What time frame does a Subaru engine conversion require?

We like to prepare the engine ahead of time when possible. This usually takes about a week. After the Vanagon arrives, we usually have it finished in 2 weeks. Add 1-2 days each for upgrades to brakes, suspension, heaters, etc. Transmission rebuilds can add some more time, please inquire.

What engine would you recommend for a passenger Van or a 2wd Westy?

The smallest Subaru engine we install is the 2.2L with 135-142 horsepower. This four valve overhead cam is a huge improvement over the stock 2.1L engine. In power, smoothness and torque range, the difference is dramatic and amazing. The 4 speed Vans are much easier to drive because of the broad torque band and the automatic Vans are no longer anemic and seemingly over-revving at highway speeds. For many owners, this engine has all the power they need.

The 2.5L is are our most popular Subaru engine. The phase II 2.5L with 165-173hp and 155-166 lb/ft of torque are remarkably well suited to a Vanagon and the power curve makes for much less shifting than with the stock 2.1L Waterboxer. Since the parts and labor needed to install a 2.2 and a 2.5L engine is the same, most customers choose to spend a bit more for the 2.5 with additional power and a generally newer engine (up to 2012). Our published prices are accurate with no hidden costs and just a few optional items.

Can I supply my own engine?

Yes! Please be absolutely sure you have all the parts necessary for the conversion shown on our donor page before your appointment time. We will ask for a copy of your checklist.

Keep in mind that when we supply the engine, we warranty the total job, parts and labor, whereas if you supply the engine we warranty only our parts, and if there is a problem with the engine, the labor is your responsibility.

Could you provide a recommendation for the following? I have an '89 Syncro Westy and I plan to drive about 80/20 onroad/offroad. I would like more reliability, power, and ease of driving.

The heavy Syncro Westy is the only Vanagon that could be said to need at least a 165hp 2.5L to get around in a reasonable and safe manner. The 2.5 performs great and of course vastly better than the original engine in an otherwise stock Syncro Westy. The 2010-2012 2.5L engines that we are now able to use make their peak hp and torque 400rpm lower than the earlier 2.5's. This results in a lot more power where you use it most.

What about the newer 3.0L H6 Subaru engine?

The 2001-2004 Subaru 3-liter, 24-valve six-cylinder engine produces 212 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 210 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. It is a compromise between the thrilling power of the 3.3L six and the fantastic fit and economy of the 2.5L four. The mileage is only fair. In our considered opinion, the compromises do not add up to a good value.

The 2005 and later 3.0R has 250 horsepower and has enough for the most power hungry enthusiast. This later model engine requires the use of an aftermarket fuel system which adds substantial complexity and expense.

Both the 3.0L engines are a bit taller than the 2.2 and 2.5L so some ground clearance is lost. Also there is a 3-4 mile per gallon mileage penalty compared to the 2.5L.

I am seriously interested in picking up an older Vanagon and converting it. Do you have a recommendation of what year and/or model is good for conversions?

Any year water cooled is good. Syncros and campers are worth more so those are more popular for conversions. Newer models and low mileage Vanagons hold more value and they are all appreciating, making them a very wise investment.

Can a 1980-1983 air cooled Vanagon be converted?

Yes, we have converted a few air cooled Vans that were especially prized by their owners. The addition cost to install the cooling and heater system is $3000-$4000, depending on how many used versus new parts are utilized.

I like the idea of the 2.0L turbo engine. Can that one be used?

Yes, we have converted a number of 2wd Vanagons using the WRX's 228hp 2.0L turbo. You can to some extent have decent mileage and fantastic power with this motor and they do have the advantage of losing very little power at altitude, unlike a normally aspirated engine. The 2.5L turbo is unbelievable in a Vanagon, with no turbo lag and smooth power from 1500rpm on up. Upgrading other parts of the Van become important with the over 200hp engines, so you should plan on major upgrading of the transmission if it's an automatic, as well as the brakes and wheels and tires, since these are no longer adequate with all that power on tap. A Westfalia camper with 200+ horsepower becomes a kind of motorhome on steroids and really needs some help in handling and stopping.

I have thought about buying a new car or van that gets better mileage and has lower emissions. Why wouldn't I want to do that rather than sinking a whole bunch of money into an old Vanagon?

