VW VANAGON CAMPERS
1980-1991 VW campers were VW Vanagon Westfalia campers. The interior layout in the Vanagon camper, unlike the VW Bus, which changed many times, stayed essentially the same throughout the years. The cabinets of the earliest Vanagon Westy’s were fake wood-grain, the seats were a funky striped design, and the entire wall and ceiling covering was a thin contact paper-like material that would fall off. The first few years of Vanagon Westy’s campers came in two styles, a stripey version with only sink and ice box (no LP gas system), and a deluxe model with a stove and three-way fridge. Around 1984 the stripey version was dropped, and cabinet finish changed to a soft tan color, the fabric changed to a more subdued and extremely durable tan fabric, and the funky and unreliable contact paper was replaced with a much more attractive and durable material. This interior scheme stayed in effect through 1986 and in 1987 the interior color changed to gray and remained a very high quality. All 87-91 camper interiors are almost identical. In 1989 the closet door was shortened so it could be open with the rear table in the stowed position. In 1990 the refrigerator was changed to an electric start type, but that’s about it. In 1985, 1986, and 1987 there was a special Westfalia Wolsfburg Weekender offered. These models have the same pop-top as the full camper, but instead of the frig/stove/sink assembly, it has a flip-up table instead and one rear facing seat behind the driver. A very similar set-up was offered again in 1990 and 991 and was called the Westfalia Multi-Van (later offered on the Eurovan platform as well). The inside set-up of the MV model was almost identical to the Wolfsburg Weekender, except it had two rear-facing seats behind each of the front seats, both of which were quick-release for easy removal. The 90/91 Multi-Vans (or “MV’s) are essentially a Carat seven-passenger Vanagon model with the Westfalia pop-top, and are probably most sought-after and valuable two wheel drive Vanagons ever made. Whereas the appearance of the Vanagon changed very little over the 12 years it was offered, mechanically they changed profoundly:
1980-1983: The Vanagon was introduced in 1980 with the same 2000cc EFI engine that was used in the last of the Buses. These air cooled Vanagons, although a great improvement over their Bus predecessors, are the worst of the Vanagons. The 2000cc air cooled engine was simply not up to the task of pushing around an even bigger, heavier box. Typical engine life is about 90,000 miles. Additionally, the first stab at the 4-speed shifter system was a complete failure and was totally re-designed with the introduction of the gasoline water-cooled model in late 1983. A good example of one of these Westy’s will run between $5000 and $7500
1982-1983 Diesel powered Vanagon: VW offered the Vanagon with the VW Rabbit water-cooled diesel engine for two (thank god) short years. Now, we at GoWesty love diesel-powered vehicles don’t get me wrong. I own five diesel-powered vehicles, three of them VW's. However, what the hell was VW thinking when they put a 48hp 1600cc non-turbo diesel engine into this vehicle? It is simply amazing. We have converted six of these vehicles to the larger, stouter 1900cc turbo-diesel power plant with great success. They are strong running, and produce about 30% better fuel economy than a typical gasoline powered Vanagon. However, these vehicles have many of the shortcomings of all the older Vanagons (the shifter system for example), and the cost and trouble of converting one of these to the newer turbo diesel power plant is formidable. A nice Diesel westy with a 1.9 turbo engine will run between $15,000 and $25,000
1983-1985: The Vanagon was introduced in year model 1983 with a water-cooled "Wasserboxer" or "Waterboxer" (for all of us English-speaking folk) engine in North America. These first water boxer engines were 1900cc and had “Digijet” EFI. The basic design of the Waterboxer is solid. It was the culmination of some 40 years of experience VW had with the horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engine design. The Waterboxer is basically made in the same external dimensions as a VW Type 1 engine, with the internal displacement and main bearing design of the Type 4 engine, and water (instead of air) cooled. The first waterboxer Vanagons had many problems with the cooling system. First of all, VW didn’t realize until about two years into production that there was a problem with the phosphate in the coolant they were using. The wrong coolant formula caused the cylinder heads to corrode rapidly at the area where the water-jacket rubber seal (often incorrectly referred to as the “head gasket”) and cylinder head come into contact. Most engines were leaking coolant within the first couple of years, or about 40,000 miles. This stigma has plagued the Waterboxer design ever since, even thought the problem was essentially solved early on. With care given to using a non-phosphate coolant, and regular 2-year flushing of the system, there is absolutely no problem whatsoever. We have seen Waterboxer Vanagons with up to 290,000 miles come into our shop completely original, the engines never having been disassembled. The rest of the problems with the cooling system were solved with the introduction of the 1986 2100cc Vanagon. You can pick up a good used 83-85 Westy for between $5000 and $10,000.
1986-1991: These are the best of the Vanagons. They are easily identified by their rectangular (instead of round) headlights. The ‘86 and ‘87’s had smaller steel bumpers, the ‘88-‘91’s had larger fiberglass bumpers and an added ventilation duct at the rear of each of the rear side windows. Many people think that these Vanagons were better because of the increase in displacement from 1900cc to 2100cc, but in fact this was the least important change. Indeed, the two engines are essentially identical in construction and design, with the exception of a longer stroke crankshaft (74mm instead of 69mm, increasing displacement to 2110cc instead of 1915cc), and an improved #1 main bearing design. The more important changes were: Improved exhaust, ignition, fuel injection (Digifant), brakes, and (most importantly) COOLING systems. The cooling system was COMPLETELY re-worked for 1986 and stayed basically unchanged through the end of 1991 production. The new cooling system had fewer parts, and was much easier to bleed and maintain than the earlier system. Furthermore, the newer engine case with the better #1 main bearing design was also slightly bigger inside enabling the displacement to be increased even further than 2110cc. But, that’s another story…click here to read it. As a rule of thumb, I tell folks to stay away from Vanagons with round headlights. The price difference between a clean 1985 camper and a 1986 camper is usually small, whereas the later is a much better vehicle indeed. Nice ‘86-‘87 Westy’s run about $12-18k, ‘88-‘89’s run about $14-20k, and ‘90-‘91’s run about $16-24k
1986-1991 Syncro (4WD) Vanagon: VW offered the Vanagon in a full time all wheel drive version called the Syncro. It was offered in passenger van, Weekender, and Camper versions (but not the in MV). These models all command a much higher price tag. These all wheel drive Vanagons are way cool, but way expensive not only to purchase, but to maintain as well. They cost $5,000 and $10,000 more than the exact same non-syncro vehicle to purchase, and EVERYTHING about them is more difficult and expensive to repair. My advice is to stay away from the Syncro unless you REALLY want all wheel drive, and the word BUDGET is NOT part of your vocabulary.
This is from Go Westy, the world authority in my opinion on Westfalia campers. Great vans, parts and information can be found at www.gowesty.com