Westfalia Freaks?

13 02 2011

1989 VW Westie...

On the off chance there are some readers that are VW freaks…how much would you pay for a VW Westfalia that:

  • was in average condition
  • 1989
  • 250,000 miles
  • as shown above

How much would you set aside to upgrade it to trouble free operation?  I’m assuming that would mean a rebuilt engine, new clutch and transmission.


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37 responses

13 02 2011
Dr Jim

Tell me that is not yours Vik. We had one for awhile. Lots of people of my generation had one…..my infatuation with the VW Westphalia went up in smoke with the van we saw engulfed in flames on the highway. The family looked on as their van became nothing but a pile of scorched metal. They are fun to play with though……..AIR HEADS UNITE! I think the model shown though had a radiator or is it the the pan head air model. My favorites are the vans with Porche engines retrofitted into them……now those were great!

P.S. I still have the Thorn frame and have got it so it works great……Happy Riding.

13 02 2011
LukeB

I own a 1989 Syncro Westy that has a 2003 Subaru 2.5L engine in it, so I feel qualified to give my input.

First, the situation Dr. Jim describes can happen when owners do NOT replace all fuel lines in their van with high-quality replacement tubing. Vendors like Van-Cafe sell replacement kits at a reasonable cost, and pretty much anyone can do the job. If you ever buy any kind of VW van, this is the FIRST thing you must do unless it can be proven the lines were replaced within a year or so. Even then, I would do the job myself.

These vans are for people who like to work on cars, or who have a lot of money to pay other people to work on them. I have personally replaced the entire cooling system with new hoses and stainless pipes, pulled the transmission for a rebuild ($$$ for a syncro), replaced said transmission, and have done other major repair items myself. If you have a Bentley, mechanical ability, and patience, you will enjoy owning a Vanagon.

If the van you are looking at needs a rebuilt engine, I would STRONGLY suggest looking into a Bostig conversion (www.bostig.com) instead of rebuilding the engine. I love my 2.5L subaru, but if I were doing the conversion myself I would probably put in a Bostig since it is much more DIY friendly.

Some resources to check out before purchase:

http://www.thesamba.com
http://www.aatransaxle.com (the best manual trans rebuilder, bar none)
gerry.vanagon.com (very friendly mailing list)
http://www.vanagon.com

PMail me as well if you’d like to discuss further! The Vanagon community is very friendly and helpful as well, which is a huge plus when you own one.

13 02 2011
Gerco

You would probably be better off trying to get a basic camper interiour installed in your pick up truck…

These VW’s seem to keep there value.. but a 22 year old with that mileage..
I would walk past it… Yes, to make it sound it would probably need rebuild engine, gearbox and a new clutch..

Happy hunting for that ultimate camper van/truck..

13 02 2011
paul

Hey Vik,

We have had our ’81 Westy for almost 10 years now. After 83.5 theya re all watercooled and there are many more options for engine swaps. More powerful VW to Subaru boxers to chevy V8′s (not kidding!)

A 89 in decent condition with no previous engine work would be about 12-13 grand(?) you should probably set aside 4-6 grand for the engine and clutch work. after that, the sky is the limit. I’ve seen 4wd syncro models that have been totally stripped and rebuilt with lots of very functional accessories go for 90 – 110 K

If you go for it, choose your engine with Baja miles in mind. Our aircooled ’81 cruises at 55, can be pushed to 65, and maxes out at 75mph not designed to make miles in a hurry.

We are close to selling it, but man, we have some wonderful memories and I think we’ll use it for one more summer down the Oregon coast.

13 02 2011
thelazyrando

@Greco – I will probably install a very basic DIY bed and camper setup in my truck, but it’s not possible to make it into a comfortable camper while keeping the versatility to haul things. Once you make it a full on camper it’s a different beast. I’d like to avoid that.

@Luke – my concern is I’m not very handy with cars/trucks so I’m going to have to pay someone to do the work. So if constant repairs are not avoidable than it won’t work out. There are some newer 1993+ VW vans with the Winnabago interiors and far fewer miles available, but at 2 to 3 times the cost. The other option is to get a full size Ford 1 ton camper van…not stylie, but very low mileage ones can be had.

@Paul – my goal would be to make it reliable and I wouldn’t bother with much beyond that. Glad you are enjoying yours.

