It has taken me a month or so to realize I suck at blogging. I have realized this but am going to press on nonetheless, in hopes that there will be something to look back on after this van is looking as sweet as I plan it to look. Plus, this really is a VERY EXCITING process!!

Sooooo, the pop-top was installed! Basically, for those who’ve stumbled upon this blog, I’ve purchased a ’87 VW Syncro 7-passenger van and am converting it into a sweet camping machine. We have saved the body work for later and tackled the “Westy pop-top” first.

Just wanna say, that North Westy in Renton rules! Kirk Meeks is the owner down there and they do great work, are honest and stand by the work they do (wow, i know, rare these days!). Web-site:

Here’s a few pics of what they did:

Notice the great color match they did on the once red camper top? Very nice! They also did some touch-up paint on the two primer strips on the driver’s side of the van and I’ll try to get some pics up of that the next time I post (hopefully soon!).

Future work to be done (so much that I probably won’t be able to think of it all right now):

-rust remediation and dent removal

-new paint job (color still yet to be decided on)

-roof cage with two bars in the middle for having the option of attaching my big ®Thule cargo carrier:

-rip off old bumpers and substitute with a custom pipe bumper that will fit up to three normal size gas containers to slot in the front:

-attach hidden hitch to front and back for a variety of accessories (bike rack, winch, etc…):

-new windshield

-complete remodel of interior of van (swapping inside blue panels with grey weekender/carat panels and dark grey carpet in front, wood or heavy duty rubber mat floors and custom headliner that…will have a world map screen printed on it–North & South America & a bit of Antarctica above driver/passenger, Europe & Africa & bigger portion of Antarctica under fold out portion of pop-top camper bed and Asia & Russia & the rest of Antarctica in back. North & South America will be conveniently placed above our heads to put tacks into the states (AND FUTURE COUNTRIES) the Syncro travels through!

-New stereo system (I installed the new antenna a couple days ago and got rid of that ugly & dangerous jousting thingy that threatened to take an eye out)

-Weekender seat, table and storage:

-Deep cycle battery in extra battery compartment under drivers seat, trickle charged and inverter for 110 power

-ABR fridge:

-ABR awning:

-custom cabinet behind passenger seat to go over fridge/freezer that will have a cutting board block on a hinge that will swing outside for putting coleman stove on and chopping/preparing food

-Make-shift sink on top of custom cabinet behind passenger seat (probably just a larger camel pack with back-pack straps attaching to passenger seat head-rest) with drainage out-side

-LED lights circling outer ceiling of the interior

-last but not least: swapping the current 2.2 liter Subaru engine that’s in the Syncro now with the 2.5 in my Forester, whose transmission is on it’s last leg, if not it’s last pinky toe…

OK, maybe I did think of just about everything. And, I guess this post was longer than anticipated…I just got excited thinking about everything again. Now, of course this all is going to take something I’m not super privy to at the moment: cash. But, we’ll get there…

That’s it for now. I’m hoping to be around North Westy a bit more in the upcoming months (maybe years 🙂 as a helping hand. They just moved into their first official shop (right next to R&R rentals in Renton: 4111 Sunset Blvd, Renton, WA) while trying to accommodate their increasingly growing list of customers, so they’re pretty busy and in need of some help. Needless to say, I’m hoping to put some more exciting pics AND VIDEOS of the very cool magic they perform there!


Lovin the Syncro!

June 27, 2011

Camping just got cooler.

I have been busy. Who isn’t, though? So, no real excuse. I have a few things to update you on.

I forgot to take pictures before I put some new doors on a few days ago, so the pics I’m putting below are post car wash and post door replacement. Kirk at North Westy had the same color bus at his shop, just a year older, so we swapped out the doors. Mine had power mirrors so I still have to hook those up to the newer doors. I think I’ll do that when I hook the new sound system up (Colby and Nate, I’d love your help with the stereo!).
Here’s pics a day or two after the car wash with the new doors on it:

MAN, that dirt served to be great make-up!! It’ll get touched up a bit when the pop-top is put on. Later, when we have the money to finish all the rust remediation and do the paint job, this will be a really fun picture to look back on!

One thing I’m sure all Vanagon owners can agree on is that the search for add-ons, parts for modification and just newer replacement items is an endless…well, obsession (at least at first!). I’m sure that, like any toy, the reality will hit that it’s just another toy…but, at the moment, I’m a tad feverish. I’ve had to physically remove the Syncro from my vision to stop thinking about it. It was taken to North Westy last Tuesday for some major surgery (the pop-top is being installed), so that has helped me focus on things that I’ve been neglecting lately (like work and $!).

Moving on. I have only done a few things to the van since posting last. First, I ripped out the central air conditioning unit. Next, I tried to get the rear washer fluid working again. Here are some before and after pics of the air conditioning demo:

You’ll notice I left the vent cavity at the front of the air conditioning unit. I am having some strange ideas about ripping those vents out, cutting some more square holes and using that cavity for storage (cd cases, sunglasses, etc…), however, it may just look funny and fail.

I’ve put this up on craigslist for a few days and then trashed it.

I’m sure that someone out there could use some replacement parts, but I have absolutely NO storage and wife has no tolerance for junk laying around yard.

I also got my Bentley “manual” in the mail last week! It’s really more like an encyclopedia. It’s MASSIVE:

Now, I’m no mechanic (which will undoubtably make this blog pretty boring for those looking for step-by-step instructions on fixing things in their own Vanagons) but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try and fix things and learn. In fact, I plan on knowing my Vanagon quite well, hence, the purchase of the Vanagon bible. Now, I just need the right tools. Kirk @ North Westy gave me a list; I just need to conjure up the cash to chip away at it.

I lost the pics I took of repairing the rear washing fluid problem. Problem: rear washer fluid pump was running, with wiper fluid full but not spraying onto rear window. I figured it was clogged or kinked or something and it turned out to be the latter. I opened up the pannel, took out rear fluid container, cut the kink out of feeder hose and refitted it onto the pump with just enough slack to refasten the container. I then tried the rear wipers again and, BAM!, my first official fix! Or, so I thought. Seems that a rat or some other critter chewed through the hose somewhere between where it transitions from the inside of the van to out the back, above the rear door. So, once I noticed water coming into the inside of the bus, soaking through the corner panels, my initial joy quickly fled. I’m going to have to pull some new tubing in there when I get the van back from North Westy. Speaking of which, I hope to get out there and take some pictures while Kirk and his boys do the pop-top on the Syncro. However, I’ll leave you with some pics of the North Westy shop and the guys prepping the frame-top for my pop-top. I took these when I dropped the van off last week:

Here are some shots of the sweet Syncros parked around North Westy:

I want some new wheels at some point. I think it makes a huge difference aesthetically. I’m not a huge fan of the the steel wheel look but I know some are.

As far the ultimate color of the Syncro, we were thinking a midnight blue color, like that found on the newer blue Honda Elements: but after seeing this gray, my wife finally came over to my side and we are thinking about going with this more utilitarian color. I think it’s sharp.

That’s it for now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get over to North Westy this next week and get some shots of my baby with it’s roof ripped off!

This blog is solely for the purpose of recording the relationship that will hopefully form between a man and his vehicle. The vehicle in this story is a 1987 Volkswagon Vanagon Syncro, with a 1995 2.2 DOHC Subaru engine conversion accomplished two owners ago. The mileage on the engine at time of purchase was approximately 90,000 miles. The mileage on the tranny was 50,000. The body has over 264,000 miles on it. This rig may not be much to look at right now but that’s about to change.

So here’s the back story:

First off, let me just say that Google is an amazing and lovely thing. I recently did some research and I may have found information on a online forum from the guy who did the conversion and who sold it to the guy I bought it from (who only owned it for a few months…):

“1. I did the conversion from a kit purchased from Kennedy Engineering. The kit included an adapter plate, new flywheel, exhaust cross over system, and wiring diagram. I built the wiring harness and did the complete installation.
2. The vehicle has about 220K, the engine about 90K, the tranny about 50K since receiving a new main shaft, all new sync gears, new differential locking switch, and complete seals.
3. Yes, the differential is a locking differential.
4. It has a new windshield.
5. The interior is in good shape, has two bench seats and the rear seat lifts up for storage, and folds down to make a nice bed; enough to sleep two adults.
6. The vanagon is water cooled and the water cooling system is VW except where it connects to the Subaru engine.
7. The engine is a 1995 subaru legacy EJ22, 2.2 litre engine.
8. The body has two rust spots and a couple of bruises. I have blasted and primed the rust spots, but it will need it again soon. Otherwise, the body is in good shape.
9. A few years back I hit a moose with the Vanagon. Killed the moose. Bent some sheet metal on the front and caved in sheet metal on the passenger door. The pictures show the extent of the
damage. A real testament to the unibody construction. I have new door to replace the bent door, however, the existing door works fine.
10. The wheels are not the standard 14 inch wheel. They are the audi 15 inch wheels. This vehicle is unstoppable offroad.
11. I have taken this vehicle to the Anchorage IM referee station and the vehicle received a tag so you can have it IM’d anywhere.
12. Presently, the engine light is on and it says it is the throttle body sensor. I don’t have the time to mess with it and I have too much rolling stock. However, I just retired and I may resolve the issue soon.
13. I have the original engine, wiring harness, and computer, the standard vanagon wheels, and a set of single reverse facing seats that will go with the vehicle.”

