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Mileage: 215,000 Miles
Engine: 2.1-Liter Wasserboxer 4-Cylinder Engine
Transmission: 3-Speed Automatic Transmission
Exterior color: Tornado Red Exterior (L900)
Interior: Grey Cloth Interior
Rebuilt Engine Installed at 200K Miles
Captain’s Chairs (non-swivel)
Removable Rear Facing Chairs
Rear Bench Seat / Z-Bed
Snap-In Factory Privacy Curtains
Lower Ride Height
Fiberglass Body Trim
Limo Tinted Rear Windows
South African Grill
H4 Halogen Headlights w/ City Lights
Smoked Front Markers and Tail Lights
Blaupunkt Stereo w/ Aux in
6-Disc CD Changer
JL Audi 10-inch Subwoofer
Rear Seat Protector
Cup-Holder / Storage Center Console
Carpet Front Floor Mats
Rocky Mountain Westy Rear Rubber Mat
Polished Mercedes 16-Inch Wheels w/ Wolfsburg Center Caps
Fresh Continental TrueContact All-Season Tires
Rocky Mountain Westy Stainless Steel Coolant Reservoir and Lines
Jaguar XJS 4-Piston Front Brakes
Bilstein B6 Performance Shocks
Replacement Rebuilt Engine at 200K Miles
Power Steering Rack
Brakes Front and Rear
Glass-Out Repaint in the Original Tornado Red
California / Colorado Vanagon
Clean California Title
The third generation of the Volkswagen Type 2 Transporter, the T3, was called the Caravelle in Europe and the Vanagon in the US market. It followed the legacy of the T2 “bay window” bus, and the iconic T1 “split window” bus. Unlike those, the T3 offered modern amenities, lots of space, excellent road manners, heat (I spent many a winter night shivering behind the wheel of my bay window T2 growing up) and even air conditioning in the later models. The Carat was the highest trim level, and the best edition of the slick-top Vanagon. Introduced in 1989 for the 1990 model year as an evolution of the Wolfsburg Edition, it featured the weekender interior consisting of a fold down Z-bed bench seat, removable rear-facing jump seats, parcel trays, captain’s chairs, a fold up table, sporty body cladding, and slightly lower ride height. It also got full-span roof air conditioning (due to being a slicktop), along with power windows, door locks, and mirrors. Tornado Red was an exclusive Carat-only color over grey bumpers and black trim. Thanks to its lighter weight the Carat will also cruise comfortably at 65 to 70 mph and go even faster when needed.
This 1990 Tornado Red Volkswagen Vanagon Carat has been a personal Glen Shelly vehicle since 2015. It features the standard Carat kit mentioned above, including the often-missing factory snap-in privacy curtains, owners’ manual, and two keys. Tasteful modifications are a Blaupunkt stereo system with a 6-disc CD changer, JL 10-inch subwoofer, cup holder / storage center console, the South African grille with circular H4 halogen headlights and city lights, smoked-front markers and rear tail-lights, Bilstein B6 Performance shocks, Jaguar XJS 4-piston front brakes, and painted silver Mercedes 16-inch wheels. I chose a Carat over a pop-top Weekender or full Westfalia camper because its lighter, making up for the Vanagon’s low power to weight ratio, has a better air conditioning system, power options, and a full-width rear bed (my wife and I can sleep back there comfortably with two dogs). With the removable rear facing jump seats, it is the most versatile Vanagon; it’ll haul seven adults comfortably and has tons of cargo volume with the jump seats removed.
I purchased it from a long-term owner in Orange County who used it as his weekend camper / surf mobile. Then I kept it in California and used it as my mobile crash pad when I was based at LAX for my airline job, commuting there via air from Colorado. I spent many a night taking in the sunset from Highway 1 before starting a flying trip and I slept like a baby in the full-width bed in the LAX employee lot—despite jets flying just a few hundred feet overhead! The Carfax shows it being originally delivered in July of 1990 and remaining in California until I brought it to Colorado in 2016. Once in Colorado, I turned it over to Vanagon specialists Rocky Mountain Westy (now Van Café) for an initial round of preventative maintenance and repairs that would become beginning of a nearly complete restoration. The work included removing and re-sealing the fuel tank and replacing the fuel lines, replacing and upgrading the cooling system with a Rocky Mountain Westy stainless steel expansion tank and center cooling lines, soft cooling lines, radiator hoses, radiator, water pump, accessory belts, engine mounts, and cruise control brake switch.
