Is that a real Camper?
Real Campers Have Stoves And Sinks!
Eurovan 1995 Camper
The VW Vanagon Westfalia is nearly perfect for our every need except for its ability to climb even modest grades at speeds traveled by the owners of almost every auto built over the last 40 years. Because of this and the perceived poor engineering by some, many Vanagon
1997 Eurovan Camper
owners have experimented with other engines. People have installed American V6 and V8s, Porsche flat 6s, Mazda Rotarys, many variations on the VW in line four (both gas and diesel), several Subaru and even electric motors! The mainstays of the Vanagon engine community, however, are the Subaru, the VW inline four and the VW diesel engines.
Finally, the Subaru engines have superior technology and construction. These engines have a very stout water pump and timing belt which show almost no discernible wear at 100k miles. These are the same parts that have long been problematic on VW engines. Subaru engines also use five full size main bearings, four valves per cylinder and a much better engine management system than VW. They have distributor less ignition and continuous drive belts instead of v belts. Parts availability should also be a factor in any conversion. Subaru parts are very available everywhere in the US.
In my many years of experience doing conversions, I have found the Subaru engine to be the best choice. First, it is a very good fit. This engine is a boxer engine that is almost identical in size and weight to the Vanagon engine (4 cylinder engines). Moreover, a modified oil pan with satisfactory oil capacity can be utilized to maintain stock ground clearance, which is very important to syncro owners. And there is no need to modify the engine hatch lid.
Second, the engine performs very well. Since boxer motors of all types are inherently balanced and Subaru engines use a counterweighted crankshaft, they run very smoothly. The engine is so balanced that it happily turns 6500 rpms with no problems. They are also powerful. The least powerful of all the Subaru engines used in Vanagons, the EJ22, puts out 130 hp. More importantly, and unlike the in-line VW conversions, it has 80% of its available torque at 2000 rpm, which is especially important in a syncro. And with the range of Subaru engines that will fit in a Vanagon, you can get up to 250 hp out of a stock motor if you so desire.
What about Diesel? The question of gas vs. diesel is best answered by asking what you want most from you Vanagon. First let me say that no diesel engine currently running in any Vanagon (including TDI) has the performance to accelerate like a Subaru powered Vanagon. Driving any diesel vehicle is an acquired taste. The diesel Vanagon will undoubtedly get better fuel economy. But the TDI engine does not fit under the Vanagon deck lid and may pose emissions certification issues depending on where you live.
Ah yes, there must be some drawbacks, aren't there? Of course. A Subaru conversion will take longer to get done that an in line 4 VW which can be done in a little a day or two. Any Subaru conversion takes at least 40 hours of work. Also the Subaru is quite a bit more technically challenging for the do-it-yourselfer than some other conversions. Cost is also a factor. In most instances a Subaru conversion will cost more than a VW gas engine conversion, but significantly less than a TDI conversion.