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. 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 1.6 turbo-diesel or the 1.8 gasoline engine. Listed below are some pages that outline swaps from diesel to gas engines.

TomC's Vanagon diesel to VW Golf/Jetta 1.8L gas engine conversion.
David Hammontree's Vanagon diesel to VW Golf/Jetta 1.8L gas engine conversion.
  • David's Hammontree's info is a "must read" for important conversion insights!!
    Tom Gray's Vanagon diesel to VW Golf 1.8L gas engine conversion.
    David Andrews' Vanagon diesel to 1.8L gas engine conversion.
    Jim Digennaro's Vanagon diesel to VW Golf/Jetta 1.6L engine conversion.
    Otmar Ebenhoech's Vanagon diesel to VW Jetta 2.0L gas engine conversion.
  • Otmar is also "stretching" his Vanagon - Check it out!
    Michael von Hoegen's Vanagon diesel to VW VR6 (V-6) engine conversion.
    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 1.6 TD or 1.9 TD (Turbo Diesel) or VW's new engine, the 1.9 TDI (Turbo Direct Injection). It has been over 2 years since I started the swap on my vanagon - But if I had to do it again, I would install the TDI. 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.

    Martin Schulte's Vanagon diesel to VW TDI engine conversion.
    Bob Bellanca's diesel to 1.9l VW TD conversion.(Courtesy of Martin Jägersand)
    Henry F. Dunlap's 1.6L diesel with aftermarket turbo kit installation

    Björn Ratjen has been researching the possibility of getting new TDI engines for conversions. He has written several newsletters, which can be accessed below:

    Björn's first TDI conversion newsletter.
    Björn's TDI conversion newsletter #2.
    Björn's TDI conversion newsletter #3.
    Björn's TDI conversion newsletter #4.
    Björn's TDI conversion newsletter #5.
    Björn's TDI conversion newsletter #6.
    Björn's TDI conversion newsletter #7.

    Björn has also started a TDI conversion mail list at for people intersted in the conversion process.

    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. Another method is to replace the final drive (ring & pinion) gears with a higher ratio set. This needs to be done by a transmission shop with the proper fixtures to shim and set the preload/backlash properly. The last option is to purchase a transmission from a gasoline powered vanagon, and install the diesel bellhousing. This last procedure is what I did, and is outlined on page 2 of my engine swap. To help identify transmissions, Helmut Zeidler has prepared a table of different transmissions and their gear ratios.

    Helmut Zeidler's transmission ratio page

    Gas to Other Gas Engine Conversions

    Gasoline powered Vanagon owners typically have to choose between engine cooling methods. To convert to a water cooled from an air-cooled engine requires the addition of cooling hoses and a radiator. An interior heating system must be retrofitted to the Vanagon as well. If the Vanagon is already water-cooled, the existing cooling and interior heating system is plumbed to the new engine. Here are some pages that cover swaps from one gas powered engine to another.

    Helmut Zeidler's Vanagon air-cooled gas to Audi 5-cyl engine conversion.
    William Kennedy's Vanagon air-cooled gas to Porsche 6-cyl engine conversion.
  • William also wrote up a detailed installation summary on this conversion.
    Denny Kahler's Vanagon air-cooled gas to turbo Porsche 6-cyl engine conversion.
    Fueltronic's Vanagon air-cooled gas to Subaru 4-cyl engine conversion.
    Tim Smith's Vanagon Crew Cab wasserboxer to to Subaru 4-cyl engine conversion.
    Ron Bloomquist's wasserboxer to to Subaru 4-cyl engine conversion.
    Tom and Dick Myer's pair of wasserboxers to Subaru 4-cyl engine conversions.
    Markus Benne's Syncro wasser to Subaru 4-cyl conversion.
    Raimund Feussner's wasserboxer to Audi V-6 engine conversion.
    Rob Winterkorn's wasserboxer to 1.8L GTI and 1.8L 16-valve engine conversions.
    David Marshall's wasserboxer to VW/Audi 4-cyl engine conversion.
    Sean B.'s wasserboxer to 2.0L 4-cyl VWoSA/Tiico engine conversion.
    Patrick Dooley's Vanagon wasserboxer to Ford 2.3L/4-cyl engine conversion.

    Vanagon Engine Conversion Vendors

    Fast Forward sells a complete Vanagon engine conversion kit to install a VW 1.8L or 2.0L-4 cylinder engine. They will also sell you the individual parts of the kit if you don't need everything.

    Van-Again has a VW 4-cylinder conversion kit. This kits appear to use parts from South Africa, where Vanagons are still made and powered by the inline 4-cylinder engines. You can either buy the complete kit (including engine) from Van-Again, or just the basic kit to install your own 4-cylinder engine.

    MSDS sells a Porsche 911 3.2L engine conversion kit. While the Porsche engine is expensive, that has to be one fast vanagon!

    Kennedy Engineering offers engine adaptors, flywheels and other components to put a Subaru or almost any other engine in your Vanagon.

    Tii Trading Company has a 2.0L Golf with Motronic engine management Vanagon conversion kit. Their kit is based on the parts used by Volkswagen of South Africa, where the 2.0L is a stock offering in the Vanagon.

    Webtracker counter Last updated: 11/25/2001
    Please stop back soon!