Yellow Unimog's New Home: La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica: the only active volcano in Costa Rica with lava spew!
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Testing dash functions before final assembly. The dash went together slower than it came apart, 'cause there's a sequence that must be followed. Get it out of order and you have to back up and correct your mistakes. With all the ducting, it gets packed.
7) Results, remaining issues and problems
After doing the electrical conversion the truck was ready to be driven. I drove the truck around the San Diego area, running errands and enjoying the remaining days of my stay in the San Diego area. At the very end of our stay we delivered the 2 trucks to a shipper for their overseas journey to Costa Rica. I call the swap a complete success and look forward to tackling the remaining issues very soon:
A) I have a drivability issue to solve: The diesel truck has a heavy surge at light throttle, especially in the lower gears. I posted this issue on the IH8MUD.com forum and received some great potential solutions. I’ll get after the problem when I see the trucks again. I should see them in another month (Jan ’08)
B) The tachometer and fuel gauges are intermittent. I believe the fuel sender is failed and poor connections are the culprit for the tachometer.
C) The Canadian trucks don’t generally come with air conditioners for some reason. So I am going to need to source the pieces missing from the motor to mount and drive an air conditioning pump. The Red truck has a complete A/C system otherwise.
D) When I chose to convert the truck to 24v, I created further problems to solve: The Warn winch is 12v and needs to be removed, find a replacement, or refit the existing unit with a 24v motor.
E) The ARB compressor and solenoids are also 12v. So the air lockers are dead weight until I get that sorted out. I discovered a factory 12v tap off the first battery in the series. This tap powers the headlights! With this discovery, I have an opportunity to research a solution for some small accessories, like the radio (also 12v), the ARB compressor and the cigarette lighter.
8) Summation and recommendations The entire project, starting with the flight to Vancouver and ending with the delivery of the trucks to the shipper occurred within a span of 3 weeks. I like what I have accomplished. To me the truck is as close to factory as can be. With the exception of the FJ VIN#, this truck is a Toyota HJ60. For our principal “daily driver”, anything less would have me doubting myself. I have a sense of security and look forward to OEM reliability and ease of service.
The fuel system required the greatest amount of materials transfer. Without a whole donor vehicle there is no way I would have had the correct pieces on hand to accomplish the conversion. The fuel filler, vent tubing, and the fuel feed line were all distinct to the diesel.
The vapor recovery device in the rear quarter panel is the same part number. This was good news for me 'cause the diesel rig unit was rusted piece of refuse! The filler neck and filler cap were something I never would have thought of if I tried to do the conversion by ordering parts.
Red has a bunch of drive train upgrades. My favorite is the ARB air shifted locking differentials. At the center of the photo is the compressor and solenoids for the iar shift system.Where we live, a rear locker is essential when it's raining heavy and traction is poor. The front locker is a bonus!
These three Land Cruisers are the subjects of our most recent conversion! On the left is a 1986 Hj60 from Canada. It has the diesel engine with an automatic transmission. It will be the "doner" for our new family wagon (the Red 1983 FJ60 on the right). In the center is the "free" 1985 FJ60, sans motor. Our plan is to build our Red '83 truck into a diesel rig, then install the gas motor from the '83 into the '85, giving us a free Land Cruiser! How cool is that?
My wife and I, after living in Costa Rica for a couple of years, have experienced the generally poor condition of both the roads and the vehicles, particularly out in the country where we live. The combination of bad roads, wet weather, developing nation economics, high import taxes restricting access to quality goods and services around vehicles all affect the vehicles. As a result, vehicles here are generally damaged, worn out and inadequately repaired and maintained.
Heidi, and I are in the process of adopting children and we were looking forward at our vehicle needs. We decided on the Toyota Land Cruiser, specifically, the 60 series for a number of reasons.
