Project Little Van - Daily Vanagon/Adventure Rig


I know that some of you may have been and maybe still are following my 4x4 Vanagon conversion.
Things are still progressing on that but, much like my other van, I came across a "cheap" Vanagon that was not too far away and was "running and drivable".
As a glutton for punishment I thought that it might be cool to have a Vanagon to use as a daily driver for hauling and camping and whatever seemed appropriate.

I decided to go check it out and take it for a test drive.
Here it is the day I went to look at it.

The real mileage is unknown but after a quick test drive it seemed worth the price. (ish)
It clearly needed a bit of work in the brakes and suspension department but it was indeed running and driveable so I made an offer.
We haggled only once and agreed on a price.
A week later I went to pick it up.

About 20 miles into my 77 mile trip home the worst happened.
Cruising along at about 65 mph the power fell off and I heard some strange clattering noises.
Naturally I let off the gas to get a feel for what was going down.
I let off the gas and got back on.
It seemed to still be running but did seem a little sluggish.
Something was not right.
As I slowed I could hear the clattering a little louder.
It honestly sounded like the exhaust had come loose from somewhere.
As such, I decided to pull over and check things out.
I slowed more and more until I could pull off to the side of the road.
It was only when I had nearly come to a complete stop and the engine was still clattering away just before it stalled that I realized that the engine was no more.
It would not even crank over. The engine was gone.

If it had not already been such a long, rainy day, I might have been more aware and taken more pics of the van sitting along the road or up on the roll back or any off that stuff that makes for good forum threads.
Alas, I got one pic after the tow company dropped it off in my driveway leaving me to sort out how to get it out of the way.

So after I got it home it seemed only appropriate to do a carfax to try to decipher what kind of mileage this thing might have.
It appears that I am the 3rd owner.
It also appears that the original speedometer/odometer was replaced with a new one at just over 175,000 miles.
The Odometer currently reads 55,000 miles.
By my math that is 230,000 miles. :oops:

Armed with this knowledge I knew that most things on this van would need a solid "going over".

To be brutally honest I was not even mad about the engine.
In the 20 miles that I actually got to drive it I felt "the feeling" the comes with driving these vans.
It just brings a smile to your face no matter how ********#y they are.
You get to experience all of the quirks that makes the Vanagon what it is and get a feel for what is needed to make it what it could be.
Hell, I had already gone over all the things in my head that I felt like needed addressed and/or upgraded.
The engine was the first on the list.

The stock Vanagon engines suck.
There is no nice way to put it.
They are unreliable, under powered lumps of (expletive deleted).

I won't get too hung up on that debate with the Vanagon purists but I knew a better engine was in the cards.
The obvious choice was a Subaru engine since that is what all the cool kids are doing these days.
However, being a 25 year "VW guy", a VW engine seemed like the only logical choice.
After a few SOS texts, I sourced an engine and went to pick it up a couple days later.

It may not look like much but the 2.0 ABA is arguably one of VWs most reliable engines.
It is based on architecture that has been around since the mid 1970s and has had many improvements along the way.

They can be had for next to nothing or nothing in my case.
There is a ton of support out there for these engines and the general layout for these engines was actually used in the Vanagon in the form of a 1.6NA diesel in the early 80s.

So here is a closer albeit slightly blurry pic of the engine as bolted to the engine stand.

Upon further inspection it appeared that every accessory on the engine was frozen and, overall, it was pretty crusty.

I would expect nothing more from a free engine.
This free engine even came with the complete wiring harness and ECU along with the air box that houses the ever so important MAF.
The state of this engine would give me the opportunity to tear things down a bit and give it a good "once over".
This would also allow me to get e good look at the ABA systems and better see how it can be translated into the Vanagaon.

For the most part I am not doing anything that has not been done before.
There are countless VW inline 4 cylinder Vanagons roaming the planet.
I would like to say that this one is no different.
However the engine is not the only thing on the list of upgrades that I have planned for this van.
As I mentioned, nearly every thing on this van will need a little attention.

I hope, over the next 2 months, to address most of these issues and approach them with my own flair.
I will build it to suit my insatiable need for working and camping and driving that can not be accomplished by any other platform.

