View original topic: Converting a 2WD Westy into a Syncro Westy Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5  Next
bmwmango Wed Mar 25, 2009 8:46 pm

How I did it.

by Froderick Frankensteen

Ghost written by Igore

This has got to be the ultimate upgrade to your 2wd Westy. Not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to sacrifice many weekends and evenings after work not to mention a few brain cells and some knuckle skin.

Special thanks go out to the Samba and all who participate, Larry Hamm and John Vidovich who both had write ups about their 2wd to 4wd conversions on the Syncro group on Yahoo and the crew from Etters, PA who assisted both mechanically and recreationally.

Tools needed:
Good mechanics tool kit
Extra 19, 17, 13, and 10 mm wrenches/sockets
4 jack stands
Floor Jack
Good breaker bar
A good persuading hammer
Angle grinder with cut off wheels and wire wheels
Face shield and gloves to use while grinding
Stick welder (or a welder friend)
Tubing cutter
Dremmel tool
6 cans of PB Blaster
1/8" metal plate
Edit: a good heat gun
Several cases of Straub beer (made fresh in St. Marys, PA)

Others will be added as I remember them.

At the time, I was slated to work on a year long project near York, PA. I found a farm house to rent with a garage and made my intentions clear to the realtor. "I plan on parking two VW Vanagons next to each other and remove various parts off of each until one emerges victorious and the other is just a hollow shell." Sign here and the place is all yours. There I stood, lease in hand, smile on my face and a dream taking reality.

My next task was to get my vans together. I started off with my 1990 2wd Westy and used a 1987 Syncro hard top with rear locker that I found on the Syncro group on Yahoo as the donor vehicle.
My Westy was back home near Pittsburgh and the donor vehicle was in Richmond, VA. I looked into renting a car trailer, but was told that my Tacoma was too small to pull the weight of the van and the trailer. I ended up renting a Penske moving truck and car trailer. I found out that you get unlimited mileage if you choose a one way rental. I rented the truck in Harrisburg and dropped it off in York. This is about a 30 mile trip, but with free unlimited miles. I was able to pick up my donor van on Saturday then run home Sunday to retrieve my Westy. All in all for a "one way" move I logged more than 950 miles.

Now that I had the patients, I needed an operating table. My garage was tall enough to get my Westy in, but I knew it would be jacked up for a while and I needed the garage as a workspace and for my motorcycle. I got some plywood, painted it white to keep it from rotting from the weather and laid it under the vans. Two sheets per van worked slick. It sure beat lying on the stones and if it rained, you could squeegee it off.

The first thing to remove is the skid rails. I took out the spare tire carrier while I was under there. Once the skid rails were off, I removed the prop shaft.

The next thing I did was to drop the Syncro's engine and tranny. I used an idea I saw on the Samba about using a boat trailer hoist on a 2x4 frame.

PB Blaster is your friend. Soak every fastener you need to remove for the entire project. Any bolt or nut you see, give it a shot.
I found that it is easier to remove the three bolts which hold the tranny mount to the frame than it is to remove the one bolt which holds the bushings for the tranny.

Note the bracket spot welded to the frame. This is a mount for the skid rail. These brackets will need to be transferred to your 2wd. More on that later.

Once I had the engine and tranny out of the van, I made a “road” by pulling the engine/tranny from one piece of ply wood to the next then advancing the empty piece of plywood to the front. A little time consuming, but manageable for one person.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

Here’s a shot of the Syncro tranny drain plug. Not good.

taigagreen Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:35 am

Great thread! Cant wait to see the rest :D

I could never be so brave...

billwilson Thu Mar 26, 2009 5:33 am

i am boiling water and getting towels ready :)

dbo550 Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:29 am

Looks great. Are there differences between a syncro motor and non syncro? How about the trans?. I wish I had a space like that. Keep up the good work.

bmwmango Thu Mar 26, 2009 8:07 pm

The Syncro engine is the same as the 2wd engine except the Syncro has an extra seal. There are some differences in the coolant piping due to the fuel tank, but we'll get into that later. The Syncro tranny mounts differently than the 2wd tranny so you have to make your own threaded holes in the frame.

