1991 VW Vanagon Syncro — Update

Since I completed the conversion process, I discovered that my gearbox was in unhappy shape. In the interest of keeping the spiraling costs of the project in check (ha!), I decided to forgo having the gearbox gone through. I did this for two reasons: 1. I’d driven the donor from Maine to Colorado and aside from leaks, the gearbox seemed to be fine and 2. I had no experience with how the van was going to perform with stock gearing combined with the taller 215/70R16 off-road tires it was now going to be spinning. I knew I’d want custom gearing, at some point, but I wanted a baseline to make an intelligent decision when the time came to alter the gears.

I’d replaced the input shaft seal and the drive flange seals prior to installing the gearbox into the van, but after putting some miles on it, it revealed it had leaks in a number of other places. Mostly at gasket flanges and the reverse idler gear shaft. I was also starting to find it hard to come out of 4th gear. On top of it, it had horrible road performance. The overall gearing was too tall, but the worst was the jump from 2nd to 3rd. I’d have to rev it high in 2nd, but so much momentum would be lost by the time I got to 3rd (particularly uphill) that it would fall out of the power band and was pretty unhappy about getting up to speed in 3rd.

My first proper off-road “excursion” in it was in Joshua Tree, CA while driving around after visiting the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum. I’d found this really steep loose-dirt hill while driving around on unpaved roads in the desert. As many a photographer will caveat, the picture doesn’t do it justice. This was it. I’d built this van to do precisely this sort of thing and all I’d done with it so far was highway and paved road miles. I used to ride and race off-road enduro-class motorcycles, but I had zero experience off-roading 4WD vehicles. I looked at my lovely assistant and she gave me the nod of approval. I reached down pulled the center knob to engage 4WD and pulled the right knob to engage the rear locker. I selected 1st gear and started up the hill. Very quickly it was clear that 1st was a rookie-move wrong choice. I stopped and engaged the special Syncro low gear aka “Gelände” and up we crawled giggling the whole way to the top. It can actually moto up crazy terrain! We were ecstatic and hooked.

The Syncro’s First Hill Climb

The decision was made upon returning home from the desert to make the huge investment in the gearbox, gearing and adding a front differential lock. After several emails with Mike at GoWesty, the decision was made to go with the 27% lower 6.17 ring and pinion gears, custom 2nd, 3rd and 4th gear ratios, two Peloquin limited slip differentials, a front differential lock and, lastly, a solid shaft to eliminate the viscous coupler. My gads, sir, this was an expensive endeavor. Given the significantly lower gearing, my 215 tires were too short. To add to the financial excitement, I needed to get larger tires and selected 235/70R16 BF Goodrich All Terrain TA KO2 tires. These are a much more aggressive tire than the original KO I had prior.

Somewhere in between all this happening I’d also sourced a fifth Mercedes CLK wheel for a spare, had all five powder coated black, added an ARB on-board air compressor for airing up tires, added a GoWesty front skid plate, rear swing away tire carrier and their front hitch mount and Hi-Lift jack mount to the front. The rear swing away mount was upgraded again to accept two RotoPax 2 gallon jerrycans in addition to the tire carrier.

Clad with 235/70R16 BF Goodrich KO2 Tires

The gearing has made a massive difference in drivability. As I bonus, I’ve gained much needed acceleration. The only negative is I’m spinning the engine higher at freeway speeds, but that is a compromise that is part of the package. Off-highway, the van has more gears to use for traversing technical terrain. Eliminating the viscous coupling has made the 4WD system, when engaged, 100% locked front-to-rear. The LSDs improve traction when my differential locks aren’t set and the front and rear lockers pretty much make this beast as capable as can be.

Driving over Hi Mountain Road between Pozo and Arroyo Grande, CA the Syncro made short work of the recently rained upon, severely rutted dirt roads. I dunked it in a couple of bottom-of-door deep, vehicle-sized puddles and descending into and climbing up and out of the mud was nothing.

Heading into a Mud Hole

A couple of young men in a Subaru wagon heading the opposite way encountered us coming downhill and they began bowing “We’re not worthy!” style at the sight of us. That was kinda awesome and produced wide grins all around.

