddy John just found out the hard way, and almost took Daryl with him at Syncrofest!

So while there are many ways to approach an answer to that question, I *strongly* urge most people to be boring when building their rigs. As most people are in it to use the rig, and then start to get caught up in the hobby of modding their vans. If you transition from using your van to modding as your primary motivator, the outcome will reflect that, and your use of the van will go down. You cannot have two top priorities unfortunately. Yes it is less glamorous, yes it won't get you as much credit at a show, but if your primary objective is to travel and camp in your van, then keep a laser focus on your decision making and put it there.

So the answer for what is optimal will be subjective, however I restate it: You should shoot for as little torque as you can stand to drive with if your top priority is to use/travel with the van and keep costs/maintenance time as low as possible. If you are a local only driver, have more than one car, go to lot's of shows, really enjoy having the most baddass thing out there as a top priority, then that comment doesn't apply and go for the gusto but don't exceed 220 Ft/lbs of torque.

The needier you get, the more problems you're going to have. I'll gladly stand up as the voice of boring let's-not-push-it because I've been in the auto aftermarket for a long time, and I've seen how badly so many projects can go for people when they lose their focus and fall into the "need more" cycle or the "while I'm in there" feature creep. It's possible to work on a car until it's totaled, and there is literally *nothing* to show for the money and time. Seen it too many times.

The whole point of a vanagon really is to "need less" and if you try to flip the script, you'll pay. The people that can do with less are the ones telling me how happy they are with their rigs and sending pictures of where they are travelling to. Laying rubber is fun, but if you find you really enjoy that, get another car to satisfy the need for speed... or do like Benny, Brady, and myself do and get a fast motorcycle to offset that need. Don't try to squeeze blood from a stone, you're only going to hurt your own hands.

It's foolish (but cool) to hotrod a vanagon for 99% of the people here. Because most of the folks with them weren't gearheads to begin with... don't get sucked in!! Keep your eye on the independence, mobility, and self-reliance that you got into it for, and don't get corrupted by the more, more, more. You'll be happier being who you are.

Folks may disagree with me, that's ok. My voice comes from managing and supporting more vanagon powerplant swaps than any other individual in vanagonland far as I know. Let me tell you, the bludgeonings of reality have certainly dulled my sense of adventure when it comes to build ups... but I see consistent results too, which is worth it's weight in gold. So learn from my experience, even though I also realize that more people will actually need to find out for themselves before they believe in this rather boring philosophy. What you decide to do sitting front of a computer will eventually be related to how you feel out in the world using your creation, and what gets you excited here, won't often translate well. Know your purpose. Set your goals. Execution is everything.

Hope that helps or at least offers contrary opinion,

Jim Akiba

Friday, March 22, 2013

Engineered Independence

In trying to capture what exactly it is that makes our philosophy unique, I considered all of the attributes that we hold close. Systems thinking, modular design, simplicity, and documentation are all important pieces of the puzzle that make who we are, how we operate, and what we produce different.

The end goal of all these things that is uniquely Bostig is independence, carefully engineered. Independence in parts sourcing, independence in maintenance, independence of information from us or others by providing good and complete information. This ultimately produces true independence for the customer to go wherever and whenever they choose to go.

People often make the mistake of making the engine swap itself the goal, or performance the goal, or one subset of capability the goal (going fast, looking good, mpgs, off-roading, handling) they can’t see the forest for the trees and make trade offs that can end up leaving them less independent. That’s exactly what we don’t do, and that’s why we have the most happy customers with the most miles of any company in the market.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a central tenet in the Bostig philosophy. In designing something like a replacement engine option, traditional thinking considers things like the engine itself, fuel choice, horsepower, torque, fuel economy, and fitment. These are important considerations, and often sufficient selling points for the inexperienced, however it falls short of genuine customer needs.

The powertrain is a system. That system is part of a larger system, and both systems change over time. The drivers and installers are also part of the system. The part supply infrastructure, maintenance model, business, production, delivery, and support models are additional systems that are part of the whole that determines the final result and its potential, both negative and positive.

In the same way that a holistic approach to medicine is showing to be important, the more capable you are of considering and answering the problem set in multiple dimensions, the better the solution can be.

The result of good systems thinking is superior in some obvious, but mostly nonobvious ways. Nonobvious in that when the larger design scope comes into play, it may not result in enough error for the condition to cause a noticeable change (ie you only "notice" when you break down). That saves people every day from expense and failure, but most of them will never realize it.

You can have the best engine in the world, but if it isn't running for a reason that was not considered during the design phase, you won't have the freedom you paid for. A system is truly great when it fades out of the way allowing you to focus on your goals, not system requirements, allowing real independence.