Later in 2016 my brother purchased one of Rocky Mountain Westy’s personal Vanagons and had them build it into a Subaru EJ25 engine-swapped Weekender, which meant that its recently rebuilt stock 2.1 Wasserboxer engine with approximately 20K miles needed a home—so we put it in my Carat. With the odometer reading 200,501 miles the replacement engine was installed and the transmission torque converter seal and O-ring were replaced in the process, along with fresh engine bay fuel lines and fuel feed and return lines. The air conditioning system was also refreshed and converted to R134. Three years of adventures, including several cross-country road trips, followed until I reluctantly decided to sell the Carat earlier this year to replace it with a van that can tow the Glen Shelly car hauler.
However, we just couldn’t sell it without giving it the full Glen Shelly treatment, so the remaining restoration began! It started with a glass-out repaint in the original Tornado Red and grey bumpers. It was stripped, primed, and re-sprayed, along with the bumpers, trim, grilles, door handles, air intakes, and spoilers. Nothing was left un-touched. When it went back together any questionable glass or door seal, body gasket, or rubber was replaced, along with the VW emblems, gas gap, washer nozzles, and wiper hardware. Underneath the suspension was overhauled with fresh ball joints, shock mounts, control arms, suspension bushings, sway bar bushings, sway bar end links, and fresh Bilstein B6 Performance front shocks to match recently-replaced B6 rear shocks. The brakes were upgraded with Jaguar XJS 4-Piston front brakes with Eurovan rotors and and the rest of the system was refreshed with stock rear brakes, master cylinder, rear wheel cylinders, and brake lines on all four corners. The front wheel bearings were also done when we had the hubs apart. The engine was tuned up with spark plugs, spark plug wires, distributor cap, rotor, coil, air filter, fuel lines, coolant bleed line, and a fresh oil change. The transmission gasket was replaced and the fluid flushed. Fresh Continental True Contact all-season tires were mounted. The interior is in very good shape, and was largely left alone other than a few housekeeping items. The retail cost of the recent work totaled almost $20,000!
The end result is one of the nicest (if not the nicest) Tornado Red Volkwagen Carats in the country. It looks very much like it did the day it was originally delivered in 1990, but is better than stock, thanks to its host of upgrades. Going down the road is it exceptionally quiet inside, not the symphony of whistling door and window seals that most Vanagons are (this can be maddening on long road trips). The South African Hella H4 headlights are a remarkable upgrade over the stock U.S. Vanagon headlights. The cooling system is stout and keeps the engine temperature cool, even on hot summer days going over Colorado mountain passes. The fuel lines have been refreshed—a key preventative maintenance item for all Vanagons. The suspension is tight, quiet, and compliant. The Jaguar XJS brakes are comically good—you won’t win any races in a Vanagon, but I challenge anybody to a stopping contest in ours!
We’d like to pass this Vanagon Carat on to a new owner who appreciates what it is and to whom it will bring as much joy as it has brought us. I have spent well over $30K on it, and I don’t expect to get that back—but, it has been worth every penny! Instead, I would like a new owner to reap the benefits of our work and set out on their own adventures. The Vanagon has a heart and a soul that is missing in the modern van-life alternatives—the Sprinters and Dodge Pro Masters clogging the cool places—and unlike all of our fast cars, it forces one to slow down, kick your feet up, watch the world go by, and live in the moment. Yet, with 50/50 weight balance and excellent visibility, it will out-drive any of those modern vans should you find yourself on a twisty mountain road—and it’ll out-stop ‘em too!
