Home » Here’s The Two Times Porsche Shoved 911 Engines Into Vans

Here’s The Two Times Porsche Shoved 911 Engines Into Vans

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I think one reasonably reliable way to get someone into cars to smile, genuinely and emphatically, is to talk to them about a van that’s unexpectedly fast. There’s something about this basic formula – shoving a big, powerful engine into a humble, boxy, utilitarian van, making something that looks like a shed but moves like a rocket – that just brings joy and excitement. It’s such a potent draw that many carmakers have indulged themselves and built one-or-maybe-two-off fast vans, like Ford’s series of SuperVans or the Renault Espace F1. Interestingly, Porsche, a company known to make, let’s do the math here to be sure, zero vans, has actually produced at least a few excitingly fast vans, in two completely different let’s-cram-a-Porsche 911-flat-six-engine-in-a-van programs. So, let’s look at the two Porsche fast vans that either never or barely were.

Both of these projects relied on Porsche’s close association with Volkswagen, who actually did make vans, and lots of them. Thanks to the commonality of technical design lineage, people have been shoving Porsche engines in bread-loaf-shaped VW vans pretty much since the get-go, starting with bolt-right-in Porsche 356 engines into VW Type 2 Transporters. While Porsche never stopped anyone from doing anything like this, they didn’t exactly go out of their way to make it happen themselves. Well, at least not just yet.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

There have been at least two separate occasions where Porsche deliberately took a Volkswagen van and replaced the drivetrain with the flat-six motor from the 911. The two times they did this were remarkably different, considering the similarities of the results. One was a machine put together out of necessity for a very specific task, but also actually produced (in very, very limited numbers) and able to be purchased by anyone with the money, at least in theory. The other was a prototype for a fast minivan that never really made it past the prototype stage, and used, at least to the way I think, a more unexpected donor van platform. Let’s look at both of these.

Porsche B32

B32 Big

Back in 1985, Porsche was having a pretty good time with their 959 rally car, but found that transporting spare parts in a timely manner to the car as it drove in the Paris-Dakar rally was a task that was a bit beyond what VW’s current van offering, the T3 Transporter (we knew it as the Vanagon here in America, then the latest iteration of the Type 2 bus) was capable of.

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The motor in the T3/Vanagon at the time was the air-cooled 1.9-liter from the Type 4, which made a very respectable for a VW bus 83 horsepower. In the world of VW buses, that’s face-melting, but in the world of rally cars, it’s glacial. So, Porsche decided to solve this problem, and the B32 was born.

B32 Engine

The 3.2-liter air-cooled flat-six from the 911 Carrera that made a far more potent 228 hp was crammed into the van’s butt, causing the rear cargo area floor to be raised a few inches, but still leaving plenty of room for all those spare parts and crew members.

You could also spot a B32 by front and rear under-bumper aero skirts, extra air intakes on the lower rear quarter panels, Fuchs wheels, a bigger exhaust pipe, at least for the stuff you can easily see from outside the car. Below, bigger brakes and a Porsche 915 five-speed transaxle, along with an upgraded suspension setup made sure all that extra power worked to move the bus instead of just, you know, flinging it around in circles.

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Inside, there was a Porsche steering wheel and some extra gauges under the main dash. The Transporters these were based on were already the top-spec Carat models, so they had nice leather seats for the nine possible people that could be whipped around in this sleeper.

B32 Wheel

It’s not really clear how many of these were actually built; I’ve seen numbers ranging from seven to a dozen, certainly not many, but, significantly, not zero. These could be bought back in the day, for a price that’s roughly equivalent to about $150,000 in today’s money, but, really, what other options would a discerning nine-seat sports car buyer have had?

Really, considering how often carmakers will tease us by shoving a big, fast engine and tweaking the suspension of their humble workhorse vans to make a super-van, and then only making one of them that you only get to see in pictures in magazines and short but intense stoplight daydreams, even making and selling a handful of vans like these is a minor triumph.

Porsche must have appreciated how this fast van triumph felt, because they weren’t quite done dreaming about them.

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Porsche Varrera

Varerra Big

Not long at all after the Vanagon-based B32, Porsche returned to the shove-a-911-engine-in-a-van idea, this time focusing on the all-new and not Type 2-based van being jointly developed by Volkswagen and Ford. This was a front-engine/front-wheel drive design with a very modern, one-box look with a dramatically angled front end, and would be known as the Volkswagen Sharan and Ford Galaxy, and, even also the SEAT Alhambra.