Modular Design

Modular design helps increase flexibility, ease of use, and increases efficiency of both design and implementation. It also increases customer value. Modular design is a form of “chunking” and controlling interactivity between the chunks of the system. The chunks can be addressed independent of the whole while still being part of the system.

In auto manufacturing, the assembly line is part of modular design philosophy with specialists focusing on just their areas. In software, modularity increases quality by lowering error rates. Both of these benefits are things we see even at our micro-scale level of manufacturing. Both translate into benefits for customers.

Customers benefit by the superior consistency and control that modular design offers. Customers also benefit by the ability to purchase and use in modular fashion. For instance the engine cradle that supports the engine, is also the base component of the skidplate system to which one can add engine and/or transmission protection. The turbo kit is designed to be added to the existing Bostig Powertrain system. Modularity of development, design, and documentation is a trait unique to Bostig.


"We tried to make something much more holistic and simple. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there. We believe that customers are smart, and want objects which are well thought through." -- Steve Jobs

Simplicity is worth it's weight in gold. It can mean the difference between success and failure, reliability and unreliability. Our happy customers and their now more than 5 million miles support Ockham’s Razor: when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.


We literally wrote the book. We have the most comprehensive factory manual for an aftermarket powertrain system, and we're very proud of it. It is one of the reasons we are the only vendor that gives our complete documentation away openly and for free online.

Good documentation is one of the most important and neglected elements of development. Documentation saves users time, frustration, and money throughout the life of the product. No matter where you are, you can have access to information you can't possibly remember. It can reduce showstoppers to minor inconvenience.

It can also help others help you like nothing else. People suppose all the time that random mechanics will never work on their now "customized" vanagons, but hand a mechanic your factory manual and let him thumb through it and listen to the answer.

Documentation is another form of communication with the customer, and neglecting to do a good job is a disservice. We think that having a book that details the information about the powertrain in your glove compartment is just as important as having the right powertrain to begin with.

One of the key reasons that we can have good documentation is that we also have consistency. If you lack consistency you will also lack accurate documentation, and the customer will not have the same level of value, capability, and protection.

This is overlooked by customers just as often as it is overlooked by vendors. Knowledge is power, and our glovebox factory manual gives customers the power to easily, independently, and inexpensively build, maintain, and enjoy their investment.


The idea is simple, we do as much work as we can when the ball is in our court to save you having to do work when the ball is in yours. We work smart, systematically, keep things simple, support and document better than anyone. The result is a faster/easier learning, a more robust/reliable system, easier/cheaper maintenance, and less to worry about. Those things ultimately allow people to really travel with their vans when and how they want, and that is real independence, engineered.

Friday, March 15, 2013

On consistency and reliability

Visit google and type in "define: reliable".

You'll see the definition for the word reliable that comes back is "Consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted."  The very first word is "Consistently".  I believe this is crucial to understanding the problem people face in understanding and evaluating the reliability of various options out there when it comes to vanagon engine conversions.

Head of the class

"Consistently" might be scoped to an individual instance of a type of thing. Someone that infrequently has problems might consider their setup reliable. When someone is trying to decide if an entire class (group of instances similar to each other in property or nature) of things is also reliable, they sometimes transpose the instances of reliable that they have heard onto the entire class. That is where the potential problems lies.

They are trying to judge if their own eventual instance is going to be reliable, based on the reliability of the class. The problem is that unless the class is highly consistent, there is very little relationship between the instance reliability, and the class reliability. The more similar, close to identical, or consistent the instances of the class are, the stronger that relationship is, and the less error prone that transposition would be.

This is the very same concept as all bees are insects, but not all insects are bees. Bees are an instance of the insect class.  Bees are also a class themselves in that all honey bees are bees, but not all bees are honey bees.

Take another instance: "the Subaru Conversion".  It is a very common term in researching engine swaps. Vendors themselves have also taken to using it. However there are a few real fundamental problems. Firstly, "the Subaru conversion" doesn't actually exist as a thing, it is a class of vanagon engine conversion. "the Bostig conversion" is an instance of vanagon engine conversion. It is a thing. It has a production model and each instance is consistent with the next. Within the class of things that are Subaru conversions, the instances  can be very different. These differences are the entire basis of competition between the many vendors that sell parts to build conversions based on subaru engines.

For example, someone might hold the opinion that "abc company makes a better exhaust for the subarus than xyz's".  If this opinion is true, then it is also true that the sub-class of subaru based conversions with this exhaust all have better exhausts and are different to another sub-class using some other exhaust. You have a sub-class created because you don't have consistency in that aspect.

