Curbside Classic: 1993 Volkswagen EuroVan – The Vanagon That Wasn’t There

(first posted 9/26/2013)   The Van Wars were in full swing by the early ’90s. The dreaded crossovers hadn’t yet put in an appearance, and the Minivan was King. Dodge and C-P dealers were raking the money in, the mid-engine Previa was an amazingly engineered version of the Nineties Kid Hauler, and even the Aerostar was doing relatively well, despite being in production for close to a decade. Amidst all this cash generation came Volkswagen, who finally replaced the venerable-but-slow-selling rear-engine Vanagon with something more with the times.

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I must admit I love the Vanagon (’88 Westy CC here). Although the initial air-cooled versions were, ahem, not the most speedy units out there, the updated Wasserboxer version that came out for ’83 was a bit faster–and less prone to overheating, of course. But by the early ’90s, the Vanagon was a bit of an anachronism. 1991 was the last year they were imported, but sales were so sluggish that if you wanted one in the middle of 1992, odds were you could still find a new, untitled one at your local VW dealer. And if it was a Westfalia Synchro? Well!

But the end of the road had come for the rear-engined VW van, and in its place came the EuroVan. Oh, I’m sure VW was hopeful that it would be able to take a larger share of the lucrative minivan market for itself, but it was not to be. 1993 was the only year you could get one, as sales were so disappointing that VW USA yanked them from the lineup. They did continue to be offered in Canada and Mexico, however.

Perhaps it was that “unique” VW dealer experience (I like VWs, but I’ve heard enough dealer horror stories to keep me from the marque, perhaps for life), but the EuroVan was DOA in its inaugural year, despite the new design, front-wheel drive, comfortable appointments and even a camper version. Of course, you must remember that circa 1992-93 VW was on the ropes in the States, so the EuroVan arrived at the worst possible time. Between 1994 and 1998, the only EuroVan you could purchase in the U.S. was the Winnebago-modified camper–which was much more extensively equipped than the VW-made camper seen here.

That could have been it for the T4 Transporter (as it was known in Europe), but the EuroVan got a second chance–or a second act, if you prefer. For the EuroVan rejoined the U.S. lineup in 1999, with a newly-added VR6 engine and a mild restyling. I remember when they suddenly reappeared, and happily snapped up the brochures at the VW dealer in Davenport, thinking it might make another quick exit. But it remained available through the 2003 model year. Its successor was the Town & Country-based Routan, which Ed Stembridge filled us in on recently.

Inside, you have no-nonsense gray upholstery and a logical instrument panel layout. The somber gray interior is a sharp contrast to the bright aqua interior! While not to everyone’s taste, I do like that aqua paint–it’s so bright and cheerful!

Yes, this one is a camper–an MV Weekender, to be exact. It even has the pop-up top, though it is much less noticeable at a glance than on a Vanagon Westy. And in aqua to boot! I always liked the facing rear seats with the fold-down table, and always fancied playing cards with friends while on a multi-state drive. Sadly, I have never had the pleasure.

The EuroVan MV Weekender was Westfalia-modified, with a rear bench that folded into the bed, the second and third rows that faced each other rather than all facing forward, a folding occasional table, pop-up roof with a second bed, refrigerator, bug screens for the windows, and other camping goodies, like the curtains seen here!

All in all, a nice van and a nice, appealing design, but it just didn’t really take off, despite the second chance. I saw few of the ’99-’03 models in the QC area; indeed, about the only ones I saw were the ones used by the local dealer as customer shuttles. But I always had a soft spot for them, and lamented their passing in 2003. I have seen darn few since then.

So you may understand why I was so happy to spot this one, the very morning of the CC get-together in Iowa City, when I met our esteemed Executive Editor in the flesh for the very first time, along with JP Cavanaugh, Ed Stembridge and Jason Shafer. I was actually running a little bit late when I saw this EuroVan, but I just had to stop!

VW vans have had a tough time in the States since the mid-’80s. The classic VW “widows peak” vans of the ’50s and “bay window” vans of the ’60s and ’70s may be much-loved and well-collected these days, but what about a nice, retro modern VW Van. Come on, VW NA! Let’s see a VW van in the vein of the New Beetle and current Beetle? And while you’re at it, how about doing something about those less-than-ideal, less-than-honest dealerships we see all-too-frequently here in the land of Broughams and McDonalds?