About my 1986 VW Westfalia Syncro
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About My 1986 VW Westfalia T3 Syncro Camper Van

Van O'Brien and His Van

Before and After shot of Westfalia Syncro
Since my van started out as a 7-passenger van, it took a little work to get it where I wanted it. Of course, it will never be completely where I want it, but it's fantastic as it is. When I purchased the van, it had already been partially converted with a full Westfalia interior, but still had a tin-top. I had Joel with Green Syncro near Colorado Springs, whom I purchased the van from, convert the top to a pop-top from a donor van he had and install a new tent. He also installed several other things, like a new propane tank, Propex heater, South African Grill, and more. Joel had already done some of the upgrades, like the rebuilt engine and transmission. The van also had a 2" lift and upgraded shocks when I purchased it. To see some more in-depth information about some of my more major upgrades, visit my Van Updates Page.
Jump down to my comprehensive list of upgrades

What is a Syncro?

4WD SyncroFrom 1986-1991 VW made the Vanagon in a 4WD version. It used a viscous coupling, so it was an automatically engaging 4WD -- if the rear wheels slipped, it kicked in the front until no longer needed. It worked very well and was available in all Vanagons & Westys. Syncros were made in Germany as KD kits, sent to Styer-Daimler-Puch in Austria for assembly and the installation of the 4WD drive train, then sent back to Germany for installation of the interior.

Vanagon GL Syncro BadgesThe 4WD is Styer's but is based on a Porsche design for viscous couplings. The design is well known in various forms, including considerable Steyr Puch Badgemilitary applications. The Syncros also had a few other bells & whistles. There was an extra gear -- a very low gear (Granny Gear) that you used only for extreme conditions, normally starting out in what would be the original 1st gear. The rear differential, a limited slip, also had a manual lock-up. Reverse, because it was on the same idler as the granny gear low, was also "granny gear" ratio.

Syncro BadgeRelatively few Syncros were imported to the United States, making them increasingly rare and highly sought after. The Syncros are appreciating in value and depending on condition and upgrades, can sell for upwards of $100K, however most with the Westfalia package sell for around $30K to $65K. Having a Subaru engine conversion can add even more value, while providing a much needed power boost. There are other popular engine upgrades as well, including turbo diesel, Ford Focus engines, and others. Upgrading my engine to a Subaru 2.5L engine is high on my wish list, however the conversion cost is way above my budget. If I had the skills to do the conversion myself I could save a ton of money, but I know my limitations and would have to hire a qualified mechanic to do the work, adding probably $10K to the cost. Probably the largest manufacturer of the parts needed for a Subaru conversion are made by Rocky Mountain Westy in Ft. Collins, Colorado. RMW will also do the conversion for you for the low low cost of about $18K. Yikes!


Fortunately for VW owners, there is The Samba, a wonderful online resource for everything Volkswagen, including a Vanagon specific forum. The forum covers all variations of the Vanagon, including the Westfalia and Syncro versions. This forum has many owners/enthusiasts and covers pretty much all aspects of the vehicles. Some extremely knowledgeable folks are happy to give advice, answer questions and many have posted step-by-step instructions on how to do repairs, upgrades, and more. It's truly an amazing resource and you can follow the links below to learn more about this fantastic community. There is also an extensive classified section to find parts, accessories and entire vehicles.


What Exactly is a Westy?

Westfalia is the designation of various specially converted Volkswagen camper vans. It is named after Westfalia-Werke, the contractor that built the vans, which is headquartered in the town of Rheda-Wiedenbrück, located in the Westphalia region of Germany. The term “Westy" is short for “Westfalia," which is the once-defunct (but now re-emerging) German company that originally specialized in all things travel trailer related. In the 1950s, VW contracted Westfalia to “camperize” the VW Bus, and a legend was born. All throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and up to about 2002, VW and Westfalia had a very close relationship.

