Forest Find: 1980 Volkswagen Vanagon

We’ve seen plenty of reports of vintage Volkswagen Buses discovered in European forests, with some of them even extracted by helicopter, but this is the first true “forest find” I can recall seeing stateside that’s been listed for sale. Yes, there are plenty of old Type 2s rusting away in backyards yet that haven’t been discovered or otherwise posted for sale, but looking at the condition of this one, there’s no doubt it’s had a non-consensual relationship with Mother Nature for several years. The Vanagon is listed here on eBay and has the preferred manual transmission for $1,500 or best offer.

The Vanagon has been slow to take off price-wise after the success of its forebear in recent years. I’m not sure why, exactly, as both generations have the same shortcomings but like any other model evolution, the Vanagon arguably feels more modern by leaps and bounds compared to a vintage Bus. Still, values have been fairly flat for all except the cleanest of the pop-top Westfalia conversions, with the exception going to tastefully modified examples with a Subaru engine swap in the rear. Anything to make these ungodly slow chariots more livable is sure to add value.

And, truth be told, a Subaru engine swap may be the thing that makes the most sense for saving this van. The standard flat-four isn’t even bolted into the chassis at the moment, so you can just toss that thing out. And with three pedals, you’ll be able to make the most out of the Subaru mill’s added power. The tough thing with a forest find is that you’ll have lots of cleaning ahead of you to exterminate any critters and to wash out years of dirt, acorns, mouse droppings, and God knows what else. The seller isn’t trying to hide any of this in the photos, which do indeed reveal a very filthy interior.

The seller claims the Vanagon has been sitting in the Georgia wilderness for 20 years. Sadly, as the seller later notes, he believes the transmission is missing from the Vanagon, and that’s a pretty big strike against it. The engine should likely just be scrapped, as they were prone to overheating and this one looks like it was in the process of being yanked before work stopped. The seller, interesting, claims they buy and sell industrial equipment all over the world, and if I had to guess they were enlisted to remove this Vanagon while picking up some machinery that was more in their wheelhouse. Do you think this Vanagon can be saved? Should it?


  1. Bluetec320 Bluetec320 Member

    It’s a parts van, and to me, all the good stuff is gone or ruined. I may be wrong, but at $1500 you would only break even parting it out on Ebay. Not worth the labor invested. It would probably make more sense to someone doing a restoration.

    Like 10
    • Car Nut Gig Harbor Washington

      I agree. If it was in nicer condition, I’d be willing to pay the asking price to buy it and drive it.

      Like 1
  2. bobhess bobhess Member

    The early air cooled Vanagons were under powered with as heavy as they were. Solved the problem with the water cooled engines in ’84. Have a friend who has an early one with the 6 cylinder Subaru engine that really brings it to life. That said, Bluetec320 said it all.

    Like 3
    • electric jack

      What year Subaru engine bolts up? Ex VW mechanic

      • Derek

        Might be an adaptor plate job (but I don’t know!).

      • alphasud Member

        Kennedy Engineering makes the adapter plate with matching flywheel and a VW clutch. I have a complete SVX 3.3 engine and harness that would work great. The 1.9 wasser boxer is plagued with design problems. Biggest issue was corrosion between the rubber block to head seals leading to low coolant and loss of circulation (think Chevy Vega) and then progressing to combustion in the coolant.

        Like 1
  3. Rick

    Mustie1 on YouTube will have that thing running and scooting through his “proving grounds” in two days at the most.

  4. Car Nut Gig Harbor Washington

    I remember when the VW Vanagon looked like this. I’d buy one if it was in nicer condition than this. Probably paying between $5 and $10k for one in driveable condition.

  5. Troy

    Add says no title and the engine is in the trunk interesting considering it doesn’t have a trunk I say scrap it now metal prices are still high

    Like 1
  6. Mike

    Hard pass. Too much stuff missing, not a desirable year and no title. Strike three, you’re out! If you want a Vanagon, find a 1987 to 91 water cooled version to dump your money into. This…. ugh, needs to be scrapped.

    Like 1
  7. moosie moosie

    I had a Vanagon, an ’83. Last of the air cooled ones. For some reason I really liked it, is was slower accelerating than cream rising and colder then a hookers heart , heatwise, but it somehow made me happy to drive it. I bought it off a guy who I think used it as a chicken coop or dog house because it stunk inside. The interior was bare, only 2 front seats that I burnt, I found a complete later model blue interior for it and bought a couple of area carpets for the floor and walls. It came out perfect, the rearmost seat folded out to a pretty comfortable bed. I never had a bit of trouble with it winter or summer. It wasn’t too quick acceleration wise but I had no difficulty cruising at 70-75 MPH on the highway. Sometimes I wish I had never sold it. This one for sale here might not be too bad a deal if it was a running & driving specimen.

    Like 1
  8. George

    The transmission is why this has been sitting in the woods for 20 years. The internal tail shaft is a nylon bushing which is a common failure point, since everything rests on that. The entire transmission needs to be pulled apart to replace it. The 2 liter engine was a big improvement over the previous generation bus.

  9. Charlie

    I have a nice 82 diesel Vanagon I’m going to sell , I was planning to put a late model Golf or Jetta TDI motor in it , but I now have health issues stopped that . It is in excellent shape for the year body and interior wise and mechanically too and only has 78k miles on it (more than likely all at under 50mph) . If that thing is worth $1500 mine has to be worth 4 times that . I think with a 100HP TDI motor it would be a pretty good vehicle . I drove mine a few times to the Carlisle flea market about 40 miles from me all back roads and it is pretty slow empty but when I loaded some parts it was bad , I had full school buses riding my a$$ , but it sure does get alot of thumbs ups . I need to get it on Ebay and see what it’s worth .

    • alphasud Member

      Most likely worth some money. They are becoming collectible like everything else. If it has the weekender package even more. If it’s the camper sky’s the limit. I installed a Golf GTI engine in my boss’s 82 diesel. You have all the mounts, cooling, and exhaust figured out by the factory. Or like you said a TDI would help as well.
      Why not post it on BarnFinds? Fill out the form and add some pictures. I’m sure the staff could help you put a number on it or you can auction it here.

      • Charlie

        I have been thinking of Cars and Bids or BAT . Never thought about this site as a selling tool , I did know they do it , most I see on here are links to other sites . That is a good idea . I was going the TDI route because I have a tank for my equipment .

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