Ours is a 1991 Vanagon GL Westfalia camper. This was the last year this model was available in the USA although it's still being built in South Africa in a slightly different configuration. A camper is still available from Volkswagen in the newer Eurovan with camper equipment provided by Winnabago. While technologically more advanced and with a V-6 engine, it is smaller and quite expensive.
A brief description might be interesting for those unfamiliar with this vehicle. As a camper, it has two double beds, one from folding down the rear seat and another, the "upstairs bedroom", in the pop top area. A sink, two burner stove and a refrigerator that operates on propane, 110VAC and 12 VDC, make up the "kitchen" area. There are two table, one placed for the rear seat and another for the two front seats that swivel rearward. There are storage cabinets in various places, which, while adequate, is never enough.
We are the only the second owner of this vehicle and are fortunate that the original owner purchased all options available. In addition to standard features of 4-wheel independent suspension, halogen headlights, front and rear wipers, electric rear window defroster, air conditioning, two heaters, power steering and brakes, tinted glass, the additional options included 3-speed automatic transmission, flash silver metallic paint, power door locks, cruise control, electrically heated rearview mirrors, alloy wheels and power windows and power door locks. The previous owner also had installed an alarm system.
The engine is a 2.1 liter fuel injected, rear mounted engine. Power output is rated at 95 HP. While able to easily cruise at 70 MPH, more horsepower could definitely be used on hills!
The Volkswagen Vanagon, and especially the Westfalia camper version, is more than a simple vehicle. When you have a vehicle that is overpriced and underpowered, not too reliable, but with exorbitantly overpriced replacement parts and replete with quirky German engineering, you have a cult car. People- otherwise amazingly well-adjusted people- do not simply buy a vanagon - they buy a hobby. There are many websites devoted to this vehicle, the largest being Vanagon.Com. There is a Northwest group of camping fans with a website at Wetwesties.org. These people are constantly tinkering, modifying and repairing their machines. They travel as far as the tip of South America in them and spend considerable time in Mexico. They name their vehicles.
We have traveled as far East as South Dakota and as far south as Acapulco, Mexico. We have driven down to and along the gulf coast of Texas and through Louisiana and Mississippi. We have, amazingly enough, lived in the van for three months at a time. If really pressed I will admit to having named our van "El Zorro Plateado, The Silver Fox".
1991 VOLKSWAGEN WESTFALIA: IMPROVEMENTS AND MODIFICATIONS
The Volkswagen Vanagon was designed with space under the drivers seat for an auxiliary battery but did not come with one installed. A Optima 750 75 Amp Hour deep cycle battery was purchased and installed.
Installation required the removal of the normal posts by hacksawing them off and covering the remaining metal with epoxy. This was necessary in order to fit the battery into the confined space, installing the battery on it's side and utilizing the side contacts. The unique construction of this battery allows operation on it's side. It can even be operational upside down.
Changing connections to a relay already installed now allowed the alternator to charge both batteries when the ignition switch was on. With the ignition switch off the relay disconnects the two batteries preventing any discharging of the starting battery by any load placed on the auxiliary battery.
The initial wiring only provided the auxiliary
battery to supply power to the refrigerator and the water pump.
When the ignition switch is turned off, the headlights will also turn off, however, the parking lights will remain on. I'm not sure why the lights are designed this way, something about parking with your parking lights on, I suppose. It is, however, different than other cars and has resulted in my running the battery dead a couple of time. Rather than attempting to learn from my mistakes, I rewired the light switch so that the parking lights, as well as the headlights, turn off with the ignition switch.
A Yakima carrier was mounted on the roof to carry additional equipment. Depending on the trip or activity anticipated, this may include a Folbot folding kayak, a German made side tent, Hi-lift jack, electric heater, 12VDC air compressor, shovel, ax, spare gas, oil, tools, etc..
A magnetic flux digital compass was added, mounted on the steering wheel cover and viewed just below the digital clock. Sometimes it's nice to know where you're going!
Bilstien shocks and Michelin MXT tires were added, considerably improving the ride and control.
Had installed an alarm system. The system, Viper, also had a door locking option, which I opted for. Now, arming and disarming the system also locks and unlocks all the doors, including the rear hatch and the sliding door. Turning on the ignition locks the doors - turning off the ignition unlocks the doors.
