by Richard Atwell
If you own a baywindow you know that your choice for shock absorbers is limited. Several popular brands exist (Boge, KYB) and many low quality shocks as well. See my Shocks and Sway Bars article for the details.
If you've ever driven in a Porsche with torsion bar suspension and Bilsteins or Konis it's quite an experience. They offer a smooth ride but also offer substantially improved handling over the average shock absorber. Finding a premium shock for a baywindow is difficult because of the low demand for performance bus shocks.
Bilstein no longer makes shocks for the bus which is a pity and Koni has scaled back some VW models and reintroduced others. If you think you've found a set of Baywindow Bilsteins here are the part numbers to verify:
GoWesty! is looking to use a suitably sized shock from the current Bilstein catalog and have the valving modified to bus requirements. Stay tuned but please don't nag them until they are ready.
Koni also made Baywindow shocks. I first found out about them while talking to Richard at OEVeedub about sourcing some Bilstein shocks from Europe. Unlike the Bilsteins which are gas filled, these Konis (known as red Special "D") are oil filled. They are also adjustable unlike your average shock absorber.
Of the two Koni, has a more interesting VW history. If you look in ETKA you won't find any references to Koni but if you look on a real fiche circa 1979 you will find actual part numbers referencing Koni as optional equipment:
Note: F&S stands for Fitchel & Sachs. In 1979 they were a separate company from Boge but now are simply called Sachs, own Boge and sell the Boge Automatic shock. Boges used to be made in Germany but they all come out of the factory in Mexico now.
If these part numbers are not proof that these shocks were made for VW I don't know what is.
The Koni shocks have a compression/bump setting tailored to the bus and a rebound setting which is also tailored but is adjustable from the stock setting. Shocks come from the factory in the soft setting and you can adjust the firmness gradually by 100%. Adjustment simply requires one or more 180 degree twists of the top relative to the bottom and remounting on the bus. The stock setting is fantastic (especially for city driving) but it you want a firmer handling you can dial them in anyway you like.
Koni's adjustment instructions. Follow the steps for 80 series.
Konis are twin tube hydraulic shocks with the performance of gas shocks but the comfort of oil shocks without the fade. They are lifetime guaranteed (the original purchaser) and Koni can rebuild them under warranty at their repair facility in KY. Sounds ideal for baywindows, don't they? Have you ever wanted a stiffer shock when you are loaded down with camping gear and a softer one for riding around town with just the driver? How about being able to adjust them in less than 5 minutes with them already mounted to the bus?
Fortunately I was able to locate a pair of the Koni rear shocks for a 72-79 bus and having tried them, I'll never go back. I do like the ride of the original shocks but the bus simply rolls around on turns too much and they wear out. I don't know about you but after 2 1/2 years of driving on KYBs, all I can say is that they suck.
Koni made two front and two rear shocks for the baywindow (I've also listed the splitwindow shocks for comparison):
|Model Year||Part Number||Location||Valving||Max Length||Min Length||Mounting Hardware||Sleeve|
|68-69||80-1966||Front||1100/600||419mm||217mm||M12 top, M10 bottom||32mm|
Note: The 80-2110 shock only fits the 70-79 bus. This is because the 68-69 torsion arm (while it has a M12 stud) is too 10mm too short to fit. It also takes a 10mm nut but it's the length of the stud which is inadequate to fit the 42mm sleeve of the shock.
Scott Lyons took a photo which illustrates the differences between the torsion arm:
I measured a factory set of 72-79 Boge/F&S shocks to determine the original measurement. The front measurements (min/max) were 265/410mm and the rear were 350/590mm.
The valving numbers give the rebound/compression in Newtons at 0.33m/s. The higher the number the firmer the feel. Each shock actually has a second set of numbers measured at 0.66m/s but I haven't listed all the specifics.
68-69 buses had M10 studs on the steering knuckle like the 63-67 splitwindow bus so this necessitated a special bushing and sleeve. Also notice how the valving information for the 80-1966 shock is different.
The rear shock always used M12 hardware but because of some minor differences the earlier shock is shorter. I've always thought that the rear end of the bus was identical from 68-79 but if you look closely at the fiche you'll see some different part numbers.
