So, LOTS of mechanical work has been going on but not a lot of writing! It’s almost been like a game of whack a mole! They say this about vintage cars and Vanagons. Some of it is self induced, others may be a by product of my “outstanding workmanship”, and the last my be that “it’s just that time” to have that specific part break down.
Case in point, I’ve gotten done with the coolant line upgrades (which it now runs a consistent 196 – 202 degrees) and shock upgrade. However, it appears that while it sat (or maybe I wasn’t looking or paying attention), the brake fluid went down. So, when I was all excited to go do test runs to see how my work performed, it felt like the brakes were a bit squishy! Right away I checked the obvious and found out. No biggie! Right?
Well, right after that, the clutch started to feel like it was slipping and I developed this “thump” in the rear. It was almost as though a bulge in the tire or something that as I drove faster it thumped faster. So, I haven’t driven it much due to these two factors. I don’t want to burn out the transmission or make the problem worse!
However, I did get some videos of driving over my phone while filming the undercarriage. I wanted to post those so people MUCH more mechanically smarter than myself could view! So, here’s the few of them!
Progress continues but is slow at the moment due to colder weather outdoors. So, when not making progress on the van, I do research. This is a video I found along the way. Great information! Enjoy!
Just to be clear… just because I haven’t been taking the time to document or update the blog doesn’t mean things aren’t happening! LOL Actually, I’ve been posting fairly regularly (a few times a week) on Instagram. Work on Van Diesel has been pretty extensive and ongoing. That’s what I plan to cover and update in this post! *whew* Let’s go!
I knew that there were “things” which needed to be done. For example, when I gutted the interior, I knew that I needed to swap over to US electric plugs and external shore power outlet. I knew that if I was going to address that part, I was then going to upgrade the fridge. Then upgrading the fridge led to the back of the fridge looking for rust / sound deadening and insulation. That leads to perhaps a battery upgrade to lithium. Well… you kind of see where this is going, right?
The same is true for the engine! In the previous post about “limp mode”, that lead me on a journey of rubber parts. It seems like the van has struggled with keeping cool since I got it. I mean, it never gets close to overheating but it wasn’t really running as cool as I thought as well. I thought that if I’m doing a cross country journey in 2022, I had better look at rubber upgrades and even to silicone! This allowed me to get familiar with the engine as well. HUGE learning curve for a non-mechanical guy! I found a guy on The Samba who makes silicone 1.9 TDI hoses. Now, I generally would put the link however I wouldn’t recommend this guy to anyone! Let’s just say I got most of the hoses I needed. The others I had to figure out and source since he’s “never seen the hose I needed nor anyone ask him for the one” that I needed.
As part of the process to drain the system, I needed to get under to the lowest point to drain the coolant. When underneath, which I noticed before as well when doing the turbo work, the rear shocks looked a bit tired. So, I investigated replacing and going with Bilstein. I met a GREAT guy, Steve Schwenk, which is known for his springs. Long story short is that his springs didn’t work out due to the height of the van (I have Andrias springs on mine; see pic below). Andrias on top, OEM middle and Schwenk on bottom.
So, I stuck with the springs and Steve was able to find the Bilstein set of HD shocks and drop shipped them. This was during a time where NONE could be found due to pandemic shortages everywhere. Somehow, Steve pulled strings and got it done! Yea, it turned out that they were tired! The old one on the left wouldn’t even return back up!
Since I’m working on a sloped driveway outside, the work is a little bit more difficult and sometimes even sketchy! I mean, lifting the van with a Hi Lift jack, to remove a wheel and then start suspension work doesn’t seem like the safest thing to do. However, I managed to get the rears done fairly quick!
However, then weather and life sets in as well as seeing other “opportunities” (problems) to address. As I was scoping out the front, I see that my driver side sway bar has unseated itself! Holy crap! Perhaps that was the clunk I was hearing when going over bumps?! Ya think?? So, since it was already half out, why not take this opportunity to upgrade a 21mm OEM sway bar to the T3 Technique HD 25mm Anti-Roll bar and end link kit?! I ordered it however they had some manufacturing issues with a factory fire. So, that came a little later (still not installed to date).