The 60 series trucks exist here with the diesel engine, but for the above-stated reasons, almost all are both very expensive and really torn up! Always looking for a solution, I came up with the idea of purchasing a clean, straight, rust-free California Toyota Land Cruiser truck and converting it from an FJ (gas motor) to an HJ (diesel motor) and shipping it to Costa Rica.
On a recent family visit to San Diego, California, I made a special one-way trip to Santa Cruz, where I purchased a Red 1983 FJ60. I had been searching Craigslist for weeks looking for this opportunity: This truck had some great features already installed: it has a 4” suspension lift; aggressive 33” tires; 4.88 differential gears; front and rear ARB differential lockers, Warn winch and more. As a bonus the seller included a complete second vehicle for parts: A stock 1985 FJ60 Land Cruiser, missing its engine. I drove the ’83 with the ’85 in tow from Santa Cruz back down to San Diego and left them with my family. This purchase would be the basis of our new family wagon.
After returning to Costa Rica, I started researching where and how to obtain a diesel engine for this potential project. Motors here are hard to find, as resources are so precious that there are really very few recycle yards. The worn out trucks are just patched and patched over and over! Australia is a better potential resource, but after shipping and taxes, it’s no bargain.
It turns out that on the west coast of Canada there’s a 6 cylinder diesel Toyota Land Cruiser for sale, almost every week of the year. I kept searching for a reasonably priced “donor” vehicle. Something I could get at the lowest possible price, yet obtain all of the running gear that I wanted. I wanted a whole truck so I would have every nut, bolt, and piece to do a complete conversion. However, the Canadian 6 cylinder diesels were all unfortunately delivered with an automatic transmission. So I would have to buy some pieces to adapt the diesel to the gas truck.
1) Project Commencement
For a few months of checking Craigslist and reading about this particular type of engine conversion on an internet forum called: “IH8MUD.com” http://forum.ih8mud.com/ , I was ready to purchase a donor vehicle. I contacted two diesel Land Cruiser owners in Vancouver, British Columbia. I let them know I was planning to come to Vancouver specifically to buy a vehicle. My wife booked me a one-way flight and on November 6th, 2007, I flew from Costa Rica to Vancouver.
I stayed in a hotel and negotiated a purchase the next day. What I bought was a 1986 HJ60 with an automatic transmission. I spent the next two days driving through Washington and Oregon and all the way down to southern California. On the drive down, I stopped at Specter Off-Road in Hawthorne (Los Angeles area) http://www.sor.com/ Where I met Marv Specter and his team. We toured his facility and I purchased a flywheel, bell housing, clutch kit, and all related nuts, bolts and pieces to make a complete conversion kit for adapting the diesel automatic engine to mate to a standard 4-speed transmission.
Top Ten Driving Tips for Costa Rica
The following article is a primer, or introduction, to safe and competent driving in Costa Rica. While this article is brief and does not necessarily cover all facets of driving in Costa Rica, it is an attempt to cover the most important aspects of vehicle safety here.
1. Maintain a high level of concentration while driving
It is easier to maintain a high level of concentration while driving during the daytime, therefore we recommend you to avoid nighttime driving. The paved and dirt roads of Costa Rica, while better than some roads around the world, have many dangerous challenges that are not easily foreseen.
~Large pot holes
~Road side and road bed wash outs
~Pedestrian, motorcycle traffic
~Horses, cattle, dogs, and other animals on the roads
~Other vehicles (at night, sometimes without lights)
~Narrow roads and very little, if any, shoulder
~If you get stuck at night, finding help is more difficult
All of these obstacles make driving challenging in Costa Rica. Therefore, driving when visibility is best, makes sense and raises your chances of successfully navigating the roads of Costa Rica. The pressure and attention needed to drive at night is often not worth whatever you would gain by nighttime driving. For ex., I recently almost hit a cow on the road while driving at night. The hides and eyes of cattle do not seem to reflect light. I was literally on top of the herd before I realized they were there! Who would have thought cattle would be in the middle of a road the night?
