At $23,000, Would This Subaru-Infused 1991 VW Vanagon Be A Total Kick In The Butt?

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Heart transplants afford recipients with younger and stronger organs, extending a lifespan. Today’s Nice Price or No Dice ’91 has had its heart replaced with a six-cylinder unit from a Subaru. Let’s see if its price can kickstart your heart.

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Have you ever had a sundae without the cherry on top? How about a sizzle without the steak?

Yesterday’s 1985 Toyota Pickup embodied that same sense of near-greatness, hampered mainly by its no-frills status as a basic 2WD, standard cab model. By dint of those near misses, its $7,500 asking price was deemed too hefty an ask by 75 percent of you, resulting in a spot-on No Dice loss.

You could simplify spot-on by creating the portmanteau “spon” as in a spon loss. Saying it out loud, however, finds that it really doesn’t seem to work. Ideally, portmanteaus need to flow phonetically to catch on. Originally a French-derived word for a large travel case that opens in two equal sections, today the term portmanteau also does duty describing these sort of word blends. Of course, most of the portmanteaus that have caught on — spork, brunch or the unfortunate jorts — are more pleasing in the mouth than my feeble attempt of spon.

Another portmanteau that seems to have stuck is Volkswagen’s name for its third generation passenger van in the Americas, the Vanagon. This melding of van and wagon perfectly encapsulates the raison d’être of the bricklike Vee-Dub and rolls around the mouth with both ease and reason.

That’s a pretty good thing, because the Vanagon itself was never a vehicle that would roll anywhere with much ease. In fact, with a maximum of just 95 horsepower for the U.S. model, the Vanagon would generally take a while to roll anywhere.

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This 1991 Volkswagen Vanagon solves that problem with the removal of its anemic VW flat-four in favor of an EG33 flat six, late of a Subaru SVX. That DOHC 3.3-liter engine was factory-rated at 240 horsepower and 228 lb-ft of torque. In case you weren’t paying attention, that’s more than twice the power this Vanagon originally wielded.

That’s all routed through the VW’s stock four-speed manual transaxle, and the whole ball of wax seems to fit in the original wasserboxer space with little to no external modifications.

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Photo: Craigslist

The weird-ass big bumper on the back does appear to mask the extension of the muffler, but seeing as it’s matched by a similar aftermarket unit in front, the choice seems aesthetic rather than functional. The ad claims the engine was professionally installed but doesn’t detail when the transplant occurred nor how many miles the Subie mill had done either before or after the fact.

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In fact, the ad doesn’t give the van’s mileage at all. We can see in the dashboard pic that the odo reads 139,251, so we can get by that fairly significant omission. While in there we can also see that the cabin looks to be pretty tidy. The dash is clean and has been fitted with three ancillary gauges in the spot normally assigned to the radio. That has required the single DIN audio unit be relocated to an odd hump on the center of the dash cap. It’s a little weird but it works. Upholstery is cloth all around, and from what we can see is in excellent condition.

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The exterior, too, looks solid and without major rust or damage issues. The Bordeaux Red over gray color scheme is handsome and pairs well with the underpinning Mercedes-Benz alloy wheels. The nose gets an aftermarket four-lamp grille and the aforementioned industrial front bumper. That latter item may increase your likelihood of surviving a crash in the van considering that it adds crush space ahead of the traditional VW van energy- dispersing mechanism: your lower extremities.

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That’s a real consideration in this van now that it’s got so much poke. In a factory Vanagon, your most pressing concern is other people running into you. This one should be able to build up a sufficient head of steam that you should also worry about running it into other things without any help.

Of course, that’s just being a Debbie Downer. What we should be focusing on is how quick this Vanagon is likely to be and how much more fun it is by association. The seller says it sounds like a WRX and has “a tune switch for 93 octane to grant unsolicited access to the full 240HP.” See? That sounds like fun.

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How much might you pay for such a fun time? The asking price here is $23,000, and before any of you go off about how no 30-year-old VW is worth that kind of cash, go take a look at what Type 2 vans command these days. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

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OK, now that you’ve been shocked and angered by what this class of van can go for, let’s get back to this one. What do you say, is this Subaru-imbued Vanagon worth that $23,000 asking? Or, does that price mean this heart transplant died on the table?

You decide!

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Sarasota, Florida, Craigslist, or go here if the ad disappears.

H/T to Erik Morck for the hookup!

Help me out with NPOND. Hit me up at rob@jalopnik.com and send me a fixed-price tip. Remember to include your Kinja handle.

DISCUSSION

By
smalleyxb122

Not a chance. The engine swap is a less common take on a common theme, but behind (in front of) that flat 6, the stock transaxle is not long for this world.

It looks laudably clean in condition and execution, but he seems to be looking at GoWesty for comps, and those don’t reflect the market at large. It’s like Olympic scoring, where we have to drop the high and low scores.  GoWesty is the high.  The Subie-swapped Vanagon my dad sold for ~$4k a couple of years ago is the low.

He could probably get high teens for it, which is still an absurd amount to pay for a bouncy and scary-fast (but still not fast) minivan

No Dice.