“Its not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Its an old and worn out phrase, but worn out usually means that there’s a lot of truth in it. I certainly have found it to ring true when it comes to mechanical work on the van. It’s all part of the journey, part of the adventure. If someone could wave a wand and give us a fully kitted out and 100% reliable van all ready to go with no effort from us, I’m not sure I’d take it…
I knew when we first bought the van that we would be looking to upgrade the engine. The stock VW wasserboxer engine is functional, but somewhat underwhelming. The 90HP motor would be put to shame by most modern snowmobiles and much of the technology was legacy technology even at the time of manufacture.
Motor swaps into VW vans come in all shapes and sizes. VW Jetta motors and TDI diesels for those who want to stick with Volkswagen; Subaru 2.2L, 2.5L, 3.3L and even turbocharged 2.0s for the boxer engine loyalists; Ford z-tec motors; and many more have all found their way into Vanagons. Each one has it’s own following and cadre who are loyal to their conversion and sure it’s the best of the bunch.
I chose the subaru 2.2L engine for a number of reasons, some of them rational and fact-based and some of them purely emotional. If we was going solely on facts and what makes the most sense, we certainly wouldn’t be driving a vanagon!
Some would say that the Subaru’s are not the most reliable of the options and others will tell you that the 2.2 will still leave you wishing for more horesepower. But for us it made sense and felt right.
When I look into my heart there is a sense of giddy excitement at the thought of the subaru engine powering this van we have grown to love. Fords and TDIs and Golf engines are all practical options and would all yield satisfying results, but for me, the subaru brings a glint into my eyes and makes my heart light up. Maybe it is because I have owned several Subarus over the years that I have loved and they hold a special place in my heart; maybe it is because it was the first engine swap I found out about; it’s certainly partially because we were given the engine in trade for a case of beer, already pulled from the car; but most likely it’s a combination of all these reasons and because first loves die hard and deserve to be pursued. None of these reasons are overly practical or stand up to the hard glare of science, but these are the stuff that satisfies the heart and soul and makes the adventure worthwhile. It is the essence of the adventure.
I like to work with my hands and touch everything. It may seem harder but it feels right. Over long winter months I spent evenings after work and a few weekends tearing down the engine and rebuilding it, replacing, and cleaning, and polishing pieces – giving this old and worn engine a new life and purpose.
I will feel a lot better knowing that I have been through everything, being able to picture each moving part, each hose, each bolt and clamp gives me a sense of comfort. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment and of ownership in our movement. I feel like even pulling out of our driveway is an undertaking. Moving down the highway at 70 miles an hour is no longer just filling the time but it is an accomplishment in and of itself and something that is the direct outcome of the labor we have put into this vehicle. Maybe that’s self-centered, maybe I’m relying too much on myself. But to me this feels good and right. It means this adventure starts now, in the winter while we are still working at our jobs. It means the investment is ongoing. But mostly it means that this is now truly our van: it’s engine has been carefully removed and replaced with a painstakingly restored beating heart that marks it as our own and transforms it further into the form of that first love we dreamed about for so long.
Ransom, February 21, 2017