By Steve Neill
Judging many of the air-cooled concours classes at this year’s VW Expo at Stonor Park flagged up one area of great concern – I was surprised at the significant number of classic VW’s with tatty looking fabric covered fuel hoses. You know, the ones that could be susceptible to the corrosive nature of bio fuel that we have all been pumping into our vehicles since 1999. You only have to listen to Sally Traffic to learn that, all too frequently, smouldering Campervans ruin the day for a lot of people – not just their owners and families who cherish them. This naturally applies to water-cooled models and other classics as well, but old VW’s have taken the heat for too long!
Old school cork gaskets, brass and even some aluminium alloys (even the snazzy stainless over-braided hoses) have all been made obsolete by bio fuel, which (in petrol) can contain up to 10% ethanol – hence the term “E10”. E10 is sold in Continental Europe, and perhaps this should be considered on the annual foray to Le Mans, Spa or Bad Camberg. Indeed, petrol containing up to 25% ethanol was widely available in the UK prior to the Second World War right up to the 1960's, The UK Government has resisted the introduction the E10 "New Fuel", and as yet it is not sold on UK shores. However, that does not mean it won't be and fuel suppliers are obliged to give three months notice before its introduction on their forecourts. The United States is considering bringing in E15 fuel.
Some say that unleaded and 97RON super unleaded contain no ethanol or alcohol. This is not necessarily the case – they are both highly likely to have as much as 5% ethanol (E5) content from the 1999 British Standard, EN228. Thus, although E5 may not be as savage on your fuel hoses as the European "E10", they are still being eaten (forgive the pun) from the inside by the bio fuel, bringing a whole new level to the adverse affects of putting sugar in your tank.
Unleaded “R6” rubber hose simply doesn’t cut it these days. The real deal is R8 and R10 low pressure Buna-N (Nitrile Rubber or “Europrene”) synthetic rubber hose, and reinforced R9 high pressure hose that is more suited for fuel injected vehicles. E100 compatible fuel hose has been available for decades – indeed, many Brazilian vehicles have been running on neat alcohol (E100) since the 1970’s. Reputable VW and classic marque specialists stock it, yet the high street chains and major factors had been slow on the up take. There is still a lot of New Old Stock out there, so buyer beware. Even so, these synthetic hoses, O rings and gaskets do have a service life and they should be inspected regularly for perishing, although they wouldn’t fail an MOT unless they were seen to be leaking.
What about originality? In my view a truly original car is a very rare beast – Triggers Broom comes to mind. Most new cars are pranged to varying degrees within days, weeks or months from leaving the showroom. This is a fact and it was as true then as it is now, and will always be so, as new owners familiarise themselves with their shiny new purchases.
Owners of “Vehicles of Historic Interest” have the right to enjoy their investments as they see fit. At Stonor, we insist that all vehicles are driven to and from the park. Therefore, as the VW Expo Concours Manager, it would be unreasonable of me to insist upon total originality, even though that is what can define a “Historic” vehicle. So, new fuel hoses, new carburettors made of different alloys and re-jetted with cadmium brass jets and unions (to deal with hotter running temperatures due to “enleanment”, brought about by the increased oxygen content of the Ethanol in bio fuel), and electronic ignition (for reliability) – even the use of low SAPS (otherwise known as low ash) high detergent multi-grade mineral engine oil (to cope with the hotter running temperatures and widening climate extremes) – are all good with me. Where is the line drawn between tuning (because this is what we are doing) and modification; does such a line exist? And, who decides?
As an aside - I wouldn’t disapprove of a period looking DAB radio and MP3 player wired to a discreet high output speaker system – they certainly help clear up the clutter of CD’s and tapes, although it’s a pleasure to admire a collection of priceless eight track cassette’s in any 1970’s classic. Radial tyres are always preferable to Crossplies, and so on. So, you can see that I am quite relaxed about modifications (which are so prevalent in VW and hot rod circles, anyway) and future proofing...
Rolling back to the mid 1970’s, using multi-grade engine oil in an air-cooled engine was as hot a topic in the VW World as the water-cooled verses air-cooled debate. Back then the choice was between a straight 30 grade oil or 20/50, or... 20/50. Although sanctioned by VW at the time, 20/50 is now considered to be too thick and chewy for everyday use in all but the most tired of air-cooled engines – it’s great for old Jags and MG’s, but not for VW’s that are solely used on the road. Runnier from cold, VW later sanctioned 5w/30 and 10w/30 for cold climates, and 15w/40 or 15w/50 multi-grades for “moderate” and hot climates, and the latter two are my grades of choice for any UK based trusty old VW and Porsche boxer motors, with full flow oil systems (i.e the ones with a proper oil filter) - leaving 20w/50 and 10w/60 racing oils for the track or drag strip, but that is very much down to what works best in any highly stressed engine. Only trial and error (I mean expensive development and testing) will determine that! At this juncture it is worth remembering that all petrol powered VW's sold since the mid 1970's were designed to run on unleaded fuel - or E100 in Brazil!
Anticipating the introduction of E10 fuel on our forecourts, sooner rather than later, I believe that Low ash mineral engine oils (Dyno oil, as the Americans call it) are a more compatible choice for classic vehicles. Not semi-synthetic, not fully synthetic - as any old school engine design will have mile wide tolerance gaps, This is my abridged theory, nee opinion, on “classic” engine oil (in vehicles with and without Cat’s and fuel injection), based on evidence that I am increasingly encountering as a Vehicle Technician, covering all marques of all ages: