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The Vanagon is perhaps the most versatile of vehicles. It can be everything from a moving Van to a motor home and to some even a sports car. VW upgraded the engine several times after starting with the 2. From the beginning, the water cooled four was plagued with head gasket problems and VW dealers had their hands full with warranty repairs. Do you have a desire for a Syncro Multivan? Or how about a Syncro Carat?
Maybe you just happen to own a Camper with 61K on the odometer and you want better traction in all weathers. We can convert your two wheel drive Vanagon into a Syncro and at the same time install a Subaru engine to give you the ultimate in power, traction, economy and reliability!
We're often asked 'What's the cheapest way to do a Subaru engine conversion? We've designed superbly engineered parts to convert your Vanagon to a smooth, powerful Subaru powerplant. Our kits are a matched and proven set of parts that takes the worry out of building a Subaru powered Vanagon. No scouring the internet, fabricating parts, and worrying about whether muffler A will fit with bracket B.
You will be rewarded with a finished conversion that looks and drives better than the original in every way. We are the only source for the parts necessary to use engines as new as ! We offer these conversions with all 4-cylinder Subaru engines 2. Most important, however, is the reliability, comfort, and peace of mind that a Subaru-powered Bus will provide you.
Small Car Performance is your one stop shop to buying, building, and customizing your perfect Vanagon, Westy, or Syncro! We have a large selection of stock Westies. Buy one as is, or trick one out and turn it into your dream van.What a wonderful vehicle! I am still hooked on those things today. I sold it after a few years to purchase another VW, this time a Notchback. This is a vehicle I have lusted over for several years. The main reason that I wanted this specific model was the engine conversion possibilities.
This picture shows how the Vanagon diesel engine is basically the same engine as the Rabbit diesel, just tilted over on its side. Saturday, October 26th, I removed the diesel engine from the Vanagon. I decided to remove both the engine and the tranny together as a single unit.
The collapsible engine hoist that I bought from Harbor Freight Tools was a big help in removing the engine. All told, it took me about 4 hours to remove the engine and tranny as an assembly, and separate them once out of the Vanagon.Vanagon TDI AHU Swap: Motor's Ready
I also removed the muffler. If I had to do it again, I would remove the muffler while the engine was still in the car. I guess now will be the easiest time to service them.
I plan on replacing all of the boots even though they look fine, they are almost 15 years old when I repack the joints.
Sunday, November 3rd, I removed the gas engine from the donor VW Golf. I also plan on replacing the O-ring seals on the fuel injectors.
I also snapped a few pictures of the diesel 4-spd manual transmission. It is essentially the same as the gas-engined models, except it has different gear ratios, bell housing and input shaft. I will be swapping the bell-housing and input shaft over to a transmission from a gas powered Vanagon before re-installing the engine. Sunday, November 10th, Today I removed components from the diesel engine that need to be transferred to the gas engine.
I also spent time degreasing the gas engine that will be installed. No cool pictures, though. Saturday, November 16th, Got a lot of work done today! I have decided to retain the stock diesel exhaust system, as opposed to fabricating a custom exhaust for the van. As you can see from the picture to the right, the diesel manifold on the left in the photo is quite different from the gas manifold. There is no doubt that the diesel version is much more restrictive than the gas exhaust.
While this will probably hurt the performance slightly, it will make for an easier install. If I am not happy with the power after test driving, I might consider swapping then. I also replaced the fuel injector O-rings. The gas engine is looking pretty complete, and will be ready to install next weekend!
Fellow Vanagon Listmember, Ken Wyatt, found it in a salvage yard and shipped it to me for a very reasonable amount. Thanks Ken! I took some pictures of the gas and diesel transmissions side-by-side so the differences would be visible. On the diesel powered Vanagons, the starter is on the top of the trans, and on the gas models, it is down on the side slightly.
The gas trans also has thicker and more pronounced ribbing on the case.We all know that the stock T-3 Wasserboxer 2. The WBX can be modified to make it perform modestly, but noticeably, better without giving up reliability. But let's face it, the WBX will always feel underpowered compared to modern cars no matter what you do to it.
For some, this is really not a problem. The engine is adequate, and even fun with a little tweaking and the right gearing. For others, however, an engine conversion to a more powerful unit is the only solution. The Subaru engines are now the most popular conversion in the US. Diesel conversions are more popular in Europe, but are catching on in the US. The Wasserboxer. The 2. It's a reliable engine if maintained to spec and if preventative maintenance is performed. Fuel injection wear items like the airflow meter, the O2 sensor, the temp II sensor, and the idle switch must be replaced at some point after 90, miles.