Then the weather finally broke and I was able to address the front struts. Now, the rears were literally 2 bolts per side. Boom and done. The front needed a bit more work but compressing springs, removing stuff and then making it all fit back in (it’s all already documented on YouTube by many people!). It took me a little bit, but the fronts were about in the same shape as the rear. Needless to say, I can’t wait to give it a drive to see how it feels!
Now, in the meantime, you have to remember I’m doing multiple projects depending on weather and parts that came in! Some things were easier than others! Like the vacuum system for the differentials. There was a leak somewhere. I didn’t know where… I just knew that it worked sometimes. It seemed like the front came on after a decent period of time. The rear almost NEVER came on but there was some dependency with the decoupler. I worked from the actuators back to the console. Thank goodness I did that because it was a SIMPLE fix of hose leading to the rear actuator. Boom. Done.
Meanwhile, I was working on and sourcing parts for the coolant (remember the top of this post?). I was able to figure out which stainless coolant lines to get as I was disassembling the top end hoses as well as front to rear. This is probably my most recent work and where I’m at right now. Still sourcing some hoses but the swap is coming along nicely! The last picture, below, shows the silicone on top and rubber OEM on bottom. Not a huge aesthetic difference but a piece of mind!
I’ve got the intercooler radiator hoses pulled out and sourced. This is the current state of the coolant work. I’ve got hoses and clamps landing now. I’ve got 3 new electric, aux coolant pumps to circulate. New plumbing to bring in fresh air! One of the things I discovered was that the hose going up to the snorkel wasn’t attached! No, it wasn’t that it was blocking fresh air coming in but water was going down into the hose since it wasn’t attached! Ouch! I’m moving towards the work which was documented here. I’ve found this site to be HUGE with lots of documented solutions! So, I’m just replicating someone’s work.
Now my next bit of work will be connecting everything back up. I’ve taken the last two weeks of the year as vacation. So, I should be able to knock it out! Stay tuned!
For some time now, I’ve experienced “limp mode” in my van. It first manifested itself on a family trip back from Florida. We were heading north on the highway doing about 65 mph (in the slow lane, of course). All of a sudden there’s sort of a jerk forward, a cloud of smoke out the back and then lack of power. The first time I was freaked out! I pulled over to the side of the road immediately, turned it off and looked for any obvious leaks, bursts or the likes. Nothing really jumped out at me! So, I started back up cautiously and entered onto the highway again. I had full power and full boost, so all was good. Engine temps and pressures weren’t abnormal. However, it happened again about 10 minutes later.
This is where I started to think about an exit plan for the family. You see, it was Spring Break and everyone needed to be back to work/school the following day! We searched high and low in northern Florida to finally come up with a rental car place. I sent the “life raft” home with my family as I figured the worst which could happen would be I’d be stranded on the side of the road. Who cares? I’m in a camper! 🙂
I decided to drive a bit slower and not engage the turbo as much as I could. My thinking was that when the turbo was spooling / spooled up, that’s where I was seeing the pressure loss and lack of power. The remainder of the 6 hour drive, or whatever it was, was uneventful! In fact, I think I got home 20 minutes after the family had arrived safely!
Now my quest was on to find a diesel mechanic who could look the engine over, make a prioritized list and start addressing any issues I might have in some sort of prioritized fashion. Little did I know that finding a VW diesel mechanic was going to be SO difficult! My original search was the greater Atlanta area. I found one small shop nearby where there was a “claim” of a “German Master Mechanic”. Damn! That sounds too good! Yea… $1,200 later, no priority list and same limp mode.
So, I broadened my search to the Vanagon community to see who people use on the East Coast. I think I journaled most of that experience here. That ended in an EPIC disaster! After 15 weeks and having a loaner car from Westy Motorwerks, I was emailed on Aug. 3rd saying that his customer needed their car back which he loaned to me and that he’d be leaving around 9 am on the 4th to come pick it up. We exchanged emails back and forth because I told him if he was coming down, he might as well just bring my van with. Since it STILL wasn’t running, he stated he couldn’t drive it down. After that many weeks being up there, I didn’t care anymore. I just wanted it back in my driveway. Some of my concerns were that due to the pandemic, small businesses were closing. I didn’t want my van to be part of a shop’s collateral or anything like that. I figured 15 weeks was MORE than enough to sort through a problem. All I really received is sympathy of why everything wasn’t their fault. (My “official” review of that shop will be on Google Maps as I’m a Global Reviewer and Guide. It won’t be pretty.)
