Baja in my Westy: ready to leave LA

I made it to LA with no problems and a little time to spare. The GoWesty 2.3L rebuilt engine is running beautifully. Having spent much of February breaking the engine in but unable to really apply full throttle, I've got to say her maiden voyage is feeling pretty darn good!

As was noted in the comments on my previous post the Grapevine is a well known killer of VWs. I think my friend Ryan and I spent HOURS discussing the wisdom of making a run down the 5 and putting this engine to THE test. I decided I had no reason to rush, I took the 101. Maybe I was scared...

It was a good choice. The VW is still very slow and 65-70mph is really the most it'll do comfortably. She will go faster but you don't want to drive long distances at 75mph. GoWesty's 16" wheels and Michelin tires REALLY help! The blowing around of the van by trucks and large vehicles is really reduced. She corners beautifully (this comes from a dedicated 356 and 911 driver.) All of that horrible flex from the really high side-walls of the stock wheel/tire combo is gone.

Mileage on the first tank was 15.5/gal, got up to 17/gal on the second. Leaving Marin, CA and driving through SF are probably responsible for the delta.

Having been in LA for a day, I've checked her out and all is great, so I did something important and put more stickers on the windows. Today a little bit of work on the awning (shade is a Baja commodity.) Tomorrow AM I pick up my traveling companion and continue on Boing Boing-style: Disneyland before we cross the border!

Previously: Baja in my Westy: driving to Mexico in an '87 Volkswagen bus


  1. Hey Jason, enjoying reading about your adventures. I traveled Baja in an older VW bus in the late 1990s, and here is a bit of practical advice: if your Westy has a cassette deck, bring a cassette! We got stopped a umber of times at military or police checkpoints — anti-drug stuff — and they always insisted that we prove the tapedeck worked. I guess a common trick was (is?) to pull out the deck’s guts and stuff the hollow with contraband, hiding it with the faceplate. I don’t know if the checkpoints are still happening, but for peace of mind, they were always very mellow, if sometimes a little eerie (we’d run into them in the middle of the mountains, at night, with fires going in oil drums to keep the guys warm). Our Hank Williams tape, especially, always got a friendly reception.

    1. Military checkpoints still do happen not all are there all the time but we went to Loreto with my inlaws and there were checkpoints in Ensenada, around San Quintin, Guerrero Negro, San Ignacio, Santa Rosalia and Loreto both incoming and outgoing. A smile, buenos dias/tardes/noches will go a long way.

      1. If you get a chance, stop by Quartzsite in Arizona.
        Sleepy town of 3k or so grows to 10s of 1000s in the winter as the RVers show up for one of the largest swap meet and gem and mineral show in the USA, all January and February, and I’m sure into March too. 

        I drove through it once, by accident, at dusk, on our drive home from Hollywood to Toronto, and I regret not stopping!

    2. This is AWESOME!! We only did stuff like this when I was in my teens and twenties.  Jack Kerouac-style in the new millennia.  I’ve got to tell Alex how jealous I am!!   

        1. Oh man! We should plan to send you the LCD3’s Jason! And – wait til you hear the E.A.R HP4 tube headphone amp w/ the LCD3’s!! I told Alex it needs to be anywhere Audeze exhibits!!

          Seriously – drop a note to Alex if you can! The ALO Pan Am w/ Passport battery (I just reviewed that combo – to be published at HPSoundings nxt week) would be PERFECT for you in this venture!!

  2. As a former VW delivery driver I got to talk to lots of VW drivers, an awful lot of them were repeat customers. One memorable chap told me he’d had seven VWs, including a camper van he drove from England to India in the 60s. He said the cheapest fuel was in Iraq; a penny a litre.

  3. The checkpoints are still there, now featuring machine gun nests! The one north of San Felipe, on the eastern side of Baja, still had that sketchy lit by burning barrels and balaclava clad young men with automatic weapons motif going on a couple years ago. Just have to tell yourself to remember, these are the good guys.

    No need to fear the Grapevine in a Westy, that old worry goes back to folks lugging their air cooled VW busses up that hill in 4th gear. I’ve had no issues with that grade or the many steeper and longer climbs throughout the two lane highways of the US.

    Pay attention to your tachometer, but you can cruise at 4500 RPM which easily puts you in the 75mph range, I’ve done at least 100k miles at the speed with a stock waterboxer. Drive your breadbox with a little verve and you’ll have more fun.