  1. Unique utility
    Many customers have told us that they have searched for a replacement for their Vanagon and could not find another vehicle like it. From seven seat passenger Vans to Campers and Pickups, it's hard to find a vehicle that can do everything a Vanagon will do.
  2. Resale value
    A Vanagon today has bottomed out as far as book value goes and is on it's way up! Syncro Westys are selling consistently for more money than they cost new a couple of decades ago, Westfalias are doing the same and the rest of the Vanagons are close behind. The Subaru powered Vanagons are bringing more than those with the stock engine and a nice Vanagon will be worth more in 5 or 10 years than it is today.
  3. Carbon footprint
    Research has concluded that it takes the equivalent of more than a year's worth of fuel to build a new vehicle. Scientists determined this by doing a lifecycle analysis; a detailed study of the raw materials used to build the vehicle, where the materials came from and the energy it took to collect them. Carbon used in manufacturing is important, since manufacturing is 10-15% of the car's lifecycle carbon footprint. This is referred to as the vehicle's embedded energy. If the car you have is reasonably efficient, then getting rid of it and buying a new eco-friendly car may actually negate a lot of the benefit of having a car that gets better mileage and is cleaner. A Vanagon conversion may be the perfect answer; reuse an older Vanagon, install a recycled Subaru engine and have a vehicle that gets better mileage and has lower emissions.

I was looking at the performance Waterboxer engines and thinking that keeping as close to original as possible would be best. Why not?

It makes sense that a high performance waterboxer would have all the same issues as a stock Vanagon engine plus a few extra. The stock 1.9 and 2.1L engine's basic design is from the 1940s, and any 1990-2012 Subaru engine will outperform in mileage, power, smoothness and longevity. Also of value I believe is replacing the waterboxer alternator, A/C compressor, ECU, fuel system, and exhaust piping with newer parts. If you do a price comparison and include the items that are part of our installation package, our 2.2L is about the same price as a 2.4L performance waterboxer and the 2.5L Subaru is about same as a 2.5L waterboxer. Plus, the Subarus run perfectly on regular gas. Honestly, in comparing the performance, longevity and efficiency of the two engines, it is not even a fair contest. The Subaru wins hands down. If VW built a Vanagon today, the engine would look like a Subaru.

Where will I find a shop to service my Subaru powered Vanagon?

Our customers have told us frequently that finding a shop to do repairs and service after a conversion is completed is little different from finding a place to repair the Van with the original engine. VW dealers are generally not an option but often an independent shop that has provided good service in the past is willing and able to continue with the Subaru engine installed. Subaru powered Vanagons have reached the point where most shops and technicians have already seen and worked on one or more and can easily perform quality service. The generic OBD2 diagnostic port is very helpful and is familiar to all technicians today. We of course are able to offer technical assistance when needed.

I am looking for a Vanagon or a Vanagon camper to add a Subaru engine for touring/camping. If I am more concerned about weight and performance, would the "weekender" be the one to get? Are you able to find these with a solid body? Any advice on where to look? What year? Later is better? With a blown engine?

Any western US Vanagon would probably be good as far as rust goes. If you don't need the sink and stove, a weekender or base model camper would be great. All the different years of the watercooled Vanagons are similar in the interior and exterior, the later ones generally have nicer upolstery and have more of the options like A/C, power windows, door locks, cruise etc.

Can I test drive a converted Vanagon?

Sure. Please give us a call if you are going to be in our area and we will try to accommodate you.

Do you take Credit Card payments?

Yes, we take all the bankcards, debit cards, checks and cash as well as Paypal E-checks.

How much deposit do you need to start?

If we are supplying the engine, we ask for an initial deposit that covers the engine cost. When the Vanagon arrives here, we ask for 50% of the estimate plus the cost of wheel/tire upgrades or other special order items.

What maintenance is required and where can I get my 500 mile service done?

We very strongly suggest a 500 mile service to check over all newly installed parts. This service is free in our shop.

What happens to my old parts?

The old engine and any other parts are yours if desired and you should plan on picking those up when picking up your Vanagon.

Can you do any maintenance and repairs to my Vanagon during the conversion?

It is a very good time to look at ball joints, cv joints and other things that may need replacement or servicing. Let us know what you would like us to inspect, service or replace. There is labor savings on some items. We also have a glass installer and can replace a windshield for $225.