Most recognize a Westy as a VW van with a poptop or high top, a kitchen with a 2-burner stove, sink, and a 3-way fridge. A Westy also has multiple cabinets, two beds, tables that swiveled, a propane tank, a water tank, utility inlets on the outside, and front seats that swiveled around for additional seating when camped. Not all Westfalia conversions had pop-tops, and not all pop-top VW vans were converted by Westfalia. There were many other companies that produced pop-top conversions, as well.

A new Syncro Westy did some serious traveling even before it had its first owner. VW made the van, sent it to Styer-Daimler-Puch in Austria for the 4WD modifications, and then back to Germany for the Westfalia-Werke camper interior and back to VW again. From there they were shipped all over the world, but the Syncro version was shipped in much smaller numbers. Some Syncros had special versions, such as in South Africa which had larger wheels and additional headlights. Canadian versions had double pane windows which are better suited to colder climates.
Volkswagen BadgeVanagon GL Badge

VW Caravelle BadgeThe Volkswagen Type 2 (T3), both 2WD & 4WD, was the third generation of the Volkswagen Transporter and was marketed under various nameplates worldwide – including the Transporter or Caravelle in Europe, Microbus in South Africa, and Vanagon in North and South America.
And there were also variations VW Transporter Badgewithin the Vanagon designation:
= vinyl seats and a very spartan interior.
Vanagon L = Luxury = had optional cloth seats, more upscale interior panels and an optional dashboard blower.
Vanagon GL = Grand Luxury = the nicest amenities, armrests, better quality.
Other takes on the "GL' designation include, Ganja Lounge, Good Luck, Good Looking, Good Life, Groovy Lovin, Get Lost, Gut-Less, and many more. Whenever someone asks me what it stands for, I'm going with "Ganja Lounge" from now on, lol.

Van Life Geek Syncro Westy in Rocky Mountain National Park

How Capable is a Syncro Off Road?

A stock Syncro is very capable off road. Add some bigger wheels and all terrain tires and the capabilities increase. A regular 2WD Vanagon is pretty amazing off road since it has rear wheel drive and Syncros Onlythe engine is in the back, right over the drive wheels, giving it great traction. I had two regular 2WD Westfalia campers before I got my Syncro and was always surprised at where I could go in the forest. However, there were still some killer campsites that were out of my reach until I got the Syncro. For me personally, I don't push it very hard. I don't want to do any damage to the van if I can avoid it, so I put it in the granny gear and crawl along slow and easy over the rougher terrain. It's never failed to get me where I want to go and I've yet to get it seriously stuck.

Most Syncros have an optional rear locker for even better traction when needed. There were also options for a front locker, and a decoupler to have only the rear wheel drive to save on gas. A Syncro with all three options is referred to as a 3-knob Syncro (see the image on the right). Some came without any knobs/lockers, such as mine. It's unfortunate that I don't have at least the rear lockers, but this was the Syncro I found and I decided it wasn't a deal breaker. As I've mentioned, I have yet to get seriously stuck, so not a big deal. I do carry some Tred Recovery Boards to help if I do get stuck, but I haven't had to use these, either. My High-Lift Jack can also be used as an ad hoc "winch in a pinch". A standard Syncro with no lockers is still quite a capable off road vehicle, especially with the granny gear and good A/T tires..

My philosophy is that I just want to get to some amazing campsites away from the crowds where I can park for a couple of weeks, take pictures, make videos, play with my dog, then move on to another amazing campsite for a couple of weeks, take pictures, make videos, play with my dog, rinse and repeat until I die. Of course, I'll visit a grocery store, get some gas if needed and find some potable water between camps. So I guess I sort of baby mine as much as is feasible to avoid costly repairs and having a breakdown somewhere in the middle of some National Forest or BLM area.

Syncro de MayoMany Syncro owners certainly do not "baby" theirs and push them to their limits, showing just how capable an off- roader the Syncro can be. There are events and gatherings where Syncro owners get together and put their vans through their paces. Events like Syncro de Mayo and Syncro Fest in the USA, and others throughout the world. GoWesty created a beast of a Syncro and has raced it in the 1250 mile NORRA Mexican 1000 rally, This page has many videos of their van in action, and includes videos of them transforming the van into a Baja-crushing 4WD Racing Syncro.

