Expedition Portal Classifieds :: 1989 VW Syncro Camper

Modern vehicles certainly have some advantages when it comes to performance, reliability, and available parts. But it’s hard to beat the character of a classic adventure rig, especially the Volkswagen Syncro. The beloved, boxy T3 body style was produced from 1979 to 1991, with production of the 4WD Syncro continuing into 1992 at VW’s Austrian manufacturing facility.

Over the years, the Syncro camper has become an extremely hot commodity, and finding a reasonably priced vehicle can be quite the challenge. However, despite the fact that there are many other capable and affordable offroad vehicles to be had, there is no denying the coolness that one experiences when cruising down the trail in a classic Syncro.

If you are one of those people (like me) that just LOVE these VW rigs, check out ExPo forum member Mike McRae’s 1989 VW Syncro Camper which is currently for sale.

 

From Mike

“As I approached retirement, I started looking for the vehicle that would take my wife, me, and our dog to the remote areas we love to explore. As a backpacker in the Sierras for the last 45 years, I love the combination of solitude and beautiful scenery that you can find when you are willing to hike off-trail. So I decided to find a vehicle that could get us close to these locations and offer a few creature comforts.”

 

“My criteria for the vehicle – a true 4WD, small and maneuverable, comfortable inside sleeping/living, and acceptable fuel economy. After lots of research, I settled on finding a Syncro.  The previous owner had bought the van in western Colorado in the early 2000s where it had first been registered. The previous owner found Stephans Autohaus (SAH) and worked with Stephan during the development of the 1.8T conversion. The van was originally a tin top but was completely rust free and had the engine that I believe is the best option for both reliability and power, so I purchased the vehicle and immediately started building the vehicle I had been dreaming of.”

“We started the mechanical work with the addition of front and rear lockers, a decoupler, heavy-duty rear axles, disc brakes front and back, and a complete front end/suspension rebuild. I was very lucky to find a wrecked 2WD camper in my hometown with a pristine interior, so I purchased that vehicle and salvaged the interior and pop-top that SAH used to convert the vehicle to a camper. The vehicle was completely stripped during that process, painted inside and out, along with the installation of sound, vibration, and thermal insulation.  I also added the stainless steel water tank, heat exchanger, and outdoor shower during this stage of the build. And of all the features of the van, the hot outdoor shower is close to my wife’s favorite. After a week of backpacking and re-provisioning with fresh food, there is nothing more satisfying than a hot shower, a cold beverage, and a comfortable bed while still being out in the wild.”

 

“We have continued to refine the vehicle to assure reliability over the years and have enjoyed every minute of our vehicle-based adventures. Working with SAH to build the Syncro has been a pleasure and the vehicle truly showcases the expertise of Stephan and his crew.”

“We have explored the coastlines, mountains, and deserts of California and Oregon as well as Nevada’s wonderful basin and range, and Utah’s and Arizona’s canyons.  And on every one of our trips we have found spectacular campsites that only a small 4WD can access. It is hard to pick a favorite trip because they have all been wonderful, but our adventure to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is certainly one of the best. We found a magical campsite under a centuries-old Pinon Pine right on the rim, and used that camp as a base to explore the canyon on foot.”

 

SPECS

 

Exterior

  • Van completely stripped and painted inside and out
  • All new window/door/roof seals
  • New hardware for luggage rack
  • Powdercoated all exterior door/top hardware and wiper arms.
  • Linex rocker panels
  • Rocky Mountain Westy bumpers
  • Rocky Mountain Westy spare tire carrier
  • Gary Lee ladder rack (carries two bikes and a 5-gallon jerrycan)
  • Shady Boy Awning (chosen for low profile and light weight)
  • 160-watt solar panel on roof (mounted on custom rack integrated with Yakima rack)
  • Electrical port in rear bumper to plug in folding solar panels or to run air compressor
  • 18-gallon stainless steel water tank
  • Glind hot water system (heat exchanger that allows you to heat the entire 18 gallons to desired temperature will driving, pump mounted in custom waterproof box under van)
  • GoWesty hook up boxes (inside water, outside water, shore power/charging, shower hookup)
  • Hella Fog lamps
  • GoWesty backup light system (switched so it can be turned off)
  • GoWesty external LED package
  • Keyless entry and alarm system
  • Canvas from Northwesty (Sunbrella fabric)

 

Interior

  • Truck fridge (TF49)
  • ProSport battery charger
  • Power Bright 900-watt inverter
  • GoWesty power window kit (more robust switches and wiring arrangement)
  • Fully soundproofed (system from Cascade Audio Engineering)
  • Alpine sound system with Polk Audio speakers
  • Bogart Engineering battery meter
  • GoWesty auxiliary battery kit
  • Propex heater
  • GoWesty instrument panel circuit board system
  • Steering wheel from 1993 Eurovan
  • All interior panels and carpet kit from Sewfine
  • Mattress topper from GoWesty
  • Custom drawers under backseat and below fridge
  • Two Rocky Mountain Westy under-seat locking drawers
  • USB charging points in cockpit and living area
  • LED lights both sides
  • Front console
  • Ram mount for iPad based navigation

 

Mechanical

  • Stephans Autohaus 1.8T with APR tuning and air-over-water intercooler
  • Rebuilt transmission (appx. 30,000 on transmission)
  • Rebuilt front differential (appx. 20,000 on differential)
  • Locking front and rear differentials
  • Decoupler
  • Clutch (appx. 10,000 on clutch)
  • Completely rebuilt suspension with bushings from T3 Technique, ball joints, etc.
  • Heavy-duty sway bar from T3 Technique
  • Porsche 930 rear axles
  • Disc brakes front and back (Audi setup from Small Car Performance)
  • Old Man Emu shocks with Small Car Performance Springs
  • Burley upper control arms
  • Stainless steel coolant lines
  • Radiator (appx. 30,000 on radiator)
  • ScanGauge II

 

Recent Maintenance

  • New wiring harness front to back with all new connectors
  • New timing belt
  • New water pump
  • New AC hoses front to back
  • New front blower motor
  • New heater core assembly
  • New brake master cylinder
  • New BMW brake booster
  • Rebuilt airbox (air vents actually work!)
  • Coolant flush
  • Transmission fluid
  • Brake fluid
  • Front axles serviced (including new boots)
  • Brand new Sun Xtender house battery (104 amp hr) and new starter battery
  • New rollers for sliding door
  • Brand new BFG KO2 tires

 

 

Mike’s 1989 VW Syncro Camper is listed for sale at $60,000. Check out the original listing and contact Mike via the ExPo forum classified section.


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Matthew Swartz is originally from Connecticut and currently lives in Denver, Colorado where he passionately pursues rock climbing, trail running, and skiing. Matt’s love of travel has inspired him to through-hike the JMT and part of the PCT, bike across the United States, and explore the West coast of South America from Ecuador to Patagonia. Matt and his partner Amanda have also travelled across much of the Western US in their 1964 Clark Cortez RV, which they lived in, on the road for the better part of three years. Matt has worked for the USFS as an Interpretive Ranger and Wildland Firefighter and Matt's photography and writing has been published in Rova Magazine, the Leatherman blog, 'Hit The Road' by Gestalten Publishing, and Forbes.