Frank Motors has been known as the Volkswagen specialist for over 50 years so it was no surprise when we had a client reach out to us to work on their Volkswagen camper van also known as a Vanagon. This is a story about how the Frank Motors team did an engine conversion to increase power, improve fuel economy and reliability, as well making it a quieter and more comfortable ride.

Thaner has owned his 1986 Volkswagen camper van for over 10 years, and almost every Vanagon owner at one point would like more power than the stock engine can provide. He was doing everything he could to keep his original engine running, however eventually it overheated and the head gasket had failed. This meant it was the right time to do the conversion.

Thaner originally planned on driving his van to Rocky Mountain Westy in Colorado for them to do the conversion. However, the van now could not be driven and bringing it state side was going to be quite a challenge. This is when Thaner approached us with the idea of having Frank Motors do the conversion.

Why is this unique for Frank Motors?

There are many shops that offer engine conversions on Volkswagen Vanagons in Canada though most are on the east and west coast where vans are more common. There are very few engine conversions done in the prairies due to the lack of shops offering the service locally.

What makes Frank Motors experts?


Our expertise begins with our Client Service Advisors as they are the front line team to first hear from our clients about the challenges or concerns they are experiencing with their vehicles. Our Client Service Advisors are highly trained and have years of experience in being able to discuss the clients concerns and through the process assist our clients in making informed and educated decisions about their vehicles.

Kyle is the Client Service Advisor that worked closely with Thaner and our technicians in determining the best possible plan for a successful engine conversion. As part of the process Kyle was responsible for ensuring he understood Thaner’s objectives for wanting this conversion done, doing extensive research and sourcing the best parts for the job.

For our expert technicians, Thaner’s request to do an engine conversion was a great opportunity for us to expand on our strong knowledge and experience of working with both Volkswagen and Subaru vehicles.

We continually invest in our team and invest in the latest technology, so this has allowed us to include engine conversions as a service we provide to our Vanagon clients, here locally in Winnipeg.

What is involved?

Due to the Vanagon engine failing we needed to first find and inspect a donor car. A donor car is a vehicle often thought of as scrap and used for parts. We found a Subaru that its engine including wiring harness and electronic control module were in good condition but the body was damaged beyond repair.

Now that we had our donor car we stripped the Subaru and Vanagon of their engine’s, full wiring harness and electronic control module.

Rebuilt Subaru engine (donor car) and replaced parts for the engine to perform like new.

Rebuilt original automatic transmission with taller gearing and new seals. The taller gearing allows lower RPM’s when on the highway or at cruising speed which improves fuel economy and with reduced RPMs makes for a quieter more comfortable ride.

We made an in-house wiring harness out of two by using both the donor car harness and the engine control module which is the computer for the engine.

Match the Subaru Engine with the Volkswagen Transmission, a different flex-plate and mounting plate were required and supplied by Rocky Mountain Westy.

Installed Engine and Transmission into Vanagon.

Connected all wiring and hoses.

Modified instrument cluster to work with Subaru engine signals, including Temperature Gauge, Tachometer and Warning Lights. New resistors had to be soldered into the Tachometer and Temperature Gauge.

Replaced all Coolant Pipes with Stainless Steel (not part of the engine conversion but important to make sure there are no leaks and it was easy to do with the engine already out of the vehicle)

Resealed Fuel Tank

Replaced Power Steering Lines with Custom Aluminum and Stainless Steel Lines

Bled all Systems to ensure all air is out of the systems.

Once the engine conversion was completed we did several road tests in the city and highway testing to ensure the power and performance was achieved, as well as there were no leaks.

Picture Gallery of Subaru Engine Conversion







Want to know more?

If you are interested in learning more about engine conversions please contact Kyle at or 204-987-2461.