Bell's website>Vanagon>road tests>1980 Vanagon
Excerpted from "Road & Track", July 1980
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A delightful combination of van and wagon for the Eighties
Quarter-billion-dollar spending programs are not all that unusual in the automobile industry, but the fact that Volkswagen spend more than that on the Vanagon might strike some observers as curious. However, VW is not a company given to flights of fancy in dealing with money, and the tremendous investment in producing the latest Transporter (the official factory name) is considered well spent. While the American market will have only two versions, the Vanagon (in 7- and 9-seat models as well as the bare-interior Kombi) and Vanagon Camper, Europe and other markets have a wide variety of models including commercial configurations, a high-bed pickup, a double-cab pickup, etc.
Speculation was rampant that this third version of the VW van (the model was introduced in 1949 and a major revision followed in 1967) would be totally different from its predecessors and could be powered by a water- cooled version of the VW Rabbit inline 4-cylinder engine. But, while VW says the Vanagon is new from the ground up, the drivetrain is a carry over and represents the last bastion of VWs built in the homeland with air-cooled, pancake engines.
VW's primary goal in designing the Vanagon was to offer the best features of a van and station wagon in a single vehicle. With that set of parameters in mind, an in-depth study of drivetrain configurations was undertaken. As reported in "Transporter Tradition Triumphs," R&T, September 1979, 12 possible drivetrain configurations were considered before the decision was made to continue with the traditional rear- engine/rear-drive layout.
The engine, then, is the same 1970-cc overhead-valve flat-4 as before with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. It develops 67 bhp (SAE net) at 4200 rpm and 101 lb-ft torque at 3000, which propels the Vanagon along in reasonable fashion considering its roughly 3500-lb test weight: 0 - 60 mph in 21.2 seconds; the quarter- mile run covered in 21.5 sec at a speed of 60.5 mph. Clearly, this is not acceleration that will elicit gasps of glee, but it does permit the Vanagon to keep up with everyday, around-town traffic. The engine's driveability is exemplary; it starts immediately whether hot or cold and runs smoothly without surging or stumbling.
A word of caution needs to be added with regard to fueling the Vanagon. Behind the rear license plate frame is a capped oil filler tube, and one of our editors discovered an inattentive attendant pumping gasoline into it! An extensive crankcase flushing put things right, but Vanagon drivers, beware: Careless attendants may miss the fuel filler near the right front door and zero in at the rear. The point, by the way, of the license plate hatch is to allow oil-level checks without having to remove the engine access hatch, part of the cargo floor.
The 4-speed transaxle is located a considerable distance away from the shift lever, but VW has many years' experience with long-distance linkage and most staffers rated the shifting characteristics of the Vanagon quite good -- one, however, found selecting 1st and occassional contest of wills when making quick gear changes at stoplights. The transmission's ratios seem to fall into two distinct categories, with 1st and 2nd designed for acceleration, a large gap between 2nd and 3rd, and the top two ratios made for cruising -- especially 4th which is an overdrive ratio of 0.88:1. The final drive ratio is a rather low one -- 4.57:1 -- which further aids acceleration. There is an optional 3-speed automatic transmission too, and with it the final drive ratio is 4.09:1.
What's different about the Vanagon, though, is the new body, and the cleaner, crisper styling results in a better looking van. Some may find the Vanagon doesn't have the charm of the older VW bus design, but the familial resemblance is there and along with it are a number of improvements.
Starting at the front, the shape is more aerodynamically efficient despite its angular appearance, and VW claims a drag coefficient of 0.44 (Remember, though, drag is a function of this coefficient TIMES frontal area.) The windshield is 21 percent larger than that of the previous Transporter and there is a 22-percent increase in side window glass area -- the larger greenhouse results in excellent outward vision in all directions. The space between the front seats leading to the passenger area in the rear is 15 percent larger, as is the sliding side door (which Volkswagen was the first to use on vans, by the way).
Moving rearward, the luggage compartment's 36.6-cu-ft volume over the engine box is 40 percent larger than previously because the compartment's floor has been lowered 7.9 in. The rear hatch is 75 percent larger than before and the rear window is 50 percent greater in size, affording considerably improved rear vision. Outside, the Vanagon is not much different in size from its predecessor except it's 3.3 in. wider. The track has also grown 6.9 in. in front and 4.5 in. at the rear, so both ends now measure 61.8 in., and the wheelbase is 2.4 in. longer than before.
The wider track and increased wheelbase are designed to give the Vanagon greater stability than its predecessors, as well as help reduce susceptibility to crosswinds by moving the center of gravity ahead of the body's center of pressure. Obviously, the Vanagon's slab sides make it subject to side-wind buffeting and one staff member experienced this firsthand on a rainy night with wind gusts running 25-50 knots. As expected, the Vanagon was a handful, but so were all the other vans he observed as they danced along the freeway. Nonetheless, VW has greatly improved the Vanagon in this area compared to previous Transporters.