Syncro transmission. Note the pin for the rear locker and the poor man’s fill/drain plug wrench: a 17 mm bolt double nutted. I ended up having to break down and buy a 17 mm Allen head socket to break free the fill plug.

Once the engine and tranny were out, I tackled the fuel tank. For those not in the know, the Syncro fuel tank resides above the transmission since the 2wd fuel tank location is where the front differential and sub frame live.

First off, disconnect the fill pipe from the tank. You need to remove the right rear shock to do this.

Remove the fuel filler and vent hose.

Remove the hoses to the charcoal canister located in the driver's side rear wheel well. Note the position of the Air Conditioner receiver/dryer. It is in the vertical position on the Syncro, but is angled toward the rear on the 2wd. Not much of a big deal now, but this little detail made for some head scratching further down the road.
The fuel filter is located on the other side of the spring support.

Disconnect the fuel return line and wire from the fuel level sender on the left side of the tank.

Right fuel tank strap.

Left fuel tank strap

As can be seen from the photos, the fuel tank straps were shot.
I ordered a set of stainless steel ones from the Samba Classifieds.

Removing the fuel tank is a real bear. It's sort of like sanding drywall, putting up insulation and trying to squeeze a fat chick through a small door all wrapped up together. The donor's fuel tank was covered a layer of fine salty dust accumulated over the years of driving in New York winters. Even with safety glasses and a dust mask on, this cloud of irritant attacked my eyes and mucus membranes with the accuracy of a smart bomb. Then there was the insulation. Wear long sleeves, so you can be both itchy and hot. Sweaty, salty and itchy I moved on to the next phase trying to squeeze that fat chick through the frame. The bolts of the fuel level sender catch on the frame during removal. I ended up using a crowbar to flex the plastic of the tank enough to slip each bolt one by one past the frame.

Here's a shot with the tank out. Note the two roll over valves on the top of the tank (white). These are brittle and break easily. Replace them now since it's such a bear to get back in to do it later. Also note the groove in the top of the tank.

This fits around the cross member which runs at the top of the cavity where the tank goes.

This shows the routing of the hoses above the fuel tank. The two brackets fit into mounts on top of the tank. Mine broke off during the removal of the tank. I ended up epoxying them back on.

Now's a great time to replace all your fuel lines/hoses. I got a kit from Ken at Vanagain with more than enough hoses and clamps. When routing your NEW hoses especially your rollover vent hoses, make sure they don't cross the "valley" in your tank or they will be pinched during installation. Look at the photo below of my tank and ask me how I know this. Reminder: the roll over valves are brittle. Heat up the grommet with a heat gun before you try to install/rotate or your next call will be to the Bus Depot. (Again, ask me how I know this) Whole lot of learning going on.

I used metal tape to repair the spots on the tank where the metal covering the insulation had corroded away.

iltis74 Fri Mar 27, 2009 2:13 am

Awesome thread. I've no plans for this, but in years to come I can picture myself making those plans. Well done, thanks, and I look forward to following this along.

bmwmango Wed Apr 08, 2009 6:54 pm

After I had the engine, tranny and fuel tank out of the donor Syncro, I moved on to the front end. The front suspension resides in a tubular sub frame which bolts to the frame rails.

First unbolt the axles from the front differential. Next, unbolt the front diff and remove. I attempted to unbolt the upper ball joints from the upper control arms, but was only able to break one of the Allen bolts free. After several attempts with PB Blaster, chisels, hammers, and other implements of destruction, I found success by using one of those damaged bolt head removers.

I then removed the tie rods, upper control arms, the shocks, springs and steering knuckles. The bolts for the lower control arms were frozen inside the bushings so these came out with the tube frame.

Here is a side view of the tube frame. From the looks of the oil, I’d say I’ve got a leak in my front differential axle seal. Note the mounting plate. This came mounted with three bolts, but there are 6 holes. I plan on adding more bolts for strength.

Once the sub frame was out, I was able to break one of the lower control arm bushings free with a breaker bar and a friendly neighborhood persuader. I beat on the other one long enough to devise a new plan. I ended up cutting it off with the angle grinder and a cut off wheel.

