Quality Subaru Conversions for Vanagon

 

What is the subaru conversion and how does the conversion service work?:

The vanagon came with a 4-cylinder boxer engine from the factory, just like all the vans before it and all the air-cooled vehicles before it. Unfortunately the engine design didn't hold up well and was far more prone to problems than other VWs, and was considered underpowered like every bus before it, maxing out at 95 hp for the last 2.1 liter vanagons. The vanagon waterboxer engine is a dead-end road unlike the air-cooled engines before it since VW isn't manufacturing any more of these engines. Rebuilds just don't last as long as the originals, plus the electronic components aren't getting any younger.

Subaru is the only other major carmaker to regularly produce boxer engines, other than sport exotics like Porsche or Ferrari. This same style of engine is a natural fit for the engine bay in the vanagon, fitting centered in the same space just like the original engine, with no modifications necessary other than the minor task of bending back one flap of metal. The Subaru engines have decades newer technology, produce far less emissions, and the standard 2.5 liter 4-cylinder we use makes about 170 hp. This level of power really wakes up the vanagon and makes it very reasonable and enjoyable to drive, more like a modern car for acceleration and highway cruising. Even with all that extra power, we still see similar or better fuel economy and far better emissions to boot.

When you contact the partner shop nearest you, they will be glad to work with you on how much work you want done outside of the normal conversion. The conversion comes with basic standards like power steering hookup and full new stainless steel exhaust. Options would be things like cruise control or air conditioning, conveniences which not all vans came with.

Your partner shop will source a used salvage engine with the lowest mileage possible. We have been doing the 2006 to 2011 EJ25 engine from Impreza or Forester cars since the second year of that engine, 2007, a full decade as of this writing in 2017. We use low mileage engines and have installed many dozens of engines with less than 30k miles. Using factory engines assembled by their robots, and that have been broken in already has served us well. Occasionally we can get essentially brand-new engines with extremely low mileage on the clock in the low hundreds or even less than 100, which we can offer for a surcharge. Likewise, if you would like a rebuilt engine, talk to your partner shop about making that happen.

VANARU supplies the shop with a full parts kit specialized for this engine, to give a custom install that looks a lot like the original manufacturer installed it. The shop installs the converted subaru engine and whatever other work you desire. The most common update is a rebuilt transmission with altered gear ratios that take advantage of the extra power the subaru engine delivers. Another common update is to replace the long coolant pipes that route coolant from the engine to the radiator at the front of the vehicle and back again. The original pipes were made of steel or plastic which had a steel insert, and the steel didn't fare so well over time so a set of stainless steel pipes are installed which will last the life of the van. Your partner shop will alert you to anything that might need addressed and you can decide what works best for your plans and budget.

I have heard that VANARU supplies turnkey engines that I can install myself:

VANARU used to do this service several years ago but have changed over to supplying partner shops with professional grade parts in a complete VANARU conversion package. This change lets us better supply the considerable demand for discerning people that want a subaru conversion that looks, fits, and performs like an OEM installation.

I want to buy component parts to do my own conversion at home:

VANARU only supplies replacement component parts to our partner shops and as support service to customers with a VANARU conversion. The VANARU component parts are designed to work together as a complete set and therefore not for sale separately. Furthermore, parts from other companies are often incompatible and to large part are not engineered well and not built with high quality materials like VANARU parts. The standard from other companies we have seen is ill-fitting parts of cheap materials prone to corrosion, components sourced from hardware stores, and hokey solutions prone to failure. VANARU partner shops receive on a steady basis customers who had their vanagon converted elsewhere (often for more money than we charge!) and when their van doesn't perform as it should they look to us to solve the problem with real solutions.

Our VANARU parts are built of corrosion free materials like stainless steel and aluminum, with quality specially sourced fasteners that fit right and last like OEM parts. VANARU parts are engineered by an engineer, to fit right the first time, built with both ease of installation and with future servicing in mind. Countless hours of design and prototyping have gone into the production of each and every part of the conversion, and years of continuous improvement. The resulting parts are professional-grade, supplied to professionals and designed to be installed by professional mechanics, at our partner facilities.

I have visited my partner shops to do their first VANARU conversion, after they have been traumatized by installing competitor parts packages. Constantly I would hear back how the parts actually fit right and more importantly, all of the detail work and loose ends are tied up neatly, and those details are what eat up a lot of shop time. As well, after installing competitor parts, they realize a big difference is that VANARU parts look and fit like they were designed by an engineer, and competitor parts look like they were designed by mechanics. This observation is likely true, since VANARU is the only company that started out as a conversion house doing only vanagon conversions, and not like the others as a mechanic's repair shop that started doing vanagon conversions on the side.