Purchased a genuine made in Germany Heckklappenaufsteller, you know that device that allowed the rear hatch to remain opened a few inches for ventilation. Sure glad I have one, wish I could pronounce it!
Installed a South African lower grill with clear parking light lens.
The vanagon has notoriously poor low beam headlights. A voltage reading indicated a considerable voltage drop to the lights, causing less than optimal output. A large gauge wire from the battery to added relays eliminated this voltage drop. The installation of newer, higher efficiency light bulbs, as well as the PIAA driving lights, results in much improved lighting. The PIAA driving lights are rectangular units and were fitted below the bumper. Each is a two element light, one operating on low beam, the other on high beam. These are particularly effective on low beam.
There is a 110VAC outlet mounted low on a storage cabinet. This outlet had a brown cover, not blending well with the gray interior. The outlet and cover were changed to white. The circuit breaker was removed and remounted inside the lidded storage space. This was done to provide an outlet for the 110VAC 225 Watt 12 VDC to 110 VAC Inverter (PowerPro 225 Watt Inverter,). The inverter was mounted inside the lidded space and connected to the 12 VDC strip. The output was brought to a standard 110 VAC outlet mounted where the circuit breaker was. There is one outlet for 110 VAC, one switch and one red LED installed in this outlet. The switch controls the 12 VDC to the Inverter, the LED providing a indicator of the power on status.
A 12 VDC outlet was installed below the Inverter outlet and on the rear panel of the sink/stove cabinet to provide 12 VDC from other than the cigarette lighter. Another 12VDC outlet was installed on the backside of the stove/sink cabinet. This provides a very handy power source for a laptop computer. A TV cable outlet was also mounted in this area for those times when we are in a RV park that has cable TV.
A light, just like the courtesy light over the driver side door, installed in the sliding door to provide a reading light for that side of the bed.
The Vanagon is curiously asymmetrical! The drivers side windshield wiper arm has a wind vane type attachment that the passengers side does not. On the interior, the passengers side has a grab-handle, but not on the drivers side, while the drivers side has a map pocket and dome light not found on the passengers side. For the sake of balance and symmetry, I have resolved these differences! The drivers side now has a grab-handle just like the passengers side. On the passengers side there is now a map pocket and dome light and the windshield wiper arm has the same windvane device as the drivers side. (This windvane is most effective in preventing windshield wiper flutter at speeds in excess of 100 MPH!) While adding little to the functionality of the vehicle, I find these changes strangely satisfying!
A custom made mirror attracted to the door of the rear cabinet. There is also a 12VDC light on a flex holder.
A FIAMMA, F45 Series awning was purchased to provide quick and easy shelter from rain or sun. We later purchased the sidewalls that can be attached to this awning. The sides can be rolled up making a bright and airy screen room, or lowered to make a cozy and private room.
A battery charger (Guest Model 2612A, ) was installed under the sink area. Mounted against the back wall took up very little space. This charger is plugged into the unused 110 VAC outlet in this area. The outlet is also used for the 110 VAC source for the refrigerator. The battery leads were connected to the auxiliary battery. This is a multistage charger for fast and safe charging and the ability to cease charging a completely charged battery allowing the permanent hook up. A fused terminal strip was installed next to the charger with subsequent hook ups to the auxiliary battery made at this point.
Third stop light
The overhead light fixture in the camper portion of the van consisted of three incandescent light bulbs and was powered from the main battery. The light was less than desired and another was purchased and installed on the same panel as the original and over the sink area. Not wanting these lights to be powered from the main battery required rewiring and connected to the fused terminal strip. Plastic shades were then added, decreasing glare and directing light downward. The shades are mounted with Velcro and are so detachable.
An addition storage cabinet was made and mounted directly behind the passenger seat. This cabinet was made to match as closely as possible the original cabinetry of Westfalia. It has a drawer and storage behind a door. The cabinet can easily be removed to serve as a kind of outdoor kitchen.
A tent, attaching to the rear hatch, was made, adding a feeling of roominess.
Note the new 15" South African wheels with 215-65 15 tires, behind which are SA big brakes.
"Too often..I would hear men boast only of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they have seen."
Louis L'Amour, American Writer, 1908-1988
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