Why did you do the engine conversion on your VW Vanagon?

Kyle:  When I purchased the van it required a transmission and front differential to be rebuilt, because of this the original engine needed to be removed.  I knew long term I wanted more power out of the van, so when it was time to put it back together I decided to just pull the trigger and do the conversion at the same time the transmission and front differential were reinstalled.

What was required?

Kyle:  A van to convert (‘89 Vanagon Syncro), a Donor Vehicle( 2000 Subaru Legacy 2.5), and a Rocky Mountain Conversion Kit.

How was the engine conversion done?

Kyle:  The conversion kit included an adapter plate along with many other smaller parts that allow a Subaru engine to be bolted to a Volkswagen Transmission.   The Original engine in the Vanagon was a 2.1L horizontally opposed four cylinder engine.  Subaru and Porsche are the only two manufactures to still make a horizontally opposed engine.  Subaru being a lot more common and a lot cheaper to buy parts for.  This makes the Subaru engine fit perfectly in the Vanagons engine bay.

What are the benefits of doing it?

Kyle:  There are several benefits for doing an engine conversion:

  • More Power by increasing it from 90hp to 165hp
  • Greater Reliability with a newer engine.
  • Better Fuel Mileage
  • Easier to find parts for and work on.

What else can you tell us?

Kyle: The biggest difference between the last conversion we did and this conversion is the van used. The first was a 1986 Vanagon Westfalia full camper with an automatic transmission.
My van is not a camper but a passenger van, my van is also a Syncro which means it is a four-wheel drive vehicle that is not very common in North America.

Did you do any additional upgrades?

Kyle:  When I had my transmission rebuilt I had a few upgrades done at the same time.

  • Taller 4th gear for lower highway RPM
  • Added an aggressive Viscous coupler to the front differential
  • Added a Decoupler that allows the van to be driven in 2WD
  • Added a locker to the rear differential


The Tech Side of The Engine Conversion:  An Interview with Master Tech Milan Paskas

What was needed for this engine conversion?

Milan:  There were 3 critical components

  • VW Vanagon (in good shape)
  • Subaru donor car (engine in good running condition, wiring harness, ECM control module)
  • Installation Kit

Tech’s Point of View:

Milan:  The better the shape of the van the less work that will need to be done to complete the conversion.  In Kyle’s example we had to repair some rust issues where the tank was held up in place, we had to weld in the metal sheet behind the rear bench which supports the tank and also had to manufacture a hold down for the tank.


What parts do you use from the donor car?

Milan:  Out of the donor car (Subaru) we took out the engine, ECM, and wiring harness. This being our second conversion I was able to cut out the needed cables and connectors and leave out what was unnecessary.  This saved us about 8 hours of labour because we didn’t have to take out the dashboard.  I chose to go this way to also minimize the wiring harness to a minimum, which makes it easier to mate the Subaru with the VW harness.


What modifications did you do?

Milan:  Some modifications had to take place on the engine to route the coolant the opposite way than in the Subaru and a flatter oil pan helps to keep ground clearance.  Other modifications that need to take place in the Vanagon are some resistors that need to be soldered in for the tachometer and temperature gauge to work properly.


Are you a VW enthusiast with a Vanagon and looking for more engine power and greater reliability?

Call Kyle at 204.987.2461 or email him at to learn more about Frank Motor’s engine conversion process.   Book your engine conversion this January and you’ll be ready for the best summer road trips of 2017!