Joined: July 26, 2008
|Posted: Wed Sep 26, 2012 1:07 pm Post subject:
| I saw this posted on the VW Vortex and thought some of you guys would find it interesting.
Just need a little German translation
| New York Times
July 18, 2003
This 1980's Camper Thinks It's an S.U.V.
By CHRIS DIXON
BOUNDING and bouncing through the dusty backcountry of the Hollister Hills in central California, Ron Lussier demonstrated a rugged bravado that would do the steeliest off-roader proud. "You know," he said, "roads like this are really the only valid reason for owning a Humvee. They're completely silly in cities or even driving down the freeway. But get back here in one, and you can have some serious fun."
After easily clearing a three-foot berm on Bonanza Gulch Road, Mr. Lussier headed for an alarmingly steep route, marked by a sign with a single black diamond, indicating a particularly tough off-road drive. Not convinced that his vehicle would make the ascent, I climbed out of the passenger seat and clambered up the road, occasionally on hands and knees, to watch his attempt. He released his clutch and lurched upward. Four knobby tires clawed the ground, and in about 20 seconds he made it, leaving several hooting onlookers, including me, astounded. Mr. Lussier was not driving a Hummer; he was in a 1991 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia Syncro camper.
That's right: camper. After this grueling backcountry jaunt, the Syncro converted into a well-equipped R.V. ù a trick no Hummer has ever mastered. And Mr. Lussier, a photographer from San Francisco, settled in for the night.
Produced in Germany and sold in America from 1986 to 1991, the Syncro Vanagon, a four-wheel-drive version of the standard, boxy 1980's Vanagon, is now exceedingly rare, and rarer still are the camper models ù the fully outfitted pop-top version made by Westfalia in Germany and the hardwood-trimmed models modified by Adventurewagen or Country Homes in the United States. The Syncro has a military-inspired undercarriage and a jacked-up drive train with a special gear for climbing hills; on the camper models attachments fold out, slide out and pop up to create sleeping space.
More than 50 Syncro owners, who had largely met through Syncro.org or an Internet mailing list, gathered a few weeks ago in an oak-shaded campground in the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area to compare notes and put their vans through the paces on challenging and beautiful backcountry roads. The vans are an anomaly amid the Jeeps, Land Rovers and four-wheel-drive pickup trucks that usually ride this terrain. "People do get pretty surprised when they see us back here," Mr. Lussier said as he rolled back into camp after our white-knuckle ride.
No one, not even Volkswagen, seems to know for sure, but hard-core Syncronauts estimate that only about 5,000 Syncros ù 1,500 campers and 3,500 passenger vans ù were sold in the United States. Well-preserved camper models now sell for almost their original sticker price of around $18,000 and are appreciating in value.
The couple ù a married former Roman Catholic priest and a former nun ù who sold Mr. Lussier his Syncro told him they had driven it from California to Alaska, where they lived in it. Mr. Lussier once shipped it to Venezuela and drove it through Brazil. Now, with upgraded shocks, wheels and a gleaming paint job, it is in superb condition. "I don't believe in mollycoddling it," he said. "You've got to use it. Otherwise, what's the point in having it?"
Brian Smith, 44, of Oceanside, Calif., has a 1987 Syncro camper that he has customized with a microwave, toaster oven, camp heater and external generator. "I swear to God if someone offered me $50,000 for this car," he said, "I wouldn't sell it." He added: "I drove it down to Tul·m in the Yucatßn and camped right on the beach. I went through Chiapas and saw the waterfalls and rain forests. You can go and camp 10 feet from the water, completely self-contained."
These Syncro enthusiasts were preaching to the converted. Last year I purchased my own 1986 Syncro camper, paying $12,000 to a family in Los Angeles who had named it Cecilia. For me, Cecilia represented the ultimate journalist's tool. In it, I could get nearly anywhere to cover a story, and I wouldn't need a hotel. I could fix a cup of hot coffee, plug in a power inverter to run my cellphone-connected laptop and type away.
