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1000% Pure Vanagon Syncro Virgin (owner) needs guidance
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Samba Member

Joined: March 10, 2011
Posts: 1
Location: Pennsyvania
fahrzeug is offline 

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 11:46 am    Post subject: 1000% Pure Vanagon Syncro Virgin (owner) needs guidance Reply with quote

So I need some sound advice. I know less than nothing about cars. I cant even change oil. I could scrub a Database or network your workgroup (I am moderatly career successful in this area).

I am looking for one, I think to own, as a weekend adventurer for biking and towing my own boat. Can i do this and what should i do given i suck at fixing these things?

Last edited by fahrzeug on Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:24 am; edited 1 time in total
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joetiger Premium Member
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Location: denver
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 12:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's a good starting point:

Joe T.

'86 NAHT Vanagon GL Syncro/ supercharged ABA 2.0
'85 928S
'19 Golf R
'02 Beetle GLS

"get metaphysical with it. if it's simply a means to get to and from places, it will let you down. if it becomes your zen, it can't fail you." -dabaron

"Still, it's good to be afield."--VWagabond
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Location: Oslo, Norway
goskiracer is offline 

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 12:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My 0.02, If you have the means to buy/maintain a vanagon I would recommend it! I bought my syncro in college with no experince working on cars, let alone ones as unique as the vanagon. There are tons of good mechanics all over the place who will do great work on vanagons, check roadhaus.com (great advice i've received here) for some in your local area. Parts availability isn't too bad for the usual items that have to be replaced like on most cars. And of course there is this forum, the samba is a wealth of knowlege and people ready to help new owners like me. I am fairly confident that there isn't a problem related to these vehicles given a bit of patience and the experts here that can't be resolved. hero419 put it right
buy van;

if (problem>knowledge);
else keep_driving;

That being said you are not neccisarilly walking into a mantinece trap with buying a vanagon. My 86 syncro has proven virtually trouble free, other than having to replace an ignition coil ($60) only regular service has been needed. I didn't/ still don't have the time to do my own service on my van and have had to use mechanics to do most of the work. If you want a broken down vanagon, i'd find a mechanic/person familiar with vanagons to help you get it going. Or you could find a good conditon van and hit the road. You'll learn more about the van if you take the broke-fix route, the driver here being time.

The vanagon is a great vehicle for activities, its cavernous size is great as a mobile chaninging room/ gear hauler. I don't have a camper van, but i've camped in mine quite a bit and have loved it. For things like skiing or biking there is no better place than a big dry vanagon to change.
86' Syncro 2.2 Vanistan, WBXhaust, ski-pole shifter for +11hp
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Location: New York
insyncro is offline 

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 12:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Start buying all the Syncro specific spare parts you can get your hands on.
Having a spare transmission is an excellent idea when driving a Syncro as a daily vehicle.
Let me know if I can assist.

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Howesight is offline 

PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here are my suggestions to end up with a reliable Syncro Westy in order to minimize the possibility of breakdown:

1. Get the cleanest, most rust-free syncro westy you can find/afford. This may mean getting one from California, Nevada, Arizona. Rust and bad mechanics are the Syncro's worst enemies. Excellent factory paint or a quality re-paint on the vehicle are a huge bonus since a decent repaint is going to cost you at least $5,000.

2. For boat towing, you need more power. Either get a high-quality rebuilt, upgraded WBX (wasserboxer) engine, or one of the more popular engine conversions. GoWesty and TenCent both have good reputations for the upgraded WBX engines, with my vote going to TenCent as somewhat superior to GoWesty.

For TenCent, see:

For testimonials, see:


3. For engine swaps, the best fit for ubiquity, knowledge base, ease of servicing while on the road, gas mileage, power, and longevity, is the 2.5 litre Subaru 4-cylinder engine at either 165 or 175 horsepower. There are a number of great installers not too far from you.

Here are just 2 in the Northeast with excellent reputations:

Ben, at BJP Restauration: http://www.benplace.com

Vanaru: http://www.vanaru.com/

4. The other great engine swap is the M-TDI or the E-TDi 1.9 litre VW diesel engines. The power is far greater than the factory engine, but you can expect to get over 30 miles to the US gallon! These diesel engines are 1.9 litres, turbocharged with Direct Injection (hence "TDi"). They have lots of torque and are easily upgraded to more than the factory power levels while maintaining reliability. The M-TDi is not a factory-produced engine, but the E-TDi is. The factory TDi had fully electronic controls for turbo boost, injection timing and injectin quantity. When swapped into Vanagons, these engines sometimes experience electronic glitches which affect performance and in some instances, leave the non-technical owner stranded. The M-TDi was developed by a number of people, but mostly by Karl Mullendore, the current "guru" of the M-TDi, as a response to the problems the electronic controls sometimes caused. The M-TDi uses a modified injection pump which is 100% mechanical and therefore eliminates electronic gremlins as a source of problems or stranding.
Karl's website is at: http://www.westyventures.com/

5. While I am plugging for Karl, I should mention that he is, by reputation, an excellent all-round mechanic for Vanagons and can do mods as well. Depending on where you are in PA, he might also be close by in Western Maryland.

