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Subaru vanagon

Hobert Kennedy pioneered the Subaru to Vanagon engine swap, the Subaru engine proved to be an excellent choice because it fits the compartment like it belongs there and provides a good increase in horsepower and reliability.  Kennedy Engineered Products manufactures over a hundred different engines to the Vanagon transaxle but nothing fits as well as the Subaru engine in this vehicle

When Volkswagen’s Vanagon first came on the market, magazine writers referred to them as the best handling, best riding and most utilitarian of all the available vans.  Many owners have stated they love the vehicle.  The lack of adequate power was the only real complaint.  Since then, owners have added to the complaint of poor engine reliability and cost of engine repairs.  Common expense is two thousand to three thousand dollars to rebuild a VW waterboxer and that is largely due to the high price of parts.  Good used VW engine are scarce because the vehicles outlast the engines.  After a couple short-lived engine rebuilds, most owners give up having them repaired.

In September 1995, we applied for California smog approval of this adaptation.  This required two years of testing, after which a satisfactory combination of clean exhaust, quiet sound and low backpressure were attained.  Your modified Vanagon can now be taken to a local smog station instead of the state referee.  The California Air Resources Board Issued us an Executive Order allowing the installation of the ’90 – ’94 dual port Subaru 2.2 engine into the 1980 – 1991 Volkswagen Vanagons.  It requires that the Subaru engine be used complete, from its air flow meter to its O2 sensor (except for exhaust manifold piping and optional section of the intake air duct.)  The Subaru ECU and wiring are retained, but modified per KEP instructions.  A check engine light must be installed on the dash.  The Vanagon charcoal canister is retained.  The CARB Executive order refers to a complete kit, and is to be sold this way, not as individual components.  Kits will include copies of the Executive Order and a self-adhesive label to be attached to the body in the engine compartment.  Individual pricing of the parts is available for out of state applications as well as for customers wanting them for use on other model or year Volkswagens that do not need to be CARB compliant.  The Executive Order does not cover 1979 and earlier vans, the air inlet duct interferes with the gasoline tank on these vehicles. 

When ordering a ’90 – ’94 Subaru 2.2 engine at your local wrecking yard they will need to know that you need it complete.  The principal tools necessary for removal are: Philips screwdriver, dikes (wire cutters) 10mm, 12mm, 15mm and 17mm wrenches both socket and open end. 

For this installation, it must include the rubber motor mounts, O2 sensor, throttle cable, air duct and air flow meter in addition to the engine computer with its four plugs and associated wiring.  If your Vanagon has power steering and air conditioning then you will want these pumps on the engine.  There are three other small items that must not be forgotten.  The ignition relay and fuel pump relay are located near the computer above the drivers left knee.  The igniter is a black plastic item 2” square and a half inch thick centered on the firewall directly behind the engine.  These little items are expensive if you must buy them.  There will be a small wire harness on the engine.  The computer harness should come from the same car or the two large square gray plugs may not match.  Removing the wiring harness requires removing the entire dash from the Subaru and removing the left front fender or at least the apron under the fender.  The headlight wires may be cut behind the fender near the front after they separate from the engine sensor wires.  Another bundle of 15 wires going to the tail lights can be cut.  The fuse and relay box is not necessary so all these wires can be cut or just remove the box.  Temporarily save the gray 67 pin firewall connectors in the harness.  If the harness came from an automatic car then it has 35 wires going to a box that looks like the engine computer.  You may cut all those wires and leave that box at the wrecking yard.  Most of the water hoses from the Subaru and VW will be useful.  You will not need any of the Subaru exhaust system except the O2 sensor.  The pipes hang down too low and go the wrong direction.

Manual Engine Adapter Kit

The basic adapter kit consists of an adapter plate, flywheel, pilot bearing and hardware to bolt the bare engine block to the bare transaxle.

Subaru Manual Engine Adapter Kit

Automatic Engine Adapter Kit

The basic adapter kit consists of an adapter plate, flexplate and hardware to bolt the bare engine block to the bare transaxle.

Subaru Automatic Engine Adapter Kit

Wiring Instructions

Our wiring instructions are for the ’90 – ’94 Subaru 2.2 engine.  It is a 6’ long drawing plus 9 pages of instructions.

Wiring Instructions


The stock VW starter is very marginal at cranking the high compression engine.  We recommend an aftermarket  gear reduction starter for the ’80 – ’85 Vanagons, ‘86+ Vanagons have stock starters that are adequate.  When ordering please specify if your Vanagon is manual or automatic.

Vanagon Starter


Our engine crossmember requires the two stock ’90 – ’94 Subaru 2.2 rubber mounts.  This absorbs engine vibration so you have a quieter vehicle than with VW power.


Exhaust Manifold Set

Our exhaust manifold set is stainless steel.  The original Subaru exhaust pipes hang as low as the oil pan and end up toward the front of the van.  Our replacement pipes are less restrictive to gas flow, have 2” more ground clearance and end up with a flange to fit the stock van cat and muffler or our stainless cat and muffler.

Exhaust Header

Catalytic Converter and Muffler

Our catalytic converter is a 50 state approved assembly that is legal in California with a ’90 – ’95 Subaru 2.2 engine and our Executive order so you can go to a local smog station, if you have trouble getting the smog shop to look at your vehicle.  You may be required to take your vehicle to the BAR Referee Station to get a BAR code (label) from them.

Exhaust Mid Pipe

Muffler Bracket

Bolts to the motor to keep our 5” round muffler stable.

Muffler Bracket

Air Filter and Housing

An exposed paper air filter could be used, but our air filter box is designed to muffle the intake howl this engine produces.  Noise in the back of the van was reduced from 90db to 76db.  The air flow meter bolts to the aluminum part of our air filter housing.

Air Filter and Housing

Air Duct

An extra short air duct is necessary on ’80 – ’82 Vanagons.  There is only 2” from the bell housing measuring forward to the firewall.  Vanagons ’83 and newer measure about 4” which permits a more free flowing air duct.  On Syncro (4WD) Vanagons the motor mount sets the engine 2” lower so the stock Subaru air duct can be forced in place.

Intake Air Duct

Heat Shield

The Waterboxer’s heat shield interferes with the Subaru engine.  The KEP heat shield protects Subaru’s plastic belt guards and has a slot which provides clearance for our muffler bracket.

Heat Shield

Radiator Petcocks

The stock radiator system is much easier to bleed with a couple petcocks, one located at the radiator and one at the surge tank.  More details come with our instructions.  When ordering please specify what year your Vanagon surge tank is from.

Radiator Petcocks

Auto Throttle Bracket

The amount of travel of the throttle rod on an automatic Vanagon matches the necessary travel for the Subaru throttle body, but the direction is backward.  By looping the stock Subaru cable back on itself, the direction is corrected and works fine.  Support it with a bracket which is bolted to the engine next to our engine adapter.

Auto Throttle Bracket

Power Steering Hose

The operating pressure of the Subaru power steering pump is very close (only slightly below) the VW specification.  It works fine when using a set of custom hoses that are available from KEP.

Power Steering Hose Set

If your state does not require a catalytic converter you can use our exhaust mid pipe and muffler to work with our exhaust header for OBD1 engines, unless you are running aftermarket electronics.

Exhaust mid pipe and muffler

Auto cooler fittings

The high pressure produced with the higher RPM Subaru engine tends to blow up the trans cooler, replace the water to oil trans cooler with these simple cooler fittings, then you are ready to put in an air cooled trans cooler of your choosing.

Exhaust Mid Pipe
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