Of course, there was also the promise of camping adventures with my wife, Quinn, which we have pursued with abandon across California's outback. And like many other Syncro converts, we soon began to wonder why there weren't more of these versatile vehicles on the roads.
As Christian Bokich, a brand marketing strategist at Volkswagen, and Thomas Niksch, a mechanical engineer who runs a German Syncro enthusiasts' Web site (www.syncro16.de), tell the story, the Syncro was both behind and ahead of its time. At $18,000, the camper model was expensive for 1986, yet it had only a 90-horsepower engine, better suited to a Beetle than a 4,000-pound van. It was complicated to manufacture, and Volkswagen was concentrating at that time on building a new minivan. The company was loath even to promote the Syncro, though magazines like Car and Driver gave it glowing reviews.
"I've had a lot of contact with managers from that time," Mr. Bokich said. "They said that the biggest challenge was that people weren't getting the message about the Syncro."
The Syncro's origins go back to the late 1970's when two Volkswagen engineers, dreaming of a vehicle they could use to camp and travel to remote places like the Sahara desert, built some prototypes. In the mid-1980's, Steyr-Daimler-Puch, manufacturer of a legendary military off-road vehicle called the Pinzgauer, teamed up with Volkswagen to design and manufacture the Syncro.
IN many ways, it was a groundbreaking ground pounder. An independently suspended four-wheel-drive system gave it excellent ground clearance and kept all four wheels planted in challenging terrain. A locking system gave it tanklike traction by preventing any one wheel from breaking free and spinning. A viscous coupler, now a common device, automatically engaged the four-wheel-drive in response to any slippage in the rear wheels. Many of the inventions found in the Syncro have since made their way into vehicles like the Subaru Outback and Volkswagen's own new S.U.V., the Touareg.
But it was the camper model that truly distinguished the Syncro. In it you could keep food fresh in a small refrigerator, cook it on a two-burner stove, wash the dishes in a stainless-steel sink with water from a 13-gallon tank, store gear in a series of cabinets and sleep four people comfortably. The little-known Syncro camper was a backcountry mobile home, the ultimate expression of a sport utility vehicle before the term was even coined.
At the Hollister camp, Brent Christensen, a director of product development for a software company in Santa Barbara, Calif., described a family trip "all the way up the coast, close to Seattle, then through the Sierras" with stops at out-of-the-way campsites. "We'll say, `There's a neat-looking site, but it's right over that big berm and down between those two trees,' " he said. " `Let's see if we can get down there.' The next morning we wake up with the creek outside our front door."
Eric Ching, 35, a lifeguard from Huntington Beach, Calif., and his wife, Tina Om, have taken their 2-year-old daughter, Zoe, around California with them, charging in their 1990 Syncro through the soft sand dunes of Pismo Beach and the deep snow of Mammoth Mountain and up the punishing hills at Hollister (where Zoe snoozed in her car seat the whole way). "We like going places you don't see people," Mr. Ching said.
Brian Smith's Syncro traveled the world even before he and his family began taking it on trips to Mexico. "The guy who owned it before me was a diplomat," Mr. Smith said. "They shipped him out to Africa to work and he shipped the van. He was with his wife and two kids camping in the van and they woke up one morning and thought there was an earthquake. They look out the window and there's an elephant running at them. He just jumped down from his bed with the pop-top up and started driving. The elephant collapsed the back hatch but they got away."
The Internet has not only coalesced the thinly spread community of Syncro zealots, but created a viable market for Syncro parts. Today, you can buy any Syncro part online, including oversized South African VW wheels and improved suspension components from Australia. You can even swap the engine for a more powerful VW turbodiesel or a Subaru Outback powerplant.
Mr. Lussier said he was already wondering how to put an electric engine in his Syncro in the distant future, when he expects petroleum use to be banned.
Like several owners at Hollister, he said flatly that he would never sell his Syncro.
I think I'll hang on to mine, too.
(09-26) 04:00 PDT Moab , Utah -- The scene is part Kerouac, part Corona beer ad:
I'm in a warm and cactus-studded desert, slouched comfortably in a camp chair, savoring a paisley-tangerine sunset. To my left, shrimp the size of plantains are sizzling on a hibachi. To my right, beer is chilling in a slushy cooler. And behind me stands my home, my wheels and the linchpin of my retirement dreams: a Volkswagen pop-top camper.