6. Get the transaxle and the front differential rebuilt. Don't wait for them to self-destruct. When getting the rebuild, get the higher-ratio 3rd and 4th gears installed if your engine swap will require it. A diesel engine swap definitely requires a gear change. A Subaru 2.5 engine swap might require it depending on what you do with wheels and tires. It is also an excellent idea to get a "decoupler" installed while the trans is being rebuilt, as this will reduce wear and tear on the rebuilt trans. If you go with the diesel option, there are some strengthening/longevity parts that should be added to the trans. There are at least four reputable rebuilders, all out west:

AA Transaxles: http://www.aatransaxle.com/
Rancho: http://ranchotransaxles.com/vw-transaxles.html
German Transaxle:http://www.germantransaxle.com/
GoWesty: http://www.gowesty.com/ec_view_category.php?id=92

7. Have your mechanic replace or rebuild ALL the following unless you are certain they were done very recently:
a. Rebuild all CV joints and replace all CV joint boots;
b. Replace Ball Joints;
c. Replace Fuel pump; (ignore on diesel)
d. Replace Fuel Filter;(ignore on diesel)
e. Replace wheel bearings front and back;
f. Any suspension bushings that appear or act worn;
g. *** VERY IMPORTANT TO AVOID FIRE: Replace all fuel lines (pressure and return);(ignore on diesel)
h. Replace radiator;
i. Replace all coolant hoses;
j. Replace power steering fluid and filter;
k. Replace clutch master cylinder and slave cylinder;
l. Replace brake master cylinder;
m. Replace rear wheel brake cylinders and linings;
n. Install a front "Big Brake" kit.

8. Major Mods/Swaps:
a. Get an electric compressor-style fridge - - best camper-related upgrade I ever did on my syncro westy. Truckfrige, Vitrifrigio, and others supply them, now into the $600 range approximately, installation not included. (Karl Mullendore does installations).
b. The "Big Brakes" are highly recommended.
c. Get 15" or 16" wheels and proper off-road tires such as BFG AT/KO tires. The handling is much-improved with larger wheels with less sidewall-flex than the old 14" wheel/tire combination.

It took me a while reading on the Samba and with my own experiences with my own Syncro Westy to develop this base of knowledge and I am sure others know more about other syncro-friendly mechanics all over - - I do 100% of my own work although I will have to sub out my transmission work to AA Transaxle. The above should help you get started.

If you do a proper engine swap and trans rebuild, you can expect to get anywhere between $35,000 to $55,000 when you sell your Syncro Westy if the body and paint are in good-to-excellent shape, so bear that in mind when you get the sticker shock of the cost of the things mentioned above. Keep all your receipts!
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dr. no
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Joined: August 06, 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 10, 2011 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lots of good detail there, but I'll boil it down for you. These are 20+ year old vehicles. You can:

Chose one from this group
1. Spend more and get one in really good shape
2. Spend less and get one that needs some work
3. Spend very little and get one that needs a lot of work

Choose one from this group too
a. Pay someone else to do the repairs
b. Pay someone else to do the hard repairs and do the easy ones yourself
c. Learn how to do it all...

One more choice
i. pay someone to do all maintenance
ii. Pay someone else to do the hard maintenance and do the easy yourself
iii. Learn how to do it all...

No combination of choices will obviate the chance of breaking down when you most need it, but learning to do it yourself gives you the most independence, of course.

We're here to help you get there, but you need to decide on the direction you want to take.

Now, if you want to travel/camp/live in it, nothing beats a Westy. You can get one fairly cheap. You can probably get a pretty nice 7-seater cheaper--but without the amenities. Again, which way do you want to go?

'83.5 Westy s/p 1.6td JX and 4sp DK transplant--wonderful!
'86 MB 300GD
'97 Z3
'14 Subaru Crosstrek Mommymobile

'82 NA diesel Vanagon
'86 7-passenger Vanagon
'77 Bay
'71 Bay
'74 Things (2)
'69 Karmann Ghia (the only one I miss--in nice weather, anyway...)
'91 Fox
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