I am writing this from mildly gloomy Walpole, MA. Over the weekend we drove the van cross the country for another major phase of our build. As you know the van currently has a Subaru EJ22 engine in it and the engine has run for us like a champ. It was professionally installed for the previous owner a couple years ago. The engine has proven powerful and overall, reliable for us. When we purchased this van we had every intention to take this engine to Africa. But things slowly changed.
As we have been overhauling the major systems to prep, we had finally gotten to the engine. We wanted to dive in and learn everything we could about the engine and it’s interface with the vanagon, and this is where it started to fall apart a bit. While the engine was running fine, there was very little documentation on it. We couldn’t fine any solid resources for information about the conversion or set-up. We spoke to the original shop that installed the engine and they were good about passing information on as they could, but they were also busy and couldn’t remember all the details of my conversion. There are now a fair number of Vanagons out there running subarus and other engines, but the challenge in another 5 years is going to be the maintenance and upkeep of these conversions when each one is different from the next. Remember our blinky red coolant light? Well we wanted to troubleshoot that to see if it was a sensor, wiring, or gauge problem. This turned out to be pretty complicated because we didn’t know how the entire wiring system was done. So while the blinky red light has been mainly an annoyance, it raised a major question for us. What are we going to do if we have a problem in Africa? Will we have the luxury of phoning home and hoping someone answers and can remember / explain how this conversion was done?
With this in mind we went on a hunt to find the best engine choice that would be well documented, reliable, and powerful. We explored upgrading our engine to the latest EJ25, picking up a little more oomph in power, but more than anything having the luxury of helping to install it and take notes in the process. We also explored a new Subaru Diesel option, which looks awesome but is extremely new and unproven. Ultimately we found the perfect match in the Bostig system. Bostig is one of the first inventors of the engine conversion kit for Vanagons. They focus on the Ford Zetec powerplant for their conversion. The key difference for Bostig is that they manage the entire system of the conversion end to end. They make a kit which includes all of the custom parts to install the engine and integrate it to the vanagon, and include the most robust documentation i have seen for an auto install. Note the word “custom”, where possible they use readily available off the shelf parts to increase parts availability beyond them, and also lower the price. They have taken a standardized and modular approach. They want to ensure every install is the same, and that any future improvements can be applied to previous generations of their kits. I gasped when I saw their manuals and materials, every bolt and placement was explained in exploded diagram beauty, I was hooked. They have taken a very thoughtful approach to the install. Almost OEM level. The Bentley is the holy grail service manual for Vanagons, the Bostig documentation is at that standard of detail and information. They are trying to minimize the number and complexity of the parts needed for the conversion, and they have thought through failure scenarios to try and build redundancy into the system, and they even hold all of the CAD files and drawings for all of their parts in a trust. In the event they were ever to go out of business, the trust will release the drawings to owners if we were to ever need parts in the future. Amazing.
I am going to be writing more about the Bostig team and the conversion across the next week. We are here with team now working on our install and learning everything about the conversion and tech to get to “guru” status by the end of the week. Here are some cool shots of the engine and trans coming out.
I have to say it was a little emotional to see the “heart” out of the van. We’ve been all over with that engine. Felt a little weird to be saying goodbye. But it’s going to go on to a new home, and the new engine going in is a beauty.