The info I received from the guy I bought it from all matched up, except he failed to mention that the damage to the front right of the van was from hitting a moose. Maybe he didn’t know… 🙂  Yea… Nonetheless, it’s mine now and I’m going to make the most of it.

The van as in Anchorage, AK.  I had been looking for just a ’86-’91 Vanagon and was actually staying away from Syncros because they are more expensive to fix. However, the price lured me in and I just happened to have to go up to Alaska in June anyways to work on my house in Homer (I brought my brother with me. It was a good trip :)). So, I found out the reason it was so cheap (and for those not familiar with Syncros, that’s cheap) is because it was currently not running… However, he mentioned that a month before it was running like a champ but just randomly quit on him one day. It would turn over but it was getting no spark. I did some research and figured something was going on electrically, maybe with the wiring harness.

On my way to Homer, I stopped by and looked at it and immediately saw the potential…if I could just GET IT RUNNING! I pulled out my blessed iPhone and Googled all the mechanics in Anchorage that knew anything about Subaru conversions in VW’s. I finally found a shop, called a tow truck and had it hauled over there. I told the guys that I would be in Homer for one week and so that was how long they had to get it running again. Well, four shop hours and $465 dollars later they got it running. After the four hour diagnosis, it turned out it just needed a relay to the wiring harness computer. Super stoked, I drove back to Homer and did a test drive. It was a GREAT RIDE, shifted flawlessly and felt like a tank going down the road. We even tested the locking differentials (it just has the rear) and IT WORKED TOO! We made a deal and I was then left with the dilema of either driving it down the Alaska highway back to Seattle (a drive I’ve done many times and LOVE) or putting it on a barge and getting it a couple weeks later. I opted with shipping it since I just didn’t have a relationship with the van yet, it had JUST been fixed and I could end up being out thousands more if it broke down somewhere in the blank spaces of the massive country of Canada.

After waiting here in Seattle for a couple weeks, the bus showed finally up two days ago and I drove it home. YESSSS!  The kids had a blast playing in it right away. Today, I took it into the very competent guys over at North Westy and spoke with Kirk Meeks (the owner) on the plan for getting this thing back to it’s glory days….with a few modifications. I’m going to turn this 7-passenger hard-top into a Westfalia camping rig. Yup.

OK, so what’s next? I’m trying to decide on what project to tackle first: the remaining rust remediation, body work and paint job…OR…installing the Westy pop-top, front luggage rack and sun-roof. My wife logically pointed out to me–as we drove away from the mechanic today–that it might be smarter to do the pop-top first, since it’s camping season after all, and putting a Westfalia pop-top and camping gear in a Syncro with a Subaru conversion already done, ups the re-sale tremendously (those who are reading this and understand these rigs can vouch for me). So, for now, it’s up to me to do the little things: replace broken light covers, the exhaust, the antenna, the speakers and deck, handles, vents, wipers, get a post and table in there and a sink, stove and fridge/freezer. Tomorrow, I’m going back to North Westy and I’m going to replace the two front doors with two doors from another ’87 that happens to be the exact same color. I need to do this because both doors have been hit and don’t seal properly. It looks like the driver door was bent while someone was backing the van up with the door open and hit something, while the passenger door was bent from hitting aforementioned moose. I have to replace the doors and tear out the existing air conditioning system in the van. Not sure if I’ll have the time to do the work there at the North Westy shop with their guidance and tools (for a fee) or if I’ll just go out and get the tools I’ll need eventually anyway and do it at home. Not tons of time.

I’ll post the first pics I took of the van when I bought it, with all the dirt caked on it and then tomorrow I’ll post a few more of it after we ran it through the car wash today. It isn’t exactly the prettiest thing on the road currently (especially after taking off all that dirt and exposing the little dents and the primer where some major rust remediation has taken place) but it’s just the beginning! I’m going to try and post pics whenever I do anything aesthetic to the rig. I’ll post more pics after I get the “new” doors on it, too. Stay tuned!