Monday, January 27, 2014

The Vanagon - My Unhealthy Obsession & the Questionable Pricing of an Aircooled Model

I will admit have had wanted a Vanagon Westy for many years now. There. I said it. Even knowing they can be a RPITA.

Once upon a time I was an insane VW watercooled fanatic. Well, car fanatic in general. I STILL have a special place in the car cabaret for anything auto, car discussion related, particularly rare and obscure or under appreciated cars.. as well as ones one can live in, or camp in.. or be a version of a Tiny Home.

A Vanagon is a mixed bag. On one hand, they are a Swiss Army Knife. Packaged VERY cleverly. No vehicle this small (at least available here in the USA) is so well thought out in terms of using every inch of space for sleeping and hanging out.

They are also well finished. German Craftmanship.

The view of the road is something special. Ever since the original Bus they have had this wide view of the the road. Unlike an RV, you can see well on every end. There really is no blind spot to be found.

The stoves work well. The fridge. The pop top is roomy enough for two. The rear seat folds to a decent 2 person bed. The tables are great to eat at after making a meal or playing cards. There is storage galore.

They have a decent handling package with an almost mid engine type feel on the road. Many considered the Vanagon the Porche 911 of mini vans.  They also have a tight turning circle for the type of utilitarian vehicle they are

The romance ends there.

Like the more venerable predessor, the classic VW Bus,  the Vanagon is SLOW. Like as in good luck exceeding 25 MPH up a big grade hill SLOW.
ALL of them. Some just worse than others. The Diesel (recently I found one that bid as high as 9k on eBay with 53k!!) is about the sloewest vehicle that ever entered the American market. under 55 HP from a 1.6 liter motor towing along over 3k lbs. INSANELY - SLOW.

The 1.9 water-cooled motor from 1983-1985 is barely adequate. Having trouble keeping up with modern traffic, but at least within some level of ability to get you there without cussing too much. Same withe 2.1 liter to follow from 1986-1992. VW created a clever ass package with a motor that was simply ASS. You would THINK after 12 years of making the Vanagon VW would have created a better power plant? Right?

The air cooled model is only ever so slightly better than the pathetically slow Diesel. I mean as in over 20 seconds 0-60 instead of 30+ seconds. They both drive 25 mph up a hill.

Here is one on eBay with 40k miles original. On the plus side the facility that obviously bought this looking to flip it for serious cash, did the right things. Change the seals, gas tank,  and anything that a 30 year old barely used vehicle will need to be reasonably reliable.

But lets get real. The bid is currently $11,600 with 5 hours to go. The Vanagon was NEVER a truly reliable vehicle no matter what miles are on it.  ALL of them have issues. Air Cooled as has valve issues, Diesel can barely move, 1.9 & 2,1 liter Wasserboxer head gasket leaking mess of a motor.

Would YOU pay that much for a vehicle that, while it might have a decent amount of repairs over it's ownership, could be bought in well taken care of higher mileage condition, for around 3 grand if you looked hard enough?

At least with a later model that's not air cooled one could look into investing in a Subaru 2.2 liter conversion. Good motor with that great interior and handling...
but the Air-cooled leaves one kind of stuck. Stuck with one of the most painfully slow vehicles ever made. The amount of modifications to put in another water-cooled motor would make it very cost inefficient to consider. So yeah, you are stuck.

I for one have come to the conclusion that a more reliable, and even comfier Toyota RV (ANY year, 20R, 22R, V6) is a better bet with some level of power to move for less $, and perhaps most importantly, a great deal more reliability.  Granted, the cool factor will be at a loss, and it will be less easy to park and maneuver.

$11,600 for a 1980 Air Cooled VW Vanagon????? Get a low mileage V6 Toyota Motorhome in perfect condition. You'll enjoy it more, enjoy camping in it more, and fix it A LOT less! Hell, I just found a V6 with 89k for $6800. Even if it needed a complete engine over haul it would be a much more reliable choice.

I have gotten to the point where, while an RV would be lovely.. I am finding it less stressful to pack up my touring bicycle I built out of a 1993 steel framed Specialized Rock Hopper, sleep in an REI Half Dome Tent I bought on sale for $100 including the Foot Print.... YES..that is much more my speed.

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