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Wildcat - The 1.9TD Syncro
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I am Wildcat
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 10:11 pm    Post subject: Wildcat - The 1.9TD Syncro Reply with quote

After two years or so of lurking around The Samba classifieds and forums, my wife and I found the Syncro of our dreams about two months ago on the site. Since then, we've been learning as much as possible about it, enjoying some weekend road trips and camping as much as our time allows.

We've found a good local shop to take the van to (Tim's German Auto) and the guys there are well informed, hard-working and honest people. Since the 1.9 TD and Syncros in general are not common to this part of the country, I think I am definitely testing their van knowledge daily.

Now that it's been about a month and a half or so, I've had enough time to really drive the van around and take in my first impressions and I thought I would share them with everyone. I've had a couple of people ask me about the van and even an offer to buy it before it actually arrived to my house from Cali.

Before buying the Syncro, we had never owned a van or anything like it. I've had a few capable off-road vehicles in the past, most notably a 97 Defender 90 and a 99 2-door Chevy Tahoe with a 7" custom lift and 35x15x15 TSLs. For us the van was less about being an off-road beast and more about road trips, camping and trying to live out our dreams since we had both dreamed of owning a VW camper.

So far the main issues we've experienced are front diff not locking, small transmission leak, engine won't turn off and speedometer not working right. We knew about the diff and transmission before we bought the van and had it inspected by a reputable shop in So Cal (Europro VW) before we went forward with purchase. For the time being we are holding off on the front diff lock, as we are not off road enough to justify the expense at this time. We replaced two transmission seals that had gone bad, but about two days later there was a new spot on the driveway about the size of a quarter. With the engine not shutting off, it just doesn't turn off sometimes when you shut the engine off and take the key out. The PO had the same issue and had the fuel cut-off solenoid replaced about six months ago. My mechanic said that replacement solenoid was bad and installed a new one. For the first few days everything was fine, then it started happening sporadically again. As of this morning it happens every time I take the van out. The speedometer issue is kind of weird. It works fine about 95% of the time or more, but every now and again it stops moving, then about 15-60 mins after starting up, the speedometer just springs into action again. Question This one doesn't bother me as much since a) the speedo is in km/h and b) the speedo isn't calibrated properly to compensate for the gearing/tire size.

For our first camping trip, we stayed within Texas and visited some local state parks and had a great time. On the highway we averaged 58 mph in Texas hill country and got 28.9 MPG over the length of our first road trip. We used an iPhone to measure speed (Speed-o-meter), mileage (Car Care), navigation (NAVIGON) and music (Sirius XM app & iPod). The iPhone worked awesome for all these functions.

The first day of camping in the van was a bit interesting for us. We were so excited and had a lot of fun, but had no idea what to expect. I think we had enough supplies to last a month on our week long trip. The Engel fridge was fully loaded and ice cold the entire time. The solar panel kept us rocking and rolling when we weren't plugged in on a camp site. Everything worked as good or better than we hoped it would. We never went anywhere that needed four wheel drive so I didn't get a chance to really test it out.

This weekend I had the chance to take it to the local OHV park, Northwest OHV Park in Bridgeport, so I could test out Wildcat's off-road prowess first hand. I knew that the front diff wasn't working when I bought it, but the rear diff is so I wanted to at least get into enough trouble to use the locker but not so much that I hurt the van.

The park has green, blue, red and black trails that increase in level of difficulty from green (easiest) to black (most difficult). Each trail is also rated with a black diamond, with the easiest (green) getting one black diamond and the most difficult (black) getting four black diamonds. ....Still with me?

To me, there isn't much rhyme or reason to what these colors or number of diamonds mean. I've seen some parks that spell it out like, "you must have 36" or bigger tires or at least 12" of ground clearance for this trail." Granted, this park is only a few years old and will certainly improve as time goes by. It also didn't help that my buddy bailed on me and I was at a new OHV park on my own with no spotter or navigator! Shocked Since I was alone, I didn't get too many photos since I had to keep jumping out to take them. I did shoot a time lapse video with a GoPro HD camera on the dash, but I haven't had a chance to upload it online yet. I will do so and post a link once I get a chance. Here are a few pics I was able to get at some of the easier areas where I could actually stop to get out.