All of this info is very interesting, you are saying to yourself, but where can I get them? Well, this is a small dilemma because Koni hasn't made these shocks for a while. The 80-2220 is still being made in small quantities because it is shared with a Daimler Benz model in Europe. They are imported from Europe and as of this writing there are about 33 units left in the Koni warehouse in Holland and I'm told by an unverified source that more will be made in December 2004. I bought my rears from the US and no shipping delays were encountered so it proves some others maybe lying around.
When I purchased the rear shocks and fit them to the bus, the difference was amazing. I first removed the rear sway bar so I wouldn't skew the results and I drove around for a few days like that to get used to driving the bus in a semi-stock state again (KYB gremlins still on board). I like the rear sway bar for highway journeys but around town it simply locks up the rear suspension too much. It's non-adjustable and speed bumps rock the bus as do driveway entrances. When one wheel hits a bump the jolt is transmitted thru the sway bar to the torsion bar housing and the other wheel. So much for independent suspension. There is also a little too much oversteer which isn't good for off ramps: the rear tires just aren't making good grip with the road.
Having removed the KillYourButt Gas-a-justs from the rear I've noticed several improvements while driving with the Konis:
First, the ride is far smoother even though I still have the GR-2's on the front. Because the rears were so stiff a lot of road feel transfers up to the driver even though you think you are only sitting over the front suspension.
Handling is also far improved over the KYBs and driving the bus has a more confident feel. Fast lane changes are completely un-bus like now. On smooth pavement, this is just astounding. Where's a slalom, let me at it! :) I expected as much and they live up to the hype that they are a premium shock even though I've only fitted the rears at this point.
What surprised me most about the Konis is the braking improvement. What I previously felt as a massive nose dive with the KYBs was also the rear end lifting up. I guess it makes sense that the gas shocks always wanting to expand to maximum extension are not as good for braking at least not this bargain basement engineering: KYBs aren't up to the task as the softer GR-2's on the front give in to nose dive even more than the Gas-a-justs which are too harsh. Braking improvement alone is worth the upgrade to Koni and far improved over any setup I've tried so far.
I'd always thought the 73-79 disc brakes were pretty good but could never quite get my head around the numbers. If you've seen the Brooklands book called VW Performance Portfolio 1968-1969 (ISBN 1 85520 5025), the 1973 new model road test by PV4 magazine stopped the bus from 60mph in 123.5 feet. This is a pretty amazing braking distance when you look at the specs for new cars with anti-lock brakes (keep in mind new cars also tend to weigh more). They even retried the test 6 times to confirm the results and didn't even experience fading or lockup. Kudos to the Dunlop licensed ATE brakes and VW engineering I guess?
Although the PV4 numbers for the even lighter weight 1974 panel van they tested the following year were not as good and lend credence to my original suspicion that the stopping distance wasn't properly measured that day in 1973, what seems clear to me now is that VW outfitted the test vehicle with Konis!
I used to have Gas-a-just shocks on all 4 wheels and then I tried a GR-2 front Gas-a-just rear setup. Braking is probably the foremost reason not to mix and match shocks. Using GR-2's up front is a compromise in the desire for a softer ride. Many people go with this combo in an attempt to keep a semblance of handling while trying avoid oil filled shocks that are too soft. Having run GR-2's and Gas-a-justs on there front, I can say that the Gas-a-just all around combo is the only ones that contribute to better handling. Use a front sway bar to obtain better handling instead of mixing and matching shocks.
What about Boges (F&S)? Standing on the brakes in very low mileage 72 bus with the original shocks produces the usual mushy ride and nose dive I've associated with oil filled shocks but not with the Konis.
With my Konis, the rear sway-bar isn't needed anymore and it will sit in the garage from now on. I can't speak for the even more expensive adjustable version but I feel the money is better spent on quality shock absorbers because sway bars do nothing for straight line braking.
"That's info is very interesting about the rears but what about the front shocks?"
The front shock hasn't been produced in large quantities for at least 6 years. That's according to Koni whose sales data only goes back to 1999. Of course stocks must have existed afterward for some undetermined period of time and I know the parts have shown up in used condition here in the US at various swap meets.
After trying most of the Koni distributors in the US and a few in other English speaking countries looking for the NLA front shocks (yes, I know I'm crazy), as well as the VW network in both the US and Europe, I made some technical inquiries looking for another part number that would be a suitable replacement with the same min/max length, eye bolt bushing size and similar valving qualities. The shock I found was 80-2149 which is for the rear of a beetle. It has almost the same mix/max length, similar M12 sleeve length (top is 34mm, bottom is 48mm while the correct 80-2110 shock for 70-79 is 42mm top and bottom). I figure the sleeve length of the 80-2149 could easily be solved by spacer and some filing/machining.