As you can see from the list of obstacles described above, a high level of concentration is needed at all times behind the wheel. Costa Rica highways are not like many highways in other parts of the world. On the highways of Costa Rica there are a lot of hills and most of the highways are single-lane, allowing for no relaxation. If you want to pass the numerous, slow trucks on highways, you will be passing vehicles constantly, and on hills and narrow roads, this is riskier than ever. Additionally, you drive faster on the highways and need more time to break suddenly - which you frequently have to do.
Off-road driving, or, driving any of the paved roads in poor condition (i.e., with lots of potholes), requires the driver to concentrate on the path and track of both sets of wheels, left and right. You should also watch others in front of you to see what they are swerving to avoid. Be sure and leave some space if you are following vehicles in front of you. You need to be able to see the road surface and their maneuvers. If you are to swerve, you need to be able to see if you have room on the shoulder and the oncoming traffic in view the other lane.
2. Adjusting tire pressure for on-road/off-road
We recommend for both paved roads in very poor condition and the unpaved roads of Costa Rica, that you lower your tire air pressure from the maximum tire pressure stated on the vehicle’s tires. You may need to try your vehicle with different tire pressures to find the best pressure for your vehicle, its weight, and the driving conditions. I have found that for passenger cars and trucks, running the tire pressure from 18-25 pounds gives the vehicle you are driving improved ride characteristics, traction, and smoothness to absorb potholes and the washboard effect of the unpaved roads. For paved roads in reliably good condition, use the tire pressure as recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Deflating and re-inflating the tires requires access to compressed air of some sort. For our vehicle, I have purchased an on-board air compressor. I am able to re-inflate the tires at any point in our trip without having to locate a gas station. I also purchased a tire pressure gauge with a circular dial. I can now accurately measure our tires’ pressure. I recommend the circular dial gauge at minimum if you are not planning to purchase an air compressor. Knowing ahead of time where the gas stations are is also helpful.
3. Vehicle preparedness is essential.
The driving in Costa Rica is much more demanding of a vehicle. Therefore, preparedness is essential to driving with reduced risk of incidents. Due to the demands on our vehicle in Costa Rica, mechanical and electrical devices may fail frequently and without notice. Preparation is necessary before driving of any type, duration or distance. We highly recommend the following:
· Conduct a visual inspection of the tires and tire condition, including the spare.
· Make sure that you have your spare changing tools and know how to use them.
· Make sure your mirrors are able to be adjusted according to your needs and are well-secured.
· Make sure all of your exterior and interior lights and signals work.
· Make sure your vehicle’s head-lights are properly aimed. In addition, you may want to consider upgraded or auxiliary lighting.
· Make sure all vehicle fluid levels: engine oil, coolant, windshield wiper fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid and power steering fluid are at their proper levels.
· Keep the interior and exterior glass clean for visibility.
· Make sure your windshield wipers and washers are in excellent condition.
· If you have a defroster or A/C, make sure it is capable of clearing steamed or foggy windows.
· Make sure you have enough gasoline or diesel for your destination or a means to obtain it. You might consider carrying extra fuel for long or back country drives.
4. Driver preparedness is also important.
· Know the laws related to driving here as they are enforced!
· Know where you are going and how to get there (have your map). Searching for directions or counting on being able to call someone by cell phone is not wise while driving in Costa Rica. You may not have phone access on the road.
· Know how to change a tire. The likelihood of getting a flat is higher her due to the road conditions.
· If you are off-road, know how to operate your 4WD.
· Be well-rested. Don’t drive fatigued!
· Have working seat belts and use them.
· Wear sunglasses during the day and don’t forget your prescription glasses if you need them.
· Try not to drive alone if you can avoid it, it is better to have someone with you for moral support, navigating, making a call and spelling the driver.
· Additional things to have on board: 3 reflective tri-angles in case of breakdown; gas can; circular dial tire gauge; jumper cables; tow rope; emergency flashlight; drinking water and cell phone.
