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#Vanlife: What about the VW Bus?

2022 VW ID Buzz bus van prototype concept vehicle
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Long before there was the Sprinter, hippies were converting the Volkswagen Bus into roaming homes, traveling wherever their visions led them. Since then, it’s become one of the most iconic vehicles on the road. It’s been a while, but the seventh generation of the VW Bus is on its way. But will it work as a proper adventure van? Or should you look to older models for a miniature camper?

This concept was shown at the Detroit Auto Show and is planned as a 2022 model. So you’ve got some time. The design uses familiar lines, but is fully modern with planned autonomous driving, all-electric drivetrain with a 270 mile range, and modular interior that seats up to eight people. Or sleep two.

2022 VW ID Buzz bus van prototype concept vehicle

2022 VW ID Buzz bus van prototype concept vehicle
Pass-through doors make it easy for more passengers to get in and out, and give you more options for taking in the best view regardless of how you end up parking it. (All VW ID Buzz concept car photos c. Volkswagen)

Technically, there were two types of VW Bus – The Bus, which was more rounded and had that classic “VW Bug” aesthetic, and the Van or Vanagon, which was boxier and came later in their model years. This new ID Buzz seems like a blend of the two.

2022 VW ID Buzz bus van prototype concept vehicle

2022 VW ID Buzz bus van prototype concept vehicle

A completely modular interior lets you move and fold seats to create room or beds (see video). The pillows and headrest pads on the windows could make for much comfier road trips for passengers.

Our first impression is that this new ID Buzz concept is really more of a people mover than a true adventure van. No doubt there’ll be conversions and sweet concepts at SEMA (and the real world) once it debuts. But with a nearly full glass panorama ceiling and 22″ rims, we don’t see too many folks popping for the likely high base price and then spending another big chunk to add a pop-up roof and offload-capable tires. Time will tell. And we have time. So what about upfitting an older model?

Converting a VW Bus into an Adventure Van

Peace Vans does complete uplifts, conversions & rentals. Photo: Peace Vans/Matt Delcomyn
Peace Vans does complete uplifts, conversions & rentals. Photo: Peace Vans/Matt Delcomyn

The Internet is awash with galleries of VW van conversions. The two shown here come from Peace Vans in Seattle, which handles everything from minor fixes to complete restores and upgrades with new drivetrains, Recaro leather interiors, and more.

A complete restore on a 1985 VW Vanagon.
A complete restore on a 1985 VW Vanagon by Peace Vans (photo: Peace Vans)

But you’ll need to consider is cost. The 1985 Vanagon conversion shown above had a budget of $75,000 and a year to complete, excluding the cost of the vehicle itself. For that amount of coin, you’d need to really be a fan of the model when that same amount could by a new Ford Transit or Sprinter and leave a little for light customization. Or a well-equipped used one.

Subaru 2.2 conversion by Buslab

Many of these vans end up getting (or needing) an engine swap, and sometimes a new transmission, too. These mods can easily add much needed horsepower and improved fuel efficiency. The engines and parts aren’t all that expensive, but it’s a pretty big job to do the full conversion yourself. If you find your own Subaru engine, you can get the complete adapter kit from a company like Rocky Mountain Westy for around $2,700 (not including the engine) which should make for an easy install.

Or, if you’d rather have it done by the professionals, VW specialists like Peace Vans or the Buslab can do it for you. Because of their location in California, Buslab conversions must be California Smog Legal which is why they use a Subaru 2.2 engine. Outside of California, there are a few other engines that tend to be popular depending on how much power and price you want to add. Buslab conversions start at $19,600. That may sound like a lot, but if you find the right used van for a low price and do the engine swap, you could probably turn around and sell it for a profit in a few years thanks to their high demand.

Due to the vast differences in condition, model year, desirability, and model, prices for used buses and vans vary wildly. You can find pretty clean vans from the 80’s for $5-10k in the right parts of the country, or you can spend upwards of six figures for fully restored buses.

