story and photos by Todd Wieland • edited by Kelsey Wright
Starting in June 2010, allpar forum member Todd Wieland decided to install a Chrysler 3.5-liter engine, built in Michigan, into his ten year old Volkswagon Vanagon. The Vanagon did not sell well in the United States; the 2.1-liter, 95 horsepower engine was slammed for lack of power, while fuel economy was far lower than the Dodge Caravan.
The 3.5 liter V6 from an 1994 Eagle Vision donor ran well. Todd searched everywhere for a similar conversion, but never found it. He plans to take his data from this conversion and apply the same concepts to a 1990-1997 Toyota Previa Van to improve its aerodynamics.
After finally scaling everything needed and defining the engine room -- a bed/seat envelope design -- the engine central hatch only penetrated the seat by 1.5 inches.
The H frames were in for the engine lids and the bedseat support was beginning to vanish.
The lid seal channels went in next, followed by the wire channels. The wires could then be brought in, and the powerbox and TCM could be mounted. Backwelding the channels was also done at this point.
Painting and assembling the engine house and some other components was next to happen during a window of fair weather. This is the wire track that keeps the harness high and away from the pulleys.
This is the engine/transmission plugs and the vapor and tuning valve solenoids.
The charcoal can and engine computer.
Wieland sorted out the vacuum lines and made a 90° bracket for the transmission fluid dipstick. He decided that a recombination style battery would provide the best value, mainly because they store up to 800 cc amps and have 4 times the life in the same size battery case. And with the gel media, he could mount it upside down if needed.
The wires were laid in next. The powerbox/tcm mount bracket was drying over night. He bolted down the battery tray -- he had to break the bulkhead plug apart to focus on the engine area harness. It was necessary to start tying stuff up and surveying routing and possible shortening of things for the next day.
There were still many loose ends; the wires that went left from under the powerbox in the last photo were for the gauges forward, so they were taking a cloverleaf of sorts routing down under with the other cables north to the dash. There was much cleaning and testing to be done before the battery could be hooked up.
The drive flanges came back from Jim Shirley of Shirley Design in Huntington Beach, California; Shirley did a great job machining and welding these together. They are strong, mig welded on the outside and tig welded on the inside.
88 735i rear drum/discs for the van. Wieland made cutting templates to make it more efficient. He then decided to do something not commonly done -- cutting the hubs off Vanagon trail arms and welding beamer hubs on with the same lug face location. He removed the lip on the side of the arm and it was then almost ready to tack together. The hole in it is for the emergency brake cable.
Todd had to cut the right arm bolt to get it off the van and it was greasy on the inside of the CVs. Scraping and cleaning consumed a lot of time -- he had to cut off 2 bolts on a bad/VW machining job where 4 bolts fastened to the drum hub to a plate welded to the arm. It sloped from the bearing center to the end of the plate and a little circular flat spot was milled into it for the bolthead, but there was no room for a socket or box wrench, so he just cut them with a skilsaw. The van was then put on jacks in order to install this stuff and get back to the life support items.
Wieland had a fuel tank to remove and upgrade, the last large item other than the electrics. The Toyota Previa was starting to look pretty good, with a much more complete and aerodynamic platform, although the rear suspension would need to be replaced with the BMW 7 Series subframe suspension package.
The converted Vanagon arm compared to the 88 BMW 735i rear arm:
The rear caliper was taken apart, cleaned and painted. The first rear arm was painted and planned to be put on the van the next day, as Wieland final fit and welded up the other side.
The LR arm was in place as well as the drive flanges.
The dash modification resumed after that, Wieland installed the LHS column, ignition switch, brake switch, range selector, lockout, the headlight switch with dimmer, and cluster.
Identifying the wires is a good start to this process, says Wieland. He needed the turn signals, but not the air conditioning, in order to start. The brain needed start and run signals from the ignition switch, so he needed the column. The Sebring column was much nicer and came out much easier, but he didn't get it out of incompatibility. It had a left turn signal switch twist switch for the headlights that was stellar.
The brake cylinder wasn't moving, so he had to set the cluster aft of it, in the LHS dash. The only function he wanted from the VW dash was the heater-vent controls.
Wieland had a lot of fun bulding the dash from scratch -- 1/2" tubing arched to shape with resin soaked pattern board and matte. Then, the landau padding was put into place and the french seams were glued into channels.
He took the pad cap off the van dash and rehung it with a couple of screws.
The steering column was in and the dash was beginning to take shape.
The ground clearance was 8" with stock springs -- the Eagle was 7" and the OE Vanagon was 9".
The lockout cable is supposed to loop from the range selector to the ignition switch -- presumeably throughout the enviro fan housing.
The master cylinder split the Volkswagen cluster in two. It reached back almost to the bezel - and he did not move it. The drum brakes weren't that great, they had "auto adjusters" that always sloughed off the braking to the front.
“Everyone in the VW community is mixing and matching little Audi car venters on the rear for 700.00+. They have a cable/clamping caliper emergency brake that is not good, no confidence in parking on a hill at all.” So, for two hours and $150 at the pickapart, Wieland bought the parts out of a BWM. “It was cheaper and better.”
