Bonanza Bus: 1980 VW Camper

Jeff LaveryBy Jeff Lavery

You learn something new every day: this VW Bus, called a “Bonanza” by the seller, sports a Chevrolet power plant and the full camper van treatment, along with an elongated “gallery” window in the sides! It may look like the classic air-cooled Bus we know and love, but this Mexican-built 1980 VW Bus here on eBay represents a chapter in the VW’s classic van history that we didn’t get to experience in the USA. 

It’s safe to say most camper vans don’t look this nice inside. It’s hard to tell whether this is a result of a later production vehicle using better materials or simply having fewer years of wear on the inside. Whatever the reason, it looks downright hospitable. Now, before you get too excited, this Bus is in Mexico and the seller has limited feedback. Regardless, he says not to worry and that he will take care of all the requisite paperwork needed to get the Bus on the road in the US legally.

Check out those linens in the camper top – they look practically unused. Now, this Bus is interesting for a few reasons beyond the clean condition: it sports the aforementioned Chevy powerplant, which is a 2.8L six-cylinder spitting out 200 b.h.p. I can’t find much info about these Bonanzas and whether they were built from the factory with the more robust motor, but I’d love to get some more details on what the conversion entailed. In addition, this is one of several vehicles from Mexico I’ve seen pop up lately, so it may be a new market for importing popular hobbyist vehicles.

I’m not sure of the significance of the stuffed animals, but this serene scene does make owning a camper van pretty tempting. The seller says this Bonanza Bus is 100% original, which adds to the intrigue of the Chevy motor that powers it. I’d also like to know more about that custom window in the side, which resembles nothing on US-spec Buses. The $14,500 asking price isn’t awful considering the price you’d pay for an earlier camper van in similar condition, but there are a few too many questions at the moment (for me, anyway) to hit the Buy-It-Now button.

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  1. James L. Ellis

    Be careful to confirm American title and ability to pass a level three inspection plus pass local emissions testing. Volkswagen fans have long wished to import and register Mexican VWs but have been prohibited due to title and emissions issues. Otherwise this is a unique bus. (Don’t call them ‘vans’)

  2. Joe Defelice

    I did a bit of digging (not very much) and found a bb regarding conversions on VWs. The problem being tossed around was with transaxle gear ratios vs the rpms an American V6 would be economical and comfortable running at. Seems the American V6’s like to cruise in the 1800-2000 rpm range, and the VW transaxle is geared for a higher revving engine. This would mean your engine would be either comfy running 40 mph, or revving up in the 3000 rpm area at highway speeds. Not saying that is the case here… There’s little on the www for Bonanza VW V6 conversion…. I find it odd the seller shows NO engine pix, no radiator pix, and goes as far as obstructing the view on the lower back so you can’t even see the darn tailpipe…

    • Johnnie

      Chevy engine, 6 cylinder, air colled, = Corvair

      • Charlie

        The description of the engine says that it is an in-line six. Corvair engines were horizontally opposed fours or sixes in a “pancake” style, like the VW Type III’s.

    • Mike M,

      I think the radiator is up front, protected by the black tubing. You can see the hose at the bottom going through the front of the bus. But that doesn’t explain why the seller calls it air cooled.

    • whippeteer

      There are now pics of the motor and radiator on the eBay auction.

  3. Dan

    Ad says 1980 but in his description he calls it a 1984??

  4. Jay M

    I’d like to know how he got 200 hp from a carb’d 2.8?
    Hard to believe without a dyno sheet, nevermind some pictures.

    • boxdin

      The V6 in the Fiero was 135 HP.

  5. Don H

    By it before it becomes the new big thing and hits 100 k

  6. Nathan

    It shows 80 in the ad and 84 in the description because eBay won’t let a. On Usa vin be listed unless it is 1980 or older. It’s been a quirk and problemfor years and has nothing to do with the legality of it being in the states or being titled. This is legal to import as long as its 25 years or older and does not have to conform to EPA or dot regulations.

  7. ed the welder

    don’t worry, he can take care of all the paperwork to make it legal for the US… count me as ” dubious / skeptical / doubtful / no f*cking way “

  8. daniel wright

    The bear is TED from the movie of the same name. Not a family friendly movie and perhaps the seller is trying to make a statement?

  9. Don H

    Um drive this into the USA for me don’t worry about that big hump under the carpet !

  10. Gerry

    I think Bonanza only refers to the pop-up / camping conversion which is looks to be aftermarket.
    This looks to be an originally air cooled bus as it has the solid nose with no radiator opening.
    Not sure I’d want the current conversion since the radiator is part of the crash bar and no telling how they got the Chevy engine in there and hacked it up.

    • whippeteer

      I don’t think anyone will buy it for demolition derby or bumper cars. From the picture, it looks like the design and mount for the radiator is pretty solid. It will definitely get good air flow. Mounting the radiator in front of the nose is pretty common for conversions to water cooled from pictures and a couple that I’ve seen in the past.

      • Jeff

        On vacation this past year in Mexico water cooled buses like this are very common and very much use as daily vehicles. The two that my friend owns use the newer bus water cooled boxer motors and the big black grill holds the radiator. Having owned pre-70’s buses in the past how VW Mexico designed the bus to turn water cooled was amazing and very nice to drive.

  11. whippeteer

    The side window is a standard van window. Just look at any US conversion van.

  12. Rustytech

    How bout a Porche transplant?

  13. Kevin

    In South Africa they used to do a V6 Ford Essex conversion (3 litre) only problem was all that extra torque used to chew up transmissions big time.


      And they ALL overheated! The best transplant appeared to be the GM 2500cc motor.

  14. Chepri

    Best is 1.9 tdi


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