CC Capsule: 1982 VW Vanagon Veggie-Oil Diesel – Big Brother Comes To Visit In The Anti-Brougham

For those of you who think I may have a bit of a spartan/thrifty streak, meet my older brother Tom, and his veggie-oil diesel Vanagon. He and his new wife are making a two-month tour of the Western US, in his (un-airconditioned) 1982 bus. It’s all set up to run on waste vegetable oil, which he did for years when he lived in Iowa and had ready access to free used sesame massage oil. He even had a trailer with a big 65 gallon drums of the stuff for long-distance trips. But he moved back to Austria a year and a half ago, and is having to burn dino oil on this trip. But he showed me how it’s set up to run the good-smelling stuff.

The on-board auxiliary tank for the veggie oil is here, under the floor, and filled via that galvanized pipe cap poking up through the carpet. The engine has to start on diesel until it’s warmed up, and has warmed up the veggie oil.

Here’s the overview of the 1588cc turbo-diesel engine, whose donor was a VW Quantum. The original engines in these buses were normally-aspirated, and made some 54 hp or so. Which made them by far the most underpowerd vehicle in modern history on American roads. Tom is never in a hurry to get anywhere, and he was ok with that, even on numerous trips up high into the Rockies. I’m sure the folks behind him on Trail Ridge Road may have had a few choice thoughts. But it eventually gave up a rod somewhere in Kansas, and the 70 hp turbo-diesel allows cruising speeds of 55-65 mph. And his mileage has been between 34 and 38 mpg on this trip, which is a pretty big improvement over a wasserboxer Vanagaon’s typical 18-21 mpg.

Tom is a natural engineer, and shows in his engine compartment. Here’s the magnet for the cruise control engine speed reader, which adapted unto the alternator shaft.

I’m not going to show you all the plumbing and various solenoids that make up the dual-fuel system, but here’s the oil-warmer, one thin copper tube inside a larger one, which was spliced into the heater outlet at the head.

Here’s the filter for the oil, next to the diesel filter, as well as one of the numerous solenoids and check valves to make it all work, and be switchable on the go.

The side caps for the bumper were gone when he got it some ten years ago (or more), so wood took their place. And there’s a wood beam inside the bumper to make to reinforce it for the bumper-mounter tow ball.

He keeps this bus stashed with friends in Iowa, but has a T4 bus in Austria. It has essentially the same engine, but no veggie-oil conversion. Austrians don’t eat enough fried food, I guess.

Here’s the pilot’s seat, and instrumentation includes an airplane altimeter.

This vintage Vanagon didn’t have a fold-flat seat, so Tom rigged one up, by cutting a notch into the hinge, and building a frame out of copper pipe. That seat then gets tipped forward unto its frame, making a flat surface for the two foam mattresses.

Here’s the bed made up, and with the mosquito netting installed. Their trip started in Iowa during the heat wave, and they boondock almost every night somewhere other than genuine “campgrounds”, so night-time ventilation was an issue. The netting solves that problem.

His Vanagon may sport Mercedes wheel covers and the MBZ star on the grille, but luxurious it’s not. The ultimate anti-Brougham?