Driveway Cleanup: 1984 VW Vanagon

The third generation VW van is bigger and heavier than the previous generations. Many would say it had lost its soul. It drives much more like a car thanks to rack and pinion steering, front disk brakes, front and rear independent suspension and other advances. It also has many of the same features available as cars of the time like power steering, AC, power door locks and such. For the first four years the T3 was underpowered but in 1984 a more powerful 83 horsepower, water cooled, and fuel injected engine replaced the 67 horse air cooled engine. These Vanagons are a world apart from the earlier versions, but they also can get expensive to repair. Also, the water-cooled flat four boxer is an engine with a reputation for cylinder head problems. This Vanagon is listed on craigslist in Upland, California for $3,000. It’s been sitting for almost 20 years and, of course, it ran well when it was parked. Likely, after only 15 years on the road, it was getting just too expensive to maintain or perhaps it wouldn’t pass a smog test. It’s like the BMWs, Audis and other luxury German cars of today. After about only 10 years their value drops dramatically and you can buy them very cheaply because maintenance is so expensive. 

The front has some battle damage. It’s probably not worth repairing unless you’re handy with a body dolly and a spray gun, but it could be driven like it is. Perhaps a trip to a self-service junkyard might yield a bumper and grill for a reasonable price.

This appears to be the VL model with nicer seats and other amenities. It needs cleaning and upholstery repair, but it looks to be in nice condition.

The back seats look really nice and ready for a good cleaning. If you need to move lots of people, there’s plenty of space here for 5.

Is this van worth saving? It might not take much to get it running or, more likely, it might take a lot of work. It has a manual transmission so it is probably OK. It might be difficult to get it to pass a SMOG test. The stock “Digi-Jet” fuel injection system is very difficult to work on and parts are either difficult or impossible to find. There are, however, fuel injection conversions that are SMOG legal in all 50 states. This Vanagon has only 118,000 miles on it, much lower than some of the other vans for sale, and it probably isn’t rusty. Average retail is said to be $20,000, but low retail is only $7,500.  High mileage running Vanagans sell for $5,000 or less. Is there a price that would make this project worth the gamble or is this Vanagon headed for the scrap yard?


  1. jdjonesdr

    I would think they would let it go for whatever they can get for it rather than let it go to the junkyard, but that’s just me.

  2. Airbrakemn

    I thought it was already at the “Junk Yard”!

    Like 1
  3. Mike B

    Take the latch off the liftgate, stand it on its nose at the curb, fill with junk & hope the trash truck can tip it.

    Like 1
  4. XMA0891

    Learned something today: Thought ’84 was the last year for the air-cooled engine. Neighbor drove an ’84 for years – Never knew.

    • moosie Craig M. Bryda

      Split year. I owned an ’84 aircooled that I absolutely loved even tho it had a penchant for ignition switches. I would have driven it forever if the heater would have worked better. I went so far as researching a ” “Southwind ” gas heater but a guy stopped by when I was weak, offered up GOOD money for it so it went bye-bye.

      Like 1
  5. JimmyJ

    Love the old air cooled ones like my old 71 westy i had but everyone i knew with a liquid cooled one had nothing but problems so i wouldn’t touch it

  6. Chebby Staff

    According to GoWesty, even free Vanagons can be a bad deal. I’ll bet there are a lot of doo-doo birds trying to cash in on the VW craze and get real money for crap they would have paid someone to haul away not too long ago. Look at that dude’s garage. You’ve known somebody like that.

  7. Mike

    This 1.9 is not worth it. Go for the later ones with the 2.1 motor. Fixing rust on these is a pain in the ass, so buy the best condition ’88-91 one you can find. They may be more expensive, but you’ll be MILES ahead not having to fix everything. I have a money pit Syncro, so I have lots of experience.

  8. moosie Craig M. Bryda

    Subaru boxers are a very popular conversion on these water cooled Vanagons.

    Like 1
  9. exbenzo tech

    I had three of these over the years.
    They are good vans , BUT there is one problem. Their engine are crap.
    If you can install a subaru engine , then yeah , you got one hell of a van.
    Otherwise dont bother.

  10. Ensign Pulver

    I have owned two and bought both when 3-4 years old. One was a GL and the other a unicorn….87 Syncro. Two $$$ killers were exhaust and head gaskets. The original owner of the synchro told me “oh just a leaky hose”….and then ran to the bank with my check. Would I buy one again? Yep! I still have my 2001 Tekno Blue Eurovan that I bought new!!

  11. Gay Car Nut

    Sweet looking VW Vanagon. I remember when the Vanagon was available. I believe things went downhill for Volkswagen when they introduced the front-wheel drive Eurovan. It may not be for everyone, but I like the old-school rear-engined, rear-wheel drive VW.

    Like 1
  12. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    Had a ’83 watercooled & we loved it. 9 passenger/bench seat in front. So freaking slow. Incredibly comfortable ride. Would have loved to own an air-cooled with the German bazooka gas heater slung underneath. Fond memories.

  13. Andy

    I had a ’66 Type 2 at one time. I road tested one of these Wasserboxers in the early ’90s. It was a huge improvement over the older ones in so many ways, but it was going for about 3 times what I was used to paying for a car back then: $2800. After the 3 VWs I did own, and thinking about all the ones my family had before me, I don’t think I’d ever trust a VW as my sole transportation again. Still, that Vanagon was pretty neat.

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