For the last 5 years I've been preparing my life for a great spiritual journey across America. It'll be just me, my Westfalia, and my Corgi named Xerxes. I plan to set off and drive all around the country for the next 10 years, and finally settling in Alaska to start anew.
Now, that's backstory, and for this topic I'd rather not get too far into that.
I decided the Westfalia was the perfect vehicle, however I still have a few big questions.
1. The year. I really like the styling from anything before 1978, but is this the optimal year for my journey? does it have what I need to live in for 10 years semi-comfortably opposed to another year like the 80's?
2. Maintenance. I know of fuel line and head gasket issues that plague a ton of the westies. Would it just be easier if money was no object, to either swap the engine out for something from a subaru, or maybe convert to biodiesel for easily affordable traveling?
3. Tires. I really need these to last as tires are semi-expensive. What would be the best brand for the westfalia?
That's all for now, thanks guys.
Great to see you are thinking of a Westfalia for your journey and I wish you well whatever vehicle you choose to take it in.
As for the choice of which Westie, that would be a personal choice. We can provide specific answers to specific questions but the big question of what to buy is personal and should be made based on your preferences and abilities. If you spend some time reviewing the boards you will get a flavor for what issues you may face. No vehicle is perfect and when you consider your options (the youngest one is 20 years old) you start to get a flavor for the leap of faith you are about to make. I can give you some generalities that may help your choice:
1. All vehicles before 1983 1/2 are air cooled. That gives you the option of the 'old' bay window body style or the 'newer' Vanagon style. The benefits of air cooled engines are that there are less components to fail but with air cooling comes less power. No VW (Vanagon or bay window) is endowed with an excess of power but the water cooled engines have more power than the air cooled ones.
2. From a living comfort point of view I believe that both vehicles can give you a similar experience. Most (if not all) the differences would be driving both from the driving position within the vehicle and the mechanics. The Bay window is a little smaller (in numerical terms) than the Vanagon but the differences would be minimal.
If swapping out the engine was attractive to you I would suggest starting with a Vanagon; and a water cooled Vanagon would be best. An air cooled Vanagon would work because you could get all of the parts off the shelf to make your cooling system work but the expense / hassle would not be worth it from my perspective. Starting with a water cooled Vanagon would eliminate the need to re-engineer the cooling system and there are a few aftermarket companies out there that specialize in conversions. Mostly Subaru engines but there are companies that will 'rebuild' the wasserboxer engine in the Vanagon and can expand the displacement of the engine. Options are great depending on what you want to do.
Just be aware that the further you get away from the factory set up will diminish your options to get the vehicle repaired if it needs it. Some of the components that make the conversion possible are unique and some are freely available. Think about service facilities also. It is getting more difficult to find a technician willing and able to work on 'standard' VW due to the age and rarity of the vehicles so if you introduce a different engine (for example) then that group of technicians willing to do the work diminishes.
If you have the time to freely explore the country than my advice would be to keep the vehicle stock. That would give you the maximum options to get the vehicle repaired over the next 10 years as you travel across the country.
If you have any specific questions then please post them and we can help out as best as possible.