Top Ten Driving Tips for Costa Rica #5-10
5. Frequently asked for and necessary documents
. You need a valid license to drive in Costa Rica. Costa Rica honors other countries’ valid driving licenses for 90 days. If you are here longer than 3 months, it will no longer be valid. After 90 days you should obtain the Costa Rican license.
· Your passport or your cédula card if you are a resident. If you don’t want to carry your original passport in your vehicle, you will need a photocopy of both the passport picture page and the page with the most recent entry stamp into Costa Rica.
· The vehicle papers: copy or original title/registration, RTV and marchambo to date
· Front and rear plates (or your temporary paper plates)
· If driving outside of Costa Rica, there are additional documents required. Consult your attorney.
April 19th, 2006
Wednesday, 0300 (3 AM) - First Leg:
I left the Nicoya peninsula in the middle of the night, driving Old Blue, our ’81 Land Cruiser. My first destination was Puntareñas, where I was to meet Jimmy and two hired drivers. Our plan was for all of us to pile into the Studebaker Lark wagon, making the trip in style, across country. The trip to Puntareñas was uneventful. I arrived to my destination point early and in time to enjoy desayuno (breakfast) at a Soda (small restaurant) which had just opened.
Wednesday, 0630 - Unit Formation:
Met Jimmy and the two drivers (Don Hidalgo y Adrian) at Claymore Self-Storage/Bodegas (where we have our Lark stored and Jimmy works). Jimmy had prepared the Studebaker the day before and she was looking sweet and ready to roll! Swapped Old Blue for the Studebaker. We all shook hands, piled into the Lark, and were off. Or so I thought….
Oh- did I mention that Jimmy belongs to Costa Rica Full Carry- and is of the persuasion that owning and carrying firearms is a Costa Rican right? We were equipped with a fully loaded .38 firearm safely tucked under my front passenger seat position in the Lark. It may have been her first intimate contact with a firearm.
0700 –0 745 AM - False Start:
Traffic was heavy this first 30 minutes, going up the hill to rim above the capitol of Costa Rica, San Jose. We worked our way up into thick traffic and were nearing the top, and suddenly Jimmy cursed and shouted, realizing he’d left the Studebaker registration documents at the bodega. We took a vote, Jimmy definitely wanted to go back, I was for just going for it, and the two drivers didn’t really care either way. But you have to know about Costa Rican law and bureaucracy. They are sticklers for the correct paperwork. Jimmy was right. If we had not gotten the papers, we’d have been stopped and ticketed. It’s not uncommon here. Keep this point in mind as our Blog progresses.
0745-0830 - Retreat:
Drive back to the bodega for the papers.
0830-1030 - Second Leg:
Re-departure, with papers. Traffic was a lot heavier this time. We inched our way up the hill. Made it into San Jose safe and sound, not having been stopped, of course. We drove into La Uruca (an area outside of San Jose).
1030 – First Casualty:
We stopped here to gas up and to check the Lark’s fluid levels. It was a warm humid day and everyone got out for a soda. I went around front and lifted her hood and proceeded to give her a visual inspection. I wanted to check the coolant level. But I was worried because the engine was hot. As you probably know, it is very dangerous to check an automobile cooling system when it is hot and under pressure. I squeezed the upper radiator hose to test for cooling system pressure. It didn’t appear to have too much pressure. Thinking of safety, I had installed a lever vent radiator cap. I lifted the lever vent, and no pressure escaped. Having checked the hose, feeling no pressure, and lifting the lever vent, I concluded there was no pressure. I went straight to opening the radiator cap. I promptly copped a face full of hot, scalding coolant. Imagine my surprise! I stood there and replayed the whole scenario and what had happened. I was astounded I let myself get burned like this. It started to hurt immediately. I rinsed the coolant off with water and I couldn’t tell yet the area of the burn exactly. Just that it was around my face, nose, and mouth. I re-inspected the lever vent and there was my answer. The lever vent device had failed! While there was not excessive pressure in the cooling system, there was enough for me to burn myself. For the rest of the mainly hot, humid and uncomfortable trip I was constantly aware of my burned, throbbing face. The only time I didn’t think about when I was engaged in conversation with others.