Water pumps should be replaced every 50, miles. Use only OEM filters, fluids and parts. Despite its positive attributes, the WBX is definitely under powered. Some shops offer souped up 2. Modest improvements in performance can be obtained without sacrificing reliability. Balancing the flywheel and clutch can greatly increase smoothness. Ceramic coating the heads prevents leaky gaskets resulting from corrosion and helps contain combustion temperatures for better breathing.
Ceramic coating the headers does the same. If the engine is torn down for rebuild, the pistons crowns should also be ceramic coated. Chrome molly push rods help lighten the valve train. These modest upgrades make the WBX smoother, externally cooler running, noticeably perkier and more fun to drive.
Performance can be further enhanced by slightly lowering the gearing.These Subaru engines are very impressive. They are state of the art engineering with 5 main bearings, 4 valves per cylinder and two overhead cams.
Pix of Sunny's
They feature an engine management computer capable of learning as you drive with input from crank and cam position sensors, knock sensors, oxygen sensors and it controls the spark, fuel injectors, and timing. It has no distributor, cap, or rotor and the motors don't even have plug wires!
The outstanding reliability of these engines is evident by their popularity in light aircraft. The 2. It has great torque throughout the rpm range and keeps up with traffic easily, even in the heavier Westfalia and Syncro and runs extremely well behind both the manual and the automatic transmissions. Fuel mileage has proven to be better than with the stock engine even with the additional power, and all run beautifully on regular gas.
We can use most of the 2. The is a particularly torquey motor and is the perfect engine for the heavier Syncro and Camper Vans. As a horizontally opposed four, the Subaru motor fits like it was meant to be there and all the original Vanagon options can remain functional; cruise control, air conditioning as well as the Syncro skid plate.
All of our conversions include an extensive list of parts that we have developed to make the conversion fit and function better than the original engine. A few years ago, no one would have imagined the number of parts we would eventually develop to make these motors a perfect match for the Vanagon. Here is a partial list:. There are a number of cheaper conversions for the Vanagon, but there isn't one that compares with the fit and function of the Subaru engine using SmallCar parts If you have any questions about a Subaru conversion, don't hesitate to contact our conversion expert, Brian, at or by using our conversion contact form.
OBD1 special: Completely rebuilt high torque 2. There are no hidden costs, just a few options shown as optional items below. We also convert the air cooled Vans. This includes an updated dash and a real heater. Dash air conditioning is optional and works very well.
I put it into 4th leaving Tacoma, and never geared down until the border. There is a hill on the main road of our island that the other Syncro Westy on island with a Waterboxer performance 2. This van sails up the hill in 4th gear.
I'm very pleased and barring the unforeseen I'll be back next fall or winter for the brake up-grade and the drive shaft with the de-coupler.
I'll do my best to send more vans your way. First, as you know I have always kept close track of my '87 Vanagon's gas mileage. For the entire six months before your conversion I averaged I now havemiles on the 2.
I am sure I will do even better this summer when I take my cross country trip. The engine is running beautifully, and it is so quiet at idle that I sometimes have to look at the tach to make sure it is still running when I am at a stop light.
The extra power is the added bonus that is hard to believe. I remember that I use to have to downshift to get up most of the hills in my neighborhood. Even in cruise control on the highway the engine would lug and I would have to downshift up the steeper grades. Now if I set it at 65 it stays there with no sign of slowing down.Vanagon Engine Conversions. There are several reasons that several Vanagon owners have removed the stock engine and replaced it with another.
Some were originally powered by diesel, some by gasoline. Usually, the diesel Vanagon owners desire a power upgrade from the stock 48hp engine. The gas powered Vanagon owners either want more power or to escape the dreaded "head gasket syndrome" that can plauge the wasserboxer engine.
Either way, there are many choices for engine swaps. A word of warning to potential "swappers": Once you convert the engine, be prepared to do all the future repair and maintenance work yourself.
Many professional mechanics will not work on a converted vehicle unless they were the one who did the conversion.
Diesel to Gas Conversions If the current engine is a diesel, the owner must first decide on the fuel that the new engine will use. Some have installed more powerful diesel engines, and others have converted to gasoline power.
Pix of Sunny's
Just like any other choice, there are advantages and disadvantages with either option. When it came time to replace my sick diesel engine, I had a hard time deciding between installing a 1.
Listed below are some pages that outline swaps from diesel to gas engines. David's Hammontree's info is a "must read" for important conversion insights!!
David Andrews' Vanagon diesel to 1. Otmar is also "stretching" his Vanagon - Check it out! Rick Sherrods's Vanagon diesel to Chevy V-6cyl gas engine conversion. There are others that decided to get more power from diesel engines.