Until Next time....
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After getting the engine on the stand I decided to tear the engine down to long block status.
This would allow me to clean things up real nice and get a look at cylinder walls and see if there is any slop in the connecting rods or anything obviously damaged.

Things cleaned up real nice and I even got some paint to stick to it.
Here's the green bean that will power this mean machine.

Speaking of power, did I mention that the 2.0 ABA VW engine only made 115 ponies.
While that is a solid 20 more HP than the stock 2.1 boxer that was in this van, it hardly seems like enough to push around a 3400-3500 pound box.

Obviously I will be carrying some camp junk with me a lot so I needed to upgrade a couple parts to get that HP number up.

Since I had the head off I decided it was a good idea to upgrade the cam.

Of course why not take advantage of one of the chip tuning options available for the ABA with a cam.

Over all this should be good for somewhere between 16-20 hp.

Of course I was not going to put the cam in until the head was all cleaned up.

I spent about 2 hours scrubbing a lot of gunk off.

A little paint and it is ready for reassembly.

While I was waiting on a few more parts to put the head together I decided to clean up and paint a bunch of brackets and other bits.
I did not want to work with a bunch of greasy crusty junk trying to put the engine back together.

Here is the pile I needed to clean up.

A bead blaster seemed like the logical choice to get into all the nooks and crannies on these parts.
Alas I did not have one.


Now I do.
Overall I probably spent about $160 or $170 total to get this little cabinet up and running and it works just fine.

To avoid getting glass bits in the oil filter housing I decided it would be best to just degrease it and put it in the ultrasonic cleaner at work.
I used more degreaser for the cleaner part of if and after 15 minutes with heat the results were impressive.

It looked like a new housing
but I figured some paint might keep it less crusty for longer.

As I mentioned, nearly everything on this van will need looked at and many parts will need replaced.
Much like the engine it is sometimes cheaper and usually better to replace some parts with upgraded bits.
Also, it is not generally in my nature to leave things the way they are, especially since I know there are better options.

The more astute among you may have noticed the tires in the background of some of the shots.

These are 225/70R16 Hankook Dynapro AT-Ms that will be wrapped around a set of 16x7 steel wheels originally meant for a Mercedes CLK320. (2002 or 2004 I think)

These obviously will not fit under my van without a little bit of suspension work.
Right now from the center of the tire to the fender lip is a touch over 15 inches.
This will likely need to be bumped up to 17 or 18 inches to make it all work the way I would like.
I have a plan for the suspension that I will cover once I get to that point.

To bump the power up even more I have decided to run a later model intake that has been dyno proven to bump the HP and torque with zero loss in low end.

generally the intake is good for 3 to 5 hp depending on other mods.

I am also running the late tubular style exhaust manifold which has also been tested to flow better than most of the cast manifolds used throughout the years.
This manifold coupled with a custom free flowing exhaust should be good for a few more ponies. How many? Who knows?

Either way I should be right at or possibly over 140 hp at the crank and likely into the 150s or more in torque.
This is nearly a 50% increase in horsepower and pretty close to a 35% increase in torque.
This should be just fine in a tin top Vanagon as they don't weigh nearly as much as a full on Vanagon camper.

Of course with this HP increase I will need to go through the trans.
Once again, why just do a stock rebuild when there are some upgrades here as well.
Mine is a 3 speed auto which, fortunately have been known to handle power increases better than the 4 speeds.

One of the main upgrades for these transmissions is to upgrade to the Audi 5000 turbo internals.
Obviously I am going to do this so I sourced a trans from an 88 Audi 5000 turbo FWD with 111000 miles on it.

The main upgrade here is a switch from 3 to 4 planetary gears and an additional friction in the clutch packs.
Of course I got all new seals and friction materials to do a full rebuilt on the trans when the time comes.

There are some other mods that I will cover in due time.

Other than that I have been buying a lot of replacement bushings and joints and seals and gaskets and any other part that might be worn after 230,000 miles.
Since my garage is full of another Vanagon as well as other projects this van has been reduced to storage unit.

