Body Seams: The Scoop

The Vanagon body was designed in the ‘70s and was “state of the art” for its time. It was a major improvement over the Bus, which was originally designed in the ‘50s and then upgraded a bit in the '60s. Even though the Vanagon is quite a bit larger than the Bus, VW was able to put it together with about the same number of panels—requiring much larger presses and tooling. The doors and latches throughout were a great improvement, as well—overall it is a much better and more efficient design. The one design aspect present in the Bus and Vanagon that pretty much disappeared in later designs is this: many exposed, sealed, and painted-over body seams.

If you look at the body design of the T4 and T5 Eurovan, for example, you will see that it is constructed with very few exposed body seams that are painted over. The only ones that are present are the ones that simply cannot be avoided. On these later designs, the entire side of the vehicle is basically two huge panels with only one seam between the two. If you look closely at current-day automobiles, you won’t find any exposed, sealed, and painted-over body seams at all. By contrast, Bus and Vanagon bodies are made using many small body panels spot welded together, creating many exposed, sealed, and painted-over body seams running all over the place.

The problem with these earlier body designs is that they were inherently less rigid—which means they flex more. And the problem with that is that the seams move around. And the problem with that is that over time the sealant and the paint on top of it crack. And the problem with that is not only unsightly paint flaws, but worse yet: moisture intrusion into the seam (read Rust: It Never Sleeps).

One common complaint we get from customers for whom we have restored Vanagons goes something like this: “Hey, why are there cracks in the paint? The paint is barely 3 years old!” While it is true that the paint is only three years old, the body is over 20 years old. We did not replace the body. GoWesty only starts with most sound bodies we can find to restore, naturally. But the bottom line is that these are all old vehicles, with old seams, and old seam sealer. None of this is something we or anybody can change.

You will not find a more thorough body restoration than what you'll find on a GoWesty-built vehicle. Even still, in almost all cases, there are some cracks in at least some of the seams. Usually they are so slight that they are, in fact, of no consequence and typically go unnoticed. But we know they are there. Luckily, what we're talking about here is mostly aesthetic, and will rarely lead to any larger issue.

So, the sad reality of owning a vehicle of this vintage, especially a large vehicle like a Bus or Vanagon, is having to deal with the seams. There is simply no way around it.