Retractible Seat Belts

by Andy McKinley, John Holland, Eric Johnson, Steve Lashley, David Schwarze, Robert Taylor, and Dave Kinerson

Andy McKinley writes:

I installed retractable lap/shoulder belts purchased from JC Whitney in the front of my '72 and they're fantastic. And they bolt right into the existing holes. They are JC Whitney part #'s 12FA6244U (black), 14FA5083N (tan), 14FA5244T (navy), 13FA5211T (red), 14FA5200N (maroon), and 14FA5115N (silver/gray). Ready for the price? $97.99 EACH--but worth every penny in my humble opinion. They are very modern and easy to use, and they come with a long, stiff female end that attaches to the side of the wheel well and stays up off the floor just like the originals. As a matter of fact, the entire installation goes just like stock. And they look like they belong there.

Whitney also has lap belts that work well in the rear seats (black 90" long is part # 81FA2244U for $15.99, occasionally they run these on sale for $11.99) and they're a pretty good match for the retractables.

John Holland writes:

I installed the "Type2 List Favourite" JC Whitney Retractable seat/shoulder belts in my '77 Westy yesterday. Once I figured out how to do it, it was two hours of easy work. They are a welcome improvement.

The B pillar belt hangar needed to be spaced away from the body to clear a flange, so I visited a hardware store for washers. (With the hanger bolt having part of its length unsupported, will it bend or break in an accident?)

It took me a while to decide where to mount the reel. The only easy place was to attach it to the anchor point outboard of seat. (The bolt securing this anchor point now will have two forces acting on it in an accident.)

To install the belts I used a mix of fasteners from the original belts, items from seat belt parts kit, and hardware store washers.

There are three attachment points. I worked on them in this order:

Anchor Point Outboard of Seat: Used the original bolt and washer. Stacking order from floor: original washer, 90 degree bracket (vertical part facing outward parallel to door), lap belt end plate, original bolt. Having the end plate above the bracket allows freedom of movement for belt, since the end plate doesn't have a bend in it. Tightened bolt into body, then installed reel vertically, inboard of bracket, using nut, bolt and washer from belt parts kit. Reel is vertical, but angled slightly toward rear of vehicle to allow belt a straight run to B pillar attachment. Clearance between reel bolt and door panel - driver's side: 1/4 inch - passenger's side: 0 inch (!).

B Pillar Belt Hanger: Used the original metal washer and the two original plastic washers. Used bolt, flat washer, sleeve for belt hanger from seat belt parts kit. Purchased washers so belt hanger out from body enough to allow the hanger to pivot without hitting the vertical flange on pillar. Stacking order from B Pillar: original washer, about 3/8 inch of extra washers as spacers, plastic washer, sleeve inside belt hanger, plastic washer, kit flat washer, kit bolt. The plastic covers for the belt hangers were interfering with belt movement, so I filed a bit off the bottom of the covers.

Anchor Point Inboard of Seat: Used original bolt and washer.

First Impressions: Belt material seems lighter, more flexible than original belts. Reel seems to lock a bit too easily; have to put belt on slowly. Nice to be able to lean forward without restriction. Can reach into glove compartment without taking off belt. Lap and shoulder belt still seems fairly snug, but doesn't give as much support when cornering. Passenger belt buckle lower and closer to seat than on driver's side, making buckling belt a bit more difficult. Reel location hinders access to area behind driver's seat.

The old belts were dated 20 May 1976, so it was time to replace them.

Supplier: JC Whitney 12YN6244U Black Seat/Shoulder Belts with Locking Retractor.

Manufacturer: Beam's Industries, Inc. Oklahoma City, USA. Model PBLRCH301, #10643. Dated: November 1997.

New Mexican Type 2 Seatbelts

[New retractible seat belts are currently available for VW buses built in South America. With minor hardware modification (if any) these can be installed on '68-'79 buses. The trick is ordering directly from Mexico, or finding a vendor who does.]

Eric Johnson provides the part #s:

Hola cuates,

Part numbers (with names in English and Spanish) are: (Bolts, washers and batteries not included.)

kombi seatbelt (years 87 - 93)
Cinturon de Combi (a�os 87 al 93)

drivers side belt assembly
lado del conductor - BAS857705A
400 pesos

passenger side belt assembly
lado derecho - BAS857706A
413 pesos

buckle assembly (2 needed - same for both sides)
broche (mismo los dos lados) - BAS857777A
75 pesos

kombi seatbelt (years 94 - present)
Cinturon de Combi (a�os 94 al dia)

drivers side belt assembly
lado del conductor - BAC857705E
306 pesos

passenger side belt assembly
lado derecho - BAC857706
306 pesos

The guy told me there's not letter at the end, but I would suspect that it should be E.

buckle assembly (2 needed - same for both sides)
broche (mismo los dos lados) - BAS857777A
75 pesos

Steve Lashley ( writes:

I'm importing sets of retractable seatbelts from Mexico. These were used on buses made in Mexico in the 1980's. They will fit most bay window buses with little modification. You will need some longer bolts for your upper shoulder mount, and I suggest some longer bolts as well for mounting the retractable part behind your seat. I may include some of these parts later on in a kit, but for now you will need to buy your own.