The basic options seem to be installing a turbo kit or swapping in the 1. They just were not available in the junkyards when I started the swap project. Here are some pages where the owners upgraded to a more powerful diesel engine. Bob Bellanca's diesel to 1. Dunlap's 1. The TDI is such a great engine that Michael Sullivan has removed his gas powered wasser engine and replaced it with a TDI: Michael Sullivan's wasser to TDI conversion Transmission Information Regardless of the engine upgrade chosen, another issue that diesel Vanagon owners need to deal with is the transmission gear ratios.
The diesel Vanagon transmission have very low gear ratios. Even with the additional power a engine swap provides, the top speed of the Vanagon is limited by engine RPM. There are a few options for dealing with this. Taller tires can be installed, but due to wheel-well clearances, the result is only a modest change in engine cruising RPM.There are plenty of reasons you might be considering an engine conversion for your Vanagon.
Surely one of the top reasons is simply upgrading your tired, outdated Waterboxer. It may have been state-of-the-art back in the 80s, but by now many people find them under powered, problematic, and expensive to maintain, to name a few. We include upgraded Waterboxer options in our list too, as these are commonly compared with the conversions as most of them are just as expensive.
We really focused on simplifying the main comparison. It's very easy to make this overly complicated.
The bottom-line people want to know is: "What can I get for my money? If you want more details click on the "More Info" tab at the bottom of the table. Everyone offers different upgrades and custom options, especially in the Subaru world.
See why we said it can get complicated quickly? These can add thousands more to your final cost if you choose their full packages. One example would be the clutch. You could skimp-out on this "optional" part, but that's not realistic in our opinion. There will literally never be a better time to replace your clutch, as you already have the engine and transaxle pulled apart. To skip it would be very short-sighted in our opinion. You can technically pick some of these parts up for slightly cheaper but you would be making some sacrifices.
Again, our opinion. See next paragraph. This is ridiculously unrealistic in our research, to say the least. There are several factors why:.Utilized in the uber popular and award winning Subaru Outback and Forester models, this engine conversion may be one of the most, if not the most, popular conversion for Vanagons out there.
This is a single overhead cam, horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine displacing 2. Stock tuning produces between hp and around ft-lb of torque. This engine produces great power throughout its RPM range and produces enough power even on heavier rigs at higher elevations. It also generally provides better gas mileage over the Vanagon stock engine. This conversion is popular for a reason. Because these engines come rebuilt, it is important to ensure that the rebuilder uses high quality parts and provides a good warranty to our users.
All of our engines are sourced from Subaru of North America which receive a factory spec overhaul that Subaru's stringent quality standards. This incredibly powerful and quite reliable engine is great for road trippers who are looking to pull hills with ease, drive at highway speeds, and be able to comfortably drive at high elevation.
Heavier rigs would do well with this conversion. Parts are readily available in North America and are more cost effective than the Vanagon stock parts. Serviceability is also easy to attain. Please see our Recommended Upgrades below if this is the engine conversion you choose. This conversion is a good choice for those looking for an adventure rig to use as their family get-away rig or as their daily driver for around town.
A naturally aspirated engine, the Subaru 2. No modification of the deck lid is required. Through research, experience, and constant inquiry with owners running these engines, we have found a reliable source for our rebuilds.
The engines are all prepped by Wild Westy in Boulder, Co. We've sourced only parts and conversion components that reduce wear, reduce these engines overconsumption of oil and keep them running reliably for their owners. For optimal performance and longevity, we recommend using premium grade fuel. The landscape for engine conversions is littered with shops offering to turn your old tired Vanagon into a mean, snarling Subaru converted beast.
Buyer beware. Not all shops source their engines the way we do. It is key to buy rebuilt engines only from shops specializing in rebuilding Subarus to handle the additional weight and aerodynamic drag of the Vanagon. Heavy modifications and conversions to new systems can place strain on older systems that have not been modernized or replaced in your beloved van. We know from experience that there a number of things to take into account when looking at engine conversions of any sort.
The added torque and power of the Subaru motor can put additional strain on your stock Vanagon transmission. This is especially true in 2WD automatic Vanagons.
Though not necessary to overhaul the transmission at this point, it is worth considering if only to reduce future potential failure points along the drivetrain. In addition to rebuilding the gearbox, we highly recommend overhauling the coolant system and related components. The stock radiators and coolant pipes in your Vanagon are likely warn out it's best to replace those parts while everything in the engine bay is taken apart. Although we try to ensure that any conversions we do are approached more as holistic systems rather than simply looking at power outputs, with the Subaru conversion it is not possible to source new parts since, by definition, these engines and their management systems are used.
We do however wire up our Subaru conversions to an engine management and monitoring system so any issue with your engine can be easily diagnosed by Subaru technicians around the country. Drive On. Make An Appointment. Service Types. Meet Stephen. Contact Us. Subaru Conversion.