Van is back with more stuff broken than when I brought it up there. Mind you, I DROVE it up there, 3 hours away, under its own power. It was now brought back to me not running on the street, tach broken/non-functioning, oil light on… probably other stuff I’m not thinking of right now. All for the price of… you guessed it, ANOTHER $1,200. You see, when I was up there in July when I was told it was going to be completed and I went to pick it up and it WASN’T completed… after being loaned a car to be able to get back home in (since my son left HOURS ago previously), Wes asked me if I could help him out and pay half of my bill. Honestly, I didn’t have a problem with it. I knew they did some work to it and had mechanic hours into it. However, hindsight is that I should have NEVER been “nice” on a business transaction. Nothing had been completed start to finish. Limp mode was still persistent. Diesel heater was placed in but not plumbed in yet. Tach wasn’t functioning. I should have known yet I was attempting to support a small business in a small Vanagon community who was “recommended”.
Fast forward. I’m going to tackle this project my damn self! First business of order is to rip off the turbo, check for sticking veins and ensure actuator isn’t stuck. After ALL the research I had done on this, I needed a piece of mind to check that off the list! I start talking to a friend of mine and we get into a debate if it’d be easier to remove the turbo from the top or the bottom. I was SURE it was easiest from the bottom but he recalls looking down on it from the top. Since it’s in my driveway, it’s easy enough to prove him wrong! I run out there, stick my phone in the rear wheel arch and snap a picture of the turbo on the BOTTOM of the engine!
I look at the picture and WTH??!! A hose on the intake side of the turbo staring RIGHT at me with these big old cracks!! I take some pictures and start asking the community. Obviously, any hose/pipe in the system is a bad thing so I know it needs replacement! The next piece of this equation was to remove the under armor to get complete access to the bottom of the engine. That was fairly straight forward!
Now that I have those heavy things out of the way, it’s time to get down to business! Two screws loosened off the hose clamps later and I now have the “offending part” in my hands! However, in the process, I find that Motorwerks did not bolt down the turbo bracket nor the intake pipe bracket! Thus, both were able to move and potentially collapse this part causing the turbo to be blocked of air!
I could not identify what the part number was so off to the community I went again! BAM! In just 30 seconds I had my answer! (literally, 30 seconds!) I started my internet part search only to find it available in the UK. Okay…wind partially out of my sails because I didn’t know if this was just a fluke or the issue. None the less, I ordered the part from Germany (along with other stuff but don’t tell the wife!) and had to wait for shipping. Day after day I keep looking for shipping updates but things aren’t progressing as quickly as I’d like. SO…what’s a guy to do but search for the part again? Low and behold, I find that Van-Again in New Jersey has several on hand!!! Damn straight I ordered it! Got it in 3 days!
Moment of truth… I get it installed and take it for SEVERAL hard test runs over the weekend with VCDS logging in the background. ZERO MAF errors nor getting limp mode! The picture (above) shows the clear line of sight to the replacement part. My general assessment is that a trained mechanic should have been able to visually inspect and identify this issue fairly quickly. A shop which has a vehicle for 15 WEEKS should have stumbled across this MANY times over! Instead, Westy Motorwerks claimed it was a bad ECU, alternator, wiring, MAF, N109 relay among MANY other things! Now, again in fairness, there’s a lot of troubleshooting and testing to have been done. However, I cannot help but feel taken advantage of that it was THAT many weeks and my “non-mechanic” self in the driveway identified and fixed it in 20 minutes. Perhaps chalk it up to “beginner’s luck”?
Well, it’s been a hot second since I’ve updated any content on here. Yes, it’s partially due to the pandemic and loss for a sense of time. Another has been that I had rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder in April. As my wife keeps reminding me, I’ve been a bear to deal with! (In my defense, I wasn’t really sleeping but 2-3 hours a night for the first 8 weeks). Then lastly is that Van Diesel has been sitting at a shop since pre-surgery. I believe I’m over 12 weeks at this point! So, I thought I’d get everyone caught up on the work which has been taking place!
We left off where I started dismantling the interior. There were MANY reasons for gutting it. The VERY first one was when I had it off-road (like the picture below going through a stream), water and mud were getting on the inside. I didn’t know if I had a hole in the floor, some place where the wiring came in or the likes. However, I wanted to get to the bottom of it since I didn’t want rusting to start taking place!
