Slow Car, Fast House

The 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia rested alone and unwanted in a field, baking under the Arizona sun until Mike and Geneva rescued the little camper from her gloomy fate. It wasn’t long before the modifications and updates started, including a hightop AdventureWagen conversion, Bostig Ford engine swap, and a multitude of clever alterations to enhance comfort and convenience for the long run. Dubbed Alta (Spanish for “tall”) for obvious reasons, she’s begun her new life as a home on wheels to Mike, Geneva, and their three dogs Seri, Zeb and Mango while they travel to points unknown.

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To say the Vanagon is well equipped would be an understatement—as I peek inside the cabinets and cubbies I can’t imagine not finding the right tool on board for any situation. External modifications include an original 8-foot awning and 10-foot Fiamma awning (both with attachable walls), cavernous secure storage boxes fore and aft, swing-out bike and spare tire racks, ladders for roof access, storage for tools and spares, and tables and racks for outdoor living.

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On the mechanical front, a Bostig engine conversion places a reliable Ford 2.0l DOHC motor where the 1.9l Volkswagen used to live. The transmission, axles, CV joints, cooling and brake systems have been replaced or rebuilt, and the electrical system has been updated to a stout dual-battery system with high-output solar charging. A practical selection of recovery gear stands at the ready, awaiting the inevitably muddy roads in Central and South America. A custom 20-gallon water tank replaces the factory unit, and ample spare propane allows for comfortable extended stays off the grid. A heavy duty GoWesty suspension with Koni shocks provides a smooth ride.

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Living and storage space abounds inside the spacious hightop. Cabinets and racks for cookware, dishes, food and spices surround the coveted Westfalia kitchen. Other additions and alterations include storage areas in the front and back of the hightop, blackout curtains for the windows, lighting, fans, and even a small library. Stretch netting serves double duty as cargo and canine management, and an impressive collection of Volkswagen paraphernalia decorates Alta inside and out.

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We look forward to reading about Mike and Geneva’s adventures on the road as they work their way south. Read more about Alta’s build or follow along with their journey at It’s not a slow car, it’s a fast house.

I’m a designer, photographer, author, and adventurist. I’m the lead creative at Layne Studio. I shoot photos for clients in the adventure, automotive, and outdoor industries. I write articles for travel and adventure publications. I make stuff in the Layne Workshop. I’m based out of Prescott, Arizona, but I prefer wanderlust over the comforts of home.