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Coming around the corner of the second "green" trail I am coasting along no big deal, then a see a monstrously steep looking dirt hill about 8 or 10 feet tall and I'm thinking THIS is green? After sizing it up a bit and jumping out to look to see what was over that hill, I had some thinking to do. I'm thinking, man, I don't think I would try to take that in the D90, do I really want to do this solo in the Syncro? Well, at least there would probably be another vehicle to come by in case I flip over right?? Put it in G, lockers off, it ate that hill for breakfast. I mean, didn't even flinch. I was shocked at how agile Wildcat is and continued to be for the rest of the day.

Exclamation Important Note! Always be sure to look out on trails you are unfamilar with. I don't recommend off-roading without a navigator/spotter. I jumped out numerous times to look at parts I was unfamilar with. At one point I decided maybe I didn't need to jump out to look, but I did at the last minute. Had I not got out to look and just gone forward blindly I would have gone straight over a cliff! Exclamation

I have to say that some of the two black diamond trails (blue) had such deep tire ruts that I thought I would have some problem with ground clearance getting through. Nope. No problems. Dirt, mud, steep ascents and descents, everything was a go. This place was really awesome! I think that for us off-roading in Wildcat will be more about getting through the impossible to find the pristine camping spots and not really about going to the OHV park every week, but it's great to know that the capability is there when you need it! It was also exciting to see the faces of the guys in Jeeps on 36" and 40" swampers, looking at me like, "how the hell did THAT thing get here?" I also got a few "peace, man" and "that's the sweetest rig I've ever seen out here" comments. While I personally didn't disagree, I would lie if I said I didn't think the fully loaded heavy duty trucks, pulling race car style car hauler/garages with custom $100K+ rock crawling beasts inside them weren't pretty nice too. Some pretty sweet rigs. Still wouldn't trade though. Razz

I may have been having too much fun, as I noticed a few bumps and bruises on the van that weren't there before the park. Sad Then I had to explain said bumps and bruises to the Mrs when I got home. Embarassed She was less than thrilled. I mean Wildcat is a beast, but she's also our baby. Most notably, I bent the front license plate off the front bumper, bent the rear corner of the engine cover, knocked off the end cap on the Omnistor 5000 awning and chipped a small hole in my right brake light. I also scratched the paint on one side because of some pesky tree branches on a few trails, but hey, this van is meant for fun so I can't stress everything. So yeah, the wifey was less than thrilled with the fun I had. Here's a few shots of some of the damage for your enjoyment. Smile If anyone has an Omnistor 5000 and knows what the part number of the end cap that I lost, please let me know. Also, there seems to be a small spring dangling that looks like it may have been attached to something else, just not sure what. Any ideas?

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So, overall I have to say, it's really an unbelievable machine. Comfortable, great fuel economy and a true go anywhere spirit. We pretty much love everything about it.

We've got big plans for it one day, but for the time being our focus is on getting everything dialed in and functioning right. I would like to redesign the center of the dash a little bit and once I get some sketches drawn up, I will post them on this thread to give an idea of what I would like to accomplish. I'm also thinking adding a/c may be a priority because it gets hot in Texas! I've got a local guy (Jerry at European Cooler Air) that I've spoken with and it sounds like he has some pretty cool options and ideas too. Once I have a chance to meet with him and figure out what we are going to do there I will be sure to post that on this thread as well. One day down the road, I think we would like to do a full fledged restoration of the Syncro when the time is right and we have the disposable income. In fact, since it's so far in the future and I have time to plan, feel free to make any suggestions you can think of. I'm open to ideas.

Overall, I can't even say enough good things about Wildcat. It's the kind of vehicle that when you're sitting behind the wheel you're just happy. It's a beast and it's so much fun. Sometimes it even makes other people as happy as me. It's fun to see their faces light up when they give the thumb's up. Before the Syncro I used to have a MINI JCW hatchback and that car is also a lot of fun to drive. In a totally different way obviously, but even though Wildcat is currently our third car, I find myself driving it more often than my primary car, a four door sedan. My car is much faster, quieter, gets slightly better fuel economy and is so fun to drive, but the van just has that "it" factor that makes me want to be with it always. That is my love story for now, much more to come in future, I'm sure.
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Last edited by I am Wildcat on Sat May 28, 2011 8:08 am; edited 1 time in total
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VisPacem
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 10:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice van. Thanks for the pictures.

Do you have two fuel tanks ? I believe I see the customary Syncro fill up in the back and also one in the front a la 2WD?
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 10:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, there is an aux fuel tank. It's about 12 gallons and uses a factory looking dashboard switch to activate a fuel pump that pumps the diesel from the aux tank to the main tank. There is no gauge for the aux tank, so if the main tank is low I just hit the switch until I see the main tank is full(ish). When the engine is off you can hear the fuel pump operating, so you can also hear when the aux tank is empty this way.

I've been contemplating adding a fuel gauge for the aux tank, but since the benefit is very minimal compared to the amount of work that is involved, it's not high on the priority list. Plus, then you have to figure out where to put the fuel gauge without it taking up prime real estate and still be within view.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 10:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't want this to sound weird or anything, but I think I love your Syncro too. Laughing
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 20, 2011 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sweet Syncro. Sure doesn't look like it needs a full resto from here.

So what's the story on the van? Is it an import? A factory Westfalia or... ?
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 12:18 am    Post subject: Re: Wildcat - A Syncro Love Story Reply with quote

I am Wildcat wrote:
It's the kind of vehicle that when you're sitting behind the wheel you're just happy. It's a beast and it's so much fun.
...but the van just has that "it" factor that makes me want to be with it always.


I think ^that about sums it up for everybody here. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

thats awesome
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 4:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am Wildcat wrote:
Yes, there is an aux fuel tank. It's about 12 gallons and uses a factory looking dashboard switch to activate a fuel pump that pumps the diesel from the aux tank to the main tank. There is no gauge for the aux tank, so if the main tank is low I just hit the switch until I see the main tank is full(ish). When the engine is off you can hear the fuel pump operating, so you can also hear when the aux tank is empty this way.

I've been contemplating adding a fuel gauge for the aux tank, but since the benefit is very minimal compared to the amount of work that is involved, it's not high on the priority list. Plus, then you have to figure out where to put the fuel gauge without it taking up prime real estate and still be within view.


pumps the diesel from the aux tank to the main tank.


I see, it's a "transfer" tank.
Your auxiliary fuel tank, is it under the sliding door or in the location of the spare wheel?

What kind of autonomy do you get on both tanks?

That's real nice BTW Cool
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 6:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

What a good looking van. I love to hear happy love stories and I can tell you were as high as any drug could take you. Many many happy trips on and off road Wink
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 9:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

VisPacem wrote:

Your auxiliary fuel tank, is it under the sliding door or in the location of the spare wheel?

What kind of autonomy do you get on both tanks?


The aux fuel tank is located under the sliding door area. So far, I've averaged 28.9 MPG and with the two tanks I have access to 30 gallons, so that puts us at about an 867 mile range or so.
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 21, 2011 10:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

hey wild cat do you think you can post a picture of your auxilary tank?

Im really curious thanks
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 7:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

PIRATE wrote:
hey wild cat do you think you can post a picture of your auxilary tank?


I had a chance to snap a few cell phone pics before work this morning so here they are. Let me know if you want to see anywhere else that you can't see in these photos. As noted, it fills at the stock 2WD location into an aux tank that is located under the sliding door of the van. There is a dash-mounted switch (under the hazard blinker switch) that activates a fuel pump that transfers the fuel from the aux tank to the main tank. Sorry the fuel pump is muddy and semi-blurry in the photo.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 8:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hope you paid a whole bunch of money for that van . . . that way my envy does not totally consume me to the point of an emotional breakdown. I'm not asking for a whole vineyard of sour grapes . . . just one or two will be fine.