 If it were just the two sub classes, it would be pretty easy. But Subaru based conversions aren't actually consistent down to very low levels of granularity. The number of combinations and permutations amongst them, even from the same vendor, are extremely high because they contain so much variation from nuts and bolts to the wiring harness.

Harnessberry Finn

People in the vanagon community and in most auto aftermarkets hate wiring. It is tedious, detail oriented and time consuming work. It can be overwhelming, and takes a good investment in time and effort to complete. This is one reason why having a used Subaru wiring harness reworked isn't cheap. You're paying for expertise, time, and detailed work. The wiring harness is the nervous system of the powertrain, and is in every way as important as the engine itself.  A used wiring harness also has a story.

It was born in a factory, its parts were born in other factories. Someone pulled and cut its wires. A machine crimped on terminals. It was nailboarded, and then the seals, backshells and retainers were all assembled onto it. The harness was carefully taped, loomed, wrapped and boxed. At another factory it was installed into a chassis by someone, and connected later to the engine.

It was transported by ship or truck. It was then sold to someone along with the car it came in, and lived with them for however many summers and winters. It heat cycled, it oxidized a bit, its wire jackets and loom hardened and it did its job acting as the nervous system for their powertrain. Then something happened.

It was in an accident, or sold as part of the car again. Perhaps it sat for a few more summers or winters. Then someone came along, and pulled it from the chassis it had been installed in, and had conformed to. It then made a trip elsewhere.

There it was carefully and expertly dissected and unwrapped. Some wires changed in length, some removed. Many cuts, crimps and connections were made, and then it was routed, taped, loomed; rewrapped, rebundled. Perhaps it was error checked, and verified.

Then it made its way into a new chassis, this time in the back of the vehicle. It was then reunited with the same engine it came with way back at the factory (hopefully). Then a whole new chapter in the story begins. The one most relevant to us, and how it plays out exactly isn't known yet.

The important part of this story is that the harness's "life experience" isn't guaranteed to be very consistent after the first paragraph. This means the resulting harness itself isn't very consistent either, certainly not guaranteed, and nowhere near the same level of consistency as if the story had ended four paragraphs ago, like a brand new harness's story does.

Was Consistentinople, now it's Istanbull

Given that even the nervous system of the engine swap cannot be guaranteed consistent, the consistency across the class cannot be guaranteed unless the guarantee is that they are not consistent.  If that were the only example of the variation, then perhaps it's too nit picky to be of much concern although this is how gremlin eggs are laid.

The problem is the variation is wildly larger in scope than just the wiring harness's story. From flywheels, to engine mounting options, mufflers, cooling manifold designs,  intakes, bracketry, adapter plates, hose choice, engine management, ECU mounting, throttle cables, drive by wire utilization, engine preparation, engine options/ECU combos, fasteners, clamps... the list of variation is enormous and covers almost every part that composes the whole.

All of those variations multiply the number of sub-classes, and each new sub-class further weakens  the validity of statements across classes by lack of consistency. You don't have "subaru conversions" you have ABC company's conversion, Dave's conversion, or Bill, Bob, or Mikey's conversion and they are not consistent. Even ABC company's conversions can't be very consistent since no shops that build subaru conversions have complete control over the entire system's design and composition, or settled on one.

Make no mistake, in no way am I saying it is not possible to have a lovely reliable instance of a subaru based conversion that will give you years of trouble free ownership. What I am saying is that you can't expect the result of your instance to match anyone else's unless you're already aware of why that combination yields the result it does, and can then replicate it. The problem is, even the experts struggle to do this themselves which is precisely why the variations exists in the first place. If there was no problem present, there would be no demand for the variation.

One benefit of being the only product company in the space,  is that we have controlled an entire production model since we started. This unique level of consistency has been key to our growth, and delivering what the customer pays for. We have achieved such high levels of consistency, that we can reach levels of documentation that nobody else can touch, even across huge mainstream auto aftermarket segments. We can guarantee even complete novices can perform the install successfully, and we can  support more customers on the road than any other vendor in the market, while also being the smallest vendor in the market. The key to all of that is reliability, and the key to reliability is consistency.

There is a lot to know and understand about doing something like an engine/powertrain swap. Unfortunately most folks doing research in vanagonland have very little experience with it. So if you see a vendor expounding the merits and reliability of "the Subaru conversion" you'll know to ask the details about THEIR subaru conversions specifically.  Hopefully you'll see why the question "how does the Bostig compare to the subaru?" is really a comparison of Apples to Fruit, deeply more complex and less valuable than an Apples to Apples comparison. Since we started development in 2004, we have remained the only Apple in the marketplace.