13 02 2011
thelazyrando

@Dr.J – glad the Thorn is working for you…=-)

13 02 2011
Marcy

I owned a 1990 Westfalia Vanagon Multi-Van (the one with the pop-top and no kitchen) that I sold in 1999 for approximately $2000 less than I paid for it new. Keep in mind that I had only put 41,000 miles on it and I kept it in pristine condition. The only trouble I ever had with it was the fuel pump–pretty sure I had to replace it twice. I loved many things about that vehicle, but it was gutless going over mountain passes and I got tired of trying to find parking in city that could accomodate such a tall vehicle. I don’t know, Vik, that seems like a lot of miles–could be quite the money pit. Good Luck.

13 02 2011
Dr Jim

Funny about those Westies, once you get bitten by the bug, there is plenty to stay attached to. The upside is that they are unique in character and can be plenty of fun, with lots of potential. The downside is getting them in shape and up to speed (pun intended) and all that potential can be really costly. …Enjoy P.S……trust me on this one, being a genius with bicycle mechanics doesn’t necessarily mean that translates over to Westie mechanics……and like you said, that can mean some big money on maintenance, Canadian or US $.

13 02 2011
Chris

I have owned and driven a few VW campers, from a ’72 Westfalia with a Sportsmobile (US-made horizontal poptop) to an ’87 Vanagon Syncro highroof project. I also have two American vans (Chevy and GMC diesel 1-tons) Here are some thoughts:

Regarding Vanagons:
-I’m a longtime fan. They get under your skin. They draw you in to a tinkerers’ paradise, where inspirations and mini creature comfort projects will drop from the sky and the van will never truly be done. That said, they’re not for those accustomed to Camry-style reliability
-Westfalias fetch a disproportionately high premium over passenger models. Many have retrofitted Westy bits onto a lowly 7-passenger van for far less than ponying up for the genuine article
-The stock 2.1 liter waterboxer is a lousy engine. I’m partial to Subaru swaps if one is staying with gasoline (though the Ford Zetec has good feedback from owners) Mine will be a turbodiesel.

Regarding the ’93 and up front wheel drive VW vans:
-low ground clearance, especially the long-wheelbase Winnebago which has the propane tank guard right in the middle for easy hi-centering.
-more rust-prone than the Vanagons
-very disappointing fuel economy for gasoline engine models
-replacement transmissions cost a fortune
-FWD layout makes for a more versatile and roomy interior than the Vanagon

Regarding American vans:
-Though harder to find, I’d recommend a diesel. I drove a 1993 GMC 3500 with the naturally-aspirated 6.2 Diesel V8 for a few years and found it had all the power and torque I could ever need with fuel economy consistently in the low-20s. I later converted it to run on vegetable oil, which was great.
-Sportsmobile (who started doing VW conversions back in the day) makes pop-top roofs for American vans, especially Econolines. Worth looking into that!

14 02 2011
thelazyrando

@Chris – thanks for all the info. I’ve checked out Sportsmobiles and they look great – plus I can get one with low mileage for less maintenance hassle and better reliability. The trouble is they cost a lot more. I can get an older VW Van [80's] for $7K, a newer VW van [90's] for $17K or a newish Sportmobile [2005] for $50K. I don’t have any DIY skills when it comes to motor vehicles so I need something that’s basically ready to roll the way I want or that is affordable to update.

14 02 2011
Gerco

What about one of those camperunits you can ut on the back of a pickup truck??

http://www.six-pac.com/fits.htm

14 02 2011
thelazyrando

@Greco – my truck has a cap on it already so I would need to swap back and forth which is a big job. I’d either have to pay to store the camper in a RV yard or leave it in my driveway where it would push our vehicles on to the road. The cost of those units is $15K-$30K and the result is a poor handling huge rig to drive around.

I had a look at them, but I’d rather have a full RV if I was going that route or a trailer [same costs as these back of truck units] because I could leave the cap on my truck pulling the trailer.

I can’t park a RV or trailer in front of my house for an extended period of time so on top of paying storage fees I’d have to go drive to get it every time I wanted to use it.

A van can park on the street in front of my house and I can jump in for a weekend at the lake kiteboarding or surfing with no hassles.

14 02 2011
Randobarf

Yuk! I rebuilt one of the older ones. They are WORSE than a Bentley! Ya they grow on ya, even while they are disintegrating and hurling parts. The reason people like them is because they like to pretend they are a bus driver. However, they are not buses. If they were buses the bus company would be out of business in a week.

For the price of one you could buy a small Airstream trailer that is about 10 times as nice and a lot more roomy.