There’s not a whole lot of information about the Varrera online; most suggest the project started in 1988, but I’m a bit skeptical of that. The Sharan came out in 1995, and while I’m sure its development started much earlier, I think 1988 is too early, and most of the bodywork seen on the few pictures of the Varrera that exist show a lot of resemblance to the production first-generation Sharan.

There are some significant visual differences: the hood and lights and front bumper/air intakes are different, and resemble, uncannily, the Renault Twingo. The Twingo was released in 1992 so the designers had to be aware of it, right? Because this thing looks so much like a hotter and bigger Twingo.

Varerra Twingo

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The rear seems to have a different tailgate that re-locates the tailgate-mounted taillight lenses to low down on the hatch, but other than the wheels, looks pretty much like a Sharan. My big question is just where that 911 flat-six was placed? Was it placed up front, driving the front wheels? Was there a transaxle setup to bring power to the rear wheels? Did they shove it under the floor at the rear, like the B32? It’s not clear at all, but based on the lack of any rear or side air intakes, I’m thinking the engine likely stayed up front.

Unlike the B32, which enjoyed a production run of (maybe) into the very low double-digits, only one prototype was made before the project was foolishly scrapped.

Volkswagen Type 266 Van

Ea266 Van

I know I said there were two of these, and really, that’s all there are, but there is an earlier source for a Porsche-designed van. Back in the 1960s, Volkswagen was getting a bit desperate to find a suitable replacement for the venerable Beetle, whose fundamental design was from way back in 1938. They pursued a number of possible paths, including such things as buying whole companies – NSU and Auto-Union – which eventually led them to the FWD/liquid-cooled path they’re still on today. But, before that, they also reached out to Porsche to help them develop a worthy Beetle successor, and Porsche came up with something radical and special, the EA266.

Ea266 Cut

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EA266 was a really incredible machine, packaging-wise: mid-engined, with an inline-four laid flat under the rear seat, and cargo areas front and rear. It took VW’s twin-trunked Type 3 design and pushed it even further. Eventually, the practical issues of such a hard-to-access engine and other, mostly cost-related factors killed the project, but before that happened, Porsche was planning on turning EA266 into a whole family of cars:

Ea2666 Sheet

A basic family hatchback, a sportier coupé, a roadster, and a sleek MPV/minivan, all using the novel mid-engined platform. If anything just feels like a Porsche-designed fast fan, this thing definitely does. Look at that rendering up there! It’s so sleek and crisp and Porsche-like, it feels like something between a Brubaker Box:

Brubaker1

…and our own Bishop’s imagined ’80s Porsche minivan daydream:

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Headlights

Really, I don’t think it’s too late for Porsche to give a true Porsche van another shot; it’s abundantly clear they want to, and have wanted to for decades. Maybe with the ID.Buzz just out, they could combine that with a Taycan EV drivetrain and tweak the look a bit for an electric Porsche van, why not? Fast, rear-motor, rear-drive, co-developed with VW, it hits all the classic Porsche van experiment checklist entries. And maybe this time they could make more than a dozen!

Maybe?

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Torque
Torque
16 days ago

You know the VW Eurovan last sold in the US in 2003 should be just young(ish) enough to find one really cheap & it came with the vr6 which is a lovely engine welcoming of mods… could make for a fun build
+ weekender edition would give you pop top + 2nd row swivel chairs
Hmmm

Tsorel
Tsorel
17 days ago

I stuffed a 3.3 liter flat six and a modified 5-speed transaxle from a Subaru in my 86 Vanagon Westfalia. It’s delightful having 240 hp in my van now. Years ago, when Vanagons were still new, I spotted two different Oettinger six cylinder Vanagons in the Bay Area. These were really special vans, indeed. FYI, the early Vanagons used the 2.0 air cooled motors. The 1.9 was water cooled but quickly abandoned for the more reliable 2.1.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
18 days ago

I had kinda halfway Mandela-effected myself into thinking Bish’s Porscheagon was a real thing, so the end of this article was a slight surprise.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
20 days ago

that’s good parsh

Foodeater
Foodeater
20 days ago

There’s a Vanagon with a Porsche engine for sale on Facebook Marketplace right now.

https://www.facebook.com/share/pnRZxmA1qoYxc1mn/

It was a no sale on BAT not too long ago too.

https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1981-volkswagen-vanagon-9/

VanGuy
VanGuy
20 days ago

Don’t forget that even today you can buy a Chevy Express with a 6.6l V8 LS, 8-speed, claiming 400 hp and 464 lb-ft. I’d love to try one of those out.