This gave me the chance to dig further into the wiring and all that so I understood the vehicle inside and out. There was also the conversion side of it as well; it had UK outlets (interior and exterior) which needed to be changed.
So, like before, wiring was at the top of my list as well! I mean, look at this battery and wiring! The wiring was all directly to the battery post terminals! Zero fuses or the likes. I knew that needed to be changed.
Well, if the wiring needs modernization, then I need to trace it back to see how everything else is… right? This led me to pulling out the 3 way fridge because heck, if we’re modernizing electric… we need a 12v modern fridge! That was the first component I pulled out.
Since it was a 3 way and I knew I wasn’t going back to a fridge which uses propane, that copper gas pipe “needed” to come out! That led me to pulling out the stove cabinet because I saw original fiberglass insulation. While I’m behind there, I might as well check the rust factor there!
You can sort of see where this is going, right? In the end, I gutted most of the interior. I mean, if I REALLY wanted to see what was going on, I needed to see it for ALL the good and bad. This way, I know what I have or don’t have! The two items I couldn’t get out was the base of the seat/bed due to the auxiliary fuel tank fill and the rear wardrobe cabinet. (I’ll be addressing that cabinet when I get it back!)
Now that I have EVERYTHING out, I can start addressing things that I want to do. So, for example, I’ve taken out the Propex propane heater and replaced it with a diesel heater tapped directly into the aux diesel tank right next to it. To me, that seemed more efficient! Now, I only have one source which leverages propane which is the cooktop. I’m still pondering if I should do a modification and get a induction cook top in place where the burners are currently. I already know that I’m replacing the lead batteries with lithium and eventually adding solar.
Onto the engine work! Westy Motorwerks, as stated above, has had Van Diesel for over 12 weeks. I’m torn on this issue. I called in February 2021 to make an appointment. They had a backload of work and said I could get it in during April. So, my original plan was to drive it up, get the limp mode on the TDI fixed, and bring it back prior to my surgery happening on April 21st. (Knowing full well I couldn’t drive for at least 6 weeks after surgery) Well, their workload was still behind so they pushed it back a week; colliding with my surgery week. So, I told them that I’d drop it off the week prior, they could give it the once over (like their website states), create a punch list, and then address accordingly. PERFECT (so I thought)!
I dropped Van Diesel off on April 17th with the agreement that they’d create a punch list of mechanical items once they looked it over; in addition to three items I wanted addressed (below). There wasn’t a rush because I couldn’t drive for a minimum of 6 weeks. Once I could, I’d call and arrange to pick it up.
1. Address limp mode
2. Weld shut the opening which was created to carry a 5 lbs propane tank internally in cabinet
3. Review diesel lines for cracks and potential replacement as well as plumb in diesel heater
I had my surgery and was dealing with all that so I didn’t even think about calling them up. I couldn’t pick it up anyway so why bother them? Then at 6 weeks I got the green light to drive! Woot!! I made the call and utter disappointment. It hadn’t even been looked at! I was like… WTH??!! Okay, so what’s it going to take? So, I keep pestering and the likes. I felt like I was attempting to be completely fair.
Long story short, I was told it should be ready by July 2nd. I told them it was a drop dead date because I started a local car show in North Georgia (Grind ‘N Gears , shameless plug!) and our first “official show” was July 3rd. I had another 1.9 TDI Syncro owner that was coming and we were going to compare notes! Needless to say, that date was missed. Then it was “…it’ll be ready Monday.”. Then it was Wednesday and then it was Thursday. Finally, I put my foot down and said that I was going to be up there Wednesday (July 7th) to pick it up. Enough was enough! He said he needed Wednesday morning to do the test drive / shake down. I said that they had time because of the trip. Mind you, it’s a 3+ hour drive each way from my house to Asheville, NC. We’d be there at noon.
My son has Wednesday’s off, so we drove up together. We got there at 11:45 am and all the coolant line were off. It was nowhere even CLOSE to being ready! He assured me they’d button it up; they just needed 90 minutes. I was like, fine! We’ll go to lunch and come back. Yeah, you guessed it… it was still in the same state when we got back. My son needed to get back because he was working early the next morning. So, I checked with Wes and told him the situation. He agreed that things would be done and my ride could go. So, my son left at 3 pm to make the trek back alone.