Like a lot of Boomers, I've envisioned my rapidly approaching golden years as not just active, but mobile: I yearn to explore the national parks of the West, trace what remains of Route 66 or meander down the Baja Peninsula, camping each night on deserted beaches. (In my fantasy, there are no bandits, armed drug gangs or time-share touts.)
But after once watching the proud new owner of a monstrously large motor home wedge it between two pine trees while trying to turn around in a Yellowstone campground - for all I know, it's still stuck there - I see myself behind the wheel of something a bit more modest, easier to drive and less punishing at the pump.
For someone who grew up in the 1960s and early '70s, that means only one thing: a VW camper van.
Before plunking down the considerable pile of cash required to buy a new one, or even a decent used one, I did something uncharacteristically wise: I decided to rent one for a vacation, to make sure my wife Jeri and I could live in such close quarters without going after each other with tire irons.
Which is how we came to be standing in the parking lot of a Comfort Suites motel near the Salt Lake City airport in May, inspecting the VW Westphalia Weekender that would be our home for the next week.
A number of appealing destinations rent VW campers - Vermont, Hawaii, Washington state and even the Bay Area - but Utah, with its red-rock canyons, painted deserts and astounding concentration of national parks, seemed the perfect choice.
Swiss army knife on wheels
As Nathan Williams, co-owner of the rental company, demonstrated the van's features, I could see that a VW camper is like a Swiss army knife on wheels, with surprising conveniences tucked and folded into every nook. Fold the small table out of the way, pull out the backbench seat, and you've got a bed big enough to sleep two. (Admittedly, not the most comfortable of beds; it felt like a sofa-sleeper.)
I could easily pop the spring-loaded top and raise it into place with one hand. Upstairs was a loft, with zip-open windows and a mattress that was more comfortable than the one downstairs. Two small or very compatible people could sleep up there.
Downstairs, embedded in the side panel, was a small library of guidebooks and maps. Drapes snapped into place to cover the windshield and windows for privacy. The otherwise-standard car stereo had one feature I liked very much: a cord that allowed me to plug in my iPod. I have no idea what fills the airwaves of southern Utah, but I suspect a little of it would have gone a very long way with me.
I discovered, to my disappointment, what the term "Weekender" means: This model lacks the built-in stove, sink and refrigerator common to classic VW campers. Instead, it has a tiny refrigerated drawer that was cold enough to keep yogurt and vegetables from going bad, but not to chill beer.
Our Weekender came with a removable 5-gallon cooler we had to restock with ice every other day and a portable two-burner Coleman propane stove festooned with stickers warning us not to use it inside the camper. Inside the back hatch, an under-seat shelf held a folding table and chairs, a lantern and a plastic box of pots, pans, dishes, bowls, paper towels, cutlery, etc.
As it turned out, cooking al fresco on campground picnic tables was delightful in the pleasant climate of Utah's high desert in the spring; it was probably preferable to filling the camper with the smell of frying bacon. If we had faced cold, spitting rain, though, it would have been borderline-miserable.
The financial picture
A word on finances: Renting a camper van is not necessarily a way to save money. Ours cost $1,105 for the week, including linen rentals and mileage; that's $145 a day. Plus, we spent $15 to $25 a night on campgrounds. Add it up, and that's more or less what it would cost to stay in motels and rent a compact car. (If there are three or four of you, of course, the math works out differently.)
The gas tank of our Westy - a common nickname for Westphalia campers - wasn't cheap to fill, but neither was it ruinous. The van averaged 20 mph on the two-lane highways and back roads of southern Utah - hardly Prius mileage, but as good as you're going to get in a camper or RV.
Food is where the big savings came. Heading south from Salt Lake City along the snow-dusted Wasatch Mountains, we pulled in at a supermarket outside Provo to provision ourselves for the week. Our full shopping cart of camping vittles - eggs, bacon, yogurt and cereal for breakfast; bread, cheese, tomatoes and sliced meat for lunch; spaghetti, risotto, shrimp and rib-eye steaks for dinner - cost less than the price of two restaurant dinners.
