A big part of the road trip equation is the vehicle you choose to take on it… Some prefer a sports car for speed, while others want a land yacht for cruising in comfort. All of us, however, have at least had a daydream or two of taking an old VW van out on the open road. The true VW van fans take their dreaming a step further and obsess over the bizarre VW Syncro… This post from our friends at Vintage Wheels gives you the low-down on a VW cult classic so maybe one day you can take a dream road trip to Zion National Park like this lucky bastard...
Car people love to talk about collector cars that have a cult following. Corvairs, Mustang IIs, and other odd, but lovable cars certainly fit the bill. But no vehicle is as cultish and as the elusive Volkswagen Syncro. Essentially a 4WD Volkswagen T-3 Vanagon, the Syncro tears at the heartstrings of those who have been bitten by the bug. Just to be clear, a large number of people have been bitten by the Syncro bug; far more than there are Syncros to go around. You can still find them, but they are rare in the USA with only about 5,000 ever officially imported.
Like all good cars with a cult following, the story of the Syncro began with two engineers. To be specific, two light truck engineers at Volkswagen who enjoyed taking their VW Type 2 Vans to far away places around Europe. They had the novel idea of adding 4WD to a VW Van and in turn enable it to go off the beaten path. They managed to get 5 impressive prototypes working but couldn’t convince VW brass to produce the beasts.
With the new (third generation) of the VW Type 2 set to make its debut in 1983, the idea of a 4WD Van was back on the table due to the newer model’s more accommodating mechanical layout. The Syncro debuted in 1985 with a custom made 4WD system courtesy of Austrian firm Steyr-Daimler-Puch, who were responsible for the 4WD system in the capable Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon.
The Syncro was a bit of an odd duck during production and not many of them were sold. They were about $5,000 more expensive because of added equipment and the shipping of specialty parts. Due to the extra weight, they were also fairly slow. However, they are highly sought after for their utility today. It has been said that they are just big enough. Two people can sleep in one and parallel park it in the city with ease. A vibrant community and aftermarket exists to support "Syncronauts" and their machines.
1.6 Liter Inline 4 diesel
2.1 Liter Flat 4 gasoline
5-speed manual with a low range gear
- Rust is normally not a huge issue but is common on the jacking surfaces, undercarriage, sills, frame rails and in the sliding door mechanism.
- The fuel system has a tendency to corrode and should be well maintained.
- Check the middle of the fuel tank for leakage at the seam.
- Look for any corrosion under the floor mats and where the camper top (if applicable) meets the body. Also check for spider cracks in fiberglass tops.
- Because the radiator is in the front of the vehicle and the engine is in the in the rear, bubbles can cause water to get stuck in the pipes connecting the two systems and cause the engine to overheat. Look for discoloration and blue engine smoke as tell tale signs of this.
- Check all electronic systems, switches, etc. Move the seats and try the seatbelts.
- Make sure the rod bushings are not split on the front suspension. If there is knocking in the front suspension during a test drive, the upper wishbone bushings may be worn.
- Don’t trust that the coolant system is OK, dig deeper and ask for maintenance records.
- Due to the lack of power coming out of the stock motors, rebuilt or swapped motors are common. An enlarged 2.5 liter VW engine is one choice. Other accepted swaps are Subaru 2.2, 2.5, and 3.3 liter motors, as well as VW diesel motors, VW inline-4s, and Audi 5-cylinders.
- Syncros are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. Figure at least $20K for entry into this cult. There is no shortage of things to spend money modifying or upgrading, so beware. Not everything is a necessity.
- Originality is a farce. Syncros are constantly evolving and all examples have been modified.
- Due to their rarity, parts are hard to come by. Many parts for sale are remanufactured or used. This is fine as long as the seller is reputable.
Syncro.org: Single stop for all things Syncro: forums, events, products, etc.
Syncronauts: UK Syncro club with great information on maintenance and history.
Go Westy: All Vanagon ecomerce site. Very high quality and pricey stuff.
The Samba Forum: Forum on The Samba about general Vanagon issues. Not just Syncros, but good general information.
VW Vortex: Syncro section on a general VW forum.
Club 80 89: General Syncro forum.
Brick Yard: British Syncro forum.
We have searched far and wide in an effort to "Discover" the best Syncro out there and we think this white 1987 lifted diesel is as good as it gets. Check it out for yourself. If that Syncro doesn't do it for you, Vintage Wheels has many other examples: