Feature Car: 1974 Bay Window 1.8T Swap

One look at the rust-free 1974 Volkswagen bus with a “For Sale” sign in the window instantly transformed Todd Anderson into a nine-year-old boy.

Memories of childhood drives with his father at the wheel flashed before his eyes as he gazed at the blue-and-white bus he stumbled upon while on holiday with his wife in San Diego.

In that moment, he knew he couldn’t pass it up even if it meant cancelling the couple’s flights home to Ottawa and transforming a romantic getaway for two into a pan-continental road trip.

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“It’s like everybody’s hobby car: It’s what their dad had,” he said.

“We always had them when I was a kid and that’s probably why I wanted it — I was picked up from the hospital in a Volkswagen bus.”

The impromptu, 2,800 mile drive back to Canada gave Anderson time to imagine how he wanted the restoration project to play out. By the time he pulled his new ride into his driveway in Manotick, Ontario, a few minutes south of Ottawa, Anderson had already decided that his new ride would have a twist.

The first thing he did was ditch the old 1.8-liter flat four that created the distinctive VW malfunctioning air conditioner sound and go with something a bit different.

“I happened to have an Audi 1.8-litre turbo engine on the shelf that I got out of a wreck that I thought would fit and gave it a try,” he said with a widening grin before adding: “A few months later, I had a pretty fast bus.”

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It wasn’t exactly as simple as Anderson makes it sound. The goal of the restoration project was to keep the vehicle looking like a 1974 Volkswagen bus despite its new guts, and Anderson’s two decades of experience working on German cars played a huge role in making it a success

Fitting the liquid-cooled, 1.8-liter turbo into a space designed for something air-cooled also wasn’t just a question of shoehorning it into the rear engine compartment.

“It was a lot of measuring, and mocking up the motor and putting it in and then taking it out and trying again,” he said. “It wasn’t difficult, but it was time consuming.”

To make it work, Anderson also needed to figure out how to incorporate a radiator, fan, hoses and coolant pipes without changing the exterior of the bus.

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In the end, he put the radiator and other cooling components underneath the chassis in an aluminum box which hides them from view.

“It’s pretty inconspicuous — you’d have to look for it to see it — and it works good,” said the owner of Autobahn Tuning in Manotick.

“With the engine lid closed, you wouldn’t know what it was, right down to the steel wheels and hub caps.”

In addition to the cooling system, Anderson fabricated engine mountings, an air intake system, an exhaust system, and a wiring harness to connect the motor and the engine controls to the bus.

The Audi turbo was attached to the original Volkswagen transmission using a custom-made adapter plate that Anderson bought from a California machine shop. With upgraded power available in the back, Anderson also changed the now too short third and fourth gear sets. These were made by another company in California that supplies gears for diesel conversions of VW Vanagons.

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“It’s got lots of legs on the highway,” Anderson said. “People look at it and say ‘wow that’s a nice bus’ but when they see it step out beside them and take off, it leaves some questions for sure.”

There were no suspension upgrades to the bus apart from some helper springs in the back to keep it level due to the added weight of the Audi engine. The bus’s ball joints and brakes were replaced, but with factory parts.

Once all the work was done, Anderson sent the bus to a local body shop where it was repainted in the original colours and all the window seals were removed and replaced. When it came back, the interior was modernized with many conveniences not available as original equipment in 1974, such as a video entertainment system and full dash with all the bells and whistles. For example, it’s got a temperature gauge from a Porsche 914 and it even has a check engine light.

Anderson “lost track” of the time he spent on the project, which took about two months of working off and on. He thinks that it would likely cost about $20,000 in parts and labor if he hadn’t done all the work himself.

But he feels it was more than worth it.