1100 - Mission is “a Go”
We all re-loaded back in the car. Next stop: Puerto Limon on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica. Keep in mind I started from the Pacific coast at 3 AM. Before leaving, I called our attorney’s office for Adventure Motors and he confirmed that we were “all clear” to pick up the Unimogs- for paperwork, etceteras.
1100-1300 - Crossing High Lands and Low Lands
The drive to the Caribbean/Atlantic coast passes through an amazing forest reserve. We climbed the mountains out of San Jose and it was cool and breezy and had amazing views of the jungle, different flora and fauna in that region. After passing through the forest reserve, we drove a down grade of miles and miles. We finally hit the flatlands where we entered into gigantic banana plantations. It was a long, uneventful stretch through the flatlands. We all passed into our own contemplative states, and not much was said for at least an hour. I thought of my face.
1300 - Mission Thwarted
We arrived in Puerto Limon, hungry. We asked for a few directions and found our way to the Caribbean coast. It was hot and muggy in Limon. Parked the car outside of a nice restaurant. I had Jimmy park it where I could keep an eye on during lunch, as it doesn’t have locks, and is an eye-catcher here. We had been told that this restaurant was one of the best in town. Whoever told us that was half-right. When we were finally served, the food was great. The service left a lot to be desired. Up to now, the boys and I were feeling great. We had powered all the way across country and just had a very satisfying lunch. And we were excited to pick up these Unimogs and head on home.
While finishing lunch, I received a call from our attorney. Everything was great until he called. What he said to me was:
“Rick, I’m sorry to inform you that there is a problem. The customs workers at the port have been operating a work ‘slow down’ for the past three or four days. They are complaining about their pay. I have just heard a report that there has been rock throwing. Police and riot teams are responding. It is completely unsafe and you cannot pick up your trucks today. I’m sorry, it’s not your fault, it’s not my fault, but it is something that can’t be helped. I’ll call you when you are able to pick the trucks up, but it won’t be today.”
Well, imagine my disappointment! We were basically dealing with an aggressive pre-strike situation. Jimmy and I talked it over, and we were both of the same idea: that we should not give up on this. Heck, I had hired these guys, driven across the country, and got myself burnt! I was hot, sore, and fatigued. I did not want to go home empty-handed. So we made up a plan. We decided if we could just go to SEE the trucks that would be something. I wanted to see what they looked like, check their condition after shipping from Germany, check the fluid levels, kick the tires, you know… and maybe, just maybe, steal them out of their prison.
1430 - Commence Operation Commando Raid
The attorney had informed us that the trucks had actually arrived in the port of Moin, a few minutes from Puerto Limon. It is a port with facilities for accommodating larger ships, like the one which had brought the Unimogs. We took the coastal road from the restaurant. And wound our way north and east towards the port. We topped a hill and there below us on the ocean side, to our right, was the port facility. It was big, barren, with very little activity, and completely surrounded by a 10 foot chain-link fence with razor ribbon topping. We continued along the road, which was also along the fence line. Up ahead appeared the entry, and we re-formulated our plan amongst ourselves. Jimmy rechecked his firearm. As we pulled up to the guard shacks, it was obvious that there was something happening. There was very little traffic and numerous armed guards at the shack. Jimmy spoke briefly with one of the guards who was armed with an automatic rifle. He said the right things and we gained passage. Over to our left, we spotted our targets (see photo of: Orange, Yellow, and White Unimogs).
1500- Full Out Action:
In the next few minutes, things happened very fast. We drove to where the Unimogs were. The trucks were being completely swarmed over by people I didn’t know. The truck doors were all open, one of the engines was running, and people were standing around them, looking at them and climbing in and out of them. I couldn’t tell who was friend or foe. I picked out two guys; one looked like an attorney, or legal type. I quickly determined that this was my man, my customs broker: Rolando. The other guy was the customs authority. As it turns out, all of the other guys were also customs authorities of different ranks. In quick order, we had to get the trucks out with all due haste. Rolando told us: “Get the trucks out, right away.”