Yep… 5 pm things were looking worse! Went for a test drive with him on the highway. Upon accelerating on the on ramp onto the highway, engine goes dead. I mean DEAD! We’re in a panic since there’s hardly a shoulder. It’s turning over but not starting. Then BAM! It starts and we’re off for 2 seconds… he accelerates again and it dies AND volt meter shows 8.3v on battery. Strange??!! It was just at 12.3. I jump in back and get out the small lithium jumper set that I bought, jump it and we’re off again. Just limped it along to get off the highway. There’s DEFINITELY something wrong with it. We limped it all the way back to the shop where everyone just looked and scratched their heads…
It’s now 6 pm and I turn to Wes and state… my ride home left a few hours ago. What’s the next move? He lent me a car to drive home in until they are able to figure out what the heck was going on with it. That was July 7th… at the end of the day on Friday (July 9th), I get a call stating they don’t know what’s wrong with it and they need a wiring diagram. You see, my 1.9 TDI has an AHU block and AFN ancillaries. That’s how it was sold to me but I’m not mechanical so I didn’t understand the extent other than it was modernized with electronics. So, I guess two days were spent just poking and seeing what would happen but finally calling “uncle” and asking for wiring schematics.
I got busy contacting the previous owner, the previous, previous owner who restored the vehicle and even the previous mechanic who fixed the vehicle… all over the weekend and everyone being in the UK. By Monday morning (July 12th), I’m talking to Andy who made the wiring harness (from Syncro Sport in UK) for the Passat AFN which is installed on my 1.9 TDI AHU. He goes on to send me three PDF’s with ALL the pin outs… but it doesn’t stop there! He then diagnoses the problem and says what it probably is because he’s see this before! Holy crap! He’s like, this is the one that’s install in the ammo can, right?
So, I get this information over to Wes as soon as I can! This is a treasure trove of information which was DESPARATELY needed! It’s great that I’m learning what all is part of Van Diesel as well! I call Wes about 10 am to see if he got the email… he states, “I’m in your van right now”. In my mind, I’m thinking it’s up on the rack and they’re working on it. He was like… no, I’m driving it and it’s the farthest I’ve even gotten it to drive! I asked if he saw the emails and he did not. I told him every answer he needed was in the emails. He thought it was the N109 fuel cut off relay which they just installed a new one. I told him to look that stuff over which Andy sent. Then the killer blow… Andy, being the extremely helpful gent that he is, replies a bit later stating that it couldn’t be the N109 and explains himself further!
Status? Yea… I haven’t heard from Wes since that 10 am phone call on July 12th. I’ll only assume things are not going swimmingly though. Saga continues…
Looking back at the date of my last post (Oct. 28, 2020), it’s been a good few months! Where have I been? Well.. lots has happened, personally and in the world, since my last writing. COVID-19 remains to be top of mind with MOST of the world. All international travel has been restricted which means my business travel has stopped. This has enabled me to travel (safely) more locally.
One of our first adventures out was to a community car gathering with the AirCooled Drivers Guild at Aurora Coffee in Atlanta. It was a nice turn out of bugs and vans. Unfortunately, I didn’t go for the cruise with them afterwards! They got some REALLY good pictures in a parking lot with a graffiti wall. I did get a nice long shot of the parking lot we were in prior to the cruise.
Then my son and I were able to wash up our two classics and bring them over to a local school for a photo shoot. I enjoy spending time with my son as well as his passion for the 1967 Squareback!
Then once he’s clean, you KNOW you must get him dirty! We (son and I) headed up to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to meet up with the Southern Aircooled Group as they were doing a camping weekend. At this point, I still have NOT done a shake down of the van. I did attempt to fill up the water tank with water so I could make coffee on the road. The water tank appears to have a leak in it. (…add that to the work list) I also did a road trip to my father’s house up past Chattanooga, TN. We did a little off-road trail riding and muddy water was leaking in somewhere from the floor. That will have to be investigated as well. None the less, the road trips make for nice scenic pictures!
