When Volkswagen’s Vanagon first came on the market, magazine writers referred to them as the best handling, best riding and most utilitarian of all the available vans. Many owners have stated they love the vehicle. The lack of adequate power was the only real complaint. Since then, owners have added the complaint of poor engine reliability and cost of engine repairs. Common expense is two thousand to three thousand dollars to rebuild a VW waterboxer and that is largely due to the high price of parts. Good used VW engines are scarce because the vehicles outlast the engines. After a couple short-lived engine rebuilds, most owners give up having them repaired. I have seen almost as many undamaged Vanagons in wrecking yards as on the street.
The Subaru engine has proved to be an excellent choice because it fits the compartment like it belongs there and it provides a good increase in horsepower. The Subaru Legacy 2.2 liter displacement is only slightly larger than the waterboxer but it has most of the modern high performance technology including a counterbalanced crank, four- valve design, port injection and a hot wire air flow meter. Kennedy Engineered Products manufactures 81 different kits that fit a hundred different engines to the Vanagon transaxle but nothing fits as well and runs as smoothly as the Subaru in this vehicle. The same basic kit fits 2.2, 2.5, 3.0, 3.3, and EJ 1.8 Subaru engines.
Two disadvantages of this adaptation are the labor to wire up the computer, and ground clearance. We have tried to reduce the first problem by writing detailed step-by-step wiring instructions for 1990 through 1994. Exhaust ground clearance is corrected by using our exhaust piping.
In September 1995, we applied for California smog approval of this adaptation. This required two years of testing. Seven catalytic converters and about a dozen mufflers were tried before a satisfactory combination of clean exhaust; quiet sound and low backpressure were attained.
Your modified Vanagon can now be taken to a local smog station instead of the state referee. The California Air Resources Board issued Executive Order #D-428-2 allowing the installation of the 130 horsepower Subaru 2.2 engine into 1980-1991 Volkswagen Vanagons. It requires that the Subaru engine be used complete, from its air flow meter to its O2 sensor (except for exhaust manifold piping and optional section of the intake air duct). The Subaru ECU and wiring are retained, but modified per KEP instructions. A check engine light must be installed in on the dash. The Vanagon charcoal canister is retained.
The CARB Executive order refers to a complete kit, and is to be sold this way, not as individual components. Kits will include copies of the Executive Order and a self-adhesive label to be attached to the body in the engine compartment. Individual pricing of the parts is available for out of state applications or for use on other model or year Volkswagens that do not intend to be CARB exempt.
Subaru Legacy engines are economical to replace. If you can do the wiring and bolting, then the initial cost is comparable to the price for having a rebuilt VW waterboxer installed. The average wrecking yard price for a low mileage Subaru Legacy engine is about eight hundred dollars, which depends what state you are in. After you ask the yard to add the computer, all the wiring, relays, etc. and maybe even the Subaru wheel covers, you can expect the price to jump about three hundred more, because it takes a lot of work to pull the whole wire harness out of the Subaru.
What to ask the wrecking yard for:
When ordering a 2.2 Subaru Legacy engine at your local wrecking yard they will need to know that you need it complete. For this installation, it must include the rubber motor mounts, O2 sensor, throttle cable, air duct and air flow meter in addition to the engine computer with its four plugs and associated wiring. If your Vanagon has power steering and air conditioning then you will want these pumps on the engine. There are three other small items that must not be forgotten. The ignition relay and fuel pump relay are located near the computer above the drivers left knee. The igniter is a black plastic item 2” square and a half inch thick centered on the firewall directly behind the engine. These little items are expensive if you must buy them.
There will be a small wire harness on the engine. The computer harness should come from the same car or the two large square gray plugs may not match. Removing the wiring harness requires removing the entire dash from the Subaru and removing the left front fender or at least the apron under the fender. The headlight wires may be cut behind the fender near the front after they separate from the engine sensor wires. Another bundle of 15 wires going to the tail lights can be cut. The fuse and relay box is not necessary so all these wires can be cut or just remove the box. Temporarily save the gray 67 pin firewall connectors in the harness. If the harness came from an automatic car then it has 35 wires going to a box that looks like the engine computer. You may cut all those wires and leave that box at the wreck.
Most of the water hoses from the Subaru and VW will be useful. You will not need any of the Subaru exhaust system except the O2 sensor. The pipes hang down too low and go the wrong direction. The principle tools necessary are Philips screwdriver, dikes (wire cutters) 10,12, 15 and 17mm wrenches both socket and open end.
What you need to know:
BOLTUP. Subaru, like Volkswagen, uses only four bolts to hold the engine to the transaxle but they are on a different pattern. Subaru uses two locating dowels instead of VW’s large locating register, so an adapter plate is necessary. This comes as a “Basic kit” with a flexplate or flywheel that fits inside the VW bellhousing.