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
20 days ago

Regarding the Varerra:

If the Sharah came out in 1995, having development starting in 1988 does seem to be too early. I doubt even the base Sharah started development in 1988. But a typo, development in 1998 seems a bit more plausible. Once the van is out in production, Porsche may have pulled one from the line to start development in shoving that engine in.

1998 was also the year that the fried egg headlights appeared on the new 911. While it does look like a Twingo, those headlights really are trying to mimic the shape of the fried egg headlights of the 911/Boxster.

If the engine was placed in the front, it could be that the entire rear end from the 911 was moved up front. The Uno Reverse Card of the Pontiac Fiero.

Last edited 20 days ago by MikuhlBrian
Bhtooefr
Bhtooefr
20 days ago
Reply to  MikuhlBrian

Or maybe the rear end from the Boxster – although the Sharan/Galaxy was transverse, there was at least enough room to package Syncro/4Motion’s rear driveshaft, and a VR6.

Putting a Boxster’s mid-engine drivetrain in the front would give you the exact same layout as a Subaru… and, IIRC, the early Boxsters shared transmission designs with Audis of the time, so you could easily get an AWD version, too.

Frank Wrench
Frank Wrench
20 days ago

Great article but confusing to me why Porsche would use a water-cooled (instead of air-cooled) Vanagon chassis for this. I’ve learned to identify the water-cooled Vanagons by the second (lower) radiator grill up front but maybe that doesn’t apply the year they transitioned to water-cooled. .

Foodeater
Foodeater
20 days ago
Reply to  Frank Wrench

The date in the article is wrong. VW stopped making air cooled T3’s (Vanagons) in 1983 (production likely ended late 1982, but some were sold in the US as 1983 models), the water cooled engine debuted as a 1983.5 model. By the time these were made in (1985-86) there were likely no more air cooled chassis around. The tooling was also likely modified so the that the lower grill openings were stamped on all of the front panels since all T3 engine variants were water cooled by this time.

Besides the ones with the lower grill look better anyway, the air cooled models look like there weird

Frank Wrench
Frank Wrench
20 days ago
Reply to  Foodeater

Thanks for all the background on this. I have an 86 Vanagon and agree the lower grill makes it look better. I still prefer the round headlight look but the rectangular ones are growing on me.

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
20 days ago

I’d see Tesla doing a van before Porsche would these days. Cybervan anyone?

AJ
AJ
21 days ago

Ouch!

The 3.2-liter air-cooled flat-six [. . .] was crammed into the van’s butt

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
21 days ago

Comment deleted – saw the topshot, went straight to the comments discussing my desire for a Twingo van and then saw the picture in the article.

Last edited 21 days ago by OrigamiSensei
Leon Muks
Leon Muks
21 days ago

I had the thrill of being a passenger in a B32 in the mid 1990s. It was the plaything of the chairman of a valve manufacturer in Criesbach, Germany and his driver hauled me and a coworker to the airport in Frankfurt in the early morning hours.More than a few drivers in the right lane did a double take on being passed by a humble VW Transporter.
And we did get to the airport with time to spare.

Bram Oude Elberink
Bram Oude Elberink
21 days ago

Looking at these pictures of the Porsche Varrera, and after googling for more, I think this was never a serious project from Porsche, but more the imagination of journalists. I doubt one example ever existed. The picture looks a lot like the photoshopped pictures that AutoBild and AutoExpress use(d) to make when making articles about scoops. Someone would say something like Porsche is thinking about an MPV, and they would say ‘Hold my beer’ and come up with an article. Choosing the Sharan seems logical, as it is an VAG product. I’ve also seen the sharan with fancy audi grills with articles saying the Audi MPV was definitely coming.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
19 days ago

Agreed. The photos have always looked ‘AI’ but since the Varrera ‘story’ is older than that, it’s probably just the hallmarks of a bad photoshop.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
21 days ago

I am all for Porsche offering a van! I can imagine them dropping the new hybrid system into a van and that offering more than the Panamera!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
21 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

Vanamera!

Lockleaf
Lockleaf
21 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

a painfully delightful portmanteau. Well done, sir. Well done.

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