Beautiful Van. Beautiful.
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 1:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Really nice Westy!

Do you think you could give us the $.10 tour in pictures of the interior as well?
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2011 2:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am Wildcat wrote:

...so that puts us at about an 867 mile range or so.


Shocked

Holy crap that is mind boggling...and awesome
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2011 10:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

chimivee wrote:
Sweet Syncro. Sure doesn't look like it needs a full resto from here.

So what's the story on the van? Is it an import? A factory Westfalia or... ?


Yes, the van is an import. Originally prepared for the Finnish market (heated driver seat, headlight washers), it spent the first 20 years in Belgium and Germany before making it to the US last year. It was originally a Syncro Transporter van that the second owner (a master German mechanic/welder) coverted into a camper. The work this mechanic performed is top notch! The welds are so perfect, they could make you cry. I will post a picture of the tire rack he made so you can understand what I mean. Much care was taken when putting together this van because the mechanic was building it out to be his own personal beast. The PO I bought it from had the van 4 years and used it to tour part way around the world. The mechanic also converted the van from it's original gas engine to a 1.9L VW TD engine. I don't know much about the engine since it's the first diesel I've owned, but here is a peek "under the hood" for those interested. It does fit under the stock engine cover with no modifications.

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You're right, it really doesn't need a full resto right now. When I said that, I'm thinking more in the 5-10 year range maybe, depending on time and money. Right now the only restoration type items that are there is very light seam rust on some parts of the van (the kind you really have to look for to see), some gnarly looking bubbling paint behind the front bumber at the base of the front nose/bumper area of the van and spots at the lower corners of the front window seals where you can see rust at the corners. The bottom of the front window also has a white strip of "fog" on the glass about 1" tall. Because of this, I can only assume that if that front window seal and window were to be pulled out, the bottom corners of that window area would need to be treated at the very least.

I would also really like to add sound reduction material to the van, including a dynamat style material, foam, etc.....but the idea of investing a lot of time and money into doing something like this, just to have to spend even more time/money to remove all that material in a few years to restore the van just sounds like too much work to me. I would love to strip the van down and hit that bare metal with a few coats of a product like Second Skin's spray on noise reduction material, before it gets painted. The inside cabinets of the van could use a new paint job as well and while I'm at it, I would like to pull all the door panels and insulate those areas too.

The problem is that I don't really want to do any permanent treatment to the cosmetic shape of the van until a) it's absolutely necessary or b) I can afford to do it all at once. I know that probably sounds pretty ridiculous to some people, but the idea of having a "brand new" version of my van is very tempting. For now, the next big thing I would like to accomplish is getting an A/C system installed in the van, as our 110 degree summer days are rapidly approaching and the thought of putting Wildcat in mothballs until the fall is depressing.

As I mentioned before, I would really like to put together a custom dash setup as well. I have put together a very rough photoshop image of what I would like to try to accomplish. My dash is black, not brown, so that would be one of the only major visual differences. I photo I used for the mockup comes from http://sites.google.com/site/blakeheinlein2/vanagon-airconditioning, where the poster, Blake, has installed an a/c setup similar to what I am looking to do. I've put the new air vents at the bottom corners and installed some new gauges and an Alpine head unit. This is a picture of the concept I am working on:

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EvilDNA wrote:
I hope you paid a whole bunch of money for that van . . . that way my envy does not totally consume me to the point of an emotional breakdown. I'm not asking for a whole vineyard of sour grapes . . . just one or two will be fine.

Beautiful Van. Beautiful.

Haha, yes I think my bank account hurts more than my heart does! Laughing

Timwhy wrote:
Really nice Westy!

Do you think you could give us the $.10 tour in pictures of the interior as well?


Yes I can. I will try to take some photos at lunch today or after work and post them up as well. The interior is a little bit different from the typical Westy and it's one of the things that originally attracted us to the van.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Did I miss somthing? Its an automatic SYNCRO, i didnt know such a thing existed? Maybe it did in Finland? Very nice van.
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2011 5:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's the pic of the concept he's working on Laughing

BTW,what is the little filter on the tube that goes from block to valve cover?
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 8:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ALIKA T3 wrote:
That's the pic of the concept he's working on Laughing

BTW,what is the little filter on the tube that goes from block to valve cover?


