Welcome to this post - Part one of a one part series to explain that while the Vanagon may not be up to modern standards, it's safer than you think.
This subject has popped up dozens of times over the years on the multiple message boards I post to.
I want to get a Vanagon, but my wife says they are death-traps. Is it true?
That question is usually the thread starter. Some poor guy wants to pick one up for one reason or another, and his wife vetoed it - stating that everyone in the front seat would die in a head-on collision. We (the Vanagon community) always reply to these pleas with assorted images and links (like the ones below) to help him convince her that for an 80s vehicle, it's quite stout. In fact, it's better than some 80s vehicles.
Unfortunately, about half of these want-to-be Vanagon owners never post again. We assume because she came up with another reason once her genius "death trap" reason didn't pan out.
Here are three videos that VW produced in the 80s to put people at ease about the things. I can only assume they put these together because the forward seating position was scaring potential customers away.
Here are some other images of some head-on collisions, that show that the OMG!! VERY DEATH!! MUCH CRUSH!!! is not 100% accurate. All the drivers/passengers these images below walked away from the accident and the foot wells are still in tact, and no severing of limbs has occurred.
This one is of the Minivan vs Minivan accident I used in the lead shot. It was an offset head-on 45mph accident. The owner of the van took the photos.
Thread from the bottom and lead shot: here. Rest of the images came from the rather depressing 14 page thread here - are are accounts of members who have been in, or knew of vehicles and owners who have been in accidents.
And before anyone posts that video of the orange double cab, that was a test of the facility. They loaded up an old DOT truck bed with thousands of pounds.
Conclusion: Is the Vanagon a safe car? Compared to today's standards? No. Compared to anything else sold in the 80s? Yes.
Even the Volvo was used in testing at some point.
I just want to be clear that it's "not safe" because it's a 30 year old car, not because of the seating position*.
Full disclosure: I have been daily driving Vanagons since 1993. I have even rear-ended someone at 45 mph, and still have both my legs. In fact, I had it fixed and drove it for another 12 years. I like them so much I bought another one, and have no problems driving an airbag-less, ABS-less, TPMS-less, ESP-less car in everyday Washington DC traffic.
*If the engine fire doesn't kill you first.