Please meet our *potential* dream vehicle!

June 16, 2011

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!


2 Responses to “Please meet our *potential* dream vehicle!”

  1. albell said


    sort of in the same boat as you and blogging about it:

    good luck


  2. Hilary said

    SICK!!! LOVE IT!!! Brings back fond memories of the Jiggy Jig! Keep us posted as to how the reno’s go!! We’ll be watching: )

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