View original topic: Amadelle: The 2wd to Syncro swap
mitch5 Mon Oct 26, 2020 9:56 am

This thread might as well serve as an intro, i have observed this site for awhile and finally decided that sharing this build is worth it. Per the thread title, Iím already in the process of converting my 2wd westy to a syncro westy, opting to do a drivetrain swap onto the westy. This thread will be unique in that I will outlay all the costs involved, people should be warned what puts the $ in $yncro.
Untitled by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr


My partner and I bought Amadelle w/ 120k miles in 2017 in Tucson, at the time i had limited knowledge of vanagons but knew i would only buy a van with zero rust. The van having no rust was about the best thing going for it, it had an ej22 swap but it was half complete and half assed. Stickwelded 1x1 engine mount, rear mounted subaru radiator and ofcourse a blown head gasket.

Here is the previous work done on the van to bring it up to today,
-ej22 with arp studs and mls gaskets(fixed the hg issue), new clutch ,timing, ect
-converted the van to a proper watercooled setup using the stock front rad setup with stainless pipes.
-Shortened the oilpan after I smashed it offroad
-built a skid plate, installed the RMW Subaru mount
-built a tubular exhaust for it
-ran new battery cables and upgraded the starter
-mounted some bfg tires on the 16 in clk wheels
-Fab a rail mount for rack system

Fixing previous owners work

Van by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr
Van by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr
Van by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr

Rail mount

Van by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr
Van by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr
Van by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr

Why a Syncro swap??

Since doing most of the work the van has been enjoyed the past few years, during this time the van has been riding on almost all the original suspension. It handled fine on the highway but was miserable off road, the westy needed a complete suspension refresh. With the westy I increasingly found myself going offroad and getting into dicey situations. While the rear weight bias of the van helps its 2wd capability immensely, the lack of low gear and an open diff make anything with a steep grade tough. A syncro swap will solve all that.
A normal person would probably sell the van, go buy a 4x4 truck and stick a slide in camper in the back and call it a day. We however had fallen for the vanagon and decided to undertake the conversion. Its no secret how expensive/rare/desirable a syncro is, let alone a camper. I had a solid camper with a sorted motor, but all original suspension. A rusty syncro needs everything, so clearly if I going to replace all the suspension on the westy I might a swell convert it to a syncro. The decision was made to buy a beat up but running syncro and cannibalize it for all the parts.

Buying ďThe DumpsterĒ

Van by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr
Itís got no title, a locking rear diff, terminal rust and is missing almost everything that isnít syncro specific. This may not be the perfect donor but is the best running unit I could find within driving distance. Buying a running van let me know exactly what needed replacing and rebuilding, the other option was a non runner where you have to assume everything could be bad.
This van had been listed for awhile in Colorado, having no title and rust made it a non seller to most. Working with the owner who ofcourse had multiple vans, we worked out a deal where he could take any good parts of the van to keep the price down. That included the door. The price for the beauty? $6500.
My brother and I flew to Denver for 50 bucks and drove it all the way back to phoenix roadkill style. We bought tools in Denver, preparing for the worst but the dumpster made it all the way back in about 15 hours. We never even got pulled over, by the 10 plus cops who must of passed us.

Proof that the syncro is beyond saving

C by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr
C by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr

Starting the Swap

The first step of this swap was to sell all valuable parts first, this meant selling the 2.1 wbx in the syncro and the 2wd drive trans out of the westy. Both are now sold.
2wd Trans w/ linkage $900
2.1 motor $1000
Extra 2wd core $400
The next step was to start pulling all the parts off both vans and send the trans off to Arizona transaxle exchange for a rebuild. Some people do the swap in sections but I opted to get everything off my westy so I can do body color raptor liner underneath.
I am fortunate/smart enough to not live in an HOA and have room to park both vans inline on the side of my house.
Here are some pics of the setup so far
C by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr

Starting to pressure wash off a non factory undercoating that was done and covered everything.

C by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr

dobryan Mon Oct 26, 2020 10:04 am

I am going to enjoy this!


Sodo Mon Oct 26, 2020 10:23 am

I'll be reading along too.
Funny that you got it to drive for 15 hours.

Headers are a pretty good DIY effort.👍🏽
Could work on a street 2WD but don't put it on a Syncro....🤣🤣

MarkWard Mon Oct 26, 2020 10:38 am

I recently did this to a 90 automatic camper. I was expecting the front to be the challenging part and it ended up being the easy part.

The challenge was to locate the transmission mounts. I had the drive train in and out a few times. Once I centered the transmission, I transferred the bracket holes to the chassis and drilled them through. Despite all the ways I found to get nuts into the chassis, I found I was able to make 2 nut plates and fish them into the chassis from one of the oval cutouts. I then bolted the nut plates into place and rosette welded them from below. This ended up being very clean and I didn't need to remove the interior to cut the floor for access. So it is possible.

