Originally uploaded by theseep
Some people have asked, “How can I get one of those?”, or, “Can I buy your Vanagon?” I suppose we could sell it for $50,000 (I know it’s steep, but we’d need to finance building another!), but most Vanagon people don’t mind another project. If you want the incredible versatility, durability, and unique driving experience of a Vanagon and want to use alternative fuels and decrease your CO2 footprint, this is the way to go.
In order to run biodiesel and/or straight vegetable oil (SVO), you need to have a diesel Vanagon. I think that the only U.S. diesel Vanagons were in 1982 and 83, with a somewhat underpowered 1.6 Liter non-turbo engine. If you can find one in good shape and you don’t mind a top speed of 55-60mph and some slow uphills, these are the easiest and quickest way to start running on biodiesel. These are also the easiest to upgrade to a better engine – you can drop a 1.6L or a 1.9L Turbo Diesel engine in fairly easily. If you’re in for a little more money and complication but better performance, you can put a computer controlled 1.9L TDI engine as well. These are VW engines similar to those used in older diesel Jettas and Golfs, with the TDIs in the newer models. They are classified as AAZ type engines and can be found new, used, and rebuilt. The more complicated route is to convert a gasoline Vanagon to a diesel one. We opted for the even more complicated route – convert a gasoline Syncro (4WD) Vanagon to a diesel one. To convert either, you need to find diesel Vanagon engine support bars, mounts, a diesel bellhousing, diesel oilpan, and a few other odds and ends depending on how complete your engine is. For the Syncro conversion, you need to find a diesel Syncro fuel tank as well (the starter is in a different spot in the Syncro and requires a different tank). We got our engine and all of the parts to convert our Syncro from Thomas at Quality German Auto Parts in Montclair, CA north of L.A. – he also sells kits and parts on ebay as do a few other shops. Finding someone to perform the transplant is another issue, we had Jeff at Autostadt West in Sacramento do ours, but I think that since ours was quite a project, he might need a break before doing another. I also recently found that The Green Car Company near Seattle is doing gas to diesel Vanagon conversions as well and provides engines and all parts necessary. I’d find someone with experience doing this, as there is some fabrication and some problems can crop up during the conversion.
Once you get a diesel vanagon, you can run it on any concentration of biodiesel or regular diesel as well. We opted for the greenest version by adding in a Greasecar SVO kit which is basically a 15 gallon tank that fits under the rear seat that taps into your coolant system to heat the veggie oil to 160 degrees with a computer controlled solenoid system that changes your fuel back and forth from diesel/biodiesel to SVO. You need to start and stop the car on diesel/biodiesel and you can switch over to SVO once the oil is hot enough. We also added a Vegtherm 12V heater to boost the temp and decrease our switchover times.
The last option is to find a European or Canadian diesel vanagon and have it imported (Autostadt West is working on this as well) – they made diesel Vanagons for years in Europe and I think are still making diesel Eurovans.
We’ve been really happy with it so far – around 3000 miles and running strong!
Quick, easy, expensive, and completely worth it: Contact Lucas at GoWesty in Los Osos, CA, the premier Vanagon restoration center. You can get “GoWesty Certified” Vanagons that are meticulously gone over and are essentially new, starting around $30K for 2WD Westys, and $50K for Syncros. I’m pretty sure that they will sell you one without an engine and can arrange shipping to GreenCarCo in Seattle, where for an additional 10-15K, you can have a 1.9L TD or TDI installed with a vegetable oil system as well (I haven’t used them so I cannot vouch for their service yet). It may sound expensive, but I dare you to find a vehicle this versatile and fun that runs on alternative fuel for less than $50,000.