Once this engine is together I will rearrange things in the garage so the new van can come in.
It is starting to finally get cold in Ohio and it's getting dark a lot sooner.
I don't want to be trying to do an engine swap when it is 30 or 40 and dark.

That's all for now
More later.
Until then....
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Super clean work as usual. Don't know if this applies to VW motors but a friend built an LS and painted all the accesory brackets, motor mounts etc. He chased electrical gremlins until he sanded down all the mating surfaces to better ground everything.


Psh that sounds like something a chevy motor would do.
No. I kid.
Good point and perhaps I will clean up the mating surfaces on the brackets that touch the block that hold electrical bits just to be safe.
Proper ground straps should eliminate any issues there but I have been fooled before.


New member
Nothing like a project within a project within a...

That looks like a really clean VW especially for Ohio.

Looks like Rock!Auto to the rescue for parts.


Well both the steps in the front door areas are rusted pretty badly and a little bit up on the passenger floor.
Other than that it looks pretty good underneath.
The parts are available and it's nothing I have not done before.
Just another project to add to the project.
According to the Carfax it appears that the van has been in Ohio it's whole life.
However, the first owner must have taken it all over the country because they managed to put 175,000 miles on it in about 6 years.
It's crazy to think where this thing has been and where it will go next.


Ol' Rockauto sells several acceptable parts and even has many of the German brands that all "Zee German" car nuts love.
I can't bring myself to spend two or 3 times as much on some of this stuff when I have had plenty of good luck with a lot of the rock auto brands.
I don't get the cheapest parts but I am pretty budget conscious, especially when I need this many new parts.
Depending on how catastrophic it might be if a part fails, I might spend a little more and get a part that I know will work reliably.
Even some of the German parts are questionable sometimes.
In the next update I will have to show the pics of the first oil pump I got.


Had a lot going on this weekend so didn't make as much progress as I had hoped.
Had to clean this pair up and get some paint on'em.

Some scrubbing with degreaser and a good hose down with some brake parts cleaner got them pretty much degreased.
I decided to seal them all off and bead blast the outside to get into all the spots that were tricky to scrub.
Then came time for paint.

The upper intake was about the limit for size on my tiny blast cabinet but I managed.
This whole process took a lot longer than I wanted but what can you do.

I'll tell ya what I can do.
I can get the ol' lumpity stick bolted in and get the head on this engine so I can stop thinking about it.

I suppose it made sense to do the valve cover while I was in the blasting mood.

This blast cabinet is quickly becoming one of my most used tools

Here's a quick loose fit up to give you an idea what it all might start to look like.

When its all said and done this does seem like a lot of work for something that just going to get all dusty and grimy but hey it's fun and lets me show off my style (or lack thereof?) side of things while I am at it.

So I mentioned my oil pump in my last post and how crappy it was, even for being a fancy German part.
So this piece with the screen is supposed to be permanently affixed to the end of the pickup tube.

Beyond the fact that the casting on the pickup tube looked like a first timer back yard casting it also appeared that someone forgot a couple steps in securing the screen to the pickup.

I was also a little surprised by the faces where the bolt heads are supposed to sit once bolted to the engine.
Of course this is if you can get past the fact that it looks like they drilled these holes with a potato.

I felt like there should have been some flat machined on this surface but the replacement pump that I bought from another shop looked about the same in this area so I guess they determined that either this is ok or they simply do not care.

The first pump, however, would catch every other turn when you spun the drive shaft by hand.
This was the last straw and I decided to send it back and get another from a reputable supplier.

The casting on second one was still pretty crappy but it spun nice and the screen was securely attached.

Speaking of spinning the oil pump there is one part that needs swapped to use the Vanagon diesel oil pump in the VW ABA engine.
You have to take the drive shaft from the ABA pump and install it in the Diesel Vanagon pump gear.
I pressed each shaft from their respective gears and took advantage of a "tool" that I got at my last job to join together the two parts that I needed.
First I drop the shaft into my tool.