STARTER MOTOR. The original VW starter will work but you will find it to be low on torque unless it is an ‘86 or newer starter. Using stock starters and using heavier cables was not enough improvement. We recommend a gear reduction starter due to the high compression on this engine (9.7/1).
CLUTCH. Vanagons have a 228mm (9”) clutch which is strong enough to handle these engines. We have replacement parts if your clutch is tired. We build stronger pressure plates such as our Stage I for Turbo Subaru, a Stage II for the SVX 3.3 liter engine, and a Stage III or IV for serious racers.
GEAR RATIOS. The manual and automatic transaxles are geared very well for these engines.
AUTOMATIC TRANS. The Vanagon automatic transaxle can handle these engines just fine except it shifts too soon for high RPM engines. Grinding about half the weight off the governor weights (‘84 and newer) raised the full throttle shift to high gear from 2500 RPM to a practical 5000 RPM. This is a very simple operation. The high pressure produced at this RPM tends to blow up the trans cooler so replace it with a simple bypass block or an aftermarket cooler.
OIL PAN. NO LONGER AVAILABLE
EXHAUST HEADER. The original Subaru exhaust pipes hang as low as the oil pan and end up toward the front of the van. Our replacement pipes are less restrictive to gas flow, have 2” more ground clearance and end up with a flange to fit the stock van cat and muffler.
Full stainless steel 304 w/expansion joint.
CATALYTIC CONVERTER AND MUFFLER. If you are in a state that does not have strict smog regulations then you can use your original Vanagon cat and muffler. We also offer a 49 state appproved assembly. Our special cat is legal in California with a ‘90-94 2.2 engine and our Executive Order # D-428-2 so you can go to a smog station instead of a referee. Other states have been accepting this also.
304 stainless, slip fit w/clamp
AIR FILTER. An exposed paper air filter could be used but our air filter box is designed to muffle the intake howl this engine produces. Noise in the back of the van was reduced from 90 db to 76 db.
RADIATOR. The stock Vanagon is a massive thing that can cool a very big engine . When the radiator gets old (maybe ten years) the rubber seals under the plastic tanks may leak air into the system, so these seals should be tested by a competent radiator shop and replaced if leaking. Fixing this might save your engine.
RADIATOR PETCOCKS. The stock radiator system is much easier to bleed with a couple petcocks, one located at the radiator and one at the surge tank. More details come with radiator instructions.
FRONT FILL RADIATOR. If you install a radiator in an aircooled Vanagon, or replace a Waserboxer radiator, I suggest you make it a front fill radiator. The original rear fill system was probably the result of a stubborn sales department and not an engineering decision.
RADIATOR PLUMBING. Copper tubing is the easiest way to plumb the radiator. Copper is not compatible with the aluminum engine so it is important to keep a good corrosion inhibitor or antifreeze in the system. The ‘86+ Vanagon used special plastic plumbing which works works fine. Do not attempt to use PVC plastic tubing because it will not withstand the required heat and pressure.
THROTTLE. The amount of travel of the throttle rod on an automatic Vanagon matches the necessary travel for the Subaru throttle body but the direction is backward. By looping the stock Subaru cable back on itself the direction is corrected and works fine. Support it with a bracket which is bolted to the engine next to our engine adapter.
We have never worked on a manual shift van. Some customers have complained of bucking or chatter which is probably due to a poor throttle linkage. Engine movement must not effect throttle position.
POWER STEERING. The operating pressure of the Subaru power steering pump is very close (only slightly below) the VW specification. It works fine. A set of custom hoses is available from KEP.
$25 refund for your power steering fitting.
ALTERNATOR LIGHT. The alternator charge light hooks up to the Vanagon wire and works fine except some camper vans which require some wiring modifications.
TACHOMETER. The tach wire coming from the fuel injection brain (c-16) can be run directly to any aftermarket tach. The ‘86+ VW tach need two diodes feeding from the two ignition coils.
TEMPERATURE GAGE. The Subaru engine has a single wire temperature sensor for the dash gage. This Subaru sensor makes the gage read 12º higher, unless a resistor is added; also the engine does run hotter so it reads hot. A good aftermarket gage should be added.
FUEL PUMP. The stock Vanagon fuel pump works fine here.
GASOLINE. The Subaru 2.2 engine runs fine on 87 octane but having 9.7/1 compression, it should run better on middle grade fuel.
AIR DUCT AND MOTOR MOUNT. An extra short air duct and special crossmember are necessary on ‘80-82 Vanagons. There is only 2” from bell housing measuring forward to the firewall. Vanagons ‘83 and newer measure about 4” which permits a more freeflowing air duct. On syncro (4WD) the motor mount sets the engine 2” lower so the stock air duct can be forced in place.
'80-83 air or '83+, not necessary on Syncro 4WD
ENGINE MOTOR MOUNT- fits to Subaru rubber mounts. '80-83, '83+, 4WD
MUFFLER BRACKET - bolts to motor ot keep muffler stable.