14 02 2011
LukeB

“I don’t have any DIY skills when it comes to motor vehicles”

You probably should not purchase a Vanagon then … unless you want it to be a learning experience. I had not done any work on cars before purchasing my Vanagon but have found it a fun vehicle to work on.

You can get a Vanagon to a reliable state (I have with mine) … it will cost you time and money, or just a lot of money to do so.

14 02 2011
Brad

I own the 7 passenger version and have about 305,000 on it (replaced the engine at 200,000) and have found it to be relatively expensive, but I don’t mind putting money into it because there is nothing else like it. I have the manual transmission but the three speed automatic is pretty good too. Find a mechanic that really knows Vanagons. They are mechanically like nothing else on the road. You will know the good mechanic by the many Vanagons parked out in front in different states of decay or rebuild. Wolfsburg Motorwerks is the place to go to in Seattle.

Expect to get about 17mpg average and put in about $2,000/year in repairs and then you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s the one thing you need to look for. Rust. Everything else will be secondary. Nobody looks for it and it will get you.

Also congratulations on not getting a syncro. They are REALLY expensive to fix. The center differential needs to be hand machined as there are no parts manufactured.

Lastly, Eurovans pretty much only come with the 4 speed automatic and are not strong enough for the weight of the vehicle. The rebuild is ~$7000 and happens about every 70,000 miles. You do the math.

14 02 2011
Brad

Oh yes, an engine rebuild will be $4000 and a transmission will cost $2500. Just factor it into the purchase price.

14 02 2011
thelazyrando

Thanks for all the super helpful replies! I am continually amazed by the cool people that read this blog and the great info I get from you! You rock!

I found another VW Vanagon ’82, but with 300,000kms vs. 430,000kms….looks like it’s in better shape asking $8K. I’ll check it out when I get home. Is there anything special about an ’82 water cooler manual trans VW Westie?

I’ve found some well regarded VW mechanics on Vancouver Island [it's a Westie paradise] so getting service seems no problem. If I get the van for $7K and say spend $3K getting it sorted than at $10K it’s still looking like a reasonable deal “IF” I can sell it again say a year or three later for $7-$9K. Given it’s an ’82 you’ think prices won’t change much now.

My goal would be to own the van for a year or two to:

1. validate I liked it and was willing to invest in it
2. ensure the specific one I got wasn’t a total lemon
3. research the options/upgrades I wanted/needed
4. put aside the $$$ to do the mods

I must admit that I’ve had a “thing” for VW vans and have run into many folks on my travels that have them and love them. But, as you guys have pointed out their is the VW van fantasy and the reality.

14 02 2011
thelazyrando

@RandoB – I agree a trailer provides better comfort to cost given that I have a truck that can pull a trailer, but I am then forced to store it somewhere at a significant cost and every time I want to use it I have to go get it. Once I have it I have to haul it which is a pain…for example in California [which is one of my frequent destinations] you can go 65-70mph, but with a trailer you can go only 55mph.

If my travels involved infrequently driving to a spot and parking for 3-6 months a trailer would be the way to go. I tend to take many shorter trips – often with long transport legs to get to LA, Moab, Baja, etc…

14 02 2011
Randobarf

Vik, dont’ even think about going 70 mph in a Westfalia. I don’t care what anybody says, once you get past 55 mph bad things happen. There are cooling issues for one. Air molecules traveling more than 55 mph can penetrate the intermolecular space in the special Westfaliasteel and cause it reach a state of entropy that makes the moving parts reject each other like an autoimmune reaction in a human. Those shoes you sometimes see lying beside the highway belonged to people in a Westfalia that went over 70 mph (downhill) that actually dis-integrated into its constituent elemental components that blew away in the wind, leaving NOTHING (except shoes).

14 02 2011
LukeB

I laughed at the 55 vs. 70mph comment as well … I can go 70mph in my van, thanks to the subie, but fuel economy SUCKS at that speed. If I keep it to 55-60mph I can get 20 or 21 mpg.

We took a big road trip down through OR and CA and I kept it at 60 mph. I’m sure the CA drivers weren’t happy.

14 02 2011
th

Since you’re living in a Westie paradise, is it possible that you could borrow one to try out?

14 02 2011
nomad5326

For the Westy your showing figure $5K-$8K but even with the high mileage and obvious door dent it coult push to $10K.

I purchased my 2nd 85 westy two years ago at 100k for $13K.

