Turbo Porsche Vanagon
Build The Perfect Tow/Ski/Commuter Vehicle
BY C. VAN TUNE
VW & PORSCHE April 1986
If you were the owner of a thriving Porsche repair shop and have
already owned just about every German-built toy there is, what
would you drive for your own personal car?
Well, if you're a person like Denny Kahler, you'd come up with
something more than just a little bit different. As the
principal behind Kahler's Porsche & Mercedes Repair of Dublin,
California, Denny has held title to the entire gamut of Black
Forest machinery, including seven VWs, three Vanagons, five
Mercedes, and eleven Porsches (ranging from a '59 356
convertible D to a '78 930, to a '70 914-6 and '79 928).
Needless to say, filling this gentleman's automotive bill would
be a task none too easy.
Then, one day, a 1981 Vanagon found its way to Denny's shop. it
fulfilled most of the requirements he was looking for in a
personal/recreational vehicle (room for his family, ability to
haul parts for the shop, powerful enough to tow a boat, and
"uniqueness") with the exception of having the towing capacity
and power he required. Then a lightbulb went on.
"Hey, I've got that old 911 engine that's just sitting there,
wonder if we could plug it in the Vanagon? ... Yeah, it should
fit, but wouldn't it be fun if we could add something extra? ...
The factory did it for Dr. Porsche ... so how's about a turbo
Once the notion was made, the work began. Four months later,
Denny drove his externally stock '81 VW Vanagon out of the shop
.. however this time it had a turbocharged 911 engine for
Although much of the work required was fabrication, Denny tells
us that the whole process really wasn't that difficult.
(However, having unlimited use of his Porsche repair shop
probably didn't hurt.) The stock VW engine was removed, and work
begun on the '67 911 motor. The block was bored for 7.5:1
compression European (2.7-liter) pistons, and oil squirters
added, with a crankshaft from a 2.2 911S counterbalanced with
911 2.2 rods. 1969 911S heads were ported and polished and
machined for use with the larger pistons, while 911SC cams were
called into duty for lift and duration chores. Topping the heads
are '75 911S manifolds and an airbox fabricated from aluminum,
with Bosch CIS injection pieced together with help from SC fuel
distribution components and a 930 Turbo warm-up regulator. The
turbo itself is an AiResearch T04 wheel with Turbonetics
wastegate set at six psi, breathing filtered air through an
extensively modified BMW air cleaner mounted in the fender.
A Bosch CD ignition sparks the fuel mixture of the voracious
powerplant, which utilizes the talents of SC headers with heater
boxes and a fabricated muffler to direct the spent gases.
Auxiliary oil coolers do a good job of keeping the temps low in
the 215+ hp engine (165 hp at the rear wheels) which drives
through a v-e-r-y stock '81 Vanagon transaxle (over 88,000
original miles; 20,000 with the turbo engine ... no problems)
mated to a 911S clutch.
Definitely the "sleeper" of the year, Denny's turbo Vanagon
looks like any other VW bus from the outside. It's only when you
peer closely that the Mercedes 14x6.5-inch alloys and Pirelli
225/60VR14 radials (they're backed up by Bilstein shocks) and
the discreet "VW PORSCHE" logo on the rear deck lid become
apparent. On the inside, too, this Vanagon is essentially stock,
with only,the installation of a Porsche gauge pod incorporating
an 8000 rpm tach, oil temp and pressure indicators and a turbo
boost gauge belying the vehicle's attempt at deception.
We had the opportunity to spend some time behind the wheel of
this one-of-a-kind VW, and came away with a great appreciation
of Denny Kahler's work. The Vanagon is tremendously smooth, with
plenty of torque down low that builds to a rush of horsepower as
the revs come up. Zero-to-sixty mph times (using gentle starting
line tactics) are 9.0 seconds, with a top speed of 100-110 mph
determined by the bravado of the driver.
The best part of it all, Denny tells us, is when he's got the
Vanagon packed with people, pulling his boat, and blasts by
Corvettes on long grades.
Photo captions (photos show a dark-colored 81 Westfalia! with
Heavily modified turbocharged 2.7-liter Porsche powerplant
resides in thls Vanagon's engine bay. Output is in excess of
215hp, and drives through stock Vanagon transaxle.
Interior Is basically stock, with exception of Porsche gauge
panel featuring an 8000 rpm tach, oil temp and pressure
indicators, and turbo boost dial.
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