Turbo Porsche Vanagon

Build The Perfect Tow/Ski/Commuter Vehicle
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 Vanagon?"

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 motivation.

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 Mercedes wheels):

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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Tom Carrington