We are the lucky owners of a very unique and well built 1987 Vanagon Syncro Westfalia camper van that we’ve named KORU. Most of the heavy lifting on the build was done by the previous owner Karl, of Westy Ventures. The stars aligned last year, and we were able to meet Karl and eventually purchase his wonderful van for our big trip. He owns and operates WestyVentures where you can find propex heaters, refirigerators and other upgrades for your van.
The power plant pushing us down the road is 1.9L mTDI (m for mechanical, meaning no computers) from a 1998 VW Jetta. It has the power to keep up with traffic and tackle big mountain passes. It is a very reliable engine with all the clutter of a modern computerized engine removed. An instrument gauge cluster has been added to the dash to help diagnose the symptoms (temperatures and pressures) of the systems in the van as it drives. A truly brilliant set-up.
Sarah and I decided to paint the van with a truck-bed liner material called monstaliner. It has proven to be durable and protective and we hope it will prevent further rusting while we are near salty air and roads. It has already proven scratch resistant through rough jungle roads in the yucatan. It is very much a do-it-yourself product that can be applied with the windows in or out.
The Syncro is the AWD version of the Vanagon, which has great clearance and a short wheelbase. The rear wheels have a diff-lock and we’ve added some recovery gear to help us or others get out of sticky situations on the back roads of Latin America. Dave of Vanagonlife hooked us up with the window modifiaction as well as a new center console specifically made for vanagons. His crafstmanship and customer service is second to none, so check him out for some amazing vanagon upgrades. The wheels have been upgraded and the Trailmaster HD suspension kit has been added for great offroad capability and longevity for the rough Latin American roads.
The front bumper was a custom build from the master mechanic Jonathan Rall in Bend Oregon. He is a true all around mechanic who specializes in German vehicle maintenace and upgrades, and really knows TDI’s for our beloved vans. If you’re in the Bend area and need some service on your Vanagon or have interest in a cool upgrade, check him out here. Here Jonathan modifies our front skid plate to accomodate his awesome front bumper.
The interior includes all of the necessities for life in a small van. There are 2 sleeping options, one upstairs when the top is popped, or downstairs on the folded out bench seat. A small kitchenette with small electric fridge/freezer, sink, single propane burner stove and ample drawer space help keep our food essentials in good standing. We also have a camp stove with grill to aid in cooking when we stop somewhere longer than a day. A 15 gallon water tank under the bench seat pumps water through a carbon filter and UV light to keep our water clean no matter where we go. For cold nights, a D2 Espar heater pulls diesel directly from the fuel tank to power the heater which keeps the van quite cozy. All of the electronics are powered by 2 deep-cycle lifeline batteries with a power inverter.
Dual spare tires reside on the rear bumper along with our 2 bicycles. A Thule Box on the roof helps store our camping and climbing essentials, while 2 other Pelican boxes aid in our tools/spare parts storage. A steel box has been bolted underneath the van to store our heavy and rarely used spare parts. Overall, we estimate the van to be upwards of 6000 lbs! Good thing we have such an awesome engine. South America, here we come!
Some history on Syncro Vans.