One reason for the relatively low total at the checkout counter: No liquor. Alcohol isn't illegal in Utah, but they sure don't make it easy for you.
The state, as any tippler who's been there will attest, has some of the nation's strictest and quirkiest liquor laws. Grocery stores and supermarkets sell only watered-down, 3.2-percent beer - most "normal" beer has an alcohol content of 5 to 6 percent - and many of them won't do even that on Sundays. (But one of the brands they do sell is a can't-miss souvenir: Polygamy Porter, with its slogan, "Why have just one?")
State-owned liquor stores sell the hard stuff, and the one in Moab had a surprisingly comprehensive selection of international wines. But these stores are few and far between once you get out of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, and they're closed on Sundays and holidays.
Many restaurants serve alcohol, but servers are not allowed to mention this fact or bring you a wine list unless you ask for one. On the other hand, they're happy to sell you a bottle to go - something I've never seen a California restaurant do. Then there's the whole bar scene, with its membership fees, "sidecars" and other oddities.
All this is a way of saying that if you appreciate a sundowner or feel the need for something to imbibe around the campfire, plan accordingly.
On our first night, in Arches National Park near Moab, we discovered that living out of a VW camper is halfway between car camping and the usual RV lifestyle. Unlike the owners of the gargantuan motor homes we saw, which looked like lunar base stations, with enormous satellite dishes and rover vehicles - almost always SUVs - parked nearby, we spent all our waking hours outdoors.
We could watch the golden light of morning creep down sandstone skyscrapers and hear the yelps of distant coyotes; when the sunset exploded in color, we weren't indoors watching a "The X-Files" rerun. And being outside reconfirmed a curious fact of camping: The bacon frying in the next campsite always smells better than yours.
There were some drawbacks. Our camper wasn't soundproof enough to block the throbbing Euro-disco from the party-hearty gang a couple of campsites away. And, in one campground a few nights later, they stuck us in the RV section, which meant we had to listen to the humming generators of neighboring motor homes all night.
What loomed as the biggest caveat - VW campers don't have bathrooms - turned out to be a nonissue. The national parks we stayed in had good and convenient restrooms, and the state parks had even better ones. On the road, even out in canyon country, you're never too far from a McDonald's or convenience store.
Only about half the campgrounds we stayed in had showers. But in the cool, dry climes of Utah in the spring, neither of us minded going a day or two without. And we discovered that private campgrounds will let you use theirs, even if you're not staying there, for a fee - typically $5 per person.
Small is beautiful
Every day, I had cause to give thanks I was driving something more akin to a large car than a school bus. In the Bryce Canyon campground, I saw nervous dads backing their rented Cruise America RVs into picnic tables, and at the Capitol Reef visitors center, I could scoot right into an empty parking space, while motor homes had to head to the distant bus lot.
In Zion National Park, we cruised right through a low, milelong tunnel with the other cars, while RVs and motor homes had to wait half an hour or more for rangers to stop traffic and escort them through.
Between the town of Torrey and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Highway 12 Scenic Byway follows an airy, knife-edge ridge in the slickrock, with no shoulder or railing, and vertiginous drops on either side. It was a windy day, and I was profoundly grateful I wasn't attempting this vehicular tightrope-walk in something akin to a Bekins moving van.
I didn't fully appreciate our camper's sorta-decent gas mileage until the afternoon I pulled into a gas station at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, just over the border in Arizona. A gargantuan motor home was leaving; it looked like something a rock band would tour in, and it was towing the inevitable SUV behind it.
"Guy just spent $300, and it didn't even come close to filling the tank," the gas station attendant told me. "I'm guessing that rig gets about 2 miles a gallon, 3 tops."
The plan all along was to take a midweek break from our camper. In the town of Torrey, we checked into a Days Inn - real bed! private bathroom! hot showers whenever we wanted! SportsCenter! - for one night.
