Vanagon – look what the cat dragged home

It’s a bit of a mess, a 2.0 litre ABA engine from, I think, a ’96 Jetta. I can’t confirm date yet, but what looks like a throttle position sensor on the throttle body makes me think it is an OBDII engine. Young guy, keen on cars, was selling it and I gave $70 to him to have the pleasure of taking it home and finding out just how nasty it is.

He had it stored outside and I think rain got in one spark plug hole and filled a cylinder with water. It was water, not coolant. I started taking it apart right out beside the van mainly to make moving it easier.




No chips or gouges but definite wear. Engine has I think around 200k km on it.


Head off and there you go, water.




Close up of water damaged cylinder.


one of the “dry” cylinders.



You might ask why would I buy such an engine? The explanation makes good friend Simon sigh and shake his head. Well it’s like this, I like I4 VW engines. The 1800 8V Digifant I had in my ’82 westy worked like a champ from ’94 until 2009 when the van got T-boned. I liked the simplicity and reliability of the engine, loved how it could run all day pushing a heavy van. I still have that engine and all the mounting gear and I am thinking of making some sort of attempt at building a new version for the syncro. The 2.0 block has the appeal of a bit more power and I think is a little smoother running.

Of course, some machining, bearing replacement, etc, etc, will need to be done. And the question of whether to put the counterflow Digifant head on the 2.0 block or keep the cross flow head is still up in the air. This is a long term project, no quick answers.

I hear you, I know. A stronger more powerful motor with good low end torque would be more suited to the syncro. There is the possibility of a low boost turbo option…

  1. #1 by Paul on November 24, 2013 - 6:24 pm

    Always a treat to read your posts Alistair. Paul ;-}

    • #2 by albell on November 24, 2013 - 6:31 pm

      Do I detect a bit of teasing in that comment?


      What I want is someone to come by and say to me hey, let me take that block and make it good for you. Some eccentric millionaire who likes rebuilding engines.

      Reminded of the scene in The Magnificent Seven, Charles Bronsons character chopping wood:

      “I’m doing this because I’m an eccentric millionaire.



  2. #3 by Simon on November 25, 2013 - 8:26 pm

    Seeing your pucs, I’m pretty sure it’d be worth pulling apart the Subaru 2.5 in your shed before trying to resurrect ‘der duetsches detritus’. I’m happy to act as sous chef!

    • #4 by albell on November 25, 2013 - 9:31 pm

      Yeah, yeah, I know, I know.




  3. #5 by famillysyncro on December 4, 2013 - 3:22 pm


    I have the same idea for a couple month now for our van.
    I am looking at some vibrations (engine related), mainly driving but even at idle. I don’t feel them on the van but on the engine and trans only (proof than those hydro mounts I used on the carrier are good).
    I checked everything on the van that could make it vibrate more than usual and didn’t find anything wrong (plugs, wire, distributor, engine carrier or trans bolts loose…..).

    I read somewhere that converting the VW 1.8l to a 2l help a lot (mainly with a ABA bottom) but I am not sure what would be involved in my case with all additional accessoiries I have (charger, charge cooler, 2nd alternator, timing belt or compression ratio because of the G60…..) since the block should be taller.
    I found a complete 2l (AZG from a 04 Jetta, 140kms for $200) but it seems those are distributor less, it might be an issue to drill the block to add the distributor….
    Not sure how is the 1.8T, if it is better vibration wise, because this looks tempting:

    What do you think?


    • #6 by albell on December 4, 2013 - 6:41 pm

      I have some things to say about vibes in the I4. Let me get back to you Jerome.


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