I’m extremely proud of this build and cannot wait to continue my expedition-grade outfitting. Lighting and a winch is up next and, possibly, a roof mounted safari basket for additional gear. Recaro seating will be a welcome addition, too.

The Gargantuan on TV Tower Road

1991 VW T3 Syncro Conversion — To the Alignment Shop and Beyond

I called my favorite local tire store, American West Tire Pros, and made an appointment for an alignment at 1:00. That gave me some time to finish up a few small things that were left. There were two brackets for the new rear bumper that I needed to install, as they use two of the engine cradle bolts to connect to. With the engine in place, I could now install them. I also installed the rear skid plate and tightened up all the skid rail bolts. I also hadn’t wired the clutch cruise control switch. I had physically installed it on my zombie day, but hadn’t wired it. Once that was done I was able to put the steering column cover back on and the interior was all back together. I then did another bleed of the cooling system, making sure the fan cycled on and off a few times. It was time to drive it.

I carefully cruised down the street and around the block. I heard some scraping noises and  headed back to the shop. The alignment was really out of whack and it handled pretty strange, too. Once I had it up on the lift, I discovered the front calipers were scraping the the rotors at the furthest most point of their diameter. The driver’s side was pretty badly scored. Further examination revealed the calipers were heavily offset to the inside, hence the scraping. They are GoWesty’s big brake calipers that I’d installed several years ago. I can only assume the Syncro required spacers between the caliper and the hangar and I hadn’t noticed this when I installed them. I headed over to my local hardware store and picked up four hardened washers of about the right thickness. I got those installed and the wheels back on with just enough time to make my 1:00 appointment.

With the van aligned, I drove to Shell for a few more gallons of fuel. While it was filling I noted a small leak from the fill hose to the fill pipe. Tightening the clanp some more would cure that. I had remembered that I had the gearbox filled a year ago, when driving the donor across county, with the wrong gear oil. The place I had stopped for service only had GL5 and the van needs GL4. I headed back to the shop to take care of this. After draining and refilling the gearbox and front differential, I headed out to do “laps” on my favorite test run around the neighborhood. There are some long bumpy straights, a steep climb into a section of road on a hill that reminds me of Laguna Seca’s corkscrew and a high speed section wirh a decent sweeper. It is a big loop and offers a different experience if driven clockwise or anti-clockwise, so I like to do both.

Filling the Tank

What has been so very strange, that is hard to truly quantify to anyone reading this, is how different my van sounds, rides, handles, vibrates, uses the engine’s power band and simply feels. There are aspects that are remotely similar. I did drive a Syncro acoss country from Maine to Denver and there are definitely aspects of my van’s handling that feel similar to the donor. For sure, all of this running gear is the donor! However, I’ve replaced every bushing with high performance urethane, I put in a brand new driveshaft to replace the horrifficly vibrating one and I have an exhaust system, so I can actually hear what the van sounds like. Plus, I have my much larger wheels & tires, which affect the gearing and my engine is a much more powerful one than the donor’s. Above all of this, though, my sense memory is highly tuned to how my van used to feel. All these foreign noises and sensations are tirggering alarms in my mind. I’m having to let go of my memories and start totally fresh again, as though this were a completely new vehicle to me. Yes, it really feels that differently.

After a few laps I began to develop a trust in it and the realization of my accomplishment began sinkiing in. The whirlwind was over, the project completed and the shift towards trip planning and exploration was beginning. As trite as it sounds, I can finally answer, “Yes,” to the offed asked, “Is that a Syncro?”


1991 VW Syncro — Driven in and out of Shop!

I got the day rolling by finishing the engine install. I took extra time sorting the wiring harness routing and also discovered more Syncro-specific changes I needed to make. The airbox mounts to the body and, with the engine sitting lower, the intake boot between the air flow meter and the throttle body needed to be swapped with the one from the donor. Fortunately, it was in good condition. The other item was the oil filler tube. The van has a trap door behind the license plate that gains access to the dipstick, oil filler and coolant overflow bottle. With the engine lower, the 2WD filler tube was too low and the angle was wrong, causing it to foul the heat shield tin. There is also a coolant bleed line that runs the perimeter of the engine compartment and with it mounted to the body, the lower sitting engine, plus the changes in the Syncro’s cooling system meant the original coolant lines were too short. Of course it is special small diameter coolant line that no one has at the local parts stores. I discovered, too, that I had neglected to purchase one of the larger Syncro-specific coolant hoses. There is four and I’d gotten all but one. GoWesty had also sold me the incorrect seal for the front differential input shaft. Fortunately, my lovely assistant was available to drive down to GoWesty and pick up the parts we needed.