I cleaned up the sub frame with a wire wheel in my grinder. Make sure you’ve got a face shield as those little wires from the wheel fly off like little darts. I put on two coats of POR-15 and then brushed on a coat of Rustoleum blue.

Once the sub frame was out, I removed the power steering rack. Note the semi circular void at the bottom of the power steering rack mount. This provides the needed space for the front differential. Here's what it looks like under the Syncro without the sub frame and suspension parts. You can see where the sub frame was bolted onto the frame rails.

This entire rack needs to be transferred to your 2wd Vanagon. You will mount it to the stubs of your existing 2wd power steering rack mount. You want to remove the entire rack mount in its entirety.

It was a job to cut this PS rack mount out of the Syncro. I cut what I could with my angle grinder and cut off wheel, but I couldn't get the top. I drilled a series of holes through the frame rails and then connected them into a slot with my dremmel tool. This allowed me to get the tip of a sawzall blade to cut the remainder. A torch would be the weapon of choice for this unpleasant task.

Get this sucker out and throw it in your vise to grind off everything that isn't the Syncro power steering rack mount.

Here is one side all cleaned up.

I cleaned this up and it also got two coats of POR-15.

1621 Wed Apr 08, 2009 8:21 pm

=D> =D> =D> Is this a sticky yet?

stevey88 Wed Apr 08, 2009 8:36 pm

I am just wondering, Why don't you roll the donor van on its side to make it easier to remove stuff? Since you have the room.

Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing your experience.

crazyvwvanman Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:56 am

The pieces are big and heavy. With the van raised a little you can just unbolt everything and roll it away on a floor jack. The whole front suspension can be removed as a unit with the sub frame after unbolting. He disassembled it further to deal with rust issues but otherwise it could be left intact.

The cutting off of the steering rack mount only takes a few minutes with a sawsall. Rolling the van on it's side would create more problems than it solves for most of the job.


stevey88 wrote: I am just wondering, Why don't you roll the donor van on its side to make it easier to remove stuff? Since you have the room.

Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing your experience.

bmwmango Thu Apr 09, 2009 7:18 am

Believe me, I thought about rolling the donor van over a hill a few times, but never thought about rolling it over on its side.
Removing the Syncro suspension wasn't too bad of a job. You just have to remove each part one at a time to make the whole thing manageable.

If I had the equipment it would have been great to roll my Westy on its side. During the conversion, I wire wheeled the entire bottom of the van and it got two coats of POR-15. Having the space to work upright rather than lying on your back with the grinder inches away would make that job a lot better. I'll post photos of the underside of the Westy soon.

I planned on swapping the front driver and passenger doors from the donor to my Westy, but put off removing them until the end of the project. There was no rush to swap them and they kept the weather out of the donor van/tool shed. Plus it kept the area neat. See below.

The realtor who rented me the house never told my landlord about my intentions with the VW conversion. I got a call from him a few days after I had the two vans side by side. "Let me guess, you're going to take two vans and make one van?" "Pretty much," I replied. "OK, just keep the area neat and get rid of the parts van when you're through." was his response. He was pretty cool with the whole project, considering. He'd comment on my progress from time to time. He’d dig me with the Ant and the Grasshopper story when I’d be wrenching on the van in the snow.

Rodknock Thu Apr 09, 2009 9:13 am

Well, there are not too many projects that I would look at think were over my head, but this is one of them. Maybe it gets easier from here on out. Really nice post and this should be in a sticky somewhere.

mightyart Thu Apr 09, 2009 9:25 am

Rodknock wrote: Really nice post and this should be in a sticky somewhere.
Why don't we wait till he's done and the thread is finished.

bmwmango Fri May 15, 2009 7:55 pm

Sorry for the delay, but I’ve been on 12 hour days at work and just got off of a 12 day stretch.

After I finished removing the front end from the donor Syncro, I focused my attention on the 2wd front end.

Here is the front end suspension minus the shocks and power steering rack after I removed it from the Westy.

This is what the front end looks like without the suspension.

Note there are three brackets which need to be cut to allow for the mounting of the front differential and the tubular sub frame. From left to right: The lower control arm rear mounting point bracket, the power steering rack mount and the radius rod mount

I started with the front radius rod mount.