There are many videos I found on YouTube of Syncros in action and I put just a few below for your viewing pleasure. Obviously, go full screen when playing.


My Upgrades


Here is a fairly comprehensive list of updates and improvements I've made to my Syncro since I purchased it in 2016:

Upgrades already completed when I purchased the van:

  • Rebuilt 2.1L engine
  • Rebuilt transmission
  • 2" Lift Kit from Syncro.org (Schwenk Springs)
  • Old Man Emu Shocks
  • Full Westfalia interior (Kitchen, Cabinets, Water Tank, Lower Bed, etc. The stock refrigerator was not included.)
  • 15" Mercedes-Style wheels from GoWesty

Upgrades I have done (*Done by Green Syncro):
Read more about the work Joel at Green Syncro did for me.

  • *Converted Tintop to Poptop with front luggage rack
  • *New GoWesty designed tent for poptop
  • *Installed new 3.3 gallon propane tank from GoWesty
  • *Installed New Propex HS2800 propane heater (the big one!)
  • *Installed New South African grill & headlights (way brighter than stock)
  • *Installed New exterior utility inlets from GoWesty (water fill & 110v)
  • *Installed New ProMariner 43012 ProSport 12 Amp dual battery charger - charges small 50ah battery and starter battery
  • New NOCO GENIUS 5 single battery charger for 100ah battery
  • New 50ah AGM Battery installed under the driver's seat* (On my second one, I killed the first one)
  • *Installed New Sure Power 1314A 12-Volt, 100-Amp Unidirectional Battery Separator ... under driver's seat (This has never worked right - I really need to figure it out someday)
  • New 100ah AGM Battery mounted in the deleted fridge area using Seachoice 22051 Battery Tray with Hold Down Strap
  • New Blue Sea Systems 300 Amp m-Series Battery Switch to switch between house batteries, combine both, or disconnect both. Power from switch leads to fuse block.
  • New Blue Sea Systems ST Blade ATO/ATC Fuse Block to distribute 12V
  • New Front Skid Plate from GoWesty - deleted front spare tire carrier
  • New Shurflo faucet and *tank pump
  • New stereo system (went a little overboard)
    • Focal Access 165 A3 6.5-Inch 3-Way Component Speakers in the front
    • Existing Infinity speakers in the rear
    • Rockford Fosgate P2D4-10 Punch 4 Ohm 10-Inch sub-woofer
    • 900 watt amp
    • Head unit with adjustable 7" LCD, DVD player, Bluetooth, GPS
  • New Yakima cross bars with RMW mounts
  • A used BajaRack MegaMule roof rack (Craigslist Find - $535 new, I paid $50... great deal! Even came with the original cargo net)
  • New "Jack Bombay" pop-top shocks/struts (helps pop the top with the extra weight of the rack and items in the rack)
    • Added GoWesty Heavy Duty struts to help lift the top. The Jack Bombay struts are great, but I have so much stuff up there that I needed more lifting power.
  • New ARB Awning, mounts & accessories
    • New ARB Screen Room
    • New ARB 3-wall tent
    • Rain gutter mounts from Rocky Mountain Westy
  • New Bus Depot rear "Add a Room" tent - great for my portable shower setup
  • New Front Table and Mount from GoWesty
  • Modified Kitchen Cover/Lid to use gas strut lift
  • New SYNC-ROLL-O-METER: 45-Degree Inclinometer from GoWesty
  • New Rubber Mat Set for Front from GoWesty
  • New Third Brake Light Kit (LED) from GoWesty
  • New Radio Antenna (A bear broke my antenna climbing my van!)
  • New Halon fire extinguisher
  • New BlazeCut fire suppression system for the engine compartment
  • New Cobra 75WXST CB radio & FireStik antenna
  • New Wet Okole front seat covers
  • New Carbon Monoxide detector/alarm
  • New Smoke detector/alarm
  • New 12v Fans
    • Fan-Tastic Vent Endless Breeze
    • Caframo Ultimate 757 12V 2-Speed 7 inch Fan - Direct Wire
    • Jhua 12V Car Clip Fan with step-less speed control