SInce then have had 90K put on it and had to intall:

New Engine: $4500
New Trans: $2500
New Shocks: $800
New Susp Bushings: $800
New Brakes: $500

Each van is different, but with the mileage you list and without knowing what has been done (does it already have most of the above included in the original mileage) then I would expect to over time complete the above. Estimate, no-shit $2000-$2500 annually and you will not be surprised and the van will last forever….hopefully.

They are things of beauty to those who love them and can afford to keep their hearts beating.

For reference check out:
Thesamba.com
Westfalia.org

14 02 2011
Brad

I got my last clutch job done for about $550 and the manual transmissions will last until the last bolt falls off. The manual says that the transmission requires no service but change the oil every couple of years just to be sure. The magnet in the oil plug sure can hold a lot of metal shavings.

Just for fun, you might consider a stroker motor where the 2.1 is bored out to 2.4 or 2.6 and a longer crank is machined along with longer connecting rods. I did that to mine and though I now have to buy Super unleaded because of the higher compression ratio, it goes 65 up the passes and can climb Rainier in a comfortable 4th gear.

You’re not looking for kids though so don’t worry about the seating for 4.

The Vanagon people who have wised up are now really raving about the Dodge Sprinter, which also has a conversion and a German diesel. It gets better mileage and is much roomier and easier to load.

14 02 2011
thelazyrando

@RandoB – I would never drive a VW van 70mph in a 70mph zone. I would do 80mph+, but not before lowering it, adding tiny, but super wide tires, tinting the windows, installing a killer stereo with huge subwoofers and buying myself some awesome shades. With these changes it is a competent high speed steed.

@Brad – I’ve checked out the sprinter vans and if I was going to spend $70K-$80K for a camperized van they would be at the top of my list. I borrow my boss’ Sprinter camper and it was amazing!

@TH – in all my years of VW van interest nobody has offered to lend me one.

14 02 2011
LukeB

Also check out GoWesty’s site. This is a good article on deciding if you’re a Eurovan (or other long-wheelbase vehicle) or Vanagon person:

http://www.gowesty.com/library_article.php?id=98

I’ll say this – my van goes places no Eurovan or Sprinter could due to the 4WD, short wheelbase, lifted suspension, and off-road tires. It’s a tank.

14 02 2011
thelazyrando

@LukeB – thanks for the article…I love these 4×4 vans:

http://sportsmobile.com/4_4x4sports.html

15 02 2011
Jolly

How about those collapsible trailers? They seem easy to store and yet my neighbor’s gets pretty big when it is opened up. It is short so wouldn’t be much extra on wind drag while being towed.

16 02 2011
JB

Vik,
You might want to check out this partially modded sprinter in the expedition portal sale section:
http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=55560&highlight=sprinter

16 02 2011
David

I have had both a ’85 Vanagon Westy and a ’97 Eurovan Camper. Both cost a ton of money to keep running. VW parts average two to three times the price of a comparable US car part. The Vanagon always seemed to know when we were going on a long trip, and a major part would fail. Really look for seam rust on a Vanagon. They seem to rust from the inside out. The Dometic refrigerator is junk. The people at Go Westy just replace them with a cabinet kit, and sell a much better electric fridge. The Eurovan was fater, more reliable, and more stable. But, in the end it was just another van, not a VW bus. Again the parts were pricey, and I didn’t feel compfortable working on the more modern V6 engine. Then the transmission went, that was a $6000 repair. I’m glad I sold it.

25 02 2011
thelazyrando

Thanks for all the feedback on this topic. We’ve decided getting an older VW and working on it isn’t a smart move given our mechanical skills. Modern travel vans are out of the budget at the moment so we’ll just wait and give it some further consideration down the road.

24 09 2011
nmh

You may want to consider something based on the Ford Transit Connect platform. That may be the modern spiritual successor to the VW van and it is much cheaper than the Sportsmobile.

http://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/60107-Ford-Transit-Connect-Camper-Conversion

You can even find rentals here:

http://www.campervannorthamerica.com/campervans-edelweiss.shtml

No affiliation or interest.

31 01 2012
steve tucker

I had a Zetec bostig conversion my van runs like a flawless, the plug in coolant engine heater works fantastic even a -30c after sitting 12 days the vans started first time.Getting 20mpg. Good acceleration ,low exhaust emissions.Totally reliable.

