If you’ve visited our site in the last year, chances are you’ve seen me go off about wanting some form of T3 Syncro, whether it’s a Westy or Hightop, a DoKa or even a plain tintop. I give double points if it’s diesel powered.
Well today brings something that we’ve never had here on GCFSB and in fact few of us even knew existed: a Syncro diesel Eurovan, here labeled a Caravelle because Canada. Beyond the fancy 4WD and oil burning motor, this van allegedly has every available option including the Business Package, which features a fold-out table, large motorized LCD screen, and 4 rotating leather captain’s chairs. All that, and yet my favorite part (besides the Syncro) is that it has still has a manual!
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.
Coming from what appears to be the same New Jersey importer/seller as yesterday’s Golf Country is another Syncro special, the beloved Transporter DoKa. This one eschews common add-ons like lights, bullbars, and bumpers for a unique aluminum rolltop utility body over the bed. The rest is just clean, straight, and like-new. Bucket seats up front give a slightly more comfortable look to the interior than the common work-truck bench seen in DoKas, and from the roof to the undercarriage and the under-bed storage bin in between. One thing I can’t figure out is the zippers in the headliner; any ideas, readers?
Overall, it’s as nice as T3 VWs come without too many frills but plenty of capability. With no-reserve, we should get an interesting look at how hot the market is getting for the now easily-importable DoKa Syncros.
The Mk2 generation of the Volkswagen Golf holds some of my favorite Euro-only forbidden fruit. The proto-R Rallye Golf is a sexy little beast with flared fenders, all wheel drive, and a supercharged G60 engine. They sold 5000 of them, a remarkable number considering they were twice the price of a GTI. Even rarer than the Rallye is the Golf Country, an outlier whose influence could perhaps be seen in the Audi Allroads but really has no modern analogue. A revised suspension gave it 8.25″ of ground clearance with Syncro making sure traction was never a problem. Bullbars and skidplates give protection against rocks and limbs, including extra protection for the Syncro system. This all combines for a hatchback that’s even a little more rally-ready than the Rallye. The one unfortunate area of inferiority is under the hood, as the Country only came with the standard, naturally-aspirated 1.8-liter with 98hp.
This example is a recent beneficiary of the 25-year importation rule, though we don’t know exactly where it comes from. With just 25k miles, it’s about as nice as you’re going to find anywhere in the world. The only flaw I see is some potential scuffing/repair under the bumper on the right rear; otherwise the exterior and interior look outstanding. Many, including this author, think the 25-year importation rule is draconian and ridiculous, but the upside is that forbidden fruit like this excellent Golf Country becomes that much sweeter when finally available to us. With a very reasonable starting bid and a no-reserve auction, this is an incredible chance at some new-to-the-US rare.
I have been in Syncro heaven recently. It all started on the way to a hike in the Santa Cruz mountains last weekend. I forced my friends to pull over when I saw it to grab a picture, and ended up meeting the older owner of an incredible orange DoKa Syncro completely maxed out – Subaru swap, South African Headlights, diamond-plate bed, and an adventure tent on top (shown below for your viewing pleasure). The guy said his grandkids called it “Grandpa’s Adventure Truck.” Thanks for putting all other grandpas to shame, guy. He loved that I knew what it was at all, let alone the details – hooray for automotive pedants!
After returning to Washington State I’ve seen more Syncros than I can count, including a nice DoKa in my hometown and several excellent Westies and tintops. They cruise around, looking like the great Northwest vehicles they’ve always been, but I’d bet a lot of money (not Syncro money, mind you…) that almost no one knows that they’re passing a $40k-60k vehicle.
