A low cost alternative to electrically complicated diesel
engines, the Luddite conversion kit introduces a simple
diesel engine for VW Vanagons. The Luddite kit
replaces the problematic stock Wasserboxer platform with the
Nissan SD series ultra reliable and brutally simple engine,
procurable from sources like forklifts, boats and road vehicles.
If you want an engine that is good on fuel and gets around
with uncanny dependability; then the Nissan SD is your engine.
If you want performance to be able to drive like an animal, then
look elsewhere. The Nissan engine is a far more reliable with an
infinitely rugged design. The common "flaw" of most other small
diesel engines out there is two part:
1) They use ALUMINUM cylinder heads (warp and crack)
2) They use BELT driven camshafts and injection pumps.
The Nissan SD series engines are all cast iron, and employ a pushrod design.
What diesel needs overhead camshafts unless the manufacturer is trying to cut costs at your expense? The Nissan SD camshaft and injection pump are not driven with a belt, not with a chain, but with STEEL GEARS.
This kit is designed to help owners overcome the usual nagging issues common to stock 1.9L and 2.1L Wasserboxers, with the prototype installation tallying over 40000 miles in service. Along with this kit, there are only a few other diesel conversions currently on the market, each with their respective benefits and drawbacks.
The Luddite includes the basic components to mechanically adapt an SD engine to your existing transmission. Detailed installation instructions are provided on this site with handy links to forums for additional details. Print out what you need, find an engine, buy what kit parts you want, and dig in like the rest of us crazy folk who love their Vanagons so much more than we do early German fuel injection
Luddite Vanagon Industrial Diesel Engine Conversion
Worlds Largest
Vanagon Diesel

The following SD series Nissan engines are currently applicable for this conversion kit:

This is a 2.2L (2164 cc) straight 4 diesel engine. It produces around 61 hp @ 4000 rpm & 102ft-lbs torque @1800rpm. This is the most common SD available
This is a 2.3L (2289 cc) straight 4 diesel engine with an inline injection pump. It produces 73 SAE hp @ 4300rpm [verification needed] and features a five main bearing crankshaft.

The (2488cc) 2.5L straight 4 diesel engine favourably outperforms the other SD diesel engine options, with 70 Hp @ 4000rpm, 115ft-lbs@2000rpm (With turbo: ~85hp@4000rpm). These engines are the four cylinder brother to the SD33 six (common to early 80’s International Scouts and various marine applications, minus two rear cylinders).


  • 1.9L Vanagon : 82hp and 105ft.lb
  • 2.1L Vanagon : 95hp and 117ft.lb

Other Conversions
Below are several of the better engine conversion candidates available...
  • 2.0L Gasoline engine 
Donor vehicle: 1989 Audi 80 - 2.0 liter gas engine (code 3A)
Recipient vehicle: Vanagon Weekender - 4 speed
Power                115hp@5400rpm
Torque                    122ft.lbs@3200rpm
Economy          22 to 24 mpg
  • 1.9L AZZ TDI engine
Donor vehicle: 1995 Passat - engine code AAZ
Recipient vehicle: Vanagon GL - automatic         
Power          75hp@4200rpm
Torque              114ft.lbs@2500rpm
Economy        28 to 30 mpg
  • 1.9L ALH TDI Engine
Donor vehicle: 2002 Jetta - engine code ALH
Recipient vehicle: Westfalia Camper - 4 speed
Power                90hp@3750
Torque                155ft.lbs@1900
Economy        30 to 32 mpg        
  • 1.9L AHU TDI Engine
Donor vehicle: 1998 Jetta - engine code AHU
Recipient vehicle: Carat - Syncro
Power                90hp@3750
Torque                149ft.lbs@1900
Economy        30 to 32 mpg

The following list contains land vehicles with compatible donor SD series engines:
  • SD22
Nissan Cedric: 1965 - 1971        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Cedric
Nissan 720: 1979 - 1983                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datsun_720
Nissan Urvan E23: 1980 - 1983        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Caravan
  • SD23
Nissan 720: 1983 - 1986
Nissan Navara: 1987                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Navara
Nissan Urvan E23: 1984 - 1986
  • SD25
Nissan 720: 1983 - 1985
Nissan Cabstar F22/H40: 1982 on     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Cabstar
Nissan Navara D21: 1986 - 1988       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Navara
Mitsubishi S4E (H02) forklift: 1985-1993?

