This Vanagon does my favorite kind of bait-and-switch. At first glance, the unwavering white paint/black trim looks at best plain. White wall tires on steel wheels exaggerate its age, giving the overall impression of yet another old beater camper van. This impression matched with the $26,750 asking price furrowed my brow immediately, but elicited a rewarding closer look. Checking out the details on this High Top, you see that the plain white paint is actually a recent and well-done respray. Inside, we find a nearly perfect interior with a new wood-laminate floor to match the cabinets. All camping items work including the propane stove and heater, water pump with filter, refrigerator, and external ports. It has 184k miles but still returns 20+ mpg and appears to have received the maintenance and care to keep it going for another couple hundred thousand. The 6’7″ standing height means even my 6’5″ brother could be comfortable, though the fold out bed might not either of us very well. It’s an under-the-radar Adventurewagen that is perfectly eccentric as is.
An old friend emailed me the other day for advice on getting his own adventure van. We ran through the whole gamut of options, from the classic Westy to Sprinters to Ford Sportvans to Transit Connects. We had some good discussions examining various priorities and rationales, and he had a hard time envisioning shelling out $35k for a nice 25 year-old van, even if Volkswagens are clearly the most stylish and sentimental choice. So, we looked at some other options and kept the discussion going.
Then this van came onto eBay, and I was right back in a puddle of Vanagonlove. The High Tops have grown (no pun intended) on me a lot recently with even greater sleeping and storage space than the standard Westy. They still have a small-van footprint, but bring big-van capability, especially with Syncro. This van has had some very interesting modifications, most importantly a turbocharged Ford Zetec conversion by well-known Van converters Bostig mated to a rebuilt transmission. You could spend days reading the aggressive arguments on forums debating the pros and cons of different engine swaps – 1.8T keeps it OEM+, Subaru has the most power potential, the Ford has the most parts availability, and then there’s the one guy in the corner shouting “911S! 911S!” I move on as soon as people start saying THERE IS ONLY ONE GOOD OPTION, as it seems like all can result in awesome vans as long as the work is well-done and holistic. All of this to say that I have no issue with a Ford engine in a Vanagon and see it as a reliable, reasonably efficient way to more power.
The other modifications are not nearly as contentious or involved as the motor swap, but they do contribute to creating a unique and attractive van. The interior has been swapped out for that from a top-of-the-line Carat, creating an OEM-plushness the Syncro never received. One of the coolest and most resourceful modifications is using the passenger-side jump seat mounts to hold the stove and fridge combo but leaving it detachable, so it can be placed outside the van under the awning when camping. Genius! Other aesthetic and mechanical bits abound, from the always-lovely (and trendy) South African grille and headlights to big brakes and Emu shocks. A very tidy and sorted package that, despite hot bidding even as I type, is way below normal Syncro Westy prices.
Here’s one of the best deals on a Syncro camper we’ve seen in a while (if not ever!) and it comes with a well-done Subaru boxer swap. These High Top campers are much more rare than their pop-top brethren, but it’s a pretty awesome look with more 4-season capability. Though listed with 290k miles, the engine was put in 20k miles ago and had a decent refresh at the time along with a rebuilt transmission. Clearly owned by a well-informed and diligent Vanagon enthusiast, this Syncro camper is going for about half of where most start. It’s caveat emptor with any swap, high-mileage car, or 80s Volkswagen in general, but anyone looking at this van should have a healthy level of project-excitement and an appreciation of getting this much Vanagon for a reasonable price.
Syncro Westies are a special breed, but today’s Vanagon is cut from an interesting cloth – or lack thereof. While most Westfalias’ tops popped up with a cloth tent, later models like this example could be had with a plastic high-top. What is lost in aerodynamics is gained in weatherproofness, creating a cozy loft and more mounting space for the rack-loving van crowd. While the top sticks out, the overall aesthetics are upgraded but pleasantly subtle, with upsized steel wheels, the great South African grille/light combo and tough bumpers blending into the colorless white/black scheme. The more I look at it, the more I love this van, and we haven’t even gotten to the mechanicals! Those are as good as they get, with an upgraded turbodiesel and Syncro four-wheel drive. No reserve will make this a fun auction to watch, though the low mileage and strong option and upgrade lists will probably take it out of most people’s price range.