Case in point, we have a beautiful red DoKa Syncro today with just 28k miles and a $55k asking price. Yes, just over 1k miles per year for this gem. It looks it too, with an immaculate interior and very nice exterior, although there are a few scuff marks to show that it has really been used. That use came from a Swedish fire department, again proving that European fire departments are amazing. It has a nice bullbar/Warn winch combo up front and light/rollbar/cage behind the cab. Not shown are a canopy and uninstalled South African grill, the latter of which would spruce it up a bit but isn’t necessary to look cool. The only think I’d say it’s missing is a top tent like Grandpa’s Adventure Truck.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen the kind of Syncro Westy that can command the better part of a hundred thousand dollars. We’ve seen some nicely restored and modified examples, but even then they’ve struggled to break $40k. Well, folks, we caught a big one. Let’s see if we can haul it aboard.
Inside out and top to bottom, this Westy is mega. Starting with the mechanicals, there’s no Subaru imposter or rebuilt wasserboxer here – it’s a like-new, $35k 1.8T conversion putting out a very healthy 255hp with custom cooling and exhaust systems. Underneath you also get new suspension and a big brake kit, along with a rebuilt front differential and Porsche 930 axles. I especially like the dual fuel tanks for removing any range anxiety when you’re way out in the woods.
From there, we’re just looking at a no-holds-barred interior and exterior. Inside, there’s an entertainment system with a back-up camera surrounded by a custom houndstooth interior. It has everything a Westy lover dreams about, from the solar system connected to twin auxiliary batteries to an on-board air compressor and front-mounted Warn winch, though I’m rather confused as to why they put the Hella lights in a position where they’re blocked by the winch.
This van goes well beyond what is necessary to live the Van Life. It’s an exercise in how far you can go and how many dream-boxes you can check, but the resulting price tag is similarly fantastical.
Despite the unassuming beige-black-and-steel exterior, this is one of the most excellent Vanagons I’ve seen in a while. Looking every bit a well-used 1987 camper, it’s been updated and made complete in all the ways that count, highlighted by a Subaru 3.0-liter H6 conversion driving all four wheels via Syncro. High tops have been growing on me for their unique look and easily-accessible space. Two queen beds and lots of storage with four-wheel drive? I always wanted an office in the mountains. With a massive list of repairs and service, this Adventurewagen is fully set to live up to its name if you can afford it.
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.
I was in Stuttgart in 1998 when what I thought was someone’s version of a good joke rolled by me. It was a dark green Mk.2 Golf; not particularly abnormal since they were still mostly less than a decade old and Germans notoriously care for their cars better than most other nations. However, it was about a half-foot taller than it should have been, equipped with some cool looking Speedline wheels, brush guards and a spare tire mounted to the rear. Germans have an odd sense of humor, so it seemed to fit that this was one mullet short of a Hasselhoff Fan Club. I had no idea that I was looking at a factory model; remember, this was in the infancy of the internet and as an American, knowledge of every single European model of the Mk.2 was hard to come by. But the “Country” graphic scrolled down the side gave me a clue, and after some research I found out that this was more than just a one-off. Underneath the standard looking exterior was a Viscous Coupling all-wheel drive setup shared with the Rallye Golf and Golf Limited, amongst others. The engine was more pedestrian with a standard 1.8 8V, but in total an amazing 438 non-standard parts went into the creation of the Golf Country. Since new, they’ve always commanded a premium and have been the object of lust for American Volkswagen fans who like to do things just a bit different:
Mix-and-match is one of the greatest benefits of VW ownership and modification, enabling Lego-like compatibility with looks and personality straight out of the Playmobil catalogue. While most Vanagons pack the abilities of many cars into one, this T3 takes it to the next level by combining the content of two already-capable VW vans into one vehicle. As the seller embarked on the restoration of a Westfalia California, they came into possession of a non-Westy but Syncro’d van and the Frankenstein dreams quickly took hold – put all the great camping gear into the van with the ultimate running gear. As a result, they made an extremely desirable package and cleaned it up with a full restoration, rebuilt wasserboxer, and a subtle-but-great offroad package. Personal favorites include the perfect Graphite Gray paint and the Star Wars-lookin’ California top that provides a slight differentiation from most pop-top VWs you see. It may have taken a few donors, but in the end this is one excellent monster Vanagon.