I was posting in this thread, but there didn't seem to be any interest. Its quite common now.;start=80

If you run into a snag, feel free to reach out to me. Mark

mitch5 Mon Oct 26, 2020 12:16 pm

The headers should work fine with the syncro setup, its hard to see in that pic but they sit well above the skid plate when installed. i will need to redo the mounting though to account for the drop in height when i installed the drivatrain in the synco position.

Regarding the mounting, ya thats going to be tough. I have an aircooled model and from my rough measurements i will need to cutout and weld in a new section where the heating duct crossed through the member. Ill cross this bridge when i get the tranny back.

Similar to the option you considered in your build
I may end up making a jig like you suggested though. I just need to figure out some datum points that are identical between the two vans.

If the syncro one wasnt so rusty i would just transplant it

Here is a picture of the aircooled crossmember
C by mitchmarkulis, on Flickr

MarkWard Mon Oct 26, 2020 12:22 pm

Ouch, thatís a pretty substantial difference. There was a recent thread where someone replaced a rusted out section of that cross member on a syncro. He found a repair piece on line.

Youíll need to use the r/s as your attachment point and then fabricate the l/s where the cutout is. If you look at the thread I linked, I used a laser to center the trans to the front differential.

mitch5 Mon Oct 26, 2020 12:30 pm

do you know if any of the mounting holes are identical between the 2wd and syncro? The laser will be great to align it all. I really trying to avoid taking the trans in and out repeated times, it sucks with a jack stand setup.

MarkWard Mon Oct 26, 2020 12:39 pm

The 2wd cross member has 2 sets of transmission mount holes. Depending on transmission one set or the other is used. The syncro has the majority of the holes in the same location, but a couple are covered with the driveshaft protection mounting tabs. Those need to be drilled off and transferred as well. I added those last. I used the bars and engine protection to locate them after the fact.

mitch5 Mon Oct 26, 2020 12:41 pm

So im looking for some input on the suspension, here are my current plans

-use stock springs
-use the burley kit listed here for all bushings

-install zerks in the upper control arms
- burley balljoint package, it list everything as febi. Im all to familiar with the german suspension companies. Im into older bmws and have gone through mayhle, lemforder, ect. Whats the good setup for a vanagon? i have had crappy parts from all three on my bmws

Shocks is the tough one for me, the GW full adjustable seem like the cats meow but i dont need all that adjustment and thus dont want to pay for it. Not to mention im not very impressed with the fox quality. There is also the non adjustable option from GW for $1200

I do a good amount of offroad driving, lots of wash board forest roads. So ext. reservoirs for rear and going non adjustable. Debating doing the semi custom Bilstein route using off the shelve components. Im thinking about getting similar valving to the GW XHD setup but with a higher quality Bilstein shock. Like the 5100 series

Anyone have feedback on Bilstein's with a camper?

MarkWard Mon Oct 26, 2020 12:59 pm

I spent my money on cv boots, bushings, and hardware. So I could replicate the syncro, I reused the stock springs arms etc. I did spring for new shocks, but not at the same time. I did the front shocks when I transferred the front suspension. They are not easy to swap out.

Itís a ton of work. My advice is get your syncro camper built and then decide on upgrades. This requires tons of measuring and remeasuring. Why add variables?

ajdenette Mon Oct 26, 2020 4:43 pm

based on the condition I would inspect the rear springs I have had springs on 2 vans that have had broken tails on both sides I found them on my 90 based on the strange noise when hitting bumps that turned out to be the broken ends bouncing around.

mitch5 Fri Oct 30, 2020 1:23 pm

So first item i decided to start looking into was brake upgrades, there are obviously lots of bolt on kits out there. A majority of them seem to use oem calipers off other applications. Having experienced 2wd brake fade i really want the upgrade so vented rotors can be used. The syncro also uses a more traditional hub and rotor arrangement so the conversion is made even simpler.

Research showed quite a few DIY options.

-Audi 5000/100 calipers per this link

-Audi A8 brakes using a g60 caliper i believe, these are 312 mm, a little big in my opinion;start=0

-Audi A4/Passat 288mm rotor, this is the option i have decided to go. Parts are very available and the size is decent. This setup should require the least effort effort to get on my car. Basically redrilling one hole and adding a spacer. HANSJ has the best pictures of the fitment here

I set off to the yard and pulled a complete set of a 2002 A4 1.8T, i was surprised how many vw/audi owners use wheel locks! 2 out of 6 possible cars had them.

Either way the set i pulled has the wrong carrier, although the piston seems identical and the rotors are 288mm. The first clue seems to be the ones i pulled are aluminum while all the other i have seen are steel. The spacing is to far and it would require a 3/4 spacer to work. heres a pic, the syncro is the rusty one

Untitled by mitchell markulis, on Flickr
Untitled by mitchell markulis, on Flickr

Looking at used calipers online it appears there are different carriers used between models. I'm going back to the yard to pull the correct set. Does anyone know which vw/audi model should contain the steel type carriers? Im bringing my impact this time to get wheels off.

goldtooth Fri Oct 30, 2020 5:07 pm

Following along! Looks like a great project.

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