Vanagon Drivetrain

Tips and review of our Vanagon Subaru Conversion

For the actual professionals out there we are doing and sharing things about our Vanagon that works well for us otherwise we won’t share. One of the great prides of this vehicle is our Vanagon Subaru Conversion done to it. We are not professional Vanagon mechanics or mechanics at all we’ve just learned enough over the years of working on our own stuff to know our way around a vehicle pretty well. So please if you read something that is incorrect and you think your input would really help us out then by all means email us or comment in the forum area. Thanks!

vanagon-subaru-conversionLike I said our T3 Volkswagen Vanagon came with a Subaru EJ22 engine out of a 1994 Subaru Legacy. It’s a 2.2 liter boxer engine with around 135 horsepower stock. This is the most common and easy Vanagon Subaru conversion for the Volkswagen Vanagons giving you about 60% more power over the stock Volkswagen wasserboxer engine and priceless amounts more dependability. These Subaru engines are bullet proof as long as you don’t consistently overheat them. Overheating the engine can lead to a head gasket leak which is probably the most common problem. However, if you just change the oil regularly and don’t have overheating issues these things will usually outlast the vehicles body with few issues with the exception of a timing belt change every 100,000 miles and maybe a new set of sparkplugs & cables every 50,000.


Our Subaru Conversion is non interrupting

Another plus for this Subaru EJ22 engine is that it is non interrupting which means if the timing belt breaks it won’t completely ruin your engine by bending all the valves it will just die and stop running. This is why we recommend the EJ22 for your Vanagon Subaru Conversion. All you would need to do is change the belt and retime! This engine is also SOHC which means it is a single overhead cam and in my book means more dependability cause less moving parts means less things to break. I also might add no power steering and no A/C in our vanagon either. Less weight, no horse power being robbed from them, and again less things to break! It’s a no brainer in my book when your taking it to parts of the world that you can’t get parts easily. You will need every last bit of dependability so you don’t get stuck in the middle of nowhere in dangerous territory. It’s also fuel injected with electronic ignition so no carburetor or points to mess with like some of the stock Vanagon engines and all of the older Volkswagen buses T1 & T2.

Some people go with the Subaru EJ25 engine for their conversion because of the added horsepower, around 170hp. The added horsepower is nice but I wouldn’t recommend it over the EJ22 engine. I would rather have the dependability then the few added horsepower. It is the same block just a larger cylinders bore so it’s left with thinner cylinder walls which leads to easier warping of the heads and cylinders when overheated, plus they are known for a lot more head gasket issues. They are DOHC which is dual overhead cam and are also interrupting engines which means if the timing belt breaks the engine will usually be beyond repair after or at least will make more sense and cost much less to just replace with another used one.


Vanagon Subaru Conversion Kits

There are Vanagon Subaru conversion kits out there that different companies sell but on the cheap. All you need is an adaptor plate between the engine and tranny, the engine carrier, header pipes, throttle cable, and thermostat pipe. One upgrade that is very important for all the Subaru EJ22 or EJ25 engines that are going to be offroaded is a shortened reinforced oil pan. The stock one hangs way too low and will be first thing to hit before any other part on the underbody and all it takes is one good sharp rock to rupture it and leave you stranded or with a blown engine if not noticed quick enough.

vanagon-engine-pulledThere are many different ways people run all the coolant lines to and from the expansion tank and to and from the heater core. Some use a reverse coolant manifold which isn’t a must but can make things run a little more efficiently if you don’t have the cooling lines run properly. Some work better then others and we are still actually tweaking things with the cooling system to this day. The cooling system with all the lines, connections and the massive lengths of hose under the van makes for a real difficult time bleeding completely. This was by far our biggest problem with our Vanagon Subaru Conversion leading us to having to change the entire engine after replacing head gaskets twice to find out there was a cylinder crack thus leading to continually overheating. This problem started just from getting air in the system from a heater core line leak. If there is any one piece of advice to tell anyone owning a Vanagon with or without the Subaru conversion is make sure all cooling fittings are tight, bleed and pressure test for leaks routinely and ALWAYS have a laser light temp gun! If the temp ever starts running over 220 then it will probably just continue to rise so shut it down let it cool down and get the air out of the system cause that’s the problem.


Choice of Transmission for the conversion

We kept the 4 speed manual transmission with the exception of replacing the guts of it with a positraction differential, also known as ATB automatic torque biasing. This advantage is that instead of pushing power to the wheel with the least traction like it does with the stock transmission it will push the power to the wheel with the most traction without ever completely removing power from the other wheel. This is greatly important when getting into slippery or loose terrain. The Vanagon has great traction stock but will eventually spin out and get stuck if pushed too hard into soft or loose terrain, after all this is a 4000 plus pound vehicle before any heavy upgrades, being loaded with supplies or passengers. Installing the positraction was a must in my head, if I could have afforded to buy a syncro westy which is AWD/4WD I definitely would have!