  • Pros…
1.        Lower installation cost – Through the re-use of many of the better existing components that are already in your Vanagon.  This kit utilizes the stock transmission bell housing, coolant system, clutch disk and fuel tank.
2.        Reliability through simplicity – The only wiring necessary to operate this engine include the starter, alternator and glow plug circuitry. This certainly puts an end to the stupid “bucking syndrome” or other quirky Digijet/Digifont FI behavior that comes with an inherently flawed harness at altitude or in inclement weather. The SD series engines run for a very long time, using only a few of the wires from your van. It is actually best to remove all the wires, leaving only those needed to operate the glow plugs, starter, sensing and charging systems. Removing the stock problematic gauge pack with aftermarket gauges may well reduce the classic wiring issues further.
3.          Reliability through design - The SD series engines employ gear driven fuel pump, not belt or chain like others out there. This means that under proper care, your Van will probably rust away before you wear one out. It is not unheard of to see 300,000 miles on an engine.
3.        Torque at lower RPM – similar horsepower and torque as the stock wasserboxer, but at a lower RPM (~1000 rpm less); where you need it. Any Syncro owner well understands the stock engine’s limitations crawling over obstacles, especially at higher temperatures or if pulling a utility trailer or boat.
4.        Turbo – SD engines with an in-line fuel pump can be installed with a turbo and intercooler for added horsepower.
5.        Alternative fuels – The Nissan SD series diesels can be converted to use biodiesel or burn veggie oil. (see links page for sources and discussion)
6.        Engine compartment space – Since this conversion leaves standing room on the left side of the engine compartment    (~2 ft^3), an extra fuel tank, RV batteries or general storage area can be added. Additionally, there is no need to elevate the engine compartment lid or modify any interior structure.
7.        Smooth Operation – Engines are very well balanced when operating correctly, resulting in quiet, low vibration operation.
  • Cons…
1.        Engine availability – In particular, the U.S. originally imported the least of these engines per capita, with Canada a close second. American policies favoured gasoline powered equipment more than countries like Australia and Asia.  SD22, SD23 and SD25 diesel engines in various years of Nissan 720 and D21 pickups, and Cabstar cab-overs are unfortunately rare equipment in the U.S. Those lucky owners of these vehicles know how long the engines last and are not so willing to part with them. There are alternative engine sources that will work, however; Australia and New Zealand have more of these engines available than North America, with almost every second Ute being a diesel. Worldwide, marine and industrial equipment use the SD25, or comparable FD25 engine. Not to be confused with the TD25 or TD27 diesel engines.
2.        Parts Availability – Mechanical parts can be difficult to find, although service items are still readily available. See the links page for various new and used components found to date. Heads can be especially difficult to find, but exist once in a while in Aussie wreckers and new ones can be obtained http://www.apiengines.com.au
3.        Ground Clearance – There is a 2” reduction in ground clearance. Thankfully, the lower RPM torque range will assist with taller tires and lift kits. Not using all the engine mount components in the kit, and bending up new fuel injector lines can regain the clearance lost.
4.        Trimming – A small amount of structure must be removed from the aft wall of the engine compartment. The amount varies depending on engine type and its original application.
5.        Fuel Economy – This poor man’s conversion comes at a price. Since SD series engines have been known to obtain between 23-32 mpg depending on model and use, they cannot compete with the modern, more complex VW TDI’s. Amortization of installing our lower cost kit components offers the only compensation.
6.         For Syncro Vanagons only: The Luddite's gear reduction starter interferes with the vacuum controlled differential lock mechanism. An alternate, narrower device is needed to connect with your transmission.

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