Syncro Intake Boot & Idle Stabilizer Line

One of the cool Syncro parts is a little dust separator that lives in-line from the intake snorkel to the airbox. It is a small device with fixed vanes in it that, as the air passes through, must cause a vortex which directs dust into a small bowl that is clipped to the bottom. Neat!

Syncro Dust Separator & New Silicone Boot

The power steering pump was still wired up out of the way from the engine removal, so I decided to remove it and its reservoir and associated hoses/lines to be cleaned/rebuilt. I bought a pump rebuild kit from GoWesty and was really looking forward to getting this thing resealed. It has been leaking for awhile now and everything in the vicinity was messy. I disassembled the pump and reservoir and thoroughly cleaned all the bits and then reassembled it with the new seals. It was a joy to finally have a clean reservoir and pump. I got them installed, filled the reservoir and gave the pump several rotations by hand to, hopefully, prime it. With the engine in the back and the rack in the front there is an awfully long way for the power steering fluid to travel.

Disgusting Power Steering Pump & Reservoir

All the Bits Clean and Ready for Assembly

Around that time my lovely assistant returned with my parts and I got the hoses in and started filling the cooling system. Again, with the engine in the back and the radiator and heater core in the front there is a fair amount of bleeding to do to eliminate all the air in the lines. At this time, I just let it gently fill on its own since I wasn’t ready to start the engine.

I replaced the front differential input shaft seal, installed the drive shaft flange and then the driveshaft itself. I’d bought a new drive shaft to replace the ridiculously badly vibrating one from the donor. I loosely hung the skid rails to get them up off the floor and in preparation for when I would install the rear skid plate.

Skid Rails & New Driveshaft

I moved onto the interior. I hooked up the main and auxiliary batteries and closed up their compartments. I swiveled the seats back around the right way and set about installing the two vacuum switches for the front differential lock and the decoupler. I hadn’t run the vacuum lines into the passenger compartment yet, so I did that and spent time under the van getting them bundled and zip tied safely and neatly out of the way. Once I had the Syncro control panel all hooked up and installed again, I got out my hand vacuum pump and hooked it to the decoupler and locker engage fittings and applied vacuum. I switched on the ignition and verified that the engage lights were lit on the control panel — success! I had upgraded my dash lights with blue LEDs. I had a couple of spares and installed them in the Syncro control panel. The panel has a green tinted plastic image, that illuminates green for each part of the system — front diff lock engaged, decoupler engaged, rear diff lock engaged — and I was pleased to see my blue LEDs were able to still shine blue through the green tint.

Decoupler Engaged

I still needed to make the rear brake lines. I could only source 20″ or 30″ universal lines locally and since I don’t have a quality bubble flare tool (I will definitely be getting one), I had to make do with the 30″ since the 20″ was nearly exactly what I already had. It was very annoying, because the 20″ was just barely too short, which meant the 30″ was ridiculously too long. I had to make sweeping “S” bends to use up all the excessive length. The esses run along the top of the trailing arms, so they are basically protected and out of the way. I will be making proper length lines once I get the correct flare tool. Once the lines were in, I summoned my lovely assistant and she helped me bleed the brakes and clutch.

Crazy S-Bend Brake Line

I’d put off the process of switching the oil filler tubes, so I set about doing so. I drained the engine oil, replaced the filter and removed the 2WD filler tube. Then I went out to the donor and removed the tube from the old engine. I cleaned, disassembled, bead blasted, painted, reassembled and, finally, installed it. I added five fresh quarts of Mobil 1 15/50 and gave everything a double check prior to starting the engine. I got it fired and finished filling the power steering system. I ran the steering wheel through its motion left and right to get the system online and fluid running through it fully. I also continued the process of adding coolant and bleeding the system.