There are exteriore and interior videos on our website if you are reading this elsewhere. The exterior is in exceptional condition thanks to the no-expense-spared repaint. The paint is excellent and it was painted correctly, with the glass out and all trim and rubber removed so there are no visible paint lines. All factory seam filler was left in place, so as not to introduce future moisture and potential rust to those areas. The bumpers, trim and all black-work were also repainted in the restoration. Underneath, all panels are original. There was a small area of filler just above the rear bumper, which was repaired correctly when it was stripped. The factory door jam VIN tag is in place. I also have the VIN option sticker (hood sticker in Porsche speak) sleeved in the records binder. There is no rust anywhere on the body, the van has always lived in California, and never been exposed to winter when in Colorado. The exhaust has visible surface corrosion, which I considered replacing with a stainless steel system, but it is perfectly functional so I decided to leave that choice up to the new owner. The corrosion-prone areas like the body seams and floorboards are clean. The windshield is crack-free and is in excellent shape. The front window glass is lightly tinted and the glass aft of the front doors has dark limo tint. The South African headlights are perfectly clear and un-cracked, as are the smoked front indicator lenses, smoked taillights, and rear marker lights. The Mercedes wheels are finished in silver with custom Wolfsburg center caps. They are a defining element of the exterior and complement the Carat wonderfully. The Continental tires have fewer than 100 miles on them.
The interior is largely original, but in excellent condition considering its mileage. It’s a clear indication that this Carat has always been properly cared for and protected from harsh conditions and UV exposure. There are no odors and it has never been smoked in. The front has fitted factory floor mats and the rear has aftermarket carpet and rubber; both are in excellent shape. Underneath the carpet is in good condition, but it does have some wear areas and light staining. The dashboard is crack-free and comes with a carpet cover to keep it out of the sun when parked. The instrument cluster has no blown out pixels or bulbs and all of the warning lights function correctly. The horn, turn signals, cruise control, and wipers all function as they should, as do the front and rear heater, and air conditioning controls. The blower motors are quiet and work at all speeds. The Blaupunkt stereo system sounds amazing. The front passenger armrest seats have no rips, stains, or tears. There is some slight discoloration in the fabric and waves in the seam beads, but all functions work correctly. The removable rear jump seats are present, as are the storage trays that mount behind them. One of the jump seat side covers is missing (which can be put out of sight if you mount that one closest to the wall), and the other side cover is cracked. The rear bench seat is also in good condition, but it does have light wear and some light staining. The rear seat headrests are long gone, but they only got in the way when you want to put the Z-bed down. A fitted Eurovan rear seat cover is included, that has kept the rear seat nice. The rear cushion is also present and in good shape. The Z-bed functions correctly, and the rubber seatback lock pin covers are present (so you don’t bang your head on them). The fold up table functions correctly, and all of the cup holders are present, but there is a cover missing from one of them. The factory owners’ manual is included, along with two sets of keys.
Virtually every mechanical component has either been rebuilt or replaced in my tenure. In that time I have driven it across the country several times, and it has never let me down. Critical items like the cooling system and fuel lines have been preventatively replaced. The suspension refresh, brake upgrade, and recent tune up have been done within the last 100 miles. The 2.1 Wasserboxer engine fires on command, idles smoothly, and pulls strongly to redline. If it is left sit for several weeks, there is normal Wasserboxer lifter noise as the hydraulic lifters pressurize. The coolant temp always remains within a needle width of the warning light in the center of the gauge (the normal operation zone) and both the low and high-speed fan resistors work. The transmission shift smoothly, but there is a learning curve to the 2 to 3 shift depending on how much throttle is applied. I’ve never wanted for a manual gearbox in my Vanagon, the automatic is perfectly suited for the Carat. There are no wheel bearing or driveline vibrations. The suspension is surprisingly competent, which, combined with the Vanagon’s low center of gravity and 50/50 weight balance, allow it to corner very nicely. The Jaguar brakes are comically good, and excellent for high mountain descents. We pay for and ensure it passes emissions in the State of Colorado. This is a turn-key Vanagon Carat ready for many years and miles of adventures with its new owner. I wouldn’t hesitate to drive it across the country, and have done so several times. Like any Vanagon, it will certainly need continued care and maintenance, but it is an outlier example that deserves it.