From there, I started digging into the vehicle because there seemed to be some gremlins popping up. I knew not everything would be rosy and perfect on a vehicle from 1989 bought sight unseen! With my perfectionist personality, it makes for a dangerous combination! I start having issues with the battery dying. I wasn’t too sure how everything was wired up but I knew that it had 3 automotive batteries in it. It turns out that the starter battery was leaking and not really holding a charge. So, that lead me down the road of starting to rip up the carpeting and seeing how the van was wired. I knew, this as well, would become part of my project list! (It’s growing quickly!)
None the less, it didn’t stop me from picking up a new starter battery and driving it down to Florida to see the in-laws during the winter holiday break! My daughter and I were able to get in some scuba as well as doing a proper road trip with the family.
On the way back from Florida (550 miles one way), we had our first “break down” moment. We were just cruising at 70 MPH in the slow lane when BAM! A puff of white smoke out the back of the van and loss of turbo and power from engine. I freaked because I didn’t know what could really be going on. Ruthie was… well, Ruthie. She’s started cursing at the van and saying how she didn’t trust him not breaking down. I had to have “the conversation” that these vehicles have feelings! You can’t talk about how they’ll break down and such! We pulled off to a gas station, checked fluids, filled gas and all was well.. until it wasn’t again.
Long story short, I frantically searched for a rental car place to get the family on the road while I dealt with the situation at hand. Needless to say, they got home about 15 minutes ahead of me! I just never really engaged the turbo to any degree and it sailed home! (Yep, add this to the work list as well!)
All in all, I’ve got a BIG list carved out! Most of the list are “wants” not needs. My game plan is going to be to pull out the entire interior. With it being bare on the inside, I can address any interior rust on the panels/floor, pull out the plumbing for LPG, convert the night time cabin heater to diesel plumbed into aux fuel tank, upgrade aux batteries to lithium and solar. Yea… that’s a LOT! It’s not going to happen over night! I mean, I’d like it to but then there’s reality (reality’s name is Ruthie… for what it’s worth!) . So, I’ll be trying to document the upgrades along the way. Most of the time, I’m snapping quick pictures and putting them up on Van Diesel’s Instagram.
The current plan of record is to bring it up to Westy Motorwerks in Asheville, NC. I had a “German master mechanic” look at it and let’s just say I didn’t see that partnership of a mechanic going anywhere. So, onto a new one that KNOWS these vehicles! Until next time…
The Westy world or even Syncro world is ALL new to me! Thus, there’s a TON to figure out. Not to mention, a customized Westy Syncro! What’s this switch for? What’s this gauge for? What’s the dummy light blinking at me for? Yes, all valid questions which I’m working through.
The first business of order was to make him road worthy. Thus, Van Diesel needed a new pair of American shoes! Quite honestly, I replaced him with a new pair of identical tires which were already on there; BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 235/85R 16″. Six of them all around! Four on the ground and two spares. The previous ones started cracking which leads to dry rot… I didn’t want to deal with that issue!
Again, the new ones are identical except… well, NEW! 🙂
My next little bit of work will be checking out the fresh water situation and then moving over to propane! The journey continues!
I stalk. That’s what I do. I went head first into a personal transaction (of sizable amount) with a person from halfway around the world during a global pandemic. On top of that, he was in Spain and the vehicle was parked at a shop in Wales! So, I started speaking with the community about this vehicle and current owner. Luck had it that this is a well known vehicle in the European Syncro community as is the owner AND the builder! Boom! I struck gold!
The next stalking I did was once it was on the car carrier transport once I figured out the export and got a company to do it. For whatever reason, they would only ship it to Brunswick, Georgia which is approximately 5 1/2 hours from where I live! (Ugh!) It’s worth it, right? I watched it as it left the UK, went dark as it crossed the pond and then hit the Northeastern US.
Then it bounced it’s way down the coast until getting to Port Brunswick.
…all the way to the port where it was moored.
That was JUST the journey across the sea, which I really was not a part of, was only the first part. I swear, if this Syncro could whisper.. I’d LOVE to hear the stories of where it’s been and what it’s seen! From the previous owners, my understanding is that it started out it’s life being built in Graz, Austria. Legend has it, that it’s one of the few which left the factory assembly line with the dual tire carriers in the rear. From there, it was sent to the Iranian oil fields to work in them. From there, the history gets cloudy but it was then picked up by a well-known builder in the UK / Syncronauts member.