  • New 12 volt, 22" SuperSonic TV with Roku box and articulating wall mount
  • Converted all lights to LED, except for headlights and instrument lights
  • 8 New Exterior 18 watt LED flood lights mounted to roof rack (3 on each side & 2 on the rear - All controlled by switches mounted on the dash)
  • New Front 20" LED bar with mini-bull bar mount and OEM VW dash switch
  • New Backup camera
  • New Dash cam
  • New Cargo net for the front luggage rack
  • Added new solar panels to roof (60 watts mounted with 3M VHB Tape & 60 watts zip-tied in rack which are usually covered with cargo)
  • New portable 85w solar panel kit from GoWesty with charge controller
  • New ALLPOWERS portable thin 100w solar panel kit - PANEL DIED!
  • New Topsolar portable 100w solar panel to replace the AllPowers
  • New HiLift Jack Extreme mounted to BajaRack (with winch kit)
  • New Winnerwell Woodlander Deluxe Cook Tent Stove Package with water heater and tent flashing kit. I use this with the ARB 3-wall tent in winter (4th wall is the van, in case you were wondering)
  • Outdoor rug
  • New Hammock with rain fly and mosquito netting
  • New Rear hatch mosquito net
  • New Fire Maple teapot and cook set
  • New SHINEURI Camping Pans - Nonstick Titanium - Japan Designed - Removable Handle (4 piece set)
  • New Alpicool Dual Temperature Control T50 Portable Refrigerator/Freezer 53 Quart (50 Liter - Dual Zone) FRIDGE DIED!!!
  • New ARB Zero 73 quart fridge/freezer - Replaced dead Alpicool
  • New Thedford Porta Potti stored in an ottoman from Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • New Headlight and Turn Signal brush guards from T3 Technique
  • Custom 3D printed heater grill from uniWerks Design
  • New Dash cover - carpet
  • New Side Ladder from Rocky Mountain Westy
  • New Swing away rear tire carrier from Rocky Mountain Westy
    • Updated my swing away to include a tray to hold my generator, gas cans and tool kit. The spare got moved up to accommodate the shelf.
    • Read more about this upgrade
  • 2 New FuelpaX 3.5 Gallon Gasoline Packs
  • A New Pure Sine Wave Inverter (300 watts)
  • Added GoWesty shelf for fridge-deleted cabinet
  • Added several USB and 12V accessory ports throughout the van
  • Added ALFA Network WiFi CampPro 2 Universal WiFi / Internet Range Extender Kit - Mounted the antenna on a adjustable marine mount on the roof rack to change the angle depending on whether the top is popped, or can lay flat while driving off-road to avoid branches.
  • Purchased a Jetpack MiFi 8800L 4G Hotspot - "Special Mojo" from an eBay vendor makes it truly unlimited without any data caps or speed reductions. I'm using Verizon as my carrier.
  • New Netgear 6000450 MIMO Antenna with 2 TS-9 Connectors - External antenna for my Jetpack for better range when I need it.
  • I was gifted a WeBoost Drive 4G-X RV cellular booster system. Upgraded antenna to WeBoost Marine version.
  • New Wen 56202i portable "suitcase" 1700w/2000w gas generator and Wen Weatherproof Cover which store nicely in the RMW tray, along with both gas cans, keeping all the gas smells outside the van - Read More
  • A couple of great folding chairs from Alps Mountaineering
  • A folding, adjustable height table for use outside
  • New cutting board (fits over sink) from GoWesty
  • New Front Door/Windows Wind & Rain Deflectors
  • New Black ABS door panels all around from GoWesty
  • New 8-piece window insulation set from GoWesty
  • New Pop Top insulation from Fanchers
  • Upgraded Alternator Wiring from Rocky Mountain Westy
  • Replaced Flex Arm for Roof Vent
  • Had a custom heater vent/grill made to cover both the stock rear heater vent and the Propex heater vent. Has a VW logo in the design from UniWerks
  • New General Grabber ATX tires - Read more here
  • and more!

The Vanagon Song - Explicit Lyrics