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All is well. It ain't missing. There are two styles of VVT's. Our (earlier) cars have a centrifugally activated VVT. The VVT is under the cam cover. The later cars have a solenoid activated VVT. The solenoid is attached to the front right side of the cam cover.
 

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Okay this makes a lot more sense now. No one ever seems to mention the earlier centrifugal type of vvt.
That's because they are a simpler mechanical system. No solenoid to operate/adjust with electrical contacts/circuit boards to worry about.
 

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Is there anyway to check if its working?
Yes, if you remove the camshaft. See the description of operation above.

Anyone had any experience converting from the later electronic actuation to earlier mechanical?

Anyone know if those are compatible?
It should be a bolt in operation if you swap the complete camshafts (you can not swap just the VVT device). The cam cover is different on the later VVT engine for the solenoid attachment. So, use the earlier VVT & the cam cover from that engine. Secure the solenoid operating wires - cover any exposed terminals - and tuck it out of the way. Don't cut or remove it so it can be re-used if you or a future owner wants to revert back to solenoid operated VVT.
 
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