Watts’ van has been up and down the East Coast, fueling many a solo adventure.As Watts has pointed out in his travels, perhaps the biggest downside to the VW bus or van is a complete lack of room for your bike(s) inside. Yeah, you could probably cram one in there, but it’ll make the back of the van unusable for anything else while it’s there. And it could be dirty. That means your bikes are left in the elements and exposed to theft.

If it sounds like we’re down on VW vans and busses as proper adventure vans, there are upsides. They’re small and maneuverable, meaning you can park them just about anywhere. For solo trips, they have plenty of room. And for couples, they’re cozy. A pop-up roof provides adequate sleeping without giving up the “living room” in the rear. Small kitchen pods are easily integrated, and proper gas/water plumbing for shore power and hookups can be done.

At the end of the day, you need to be honest about what’s most important to you. Do you want to keep bikes inside and be able to stand upright? Or are you looking for the most compact package to get you out on the road? Speaking from experience, there are tradeoffs to every setup. The trick is finding the one with the most upsides for your lifestyle.

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luddite
luddite
4 years ago

Probably a better solution is the later T4 or Eurovan. They were available in North America from ’92 to ’03.
Early ones had a 2.5 engine, then there was a major update in ’97 to the VR6 engine with lots more power. It was updated again in ’01 to the 201hp VR6, which is a great engine, if a little thirsty.
The auto transmissions are a weak point, and there are no manual transmissions available for the 97-03 versions in North America. However, an upgraded tranny cooler will extend the life a lot.
There are lots of Westfalia conversion for the earlier versions, and Winnebago ones for all years.
The downside: as there have been none available since ’03 the prices are going through the roof. A mint condition late model, especially with a GoWesty or Poptop heaven refurb is now getting close to the price of a new Mercedes Metris with a conversion.
Our ’02 winnie, Bess, has taken us on many adventures, but I’m starting to wonder about something more reliable.

Trenton South
Trenton South
4 years ago
Reply to  luddite

The other downside is that the inline 5 vibrates like a coin operated hotel massage bed at idle and Volkswagen killed the turning radius by putting the engine on the wrong end. The interior space was also diminished when they switched to the eurovan which in turn forced vw to produce a LWB version to be competitive with other manufacturers at the time. The eurovan doesn’t have a reputation of holding their value as a comparably equipped T3.

Frippolini
Frippolini
4 years ago

Who in their right mind would support or buy a VW vehicle considering the VW group’s massive diesel scandal?
For all I know they lied to everyone about the performance of their products to everyone, consumers and governments. Why would anyone consider buying their products now?
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_emissions_scandal

Big Dave
Big Dave
4 years ago
Reply to  Frippolini

My VW Amarok goes pretty good, I needed a new power steering pump and belt tensioner yesterday and they did it all for free even though it is nearly a year out of warranty. So there’s one reason.

TheKaiser
TheKaiser
4 years ago
Reply to  Frippolini

Dieselgate certainly made VW seem to be an unusually shady company. If you watch the new Netflix documentary “Dirty Money” you will find out additional details that imply that BMW and Mercedes were also doing similar stuff with their diesel vehicles. If your goal is to vote with your wallet, then that would take the Metris and Sprinter off your list too.

pen
pen
4 years ago
Reply to  TheKaiser

Every manufacturer is doing something to a greater or lesser extent, coming from someone who works in the auto industry. Current emissions regulations are forcing desperate solutions.

Whiskeytown Racer
Whiskeytown Racer
4 years ago
Reply to  Frippolini

They all do it. Some are just publicized more than others. It will be interesting to see what happens to the beloved Toyota Prius.
https://www.forbes.com/sites/sebastianblanco/2018/02/22/toyota-facing-lawsuits-over-prius-mileage-drop/#3b8f1b301e54

Cat
Cat
4 years ago
Reply to  Frippolini

If people aren’t concerned about the fact it was a company founded by Hitler, why would they care about air pollution?