20 03 2012
jim

hey…i somehow got on your blog via cycling enquiries/surfing and i have just pulled my 89 out of the garage after its winter hibernation. recharged battery installed, started first time, sounds good……….i want to sell my 89 westy, because my accountant wife hates me spending money on it and does not trust it on long trips or backcountry adventures. the fear is not based on any misadventure, but it is 22/23 years old and things are getting old. new main seals and clutch last year, a seeping cv joint to investigate now. the gas tank seals i put in in the fall seem to be leaking again…..the previous posts of 2000 dollars a year are a bit steep, but expect to spend something each year before any long range adventure…say moab…kooteneys. you do have mechanics and conversion specialists on the island that make a van purchase realistic. i live in williams lake where its do it yourself or drive to loops or vernon for mechanical work..volkswagon vans do get in under your skin….fellow owners wave every time you pass….when you go to an event and are too tired or drunk you pop the top and crawl in…coffee is on in the morn and you dr5ive away….sweet. i have an old school vw bike carrier for two bikes and can put two mt bikes inside, but you need a mud mat or remove the carpet(removeable) . i have had great memories with bikes, vw vans over the years. my van has original engine, new heads a while ago and runs strong. if i wasn’t married to a bean counter i would spring for a subie or ford transplant for a bit stronger, faster and modern engine. i have not advertised my van, and trying to avoid it but if your intersted send me an email or a call 250-398-5926…good luck on the vw adventure. if you don’t do it , you will always be thinking about it….

21 03 2012
thelazyrando

Hey Jim,

Thanks for the offer about your VW. I’ve had a bit of a cash crunch lately and don’t have any excess $$ to spend on non-essentials like another vehicle at the moment. I do appreciate you letting me know about it though and I agree a VW van would be awesome for my lifestyle.

cheers,

Vik

22 03 2012
jim

hey vic…when i see all the directions you are being pulled and the gear required to be happy in those pusuits i can totally see that you might be cash strapped…..maybe we could trade. i’ve been interested in the new version of rando bikes. my buddy has a shop and brought in a demo pug to play in the snow, and i kind of liked it. kayaking is cool too…..your wife/partner would love all the free space. happy wife..happy life…just kidding vic. if you really want a van down the road, don’t rush into it, do some research on samba.net and buy something that someone has redone and get a good vw mechanic look it over. you truly will love it (and hate it somedays -bit like a sailboat)…..happy trails….

3 01 2013
Rob

I just bought an 81 Westy in semi-running condition for $1500. It was running on three cylinders but took a chance as the price was right. I had lost my beloved 72 Westy a couple of years ago to a fire and am excited to have another. The fire was my fault as I prematurely put her on the road with carb problems. Anyways, just a comment on top speed……firstly, never let your skateboarding, tile setting, bipolar friends drive your 72 Westy. They are hyper and in a hurry and may drive your 1.7 downhill and wide open. I had a few beers and while listening to the “Chemical Brothers”, saw the speedo hit 93 mph. That’s right 93 mph! Mind you, shortly after that the motor puked a push rod. I also remember driving our family 73 Westy routinely over 80 mph on the way to the local ski hill. I love these vans! The key is to maintain them and to fix them right. There are too many people working on them that don’t have a clue or fix them wrong. While investigating the engine problem on my new 81 Vanagon, I found that the previous owner had just rebuilt the engine. However, the rebuilder wasn’t paying attention while installing the new heads. One of the head gaskets was pinched and this resulted in one cylinder not sealing which proceeded to unseat one of the valve seats. Lucky for me the engine was perfect except for that one head. His loss was my gain but you can see how these machines get the bad press. The previous owner dumped a lot of cash on this van and after spending another 5000 on the engine and it still not working, you can see why he gave up and parked it. That was four years ago and this van has a new tent, ball joints etc. etc. and is completely rust free! In fact, it still has the original pin stripes and most of the original paint. Quite a find! Like I stated, you need to fix these vans properly. They are finicky and everything needs to be functioning properly. My 72 ran like a top until my friend abused her, and for years. Drove her from Vancouver Island to
Tijuana

and through the desert to the Grand Canyon without a burp. My Dads 73 Westy never once let us down from trips down the eastern seaboard to Florida to trips across Canada. These vans are superb you just need to learn about them or FIND A GOOD MECHANIC!!! do your homework, network and your life will change. :)

23 03 2013
aeroboytt

I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Eurovan Diesel. This is a reliable and efficient vehicle, though slow by today’s standards. The engines and transmissions are bulletproof. I don’t have one but am waiting for the right one to come along.

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