VW Vanagon Westy won't start without starter fluid

Let’s start with the fact that I am out of my depth.
'85 VW Vanagon Westfalia had a new South African in-line 4-cylinder engine installed in 2003. Everything was fine except that fuel tank leaked where the fuel entered tank. Drove it that way until late 2009. Parked vehicle, removed battery (and recycled). VW sat unused until 6 Mar 2019. We pulled it out of its parking space, installed a new battery, put in some fuel and it started right up. I drove it 250 miles, stayed a couple of days and drove back. No problems.
I decided it was time to fix fuel tank so removed fuel tank, rinsed out with water, let it dry in the hot sun for a few days, installed GoWesty fuel tank hoses, gaskets, etc. and reinstalled tank. Vehicle would not start without starter fluid. Installed new fuel pump and fuel filter. No change. Reinstalled the old fuel pump. No change. Got fuel pressure tester from Autozone. Am convinced I did not test correctly because of the wide variety of extreme readings.

Fuel pressure should be 29 psi (36 psi with vacuum hose disconnected).

Basically it appears to me that my problems started when I “fixed” the fuel tank. I have gone back and retraced all the lines that connect to fuel tank and everything seems to match the diagram I downloaded from internet.

I tried to get help from a local mechanic (former Dodge dealer) but they were no help.

I have read blogs here about similar problems with a Dodge Ram and a Hyundai.

My thinking is stuck at “how can fixing fuel tank interfere with starting.”

I am open to suggestions up to but short of junk the darn thing and buy something decent. A camper that fits into an ordinary garage stall is valuable to me.

I would see a VW service technician for this. I had a 68 VW Westfalia when I was a teenager but that thing rusted so badly I had to get wrid of it. Did you try this site…I know its about fuel lines replacement but it might help anyway.

Do you hear the fuel pump run when you turn the key to Run (not all the way to Start)? It should run for a few seconds. If you do the Off-Run-Off-Run key dance a few times, and then turn the key to Start, will it then start right up?

Does this vehicle use the Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection system? If so I had problems with that on my Rabbit most any time I worked on the fuel system. The fuel distributor would get clogged, making the engine run very poorly or not even start at all. I never did figure out why opening the fuel system caused this to happen, but cleaning the fuel distributor parts is what always fixed it. In any event I expect disturbing the fuel system allowed crud into the system and it now is preventing the free flow of fuel into the engine. If you are lucky – unlikely for a VW owner … lol … it’s only the fuel filter that’s clogged.

Could You elaborate a little on that engine. I’m assuming it is a gas engine and those are 4 cyl. boxer engines whereas the diesel is 4 cyl. inline. Or is this south african engine something different. Over here it’s common to buy a kit and install a Subaru engine as - except the 2 liter - those VW engines was quite asthmatic at best and suffered a lot of abuse.

Excellent suggestion! Thank you. I definitely should replace all fuel lines. Thirty-some year old lines just can’t be good. When I first started this baby, a fuel line on the engine burst and sprayed gasoline everywhere.

My luck has never been good with the VW dealers. Their mechanics are no longer familiar with these vehicles.

Yes, I can hear the fuel pump running. I’ll find someone who can listen if the fuel pump runs in the start position. I have tried the “Off-Run-Off-Run key dance” and that does not help.

That’s part of my problem. I don’t know which kind of fuel injection is on this vehicle. To make matters worse, I am 250 miles from home where all my paperwork on the new engine is. There is a well-regarded independent VW shop near here. If I can get this puppy running, I’ll see it this fellow can help me. I like you last sentence. I always tell people that VWs are unreliable but fun. I’ve owned several air-cooled and water-cooled vans both in US and Germany. Always unreliable, always fun.

The South African engine is essentially the Golf gasoline engine laid in at an angle. Remember the Dodge slant-sixes? It is not something I would recommend but, at the time, I was unaware of the Subaru engine swaps. Furthermore, I was 1200 miles from home and needed a new engine pronto. The improvement in power is about the same as the 2.1 liter wasser-boxer but it is a newer design with presumably better materials, slightly higher RPMs, and a bit more torque.

Got it. Yes, whether gas or diesel - it was a Golf/Passat/Audi 80 engine developed and used from the early seventies and lasted up to mid- eighties almost unchanged included the turbo diesel. Started as a 1,5 liter but was soon increased to 1,6. They did have some problems with broken camshafts in the diesels in the early years, but became quite reliable - except the turbo engines which had a tendency to disintegrate at the most inappropriate moments.
Das Wasserboxer. UHH-OHH. While it was somewhat adequate power wise if you was a slow poke, it was a total dissaster with regards to reliability. Most of them died a violent and brutal death on the road. Most of those who has survived 'till this day has been converted to be air-cooled with a volume between 2,2 to 2,9 liters as they had a very strong block (sans cylinders and up) developing anything from 100 to 250 hp reliably.
The Subaru conversion - I think - was developed here in Europe and is quite common here. You could also get a conversion kit to a Volvo B21/B23 engine and they were very, very easy to modify, but was much heavier and that did a good number on the stability of the car, especially in cross winds.