CC Capsule: 1980 VW Vanagon – Good Luck With That Heater…

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I had forgotten I shot this cheery yellow-and-beige air-cooled Vanagon last winter. As we have been on a bit of a Brougham-A-Thon lately, I thought now would be a good time to trot it out.

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I have already done a Vanagon Westy CC (check it out here, if you’re so inclined), so I’m going to focus on the fundamentals.

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Introduced in 1980 to replace the much-loved “Bay Window” Type 2, the Vanagon was much more car-like and was available with many more creature comforts. Early models were air-cooled just like the previous model, but due to overheating issues in warmer climes and ineffective heating in cold Midwestern areas, water cooling was added in the form of a 1.9L “Wasserboxer” four-cylinder in 1983.


Water-cooled Vanagons can be discerned by the extra grille below the primary faux grille, as shown on this ’84 model. And I mean faux in that it did not provide cooling to the engine, though it did contain the fresh-air intake.

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Despite the Vanagon’s clear break from the previous “Widow’s Peak” and “Bay Window” Buses, the driving position was still quite bus-like, with an up-tilted steering wheel and high-rise driver’s seat.


I never knew anyone who owned one of these, but I was fully aware of Vanagons through the “Sunagon” tan and orange Hot Wheels Vanagon I got at an early age. Despite being a favorite of mine, and my destructiveness with my toy cars back then, my Sunagon has survived to the present day in near-mint condition. When we moved in 1995, I actually found the pop-up top for it. It had been missing for years!

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The Vanagon hung in all the way to 1991 with little change save a 1986 facelift, upgraded seat trim and available alloys on more expensive versions. It was the last of the original VW-type van, as the ’92 Euro Van took a page from Ma Mopar with a front engine and FWD. They may have been more practical, but they were not as cool as Vanagons like these!

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