“Goldie”, as she was known overseas, was a ground up restoration. He did extensive work putting in a 1.9 TDI engine, custom snorkel and just a WHOLE bunch of stuff! For me, it was the high top and three knob Syncro which drew me to it. You can literally pull into a town/city and camp in the high top without anyone knowing. This is a stark contrast to the Westfalia tent pop top where you’d have to push up the roof to sleep in the upper bunk. Additionally, this allows for storage when NOT sleeping up there. Lots of reasons why I wanted this one.
In the end, when I first set eyes on “Goldie”… I truly thought they had the gender wrong! This machine is not a female “Goldie” but a brutus off-road vehicle. In that moment I saw him on the dock in Brunswick, GA, she became a he and became Van Diesel!
As in any good journey, it always has a story. Mine is no different. My decision to get a VW Syncro was multi-faceted. In the end, I wanted to go somewhere (we’ll see where life brings me), something unique and yet functional. Once I figured out the platform, I had to find the vehicle. This is the background…
My mind was made up and I wanted the ability to go many places off of the beaten path. Somewhere which a normal family wouldn’t go or be able to go. This was fueled, initially, by the Forrest Fenn treasure hunt. Just having the ability to ‘get out there’ and see what’s in the countryside! I also started scuba diving and wanted a capable vehicle to make trips to different quarries and shorelines.
With the justification out of the way, it was a matter of finding “the one”. I started searching, mainly on The Samba, in mid-2019. This seems like one of the main spot which a lot of VW enthusiasts go for vehicles, parts and to share knowledge! I’ve stalked on that site for a few years now however I started to actively search for a vehicle. I found two that fit my criteria: VW Westfalia Syncro; preferably a 16″ and at least “one knob” (rear differential locker). These are the two which made my list at the end of 2019:
They both were the same but different in many ways. Both caught my attention, met my criteria and “sort of” my budget. You see, the NATO green on the bottom (above) was MUCH less the Goldie. However, I liked all the work which went into Goldie as much as a high top. For some reason, I just liked the idea of the top already being up versus “setting up camp”. So, I started my dialog with these sellers to find out more information.
In the end, Covid hit the world and everything changed. Borders and countries were shut down. The way that we “did things” just wasn’t the same as pre-Covid. This slowed the transaction down to a crawl on my end; let alone the fact I needed to find out how to export/import a vehicle from the UK to the USA! There’s “a guy” that does it, but his business model and willingness (or lack thereof) during these times were less than enthusiastic. Thus, I was on my own!
When I finally sold my Shelby GT350, it was game on. The race started but the world didn’t! Just when I thought I could do a little business or a border would open, it’d shut just as quickly. Meanwhile, the NATO green sold to a local buyer. That slimmed down my options to one. I reached out to that seller however he told me that, he too, had a buyer for his Syncro. Double drats! Although, he told me he’d contact me if something were to change. Things ALWAYS change.
He reached out and we did the deal. However, it was MUCH longer than expected with a global pandemic going on. If I recall correctly, we seriously started speaking in February 2020 and Goldie (to be renamed Van Diesel) landed on US soil October 2nd, 2020.
Where do I begin? I guess almost any story has a beginning, a middle, and an end… right? Well, you’re jumping right into the middle of mine! You see, I turned 50 three years ago on this very day. With that birthday came a gift to myself; a 2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350. I’ve always wanted that car; when they redesigned them with that flat plane crank there was NO going back! It was a dream of mine! At 50, I sort of felt that I worked hard enough to get it. With some bartering back and forth with my wife, it became reality. With that reality became another reality: my 17 year old son now had the REAL yearning to learn and drive a manual transmission.
I knew darn well my son wouldn’t be getting behind the wheel of the Shelby, which we appropriately named “The Beast”. It was just that… a damn scary car to drive! I can see why all the kids at car shows take these things sideways into crowds! It was so easy to lose that ass end but in that same breath; being able to let off the accelerator and it snaps right back into line of where you’re going. It was amazing! That distinct engine sound that was modeled off of a Ferrari flat plan crank. Beautiful and throaty with that low end growl which climbed through all 2 gears. Yep! I said it! First gear did about 53 and second gear you’re nearing 100. The gear box had 6 gears but there was little reason to use but three or 4!