The 80-2149 also has very similar valving (1400/450 which is actually a little softer on compression and might work better on the bus although there will be more roll and less turn in). In other words, a smooth ride for less road feel not taking any other adjustments in account. Figuring this to be a good backup I decided to pursue the 80-2110 front bus shock before making a purchase.
In a stroke of good timing, I was able to determine that Koni Germany had recently put in a special order for this shock to the factory in Holland. Enough parts were left over from that order that an extra 7 pairs were produced through my efforts and they have made their way to the US. These extra pairs will be available in January 2005 for 6 lucky people and myself. The Koni Germany production run could not be extended further because they had run out of parts to build shocks from.
Talking directly with Koni I discovered that it was possible to have a production run of 25 pairs of the front shock made up as long as they are similar enough to their other 80 series shocks in current production. They got back to me and told me there were no tooling problems that would hold back production of these shocks.
I was working on my own group buy when I struck a deal with Bus Depot to help purchase more shocks in batches of 25 pairs and they've taken over the ordering from me. This is a boon to everyone because it's also driven down the price through their buying power.
If you are interested in buying the last shocks your bus will ever need read this Type2.com posting to learn the details and place your order:
This could be the last chance for several years before these shocks are available again, if ever again. Thinking about how much I spend on gasoline these days I quickly got over the sticker shock and the rears feel great so far. I certainly enjoy driving more and isn't the experience of driving a VW bus what it's all about? Plus you'll save money on an unnecessary rear sway bar purchase so it's all good.
Need Another opinion that Konis are great?
The front shocks arrived and I'm in plush suspension heaven. I'm still in the test driving phase trying to figure out what to adjust the fronts to (if any setting other than factory) and I will have more to say in a few weeks.
In the meantime, get you Konis from Bus Depot before they are gone. The number of shocks pre-ordered was less than the production thanks to Bus Depot's investment so there are plenty.
Bus Depot has been able to secure a second run of shocks. Contact them for more information. Koni is under new management and there have been some policy changes concerning special runs of classic shocks. It appears this will be the last time they are available until there is a reversal in policy.
Koni is also raising prices worldwide because of the US/Euro exchange rate so the timing is as good as it's going to get.
So having run the shocks for a while here's my advice on settings:
There are 23 combos left to try out!
The second run of Konis have arrived at Bus Depot and are being mailed out to people who have deposits.
Koni has sent along the extras from the last production run to Bus Depot sooner than expected so a few are still available:
The last few sets at Classic Garage (where I found my NOS Konis) are now gone:
Bus Depot has obtained some more sets from Koni:
Koni Bus Shocks are Back - Get 'em while you can!
Bus Depot has sold out again. Next run is expected around November 2006.
Shocks available again in limited quantities.
Bus Depot has limited qualities available from an unfilled larger order if you buy all 4 at once.
Many thanks to Stewart and Lee at Koni, Tim at Classic Garage, Ian at Toperformance and of course Ron Salmon at Bus Depot for helping to resurrect these parts from the dead so we can enjoy our baywindows to the fullest.
The 80-1349 and 80-1350 Koni shocks for splitwindow do not fit a baywindow nor do they contain the correct valving characteristics for the bus. They are still available but don't let anyone convince you otherwise. The Vanagon suspension changed completely with the 1980 introduction and the valving is way off so those don't work either. If you think I've overlooked something and you've found a suitable replacement for the front shock, please contact me.
Many people have asked me what color red was used to paint their shocks. This is because they want to repaint a chip or make a set of NOS shocks looks new again. While the NOS shocks with the winged logo were slightly orange, the new red Koni uses is NCS 1580-Y80.
NCS - Natural Color System (the standard)
S1580Y - paint code
SHINE 80 - gloss level
If you've ever seen one of the fans below then you have an idea of how these colors have been standardized by number to make reproduction easier.
Here's a NCS 1580-Y80 color sample from the web.
10/16/04 - Created
11/17/04 - Production update
02/20/05 - Front shocks arrived
07/02/05 - Added updated and Type2 links
09/07/11 - Fixed broken photos, added translate button, updated footer