    Also, if you don’t want to spring for spendy 16″ rims, the Finnish Nokian Hakkapeliitta CS tire is just splendid on the stock rims, with a super stiff sidewall that tames those sidewinds.Have a great trip, show us pictures!

      1. Last time I took my 1970 Mercury Cougar convertible on a longish trip (LA to Prescott, AZ) it got 18 mpg.  And that’s with an Edelbrock Performer four-barrel carb and intake, and the original 3-speed FMX transmission with no overdrive.  And the top down.

        But that’s no reflection on Jason’s VW, especially not while loaded up for a long trip and breaking in a freshly rebuilt four-banger.  For me, the thing that sucks is that I can’t really afford the gas anymore for a long trip getting significantly less than 25 mpg.

        By the time my kids are old enough to inherit my Cougar, I bet I’ll have converted it to electric.

  4. I demand you take back the affected SoCal RadioSpeak “the 101” and “the 5”. It’s “I-5” and “hi-way 101”.  We all deserve better that that.  Also, praise the German campervan gods that you’re not driving an 1982 diesel Westy… 47 galloping horsepower.

  5. Wow, no old school dudes here.  Spent the winter of 90-91 traveling from Cape Alava on the NW corner of Washington coast to the tip of Baja, via 101 and every other almost non-exisitant road, and back up through the Rockies into Canada in a ’67 Westy SO42. 30K miles and lots of adventures.  Best part was that every part on the bus was able to be, and often was, rebuilt. Totally confused an RV jockey in LaPaz who wandered by our camp site and saw me rebuilding and re-tuning the horn. He could not grasp the idea of repair verses replacement.

    PS  why all the damn cookies needed here?

  6. Jason, I also have a 2.3l in my bus, but the bus is a ’69 and the motor is aircooled with a fat cam and dual webers. I don’t know how fast it will go because the speedometer only goes to 90 and I’ve had the needle pointing way past that straight down! I’m pretty sure your motor will last longer than mine though… 

  7. Traveled down to La Paz and back in December. Didn’t have to get out at any of the checkpoints on the way down, but on the way back home in early January we were asked to get out of the car at almost every one. My octogenarian Mom was traveling with us, and they were nice enough to let her stay in the car. The soldiers were all quite polite.

    If you make it down to Guerrero Negro, be sure and grab a taco from Tony at his trailer “Tacos el Muelle”. Awesome fish and shrimp tacos.

    ¡Buen Viaje!

  8. Once across the border and just south of Rosarito, you may be thinking of stopping by Puerto Nuevo for the lobster.  Here’s a better spot:  Popotla, exactly beside Foxploration studios.  Popotla is a fisherman’s village, small and quite rustic, without the tourist trappings.  Google it, although here’s a link, I picked this one because it has a picture of the landmark where the village is, impossible to miss from the highway.  Careful though, you have to get off the toll road and into the free road in Rosarito.

  9. Over the past few days, I’ve been driving from NY to SF; yesterday, I drove the last leg from Santa Barbara to San Francisco via Route 1. Late morning, I saw a blue VW van going in the opposite direction (south) on CA-1. Was that you?

  10. Oh, man. Thanks for the Go Westy links. Now I want to start a VW restoration business on the Central Coast.

    In 1974 when I was 18 took a 63 Camper Van up through California, Oregon, Wash through Canada to Banff, then down to Yellowstone and back to LA. I have 2 pics I need to scan – one with the speedo pegged past 80 (going down a very long hill) and one shot through the back window with a Peterbilt grille on my tail (I don’t think truckers liked VW vans for some reason).

    The van was named Hobart – my job was in fast food back then. Great, loyal car.

    Have a great trip – 101 is the way to go with any auto – the 5 is a 80 MPH parking lot.

  11. I live in the town where GoWesty is located. I’m convinced that there are more Westys per capita in the surrounding 20 mile radius than anywhere else on earth. 

    However if I ever get one, the first thing I’ll do is an engine swap with a Ford 2.3 Duratec. :D 

    Enjoy your trip! 

    PS: As a kid, we’d brave The Grapevine in our 75 Westy – I remember big rigs passing us. What a slug that thing was. But we had some epic camping trips to Bass Lake (when we finally go there)

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