But after days of sage-scented desert breezes, the factory-sterile air coming out of the air conditioner made my throat sore. The noise of the trucks going by on the highway made me instantly nostalgic for the happy sounds of campgrounds - even other people's music. And I just happened to glance out the window in time to catch the last light of what had been a dramatic, ruby-red sunset; I had been hunkered in front of the TV, watching a Larry King interview on CNN.
First thing the next morning, we were in our VW camper and pulling out of the motel parking lot as quickly as our wheels would take us, on the road again.
A few things to bring with you
An inverter: This a device you plug into your car's cigarette lighter, turning the DC power into AC power you can use to recharge your digital camera, iPod or laptop. About $40 at RadioShack.
Small hatchet: For splitting firewood into kindling. Remember not to pack it in your carry-on luggage.
Sweatpants: Perfect campground loungewear.
iPod: Check with the rental company about connections. Some campers have input jacks in the radio; some have cassette slots that will take an adapter.
Kitchen essentials: A small kit with your favorite spices and perhaps a little olive oil - it will save you from having to buy these things at your destination.
- John Flinn
If you go
VW CAMPER RENTALS IN UTAH
Western Road Trips in Salt Lake City (877) 752-8747, westernroadtrips.com) rents VW Westphalia Weekenders (pop-top campers without the mini-kitchen). We paid $115 a night for the van, $140 for unlimited mileage, $60 for the week's rental of linens, towels, duvets, etc., and $10 rental for two camp chairs. Our camper had more than 150,000 miles on it, but was in excellent condition. The company will pick you up and drop you off at the airport or area hotels.
VW CAMPER RENTALS ELSEWHERE
California Campers in Redwood City (650) 216-0000, www.californiacampers.com) rents Westphalia campers (with mini-kitchens) for $850 a week in high season (July 1-Sept. 6), less in other seasons.
Scroll down to the bottom of its home page for links to VW camper rentals in Southern California; Hawaii (Maui and Big Island); Vermont; Washington state; British Columbia and the United Kingdom.
WHERE TO STAY
Southern Utah has dozens of national parks, state parks (see sidebar), U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management campgrounds, and private campgrounds. For national parks and the more popular state parks, reservations are highly recommended. (But take extra care with online reservations from www.reserveamerica.com. We requested a campsite at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but when we arrived, we discovered they had booked us at the south rim. From talking to other campers, I gather this sort of thing isn't unusual.) In some areas, it's legal to "boondock" - to just turn down a little-used dirt road on public property and camp there. (See Departures.) And most - but not all - Wal-Marts are happy to have RVs and camper vans spend the night in their parking lots. For a list of locations: www.allstays.com/c/walmart-utah-locations.htm.
WHERE TO EAT
The Diablo Cafe (599 West Main St., Torrey, Utah, (435) 425-3070, www.cafediablo.net) is one of those places people detour hundreds of miles to dine at, and for good reason. The menu features innovative and eclectic Southwest cuisine, from rattlesnake cakes with ancho-rosemary aioli to Mayan tamales to turkey and poblano peppers simmered in guajillo mole cream. Dinner for two with drinks, $95. Open for dinner daily from April 18-Oct. 18.
John Flinn is executive editor of Travel. To comment, visit sfgate.com/travel and follow the links.
This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle September 2008
| On the Road Again
Going someplace in an iconic VW bus provides much more than a ride -- it's a reconnection to life in the slow lane
To a certain generation, the Volkswagen bus was a kind of home away from your parents—a low-cost, easy-to-repair, air-cooled, exquisitely engineered—if vastly underpowered—four-cylinder recreational vehicle that allowed you to live with mom and dad but still do all those fun, counterculturey things you couldn’t do under their roof.
Produced since 1950 under the official name Transporter, these slow-moving panel vans have been called by lots of names—microbus, minibus, Vanagon. But “hippie bus” has probably stuck best. My wife, Vivian, and I operate more under the classification of “aging Gen-Xers,” so when we rolled into Costa Mesa’s Vintage Surfari Wagons, our agenda was a bit different from the early longhaired pioneers. Some 44 years removed from the Summer of Love, we were getting away from our kids.
