Vanagon Non-Powered "Floppy" Mirrors: The Whole Story

When the VW “T3” Vanagon was introduced in late 1979, it replaced the earlier “T2” Bus. Everything about the Vanagon was bigger and better than the Bus it replaced, except for the mirrors: they were just bigger. The Bus mirror design had two possible adjustment points: 1) At the mounting point on the door. This would be selected one time, and left pretty much alone, and 2) Out at the end of the arm at the mirror itself. This is where occasional adjustments were made. That design worked pretty well as far as staying put once adjusted-so served its main purpose. It was just a bit small. The Vanagon design was much larger, and with only one adjustment point, where it mounts to the door. All of the holding power was supposed to be handled by this spring-loaded, ball/socket system:

Theoretically this was a great idea—wider range of vision, more easy adjusted and/or folded completely in if/as needed. The problem is: They would just not stay put, they would flop when hit by (not necessarily super stiff) gust of wind. Thus, the main purpose of the mirror was critically hampered by the attempt to make it do more than just be a mirror. The folding capability would cause the pivot point to wear and loosen. Eventually, VW came out with a no-holds-barred power mirror, check out are article on that design. As many VW designs go, actually executing the theory required lots of attention to detail. You just could not beat the original, German-made, Genuine VW quality that went into executing the theory. And, back when they were available, the price reflected the quality—the mirrors were many times more costly than the aftermarket versions. Here are the basic guts of the original VW mirror, as well as two common after market types:

OEM German VW: 
-Ball with hex hole, with spring retention inset
-Thickest wire spring, 12.75mm tall uncompressed
-32mm shaft length
-9.5mm Thread Length
-5.5mm of thread left when the spring is fully compressed

-Ball with hex hole, with spring retention inset
-Medium wire spring, 10.3mm tall uncompressed
-No washer
-Nut with flange
-31mm shaft height
-10.5mm thread length

JP Group:
-Ball with square hole (huh?), no spring retention inset
-Smallest wire spring, 10.1mm tall uncompressed
-Nut with nylon locking feature
-32mm shaft length
-16.5mm thread length
-5.75mm left when the spring is fully compressed.

Only one of these mirrors is now readily available and yup - you guessed it - the JP Group reproduction. It is what looks to be the worst of the bunch, but it is all we have to offer, so we rolled up our sleeves and figured out how to make it work as best we could!

The #1 problem was the “hex peg in the square hole” issue.

The whole point of the non-round hole in the ball/smooth shank on the stud is to keep the ball from spinning when the mirror is moved, to keep the spring from spinning, to keep the nut from spinning and loosening up. We have no idea why it was made this way, zero, makes no sense. That said, it does keep the ball from spinning completely, but not entirely. The little bit of wiggling, in fact, does make the nut come loose. Our fix for this was simply to add a second, jam nut to keep the primary nut from loosening. That problem: solved.

The next problem was one of materials and fit. The original VW design had much more durable materials involved in the friction areas, and just held up much better. Our fix for this was to add two pieces of sturdy emery cloth, with the friction surfaces facing each other. This add makes for a much smoother, but high-friction contact between the ball and screw base. The combination of this and the jam nuts make these mirrors usable-ish. Given the inexpensive price: they are downright usable!

All that said, none of this really addresses the underlying flawed design. A mirror of this size moving through the air at 65+ MPH ground speed, and facing an occasional gust of wind in speeds that high or more—add up to over 100MPH gusts. When assembled properly with our kit, adjusted ONCE, and LEFT ALONE: they work pretty damn well…. for the money. There are other, way more expensive alternatives if you want a mirror that works not only in “theory.”

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