The front radius rod mounts are cut off flush with the frame rail. This is where the front of the Syncro’s sub frame will mount. I used a sawzall to cut the mount off then ground it flush with an angle grinder.

Next I cut some plates out of 1/8” steel to fit the recess. I believe these were 3” x 11”.

Next, you must cut out the middle portion of the power steering rack mount leaving stubs to bolt the Syncro power steering rack mount onto.

I cut mine about ¾” inside of the wiring harness mounting hole at the top.

The last rack to be cut out is the lower control arm mount. This must be cut back close to the frame rails. I cut mine about 1/2" from the inside of the frame rail.

Inside each frame rail resides a flat stock bar with two threaded holes. You must cut a slot in the end of the frame rail to insert this bar. Find the location on your donor van and transfer it over to your 2wd. I used my dremmel tool to cut this out.

Here it is with the threaded bar installed. There are existing holes in the frame rails which match up with these threaded holes.

Now you can mount the sub frame. The frame came mounted on the donor Syncro with 3 bolts, but there is room for more. 5 bolts attach directly to the frame rail lip. The 6th bolt will only hit the 1/8” plate.

Once I got the holes for the sub frame drilled, I clamped the 1/8” plate in place and welded it to the frame rails. A wise man would have marked where the sway bar mount would mount and try not to weld there. Lacking the forethought I had to grind out a groove in the weld for this mount. I have photos of this, but can’t find them right now. I’ll take some more and post later.

Next take the Syncro power steering rack and clamp it onto the stubs of the 2wd PS rack.

I installed four 3/8” bolts on each side. I welded this rack to the frame and tacked the nuts to the bolts to prevent them from spinning loose.

Here is the front sub frame and the power steering rack installed.

After that, I cleaned everything up and painted it with two coats of POR-15.

All of the suspension wear parts were replaced: ball joints, control arm bushings, wheel bearings, tie rods etc. I cleaned each part with my angle grinder and a wire wheel, put on two coats of POR-15, then had the new parts pressed in at Baum’s VW in New Cumberland.

Here are some of the after shots:

Upper control arms and lower ball joints

Lower control arms and steering knuckles and hubs

Radius rods and my home made plates

Merry Christmas

Dogpilot Fri May 15, 2009 10:29 pm

Boy, I am impressed! You will have a nice non-squeaky front end when your done. Should be good for years to come. There are just so many small subtle differences between the two vehicles to list, but if you work them off, one by one, like you have. You end up with a workable project.

I bet you took a boatload of pics before you started on each van.

siliconn Sat May 16, 2009 5:13 am

mmmmm not as much work as i thought it would be.

front top shock mounts the same.


Alaric.H Sat May 16, 2009 5:22 am

So I just looked at the thread and it looks like a lot of fun I see you are in NOVA so if you do not mind I would like to check it out.
I live in Oakton VA.

bmwmango Sat May 16, 2009 7:13 am

Easy cha cha, it ain't over yet. You'll spend a lot of time on your back under each vehicle just examining the differences. I always used the better of the two parts when there was no difference between the 2wd and the Syncro donor. If a part is different, you must use the Syncro part. It may not be clear to you at that point, but sooner or later you will see the reason.
I must have made 20 check lists of little items to complete from ordering parts, to cleaning up parts etc. Through the magic of TV you're just seeing the highlights. The painting of the underside of the van and the parts took some time. It would have been a much quicker build had I not done it, but since everything was apart, it was now or never.
Like Dogpilot said, take lots of photos. This is an ideal job for one of your kids or significant other. That way you can capture the image you want and get back to work without having to clean the grease off your hands before you pick up your camera.

Alaric.H sure come on by. I'm having a party tonight. I'm just across the border from Point of Rocks, MD. PM me for directions.

Mr. Electric Wizard Sat May 16, 2009 3:39 pm

I have wondered if there was anybody man enough to take this on!
That is too cool.

JF9191 Sat May 16, 2009 5:17 pm

Straub Beer! wonderful isn't it? (I live a half hour from St. Merys)

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