In case you can't tell my "tool" in this instance is an ultra low temperature lab freezer.
By ultra low I mean -100 degrees Celsius. (-148F for you regular folks).
This one didn't meet our standards so I ended up with it.
It will only hit about -70C (-94F)
Rarely do I need to get things that cold.
Usually about -50C will do the trick in most cases.
I let the freezer run while I was doing other things and it was -66 when I removed the part.

The only thing left now was to heat the gear a little bit and and slide the shaft in place.

Of course it goes together so easily that I slammed the shaft into the gear and the gear bounced a little and was too far up on the shaft.

No biggie though. I will just have to take it back to work and use the press again to get it back down so it is just below the surface of the gear.

I spent the day today recovering from partying maybe a little too hard last night so what you see above is about all that I got finished.
I will get back at it tomorrow and maybe, just maybe, I can get the engine done (ish) and start on getting the other van in the garage.

Until then...


Beautiful project and pictures. I do not think I'll be working on anything like this, but I love to follow this thread. Great pictures and and great job.


New member
Long ago someone described a part as having the appearance of being made with compressed goat manure by itinerant rag pickers.
That oil pump isn't far from that description...

Fortunately being buried inside it doesn't detract from the purty painting!


Hi gang sorry for the lack of updates.
I have been working on the van quite a bit but it has just been little things.
Every time I think I am going to make some progress I run into a snag.
Just trying to get this engine all buttoned up then I find out I need some different bolts or new parts because I am using a different part that is different in dimension X, Y and/or Z or I the one I had was trashed.
I think you get the picture.

A good example would be my fuel pressure regulator.
For some dumb reason I thought I would pop it out of the fuel rail just to give it a good looky see .
Of course it came out in pieces.

No biggie I thought I will just use one from another fuel rail that I have.
Awesome! it came out in one piece.
Of course the whole thing was filled with bug house of some sort.

Turns out, because this engine has been sitting for a bit with the fuel rail open, that both the inlet and outlet to the fuel rail were packed with webs and dirt and crud that would make these parts totally useless.
So I had to order a new one and wait 3-5 days for it to show up.

I also realized that the rear main seal gasket that came with my gasket kit was not the right part.
Back to Rockauto again to get that part coming and of course more waiting.

Hmm what else can I do without starting a whole other stage of the build.
I figured I would get the timing belt side all wrapped up so I could get the covers on it and determine where to cut it so I can access the adjustable timing gear.
It cam out like so.

As you can see from that image I also managed so scrounge enough parts together to get a complete fuel rail with injectors and all that fit the new intake.

Naturally this meant ordering some crap and waiting... again.

Of course all of this assembly meant bead blasting and painting some bolts to give it at least some chance of staving off corrosion for a few months.

I probably don't have to tell you how pointless and daunting this task seems.

Honestly if I would have really thought ahead I would have just taken inventory of all the bolts and bought a bunch of new stuff right from the get go.
As I mentioned I ended up having to buy a bunch of new hardware anyway because of some of the mix-n-match parts that I am using.
For example, My oil pump bolts ended up being about 10mm too long.

Of course I ordered those and waited.

I got the pump mounted and the windage tray in place and managed to get on crappy pic of it.

Then I thought I would mount the oil pan.
Because I switched from a standard sheet metal pan to a much thicker cast aluminum pan and my windage tray gasket was about 2.5 times thicker than the regular old gasket, all of my bolts were about 5mm too short.
of course I did not sort all of this out until I cleaned all elevendy bajillion bolts that hold the oil pan on.

I did put a couple of the short bolts in it to hold it enough so it would stay and keep crud from getting into the crank case.
it sure is a funny looking thing.

Here is an approximate look at the angle at which the engine sits while in the van.
So strange.

So because I am running no AC compressor on this engine it meant I needed to get a different water pump pulley (seen in the pic above)
Of course when I bolted the pulley on it sat back just a bit further than I really would have liked.

More or less it seemed that the belt would be hanging off the edge a little bit.
It probably would have been fine but the last thing I wanted to mess with when all this was put back together was something as simple as a dag'on ol' serpentine belt floppin' off all the time.

Turns out the stock water pump pulley that is normally driven by a v belt fit inside of the serp belt pulley and spaced it out just right.

However I am not a fan of having excess bits that don't actually serve a purpose so while I was awaiting parts I figured I would just chuck the offending part in the lathe and pare it down to the bit I needed.

One big fancy German washer.

Speaking of useless bits there was this hunk on the bottom of my exhaust manifold that was for an EGR system for which my engine had no provisions.

I took it to work and used the band saw to cut through as much as I could without cutting stuff I needed.

Of course I had to take it home and hack the rest off with yee ol'sawzall.

After a little clean up with my belt sander it looked like so.

I still need to blast, paint and cure it but I feel better about it now.

I may have jumped the gun a little bit but I took advantage of a 10% ebay discount and took a chance on some no name oil and transmission cooler parts.

The silver cooler is a 30 row with a 7 inch fan and 10AN openings.
It will be used for the trans cooler.

I also decided, in order to easy hose routing, which is a bit of a pain with the ABA Vanagon swap, that I would ditch the stock water to oil cooler that came on the ABA and run a air to oil cooler with a fan.
This cooler is a 15 row with another 7 inch fan.

Both coolers will accompany huge dual remote mount filters and a cooler bypass thermostat for warm up.
Of course I bought some quality Mann filters for it because every German engine will explode if you even store any other filter in the same garage as the engine.

I could not really find cheap 10AN fan switches so I had to spend more than I would have liked to get what I needed from Derale.

I could have run some inline thing but these will mount on the cooler inlet and eliminate a joint in the lines.
I will then switch everything over to barbs and run half inch hose and 360 degree oetiker clamps on all the connections.

With the extra and bigger filters and the oil cooler and lines I have bumped my oil capacity from about 4.2 quarts to well over 5 quarts.
I won't know the exact number until it is all said and done but I am a firm believer in more oil capacity for longevity.
with the extra capacity, more filtering, an upgrade to a modern synthetic oil and proper temp control I feel like I should be able to bump my oil change intervals out to more modern specs.
I am thinking at least 5000 miles if not 7500 pretty comfortably.

I really wanted to get the intake and throttle body mounted permanently but, once again because of some of the mix-n-match parts that I am using I need to modify the injector harness so it will now reach all the necessary sensors.
Here is the harness in stock form.

I need to extend the temp sensor plug by about 5 inches and move the throttle position sensor plug to the opposite end of the engine.
I managed to get the harness unwrapped after about 60 sticky, nasty minutes of cutting and pulling and unraveling and thinking WTF kind of tape is this.
That's as far as I made it because, you guessed it, I had to order some more crap.
Well that and I officially deemed it beer:30.

So with all of the time spent fiddling with all these little engine details I have made the decision to farm out a couple of things so someone else can work on those while I do other things.

For starters I am passing the main engine wiring harness off to a gentleman in New York who will sort all that out so all I have to do is make a couple of power connections and be on my way.
I course I am having him leave the harness unwrapped because I have my own vision of how I want the harness wrapped and secured.

Obviously, as you have seen I bought a new oil pan.
Originally I was going to mod a stock steel pan to work at 50 degrees but time was not on my side.

I don't know if I mentioned it already but I sent drawings off to a laser cutter to have some brake brackets made and I have a machine shop making a couple of parts that will be part of said brake brackets.
This van is getting a serious brake upgrade that I will cover in more detail once I make it that far.
Fingers crossed it all fits under the wheels I have.

So now I am about a month into my build and, as is tradition, not nearly as far as I would have hoped.

I really feel like the engine, given that it has the most parts and is the biggest custom bit that I am dealing with, is naturally going to take the most time.
I also feel like I might have been better off actually buying an engine that was in better shape to start with.
I have had to spend a lot of time just fixing or replacing broken stock parts and cleaning holes and and other crap to make it useful.

If I can just get it buttoned up I hope that things like suspension and brakes will move along much more quickly.
This should all be aided even more by the fact that I can still design and have parts made and buy parts and have them here before I ever get started on any of it.

This was never meant to be a long term project
It would be super dope to have this thing running by the beginning of the year.
We will see where we are once I get this engine finished.
Hopefully things will pick up.

Until then...
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