Bill and Diane Staggs rent from a fleet of 10 restored VW buses. The most vintage is a pea green 1977 pop-top camper tricked out with the Westfalia package, meaning everything from kitchen sink to sleeping compartment. The Staggs supply flashlights, dishes, bedding, bike racks—whatever you need. “You just show up and go,” he said.
Many patrons mount surfboards on their rentals and choose a coastal sojourn. Ever the rebels, we opted to go the other way—to Joshua Tree. Save for our Rottweiler-Lab, Quincy, there would be no sentient others to feed, clothe or distract with “I Spy” games. For 36 hours, we were, like, free, man. Then Staggs broke the news: The 1986 Westfalia Vanagon with the automatic transmission we were supposed to rent wasn’t available. And I can’t drive a stick.
That was fine with Vivian, who had driven a 1969 bus all over Zimbabwe after college. Suddenly effervescent, she volunteered to do all the driving, and I saw a fresh opportunity for her to exploit one of her long-cherished talents—insult comedy. “You sit where the girl sits,” she said. Whatever, dude.
Off we went in rush-hour traffic from the 55 to the 91 to the 60 to the 10. Before long, Vivian’s smarty-pants jokes gave way to a hard reality: Her hand was beginning to hurt from all that shifting. But free of our quotidian work, home and family responsibilities, that barely even registered as a bummer.
Once we hit Riverside and finally reached escape velocity, we began to understand why these rides have graduated from mass-market popularity to global cult status. And then we started reminiscing. Vivian recalled what it was like to be 23, driving rural roads with expat friends in an old bus for which they’d all pitched in. For me, it was the distinctive rumble of the Vanagon’s 2.2-liter engine, an internal-combustion sound so ubiquitous in my youth. That growl is gone now, muffled by catalytic converters or obliterated altogether by hybrid engineering. We hadn’t even realized it disappeared.
As the winds threatened to blow us all over the road and SUVs whipped by us, we settled in, accepting arrival the way generations of VW-bus travelers had: We’d get there when we got there.
As the winds threatened to blow us all over the road and SUVs whipped by us with extreme prejudice, we settled into our journey, accepting arrival the way generations of VW-bus travelers had in decades prior: We’d get there when we got there.
For us, that would be late evening, when we nestled into a site alongside massive Airstreams, Coachmens and Winnebagos. We dined in the bus’ deceptively spacious cabin, under the romantic light of a florescent lantern, and pondered a card game. Instead, we opted to keep talking about things we no longer get to talk about, chilling the way we no longer get to chill, safe from the gusting winds. As we unwound in this old camping van, perhaps purchased decades ago by a family very much like ours, Vivian said wistfully, “What if we bought an old VW bus?”
She’s a dreamer like that, and being out in nature made those dreams more vivid. Hmmm, I’ve always wanted to restore an old car. I actually liked the idea. This could indulge a middle-aged fantasy and entertain our whole family—the proverbial win-win.
With that thought in the air, we moved on to our favorite thing about camping—sleeping under the stars. Recalling Bill Staggs’ carefully delivered lesson about levers and latches, we “popped” the top and threw pillows and blankets into the newly created perfect tent space for two. Warm desert winds were rockin’ the van, baby...and we passed out like babies.
By morning, the winds had died, so we boiled up water for instant Starbucks and breakfasted alfresco on some scrambled eggs and sausage we cooked on the van’s propane stove. But the light of day—and a quick look at Craigslist—brought a reality check to the idea of buying our own VW minivan. With worthy oldies starting around $7,000, the purchase would have to be relegated to the realm of starry dreams.
But this van was ours for the day, and the escape it promised was always as close as Orange County. We took it nice and easy for the afternoon, then handed the bus back to Staggs. “We’ll be back,” I said with a smile.
Rates vary by season; vwsurfari.com.
DANIEL FRANKEL is news editor for the entertainment-news site the Wrap. He still can’t drive a stick.
| Feature: Volkswagen Vanagon and Westfalia 1980-1991
by Paul Williams
After building a “Squareback” that looked to most people like a station wagon, and a station wagon that looked like a modern-day minivan, Volkswagen replaced the familiar rounded lines of its micro-bus for the sharp-edged lines of the Vanagon (designated the Type 2 in Europe) in 1980.
However, the familiar flat-four, air-cooled engine remained until 1983, when Volkswagen transformed the motor into a water-cooled version, known as the “Wasserboxer,” or “waterboxer”.
Because of this, the Vanagon’s engine varies by model year: there was a 67 hp, 2.0-litre air-cooled engine from 1980 to 1982; an 82 hp, 1.9-litre Wasserboxer in 1984 and 1985; and a 90 hp, 2.1-litre Wasserboxer from 1986 to 1991. All engines came with either a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.
There is a 1.6-litre diesel version, but it is very rare, and even less powerful than the gasoline-powered Vanagons. Additionally, as with the 1.9-litre gasoline engine, parts for them are no longer available from Volkswagen.
In all cases, power is sufficient at best to move the 1,587 kg (3,500 lb) vehicles, their passengers and their luggage. Consequently, the 1986-1991 models are most sought after (although buyers may find that earlier-year models have been retrofitted with newer engines, which is not a bad thing unless you are a stickler for originality). Owners report they often drive their Vanagons flat-out, especially the campers, in order to keep up with traffic. The automatic transmission, while convenient, further robs power.
Feature: Volkswagen Vanagon and Westfalia 1980 1991 car history and auto shows
1986 Vanagon. Click image to enlarge
All these vehicles are rear-wheel drive, with the engine located at the rear, below the floor. In 1985, a four-wheel drive version called the Synchro became available. Heavier than the RWD Vanagons, these challenge the small engines even more.
Vanagons can be purchased as passenger vans, Transporters (a pickup-type configuration with a club cab and small box), and Westfalia camper vans. The Westfalia versions are still popular, although most of them have odometers that read well over 300,000 kilometres (hence the rebuilt or new engines).
Westfalias come with full galley kitchen and a “pop-top” camper roof, or as Weekenders or Multivans that have interiors that convert into beds, but don’t have the fridge and stove. Not all Weekenders have the pop-top roof, and those that do are called Westfalia Weekenders.
Feature: Volkswagen Vanagon and Westfalia 1980 1991 car history and auto shows
1990 Vanagon Westfalia. Click image to enlarge
The engines and exhaust systems can be troublesome on these vehicles. Head gaskets blow, and exhaust systems rust and are very expensive to replace. Rust is a common problem, and any along the body seams is an indication of serious trouble within. You’ll typically find rust on the passenger side of Westfalias, for example, corresponding to the location of the fridge. Between the back of the fridge and the inside of the body panel are the refrigerator condensers; these create water, which rusts the body panel from the inside.
Nonetheless, these vehicles remain sought after, and many clubs and suppliers cater to the needs of owners. In Canada, Frank Condelli and Associates offers an entire re-engineered stainless steel exhaust system, along with a range of services for Vanagon owners.
Feature: Volkswagen Vanagon and Westfalia 1980 1991 car history and auto shows
1990 Vanagon Westfalia. Click image to enlarge
It’s not unusual to see Vanagons, many now over 20 years old, commanding high prices if they have been well maintained or properly reconditioned. Westfalias have a particularly strong following, although rust-free examples are hard to find for a low price, despite their age.
Several Vanagon trim levels were introduced over the years, including the Carat, Wolfsburg and Multivan. The Vanagon GL featured desirable options like power mirrors, power door locks, power windows, cruise control, tachometer, air conditioning, alloy wheels and fibreglass side molding.
Now becoming “classic” vehicles in their own right, Vanagons offer the charm of a hobby vehicle, with the practicality of accommodation on wheels.
Vanagons were replaced by the front-wheel-drive Eurovan for 1992.
March, 2006: http://www.autos.ca/car-history-and-auto-shows/feature-volkswagen-vanagon-and-westfalia-1980-1991/
1986 Cabriolet: www.Cabby-Info.com
1990 Vanagon Westfalia: Old Blue's Blog
2016 Golf GTI S
"I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction; the world will have a generation of idiots." ~Albert Einstein