All of the customs fees had been paid and all of the paperwork completed. Some of the customs authorities were saying the trucks were not ready to leave. This was their method of enacting their slow down. They wanted to thwart our operation for their own objective: POLITICS! In addition, two of the trucks were missing keys! The port officials had misplaced the keys. That’s why only one engine was running! I got Jimmy into the one that was running, the White truck, and had him go drive it, to learn how to shift it (these particular Unimog 416’s have numerous shift levers for different operations. Also they have 4 reverse gears and 8 forward gears).
I started working on the possibility of hot-wiring the other two, keeping an eye on the Studebaker, which was currently drawing a crowd. Good distraction. It seemed like only a few moments had gone by, when Rolando approached me with a worried look on his face and told me: “You have to get these trucks out Now, Now, Now!” Some authorities were telling us we couldn’t go, while Rolando was saying we were clear. There was no time. I had to move quickly against the wishes of some of the authorities to accommodate Rolando, the authority who was in agreement with our objective. I flagged down Jimmy, who was thoroughly enjoying himself, doing donuts in the port parking lot. I told him to drive the White truck out immediately. He proceeded with trepidation, to the gate, while I went back to the other trucks. No need for the .38 yet.
The head port authority guy appeared with one more key for me. He was on our side! I tried it in the Yellow truck, but the key would not turn the ignition. I hopped out with the key, ran to the Orange truck, and voila! One more truck running! I put one of the other drivers into Orange and sent him out, hoping he’d make it through the gate, as had Jimmy just moments earlier. I went back to Yellow, again, investigating what it would take to hot wire it. All around Yellow, there were four of the customs authorities; all trying to make it very clear to me that the truck would not be leaving. By the way, this is all in Spanish, which I am learning. Luckily however, I am trained to read body language and intonation. I replied with a practiced “no comprendo”. I looked up, and saw that the two trucks which had made it to freedom were doing donuts outside of the compound. Still, I needed a solution for getting Yellow out of there, and I needed it fast!
1530 - No Man Left Behind!
I shouted out for Jimmy, to have the third driver bring me Orange’s key and pass it through the security fence. I was going to make this key fit. I had no diagnostic tools, no information, nothing for the purpose of hotwiring this thing. That other truck’s key was my only chance. The clock had stopped ticking by this point. Remember, the first time I tried this key on Yellow, it did not work. And, all around me was pandemonium! There were men blocking my every move, trying to tell me I couldn’t take the truck out of the compound. Jimmy trotted over with the only key we had. I faked a man with a false start to the left and went to the right and met Jimmy at the fence. White has something different, it’s not really a key, it’s a military ignition switch and it would not work with either Yellow or Orange. It had to be THIS KEY-as it was the ONLY KEY. I glanced at the Lark and formulated a plan to sprint to the car, if needed, for escape or protection.
I went back to Yellow with the intention to drive the sucker out of there. I put the key in, pressed, shook, wiggled, and by gosh, it finally turned! I got it running, dropped it into reverse to back it out, careful to not make eye contact with the customs authorities surrounding the truck. I backed it out of the spot and headed for the gate. So far, so good. Two down and just one to go! This time it was my turn to drive a truck through an armed and guarded gate. Jimmy had come back in and was covering my back with the Lark, by driving right on my tail. Unlike the customs authorities, the heavily armed gate guards took a cursory look at my papers and waved me on. I was through! I pulled the truck forward and parked it next to the other two.
1545 - Mission Accomplished
Our trip home was not uneventful, but after having made it out of the commando raid alive and getting trucks out of customs when it looked like it was going to be impossible, the events on the homeward journey were tame by comparison. Again, a full report to head quarters is on file. For this abbreviated record, no shots were fired and there was only one casualty.