Do you make all of the parts for your conversion? Where are they made?

VANARU is proud to state that all of our parts are made in USA or Canada. The only component not of our manufacture is the transmission adapter set. This set is made with the same high quality no-nonsense ethic at Outfront Motorsports in California. Some of the exhaust is sourced or manufactured at a shop in Canada, at a company which is proud to use top-quality heavy-wall 304 stainless steel from US manufacturers. Our components are assembled and welded for the most part at a small operation on the east coast, run by an old-school hot-rod builder who is an expert-level welder. The rest of the assembly and electrical work are done here at VANARU.

I live in California and I want a VANARU Subaru conversion.

California has a special division in its state government called CARB - California Air Resources Board. The original intent of this entity was to reduce emissions of vehicles in the state to cut down on the intense smog problem afflicting some areas, this was a good thing. Unfortunately over the years they lost sight of their original goal of reducing emissions and became a silly bureaucratic organization just chasing its own tail and no longer help anyone. As a result, in California you are not allowed to replace the original engine with a subaru powerplant producing a tenth of the emissions, however you are able to keep the original polluting engine, and you are even allowed to convert to any diesel engine with no pollution controls, potentially polluting more than even the original engine yet fully exempting the vehicle from emissions testing!

Anyway, this means that the VANARU conversion cannot be legalized in a vanagon, if it is registered in any California county that has smog testing. The engine would pass vanagon emissions with flying colors, but they will consider it non-compliant. If your van is registered in a California county that does NOT have smog testing, then it won't be a problem and you could bring it to one of our partner shops for conversion.

 

I have an air-cooled vanagon and I want a subaru installed.

The vanagon was originally built as an air-cooled vehicle with provision for a radiator to cool a diesel engine model. The gasoline air-cooled engines didn't need the radiator so there is just a big gap inside the front end and a single grill on the front, just for fresh air ventilation inside the van. In 1983, VW was facing increasingly strict pollution standards and were forced to leave the air-cooled engine behind in favor of a water-cooled engine introduced mid-year 1983, now called a 1983.5 model. In the popular TV show Magnum P.I., the transportation outfit called Island Hoppers used one vanagon for deliveries, and the show produced a number of identical vanagons painted in a color scheme. It seems at some point they needed more vanagons for filming, and we can see some appearances of the Island Hoppers vanagon with only one grill, an air-cooled van, and in later episodes we can see an otherwise identical van with two grills, meaning it was a water-cooled van.

The VANARU subaru converions needs water-cooling so any of the water-cooled vanagons 83.5 and newer are not a problem. The earlier air-cooled models present FIRST the obvious problem that they need the plumbing such as pipes and radiator installed. This seems simple on its face until looking closer and we find a myriad of differences, like that the radiator doesn't have the upper supports welded in from the factory. The air-cooled vans don't have the considerable electrical supply wiring to run a radiator fan which by the way is also needed. We also need a heater box up front that includes a heater core so you can defrost the windshield, now figure in removing the dashboard to access it. The SECOND less obvious issue is that VW changed nearly every part on the vanagon between 1980 and 1990, including most of the body stampings. So, the transmission is different including that it's shorter and we need the later transmission. The later transmission has a different shift mechanism so we need to replace the shift mechanism components all the way up to the front, until finally we find that only the shift lever itself is common through all vanagons. This comes up at every juncture and eats up time adapting for the conversion. As a result, to do a professional conversion at the shop, we need a late-model donor vanagon to supply parts, and the entire air-cooled van ends up rebuilt front to back. With a budget to match, this is not necessarily a bad thing since all of the wear items on the van are addressed during the rebuild and won't need to be addressed in coming years, for example, while replacing the heater box the fan gets replaced, something which most vans need about now.

We are able to do your air-cooled van at the Virginia facility only. The finished product will have the VANARU engine and a rebuilt transmission with upgraded gearing. The full cooling system installed with new stainless pipes and radiator, and all facilities installed to make it work properly. In addition, mechanical and electrical upgrades and rebuilds throughout the body wherever they are encountered, too many to list. This full project starts at $28,000 and can go further with systems not directly tied to the conversion, such as upgrades to the braking system or to headlights. More detail is available for serious inquiries.

I have a diesel vanagon and want a subaru installed:

Diesel vehicles - the VANARU conversion is not available. Much like the air-cooled models, the diesels have different wiring and brackets welded into the engine bay, different transmission, and different tank and filler neck parts that make it very difficult. In addition, there are already several appealing conversion engines available in diesel format from other vendors.