This article examines the differences that exist within the "late-model" 1997-2003 Eurovan Full Campers (EVC). We refer to these vehicles as "late-model" because they are so much different than the 1992-1996 models (which we refer to as "early-model"). To read more about all of the Eurovan models and how they differed from one another (and Buses/Vanagons) in general, please see this article: Model Overview: Bus, Vanagon, Eurovan (1968-2003).
All 1997-2003 EVCs are very similar. They all came with an automatic transmission, 2.8 liter VR6 engine, and air bags on both the driver and passenger sides. They were only offered in white, and came equipped with power windows, power door locks, air conditioning, and cruise control. The camper equipment was all pretty much identical, too—with some minor refinements here and there. There were, in fact, very few significant changes made by VW. After GoWesty is done restoring a late-model EVC, the differences are even fewer. Below is a list of changes significant enough to mention—and what GoWesty does, if anything, to update the older models.
In late 1999, the interior fabric and color scheme was changed to a lighter shade of gray and a different pattern appeared on the upholstery. A small center console also appeared just forward of the shift lever. Mechanically speaking, all of the 1997-2000 EVCs were essentially the same.
In 2001, there were several significant changes:
Engine. The size did not change. It remained a 2.8 liter displacement. However, the number of valves increased from 12 to 24, and variable valve timing was introduced. Horsepower jumped from about 140 to 200, but the torque increased only slightly (from 180 to 188). Basically, both engines have plenty of oomph; subsequently, we get zero complaints about power in any of these models. The only downside of the later engine was that the valve train put a higher strain on the timing chains; thus, it is more common to see the later 24-valve engines in need of timing chain replacements sooner than the 12-valve engines. This is especially true if the oil was not changed more frequently than the VW-recommended 7500 miles and/or poor quality oil was used.
Engine management. A more advanced drive-by-wire system with multiple coil ignition was utilized on the 2001-03 models. This drive-by-wire system included a more advanced version of ABS, which includes stability control. This system is hands-down more reliable and more advanced than the 1997-2000 system. This was a real improvement, and it is not something that can be adapted to fit the earlier models.
Brakes: Larger brakes were fitted, necessitating a 16" wheel to accommodate them. These newer brakes had wear sensors built into the pads, and the pads were very thin. Thus, these later Eurovans go through brake pads quite frequently. The older brakes worked just fine; we never get complaints about the brakes in early-model EVCs. Basically, it's a toss-up as to whether or not the larger brakes are really an improvement.
Wheels: VW switched from a 6" x 15" steel wheel to a 7" x 16" steel wheel in 2001 on all EVCs. This wheel diameter was needed to clear the larger brakes (see above). The combination of a wider and larger diameter wheel allowed a much more substantial tire size to be selected. Out went the 205/65-15 tire used up to and including 2000, and in came the 225/60-16 tire. Interestingly enough, GoWesty had been fitting 16" x 7.5" wheels on Vanagons for about 5 years before VW put them on Eurovans! All EVCs that GoWesty sells also get 16" x 7.5" alloy wheels, but with a different offset than we use on the Vanagon 2WD campers. Plus, we use a slightly larger tire, a 235/60-16. Therefore, the 16" wheel on the 2001 and newer models is a non-issue if you are buying an EVC from GoWesty.
Rear springs: The rear suspension springs were taller on the 2001-03 EVC. This change is insignificant because all the EVCs GoWesty sells get lifting pads in the rear, earlier models more than later models—but they all end up at the same height in the rear.
Rear sway bar: This was introduced in 2001. It can be added to the earlier models. However, this isn't something we do automatically—only by request.
The bottom line is that the 2001-03 models are better and more desirable than the 1997-2000 models. That statement is widely held as a "truism" of sorts. The real question is this: Is the extra money that the later-model EVC commands actually worth it? If money is no object, then the answer is, "Sure, get a late-model one!" But if you really don't need the extra power, you certainly won't go wrong with an early-model version. They are by no means 'chopped liver!'