Dodo
Dodo
4 years ago

I owned a VW 1972 and a 1987 and the reality is that unless you spend $30,000-50,000 and go tail to end replacing everything, reliability would be more than spotty. A Subaro Engine conversion alone is $18,000-20,000 and it is only the start: a friend of mine installed last year and she had two major failures not related to the Engine.

Consider that in the US (or Europe) you can buy a brand new Mercedes Metris for $25,000-30,000 and have much more room, uncomparable reliability and an engine that goes 80 miles/hour at 2500 rpm … that’s what I got: bye bye VW BUS.

TheKaiser
TheKaiser
4 years ago
Reply to  Dodo

Where are you getting reliability data on vans? I find quality reliability data is really tough to come by, and often conflicts if you compare, say, Consumer Reports to JD Power, at least for some models.

the biz
the biz
4 years ago
Reply to  TheKaiser

Reliability data on vehicles on the whole is worthless.

Padrote
Padrote
4 years ago
Reply to  Dodo

They are underpowered boxes meant for going back and forth to the beach. They aren’t meant for being fully loaded, going up and down steep hills, or technical offroad terrain.

Engine swapped vehicles are even less reliable, harder to service, and more difficult to find parts for. I know there are plenty of attractive “turnkey” packages available but owning a vehicle with a swapped engine is a different experience.

JBikes
JBikes
4 years ago

I understood the articles on how to kit-up/rent a van/vehicle to support cycling activities but I don’t understand this articles relationship to cycling

comrad
comrad
4 years ago
Reply to  JBikes

The same as the RC truck review

Antipodean_eleven
4 years ago

I’ve know several people down here in Oztrailia with late model Transporters…. I’d never go near one! Transmissions are constant issues and one guys was told by an independent workshop that VW has known about the issues for years but does nothing about it. One of the vans, only three years old needed an entire transmission replacement and VW would not come to the party. Cost him close to 8k.

We have a 2001 Benz Vito since new (model never came into the US) and it’s been flawless. Just keeps going and our shop tells me never to sell it and if I do, they’ll sell if for me in a heart beat.

ChknBreast
ChknBreast
4 years ago

I have a 1988 Syncro Westfalia that hasn’t run in quite a few years. It was a great van while it was running. Best layout of any of the camper vans out there. Great ground clearance, considering it has the original 14 inch wheels. I should really get rid of that thing. My neighbors would appreciate it, I’m sure.
I also had a 2004 Jetta wagon which I really miss the mileage from that vehicle. 900km per 40 litres of fuel. I honestly dont care how much pollution it was creating. Drop in the bucket compared to industrial traffic on the road. Wasn’t like it was producing a belch of black smoke every time I put my foot down, unlike 99% of the big rigs on the road.

Preston
Preston
4 years ago

Interesting that you thought it had enough ground clearance. I rode with a guy who had some version of a Westfalia and it had terrible ground clearance and in my mind was pretty awful on dirt roads compared to a larger or more 4*4 vehicle. But then I am used to driving big pickup trucks and true 4*4 Broncos and such. Given the economics discussed above, I don’t see how it makes any sense compared to some of the newer options or even a domestic V8 style van. $10-20k of money saved buys a lot of fuel, so mileage isn’t necessarily the final word.

ChknBreast
ChknBreast
4 years ago
Reply to  Preston

I bought a GMC Savana pop up conversion which was great on the highway in snow and rain, but I tore too many things off the bottom of it when I drove gravel roads.
I`ve since moved on to a rooftop tent and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

Dicky
4 years ago

No mention of getting randomly stopped and searched for the weetus?

David
David
4 years ago

Proof that there is more money than sense out there. $75K for a Vanagon? I owned a ’66 Splittie, a ’68 Bay and an ’83 Vanagon, and all were great as toys, but for real utility, a modern minivan such as a Sienna or a Ram/Transit/Sprinter are far more safe, reliable and ecologically sound.

MGK
MGK
4 years ago

Have yet to come across a reliable VW van. Shame.

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