So, I was left with the “dilemma” of teaching my son a life lesson and learning on a manual gearbox. So, as any good father would do, I needed to make some decisions. What’s a relatively inexpensive car, easy to fix, cheap parts, and ability to learn auto / mechanics skills? In steps the 1967 VW Type 3 Squareback! It met ALL the criteria! (Did I mention that either car I wanted to be able to have fun going to local car shows with?) Along with the aforementioned list of criteria, I wanted something with some type of significance. It all fell into place because 1967 was when I was born! I told my son that when I passed, I’d be willing these cars to him; one was my birth year car and the other my 50th bday gift. (No, I couldn’t afford a 1967 GT350… just for the record!) Thus, my son learned stick on the Squareback which we affectionately call “Volksy”.
Fast forward to today or the days / weeks leading up to today. I’m getting older… we’re ALL getting older! The Beast was a car that you ACTIVELY had to drive; even going down the highway, those WIDE tires would grab a rain groove in the pavement and off it’d go pulling! I had fun driving it and I DID drive it. However, I knew there was much more to it and I couldn’t just see it being a ‘garage queen’ as any car needs to be driven! I started thinking about my current life and future life as I get ready to retire and do other activities; whether that be biking, running, scuba or whatever life may throw at me! I started to float the idea of getting a new vehicle which my wife, in no short order, put a “two fun vehicle sanction” on me! So, I had that frank conversation with my son… which one would he want? I mean, what car would any 19/20 year old, young man want, right? Yea, no. My son went with Volksy! Hell, he’s had almost squatter’s rights on it almost from day one. That’s the car for him!
That left a nice budget for me to work with! I knew that I was starting to do more scuba and outdoor activities so I started looking at the run of the mill Jeeps and Forerunners. They’re nice vehicles but there are SO many of them and they really lack personality or character. That’s when I started digging deeper as well as attempting to figure out what I “wanted”. I decided, for scuba, that I’d want 4WD capabilities due to possibly going on beaches or driving back on old quarry roads. I also wanted the flexibility of being able to hit the high road and doing any possible road excursion which might (or not) come my way. There’s a TON of the country that I’d LOVE to see one day! That threw me down the rabbit hole of “overlanding” and seeking those vehicles. Quite frankly, I was pretty close to purchasing a Defender 110 but there was the outfitting part which I was stuck on. Did I want a roof tent or towing a small trailer. Roof tent was more a “purists” view however I then had to worry about the kitchen setup. On the other hand, there’s a new breed of overland 4×4 campers out there that made it compelling. Yet, my wife kept reminding me that I had a budget to work within.
Being a part of TheSamba.com with Volksy, I wasn’t naïve to VW’s offerings in this area. As I started digging, a whole new world opened up to me (and still is) surrounding the Westfalia Syncro line. I started digging and finding out more as well as upsides and downs. Then I found these more aggressive looking Syncros which REALLY caught my eye! There was one in Seattle and two others in the UK. That’s when I found out of such a unicorn called a 16” Syncro! It appears that most Syncros in the US are 14” with mods to make them similar in specs to the big brother counterparts which were not imported into the USA. As I stated, I started getting serious speaking to three owners. As I started calculating shipping costs, I found that importing a REAL 16” was approximately the same price as transporting one in the US which, quite frankly, was a 14” on steroids.
These were the two that won me over! Each having their own character and styling. I started negotiations with both owners probably around November 2019. I didn’t know anything about importing but “there’s a guy” over there that seems to be the contact that can make it all happen. My next chore was to sell “The Beast”. Well, with holidays and then.. (cue villain song) Coronavirus. That put a LOT on hold. I lucked out and was able to sell the Shelby fairly quickly and locally. However, making an overseas purchase proved to be WAY more challenging. It’s challenging enough under “normal” circumstances however with infection rates, countries opening and closing borders, and all of that… well, it’s now the end of September 2020! With that, the green Syncro was sold locally in the UK as well as the gold. However, the seller of the gold one contacted me a month or so later (around maybe the end of July) to tell me that his buyer backed out.
Since then, it’s been a flurry of activities from learning about the export/import process, currency exchange / transfers as well as MANY other things! However, “Van Diesel” will be on US soil October 2, 2020. It’s already hit several ports in the US already however I’m in the southeast and probably one of the last ports. The name is a play of words due to the Vanagon being a diesel. Enough said. I’ll be attempting to post and vlog as time goes on! Until then… you have my back story and I’m sticking to it!