I have heard stories in the last few years of people that had Vanagons with Subaru engines, some even installed by shops, who had problems with the conversion. Why wouldn't I expect to have some of the same issues.

The Subaru to Vanagon engine swaps started over twenty years ago and the learning curve to make the combination work well has been long. We did our first conversion about 13 years ago and it was the world's first 3.3L Subaru six cylinder installation. We then did the first 2.5L and have been looking forward ever since. I am happy to say that the learning curve has flattened out nicely and that our conversion customers today find their converted Vanagon to exceed their expectations.

My local repair shop wants to do the conversion for me. Can they do the job as well as you would?

While most of our parts are available to purchase, a shop that starts doing Subaru conversions steps up onto the learning curve (see answer above) and is going to take some time to be proficient at doing the swaps. This either means a very expensive conversion, too many hours to make a reasonable profit on the job, or the need to take shortcuts to get the Van done quickly. Usually what happens is some combination of the above, and us getting lots of calls for help. This is especially true for the 3.3L and the 2.0L turbo engines. The number of shops in the US specializing in conversions is very limited so please call us and we may be able to recommend a shop in your area that has done conversions. Recently we rebuilt the cooling system on a conversion that was done in a Seattle shop. The owner of that Vanagon said "If anyone thinks your conversions are too expensive, please have them call me. Mine ended up costing much more in time and money!"

A WRX engine is up for sale on Ebay. Should I consider buying and shipping to you, or do you only deal in engines that you supply?

We do install customer supplied engines, but you need to be sure to get all the required components. When we supply the engine, we guarantee the engine and the installation. In other words, if you purchase an engine from a junkyard and it has a problem, they might warranty the engine but not the labor. On an Ebay engine, you are lucky to get any warranty at all. If we supply the engine, we are responsible for the engine being in good condition and running well once it's installed. One customer bought an incomplete engine and by the time he was through, he had spent almost $4000 after buying many of the missing components from the dealer.

What changes do you make to the automatic transmission?

For the 2.2 and 2.5L normally aspirated engines, we install an external transmission oil cooler and in some cases modify the governor to shift at a little higher RPM. Rebuilding the transmission is not necessary although some owners take advantage of the fact that the transmission will be out of the car to rebuild a high mileage unit. We do have a terrific limited slip differential for a great improvement in traction. For the 2.0L turbo, we strongly recommend upgrading the internals of the auto trans. Please call for information on that.

How about the manual transmissions?

With the additional torque available, there is an opportunity to lower the RPMs at highway speeds for a quieter ride, less wear on the engine and better mileage. This can be accomplished by changing the 4th gear ratio or in some cases changing third and fourth gear. The more torque you have available, the greater the logic of using the taller gears. Wheel and tire changes can affect the engine RPMs also and should be discussed at the same time. We also have a terrific limited slip differential available for a huge improvement in traction.

What about emissions testing. Is there anything there I should be aware of?

In states where there is simply a tailpipe emission test, you should pass emissions easily. Most of California and some parts of Alaska require an inspection from a referee and we offer some special options for those areas. Please call for more information on those.

What clutch do you use?

We use a Subaru style clutch for all our conversions and have two different versions depending on the engine used. Our integrated clutch slave-release bearing results in a silky smooth pedal and the Subaru flywheel means smoother power at low RPM's.

Does the installation include a new exhaust?

All the engine installations include a new stainless steel exhaust header. Your "J" pipe, cat, muffler and tailpipe can be reused for the 2.2 and 2.5L, or we have an optional complete stainless exhaust. The 3.3 and the 2.0L turbo installations include a complete new 2 1/4" system.

On a Syncro with much larger than stock tires, what do you do about the spare tire?

If we install a decoupler, a smaller spare can be used as a temporary spare. If no decoupler is installed, the alternatives are to stick to a tire size that will fit in the stock or modified spare area or to add a tire carrier over the back bumper or on the roof. Our modified spare carrier holds up to about a 215/65-16 tire.

Do your Syncro springs make the ride stiff at all?

They really help with cornering, raise the ride height just a little and are a little stronger in the rear. I don't think the springs make the Van stiff. They just make the Syncro Westfalia ride more like a passenger Syncro or slightly better. The Syncro passenger Vans see much improved handling and additional ground clearance important for off-road travel.