Our adventure began…
…fourteen years ago with an orange bread-loaf of a 1974 Westfalia bus named Guanella. I found her lonely, weathered, and long-forgotten, tucked under a towering oak tree in the countryside outside of Boulder, Colorado. After a nickel-tour of the inside and a hearty handshake I brought her home. She cost [exactly] $420.
I was set to get married in two weeks. While I didn’t know a thing about VW Buses, my wife-to-be, Laura, and I loved road trips. We loved camping. And we loved the two together – which is exactly why I decided this zany orange VW-Bus would be the perfect wedding present to the two of us. Two weeks later we putted away from our wedding in it (complete with a foot of Colorado blizzard on top!).
In the following years, we trekked to Mexico and back, were stranded in the middle of Wyoming, drove to the corner of the nation in Seattle, were nearly stranded in LA, camped the the shadow of the Grand Tetons, and broke down in 114 degree heat in the Valley of Fire, Utah. With shoestrings and duct tape, a green Bentley book and a dash of Yankee ingenuity, we made it work time after time. And we trekked through and camped in some of the most amazing places in the country. The walls of our house are now adorned with snapshots of memories of us and our little orange bus. She earned her keep hauling us around the country, and from driving us away from our wedding to taking us on unforgettable adventures, she became a part of our family.
The problem? Our first engine lasted less than 400 miles before it cooked itself on a flatland trip to Wyoming. More than $5,000 later and after not only rebuilding the engine but also replacing nearly every mechanical component on Guanella, we were still having to drive stressed out about the next breakdown, valve adjustment, or whether cylinder #3 was running too hot. I found my eyes constantly glued to the CHT gauges.
Not wanting our $5,000 engine to cook again, we grew tired of stressfully babying the bus everywhere we went. Not only was it slow, but it was dangerous; if you own a bus you know what it’s like to go up any type of grade or try to safely keep up with freeway traffic (and going dangerously slow while traffic whizzes past honking and ‘waving’ in the process is not our idea of fun). We also couldn’t drive in the winter because it had such poor heat (like all buses). We found it increasingly difficult to find quality parts when we needed them, since the Type 4 engine had been out of production for over three decades. A high-quality, reputable rebuild has become limited to a handful of shops in the entire country, who charge obscenely high rates.
We were unwilling to part with our girl, but since she couldn’t keep up with modern traffic or keep us warm in the winter, she began to sit. First in our driveway and then in a storage lot, I’d go out and nostalgically fire her up and drive her around the lot every few months, dreaming of the next big trip I hoped we’d take some day. The sheer joy of trekking and camping lead us to want to regularly use our bus again, however the inability to depend on it, find affordable parts to fix the engine, or be able to simply keep up with modern traffic left it mostly parked.
We finally decided to do something to get our bus out of the lot and back on the road as a dependable, daily driver. We decided to turn Guanella into a reliable, vintage-modern vehicle that would allow us to drive worry-free in today’s traffic, scoot up mountain passes, and take on the open road with confidence. Seeing what a few others had done before, we decided to convert the drivetrain to a water-cooled Subaru setup. In the process, we also began envisioning how we could help others breathe new life into their buses to get them back on the road as well – reliably and with enough power to safely drive in modern traffic.
Thus, the The Modern Bay Company was born.
As an engineer and ASE certified mechanic, I decided to take the best of what was out there for Subaru conversions in DIY form and improve upon those ideas to make the best drivetrain system possible, specifically tailored to our VW Buses. The goal is that our system allows each owner of a Modern Bay Co. equipped bus to consistently stay on the road, out of the shop, and reliably cruising with modern traffic.