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Old 10-22-2018, 03:26 PM   #1
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Sportsmobile vs. Westfalia

Dear all,

I am sure that just reading the title will give a headache to some of SMB fan:-).

As part of my process to get a van, I am wondering what are your views re-Westfalia vs. SMB?

I am looking for 5 seaters, 4 sleepers with kitchen gear and I am realizing that the VW option is not always the most expensive. Maybe in the maintenance.

What are your thought, experience, and reason why you would always go for SMB and not Westfalia?

Thanks a bunch

Bast
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Old 10-22-2018, 03:57 PM   #2
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I've owned and camped in both: VW's will always be my sentimental favorite. I have more than 60k mile behind the wheel of various spit window VW busses, camped in snow, have gone places where few 4x4's will venture, have driven over 100mph in a '65 bus, have completed (2) 24hr rally's in a VW bus, so it's not even a question!

That is, until I remember all of the pre-trip maintenance days a vw requires, lucky to get 50k without needing a valve job, and 100k miles without needing a complete rebuild. There's the limited weight carrying capacity, the road noise, low speeds, having to 'take it easy' on hot days and while pulling a grade, traveling minimalist-light. Even the Vanagons are getting a little 'long in the tooth' and parts becoming harder to find if your out of California and stuck on the road.

Having said that, for comfort, being able to stand up to cook indoors, put my pants on while standing, comfort driving, cruise control, air conditioning, not having to 'do without' creature comforts, there's nothing like a SMB! Not your 'bring the house with you camping' like a motorhome, but not the 'car camping with an inside bed' you do in a much smaller vw bus. One man's take on it, from experience.
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Old 10-22-2018, 04:43 PM   #3
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My good buddy who traveled with his wife to Alaska and back in a VW described my van to her as a VW on Steroids.
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Old 10-22-2018, 05:27 PM   #4
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I think the VW wins the hearts and souls of everyone. However, the brains are won by the SMB. Bigger beds, less maintenance etc. I grew up camping in Westfalias; an 84, 88, 92. They are great and I can't argue that they don't have appeal.
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Old 10-22-2018, 05:40 PM   #5
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thanks all of you for your response.

Funny or not, I do not feel a specific connection with the VW. Maybe because I am from Belgium and I have seen a lot of VW diesel when I was a child. My father had a golf 2/3 GTI:-).

For me, the ford echoed more like the van of the US. The one that I saw in all of the 90's movies.

Anyway, it is cool to read that VW is not that bad in this forum. Obviously, there are more VW options than SMB.
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Old 10-23-2018, 12:44 AM   #6
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I'm assuming we're talking about the VW Bus and VW Vanagon Westfalia conversions, not the Eurovan ones. I don't know anything about Eurovans.
I've owned a 1975 Bus, a 1981 Vanagon, and now a 1990 E-250 Sportsmobile.

VW plusses:
- Incredible space efficiency, thanks to the forward-control, rear-engine design. At 15 feet long, probably the shortest vehicle that can sleep four.
- Easy walk-through from front to rear -- the front floor is flat, no "doghouse."
- Independent suspension. Vanagons also have rack-and-pinion steering and are the best-handling vans I've ever driven. Very nimble once you get used to the body roll (which feels accentuated by the driving position over the front axle.)
- Relatively lightweight. A Vanagon Westfalia conversion, loaded, is under 5,000 pounds. A Bus conversion, loaded, can be under 4,000.
- The interiors are quite well constructed, although as with any old RV the refrigerators tend to lose effectiveness over the years.

VW minuses:
- The engines are all terrible, and badly let down otherwise good chassis designs.
- The air-cooled engines in buses are maintenance-intensive. Vans with the Type I engine are badly underpowered, later ones with the Type IV engine are better and more durable. The heating system on air-cooled engines is weak unless you get a gasoline heater.
- Diesels are horrendously underpowered (49 horsepower!), and noisy.
- The water-cooled boxer engines suffer various corrosion and head gasket issues. The complex electronic fuel injection systems haven't aged particularly well.
- There are engine conversions, most commonly using Subaru engines, but these are expensive. The Subaru ones also reduce ground clearance quite a lot.
- Relatively few campers were equipped with A/C, and the A/C systems in the earlier ones were ineffective.
- It's hard to find tires with a high enough load range that fit a 14-inch rim. It's possible to use 15-inch Mercedes wheels if the center hole is re-machined to fit the VW hubs.
- They're all getting long in the tooth. The newest US-market Vanagon is now 28 years old. Some parts are getting scarce and there aren't a lot of mechanics with experience in many areas.
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Old 10-23-2018, 07:51 AM   #7
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I had a 91 Westfalia project van but sold it before i even drove it once because most mechanics I know weren't interested in working on it. Now i have 1994 Dodge Sportsmobile and love it. No problem finding mechanics. Plenty of power and payload. As somebody said, a Sportsmobile is a Westfalia on steroids!
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Old 10-23-2018, 10:39 AM   #8
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My buddy did the Bostig Zetec conversion in his Westfalia, once he got the kinks worked out (overfueling and fire in the muffler) it was pretty great. He just got tired of doing 40mph up hills. It actually became a safety issue for him as 18 wheelers came up on him climbing hills or he had no power to pass etc.


Love the VW's, but the world has changed. 75mph is the new 55mph.
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Old 10-23-2018, 05:24 PM   #9
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Have had several VWs. One I converted to a camper and a couple factory conversions. The available space and comfort of a SMB as well as the reliability of the Econoline won us over.
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Old 10-23-2018, 08:32 PM   #10
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The Econolines are definitely roomier, something I appreciate when I take my wife and a friend or two along. I do miss the handling and easy parking of the Vanagon, though. In an Econoline you never forget you're driving a truck. My 1990 EB with its 5.0L V-8 is pretty much a wash compared to the '75 Bus; twice the power, but nearly twice the weight.

Incidentally, the person I bought my Sportsmobile from switched to a Westfalia because he needed forward-facing seating for his kids' car seats. (The layout of my particular van has two sideways-facing couches.) If you have small kids or might have them some day, make sure you get a floor plan with forward-facing seats.

I should mention that used prices on Vanagon and Bus campers have gotten a bit ridiculous in many areas, because they have cult status. At one time you could pick up a rough but driveable Vanagon camper for $5,000, and I once bought a Bus for $1800. Now they seem to start around $10K. Syncros have similar pricing to the 4x4 Sportsmobiles, $20K is about the entry point. (The Syncro package is a factory AWD conversion, though, and is extremely well sorted out.)
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