I installed these in my '74 Campmobile and can't tell you enough how much I love them. They fit well, and I can now adjust the radio, or reach over and open the passenger window without having to slip off the belt. Best of all, these are genuine VW parts.

The seatbelt conversion only takes about an hour to install. You receive both the left and right retractable hardware, and 2 seat belt receiving ends that mount in the stock location. The new buckle ends are made of heavy rubber coated cable, and will want to lay on the floor when not in use. I made a little loop of cloth attached to the seat frame to hold them up next to my seats.

David Schwarze writes:

For those interested in a lower priced alternative, get some Vanagon seatbelts from the junkyard and fabricate a simple "L" bracket out of 3/16" steel (available for a few dollars at hardware stores) for the lower mount. I did this and it works well and is also made up of genuine VW parts, except for the bracket. You can use the existing upper seatbelt mount bolt or use a longer one and make a spacer so it will pivot. It does not pivot with the stock, short bolt but I secured it at a 45 degree angle and it works fairly well that way if you're careful about how you pull it. Someday I will make the spacer so it can pivot again, but even as it is, it's miles ahead of the stock belts, which everyone agrees are a royal PITA.

Robert Taylor writes:

A few years ago I installed 3 point seatbelts from a Rabbit (I think- maybe an Audi of some sort- got 'em already removed form a junkyard) in my 1978 VW bus. I manufactured an L-shaped bracket with two holes to bolt the seatbelt spool to and one bolt to the floor of the bus next to front seats, outboard. I replaced my receivers on the inboard sides of the seats with the junkyard ones since they don't quite fit the original ones. I like 'em OK but there are at least three problems with them that my passengers (most notably my luvin' wife) complain about chronically:

Problem1- The lock is a tad sensitive. You have to pull them out slowly or they lock on you. I never have trouble with this, but the impatient jerk on them and complain every time.

Problem2- The Rabbit (or whatever) is a smaller car than the bus. There is barely enough belt to work in the bus. I run out of belt if I lean forward much. A large friend of mine doesn't have enough belt to buckle the thing. I can imagine ways to manufacture an attachment point for the spool end of the belt somewhere partways up the column behind the front doors, but then it might interfere with turning the passenger seat around to face aft. In any case the stock attachment location results in a lot of belt used up between the spool and the shoulder attach point.

Problem3- the receivers are a bit low- my passengers are always fishing around looking for them and complaining. I have no problems.

Folks have been lobbying for years for me to "solve my seatbelt problem" when I thought I already had. I've found this solution to be less than optimal.

Dave Kinerson writes:

Recently there has been a discussion about using seat belts from a Rabbit or some such in a bread loaf. Good idea if they are like new and fit, but I need to add my $.05 worth here. You must NOT use old seat belts from old cars, especially from a wrecked car. Here's why.

It seems that I once worked for a crash test facility for New York State DOT. I designed the instrumentation for the various tests. One of the things that I learned about seat belts is they must stretch a little during a crash. The reason for this is that when you crash you are thrown against them with a least a couple of "Gs" of force, usually more. When your body hits the belt, it is like hitting a wall. The reason that the belt is kept sung to the body is to reduce the traveling distance to the first object struck. The stretchiness of the belt absorbs some of the impact and lessens the injury to the body.

As seat belts age they tend to get dirty with stuff from McDonalds and the like. This dirt will make the belt stiff. A stiff belt will not have the give that it should have and will cause serious injury to the body if you hit it with any significant force.

A seat belt from a wrecked car is even worse. Here the fibers are pulled to their design limit resulting in no possible stretch at all. To prove my point, in the owners manual of every Volvo, there is a statement that informs the owner to replace the seat belts in the event of a accident. Now I don't give a hoot about Volvos but the point here is this, this manufacturer recognizes that seat belts stretched in an accident must be replaced.

I am of the opinion that driving with stiff seat belts is nearly as dangerous as driving with original fuel line. What you don't know can be very dangerous.

If you insist on using used belts, make sure that they have some stretchyness left in them. Go find a new car and feel the things. Then go looking for belts. I think you find that you will wind up doing what I did and order either a set of original belts or perhaps get a set of generic belts from your favorite supplier.

In my 76 Westy, I used retractable seat belts from J. C. Whitney. I found that the original belt mounting holes (for the lack of a better term) would accept the bolts supplied from J. C. Whitney (JCW). The threads matched and screwed right in. I used the supplied "L" bracket to mount the retractor vertically behind the front seat and I mounted the "shoulder loop" with the original hardware. I had to replace the original buckle with the JCW one and used the original bolt here as well.

I noted the following things about this setup. The J.C. Whitney retractable belts will not latch gently to relieve that annoying tension on the shoulder. This can be a bit of a problem for short drivers with the seat pulled forward. I keep the seat full to the rear and it doesn't seem to bother. The are also a little long for this application, and will not fully retract. This means that the belt will fall out the door every time you get out. I just stuff it back behind the seat when I get out. You get used to it. Finally it would be nice if the buckle end could be made to stay near the edge of the seat instead of lying on the floor. But as I said, you get used to it.

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