Correct, that picture is just a concept, not a reality.

I have no idea what that little filter is...that's why I posted a pic to see if anyone else knew! Very Happy Any ideas??
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2011 10:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Timwhy wrote:

Do you think you could give us the $.10 tour in pictures of the interior as well?


Ask and ye shall receive. The van got a bath yesterday and was feeling photogenic, so here is your virtual tour.

Here is a view of the passenger side of the van.

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The side and rear windows of the van are double-paned RV windows and the side windows have built-in bugscreens and shades. I tried to hunt down these windows in case they ever need to be replcaced and I was able to locate of the Reimo website...but I don't seem to see the rear window on the site.

Here are some photos of the inside of the sliding door window, with me showing the bugscreen and shades:

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Here is an inside tour of the van:

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Thermostat controls for Truma heater.
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The propane tank area has separate cut-offs for the heater and stove areas.
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Back of left cabinet under stove, with Truma fuse panel for heater/thermostat:
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Cabinet under sink. On left is a charcoal filter that is about 12" tall by 3" wide. All water is filtered through this to make it better to drink and cook with.
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Some sort of breaker panel under the sink area. I haven't started my electrical work on the van yet, so I'm unsure if this is for shore power (I think it is) or perhaps something like the water pump for the sink?
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This cabinet next to the bench is huge! It goes down really deep, so I usually keep a large six-pack of bottled water at the bottom for emergency situations. I also stash the window covers in here.
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Rear cabinet in van.
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Cubby hole behind rear cabinet.
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Additional storage area above rear cubby area. Above this area you can see a goose neck reading light that is useful for light when camping or looking at the engine bay area.
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Looking towards the front of the van from the rear seat. The PO had the entire rear area reupholstered in 2010 and added a little seat pad on top of the fridge. Great idea!
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Inside the Engel Fridge. Next to the fridge is a dual (round) European outlet as well as an inverter.
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The solar regulator is mounted to the pillar behind the passenger seat. Not the greatest looking location and I plan to try to move this at some point. The front doors also have internal deadbolts installed in case you are staying somewhere really sketchy. The PO installed these.
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Three (round) European outlets behind the driver's seat that are setup to run when connected to shore power. I have no idea what the three little holes to the right are for...any ideas?
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Here is a closeup of the mystery holes...
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This is the closure system for the SCA camper top.
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There is also a goose neck style lamp for the camper area, that kind of tucks in with the tent when the top is closed.
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Okay, THIS is what my dash currently looks like! The switch below the hazard blinkers is the fuel pump for the aux fuel tank. The switch below that is for the front fog lights. The green switch below the vent controls is for rear fog lights (brighter red taillights).
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Spare tire carrier connection area.
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Beautiful welds.
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Front end with headlight washers.
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Heavy duty LT mirrors.
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Driver's side w/ kitchen window open.
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Roof rack.
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Photo of roof setup.
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Solar Panel connection point....I knew someone would ask!
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European shore power hook-up.
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Side-mounted traction plates.
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I've always wondered what the vent looking thing on the left is. Any ideas? Not the black rear vents, but the cut-out area in the rear of the body. Anyone know??
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Obligatory hippie sticker. And slight cracking on corners of window.
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Here is an external lock for the sliding door. Currently, the lock isn't engaged, it's covering the fill area for the aux fuel tank. From here, you just rotate it 180 degrees and it locks over the small tab on the sliding door to prevent that from opening.
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As for the ugly areas, here is the rust and window fog I was talking about before. Not too bad, I guess, but it's the first vehicle I've ever owned that has rust on it, so it makes me sad. Sad

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I think that pretty much does it for the tour! If there is anything else you want to see or get a better look at let me know. It should be noted that the van does have a kill switch and a safe, but I didn't take photos of these areas for privacy.
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1997 Land Rover Defender 90
2005 MB SL55 AMG
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