The BMW 735i conversion yields the best of everything, drum/discs and 930 CVs to boot. “They are twice as strong as the VW joints.” Fitting the dash -- the cluster is in its dedicated locale and the LHS light switch too - he had to trim some of the front porch off the cluster bezel flanges - back to the column recess in its center.
Fitting #6 the upper right storage box was tacked out of 16 g sheet metal.
The Volkswagon is his other van -- his first one. He hated the lack of torque and cruising at 4k on the highway at 65. "She runs nice though," says Wieland.
This is the final weld up and prep for paint.
The black sheet metal is thin.
Primer and SS tubing for attempt #8.
He will have two factory shifter cables that penetrate the floor from each end, [shifter and trans] and then a third cable will connect them in a fairly straight line down under.
The throttle cable will graft from old to new with only a little difficulty. All this was necessary to define the shifter pedestal attitude.
Fuel tank modification was next. He installed A.N. taper fittings everywhere and the Chrysler pump housing into the tank. Additional capacity would go up to around 18 gallons, too.
This is the proposed new fuel tank design, starting with the top down view. You can see the location of the Mopar pump module in the center.
He slammed the coolant tubing [1 x 2 x 1/8w steel] against the floor above instead of the OE round plastic tubing that hung 2" below, causing the horrific valley reliefs that lose lots of fuel volume. This may hold another 5 gallons.
The little area between the front seats could yield a hatch. He had already made a couple of reality changes in the half scale model [pattern board].
23 gallons, up from 15 previously, and it looked feasible.
The Mopar shifter cable is getting brackets made out of OE stuff in combination with a Simpson strong tie angle bracket left over from his last project. He shot a couple of holes in it for rivets.
The Tercel shift cable was reutilized as his new emergency brake cable so he could use the space for the tank. "Oopswagen" had grease all over the pivot point for the bare tension cable that rigged right through the middle of the tank, eating up 3 gallons of space.
A sliding section of 1/2 ss tubing would take the wobble out of the shifter cables at their connection on the frame.
And the emergency brake was then ready for the shortened BMW cables.
The cooling system was almost ready to install -- he coated contact surfaces with black RTV to avoid chafing, temperature transferance, and corrosion. This should also stop it from clanking around.
He got the new steering rack in and the front suspension prettied up and rebuilt. He found a machinist that could redrill his lugs and turn down his front rotors to hubs for the new big brakes from a Jaguar XJ6. As soon as he got the rear hubs back, he welded up the right side and painted it for install. Then, shortening the emergency brake cables and hard brake lines would be all that was left.
The fuel tank building was going well.
The side mounts assembled first.
These Jaguar brakes were the new silver bullet for Vanagons up front. They are about $60 each after rebuild with labor. The rotors were under 30.00 [284mm] vented and with 4 pistons the performance is exceptional. The two mount holes in the calipers get drilled and tapped for the stock Vanagon bolts there. He just didn't want to pay $900 for another South African big brake kit. Now 1989 and later Vanden Plas and XJs have floating single piston calipers which are a little less demanding for alignment to the rotor.
The fuel tank was getting sorted out too. The right side was getting consideration with the filter tube and the clearance template. His machinist, Donny, called and was done with weldable pump module collar. Donny was excited with his solution. Donny got the lower ball joints pressed in too, with some made up tooling.
Wieland passed the one year mark on this project on June 12, 2010. It wasn't running, so $700 was a fair price, which is how much Wieland paid for it. A month later, he got the Eagle Vision sedan.
Standardizing the alignment hubs on the wheels was happening. The BMW rear hubs had fairly large centering registers, while the van's front are two-thirds of that. So opening up the center of each ronal wheel and making centering rings to match for up front will make it forgettable. He never heard Donny say the words "setup costs."
Off to the tig welder with it.
Wieland stole the hatch from a New Yorker for access -- his first tank project.
Once he had the number of more suppliers, he won't have to wait for swap meets for lug studs and such. Raul Gonzales, the lug nut king in southern California, sold him 24 3" press in studs, 1/2 x 20 and the round seat rings plus acorns for $72 — half of what he could find anywhere else.
He priced them at $182 online. He used these on the Subaru van and they were fine. Crown Performance in Vista, CA, sold him 49 feet 1/4" id teflon under stainless steel braid with radial crimp collars installed and 6 fittings with 10 feet of pyro jacket from $265. He had to go home and clock the elbows with a marker - this hose is rigid like a flex shaft. .
The coolant bottle was in and the wires bundled well. Ground lugs, tubing clamps and the heater hoses were next in prep for the wiring sort.
The heater hose tubing around the engine got a redesign to get it away from the crowded bell housing area. All he has is stainless boatrail from his previous life - so he rethreaded ss wire into the mig welder and the trigger wires were broken, so he spent some time searching for narrow spade connectors, which he has yet to find.
The automatic transmission cooler was completed. He has begun the wiring work with tagging, which can be time consuming. The connections and overall layout are design working right now. He will have to use the LHS dash fuse panel in the van's old engine room aft. It has the plug receptacles and such.
More Mopar Car and Truck News
Dodge Demon hints... • Pentastar Ticking Noise Post Head Replacment • Dodge Ready To Return To NASCAR?