I set the van on the ground and pulled it out of the shop and backed it back in. It was nearing midnight and definitely bed time.

Day Thirteen complete!

1991 VW T3 Syncro Conversion — Engine In and Getting Closer

When I got into the shop I spent some time cleaning old paint from the Syncro fuel filler door trim. It is held on by two easy to access and remove Philips screws. Some lazy clod must have left it on when doing some paint work on der Thunderwagen and had gotten gold overspray on its leading and trailing edges. I spent a lengthy amount of time with lacquer thinner and a fresh razor blade getting the old paint off. After I installed the trim and put the van up in the air, I discovered a very small puddle of fuel under the fuel tank outlet. After way too much time screwing around, I solved the issue, but I had to drain the tank and that brought back memories of lying on the dissolving asphalt in Denver under der Thunderwagen in a puddle of burning fuel from head to thigh. Yikes!

Fuel Filler Door Trim Installed

After that, I called for my lovely assistant and she helped me install the left front shock and spring. Again, the new spring compressor made a massive difference in making the job much easier. I finished by buttoning up the left front suspension. The front end was essentially done. I was curious to see how the van sat, so I hung the rear wheels with a couple of lug nuts and set the van on the floor. Wow, it is so tall!

The first time in nearly two weeks the van sits on the ground

Once again, there are Syncro-specific differences to the engine setup. The engine and transmission sit lower in the Syncro since there needs to be room for the front of the transmission to clear the rear crossmemeber and allow for a driveshaft to bolt up to it’s forward output flange. The engine cradle and rear heat shield tin needed to be swapped, as well as the muffler saddles. Also, since I was converting from automatic to manual, I needed to replace the flex plate with a proper flywheel and clutch. Part of that process involves setting the crankshaft endplay (thrust clearance). The crankshaft pulley on the Syncro has a different seal designed for fording rivers — no joke (I’m realizing I’ve done very little write up on the Syncro and why it is a remarkable vehicle. More on that later). The setup has a special sleeve that is pressed onto the hub of the crank pulley and the seal is, obviously, different as a result.

Flywheel & Clutch Installed

Crankshaft Pulley, Original Seal, Syncro Seal Sleeve & Syncro Seal

Sleeve Pressed on Pulley Hub

With all that done, it was time to install the engine. Once it was in, I hooked up a few easy things, but it was late and I was spent.

Engine on Jack and Ready to Go

Day Twelve Complete!

1991 VW T3 Syncro — Final Welding, Transmission Install & Loose Ends

Overnight, I’d remembered that I hadn’t installed the Syncro-specific engine cradle yet (the engine and transmission sit a bit lower in the Syncro), which means I could bolt on the entire skid assembly since the engine/transmission guard mounts to the engine cradle. Getting it all bolted up located the crossmember mounts to be welded in perfectly. I did a couple of quick tack welds, removed the entire skid assembly and welded the mounts fully on. When they had cooled, I hit them with some black engine enamel. I also needed to install the rivet nuts for the transmission mounting brackets into the same crossmember, so I got that done and bolted in the brackets. I grabbed the two new urethane transmission mounts, greased them and installed them into the brackets.

Skid Rail Mounting Brackets Welded In & Transmission Mounts Bolted In

The automatic’s rear CV axles are different than the manual transmission ones in that they are different lengths left and right. The manual transmission has equal length axles. Since I had recently done CV joints and boots, I removed them from the automatic’s axles and transplanted them on the manual’s axles.

At that point, I’d heard the mail carrier drive off and, thinking it Thursday, went to see if my spring compressor had arrived. Well, it may as well have been Thursday, as it arrived a day early. Wanting to put my mind at ease about installing the left front shock/spring, I set up the compressor and used it on the right side. What a massive improvement over my old setup. I set the ride height by adjusting the spring perch to my pre-determined measurement and removed the compressor. I then bolted up the upper ball joint, installed the brake rotor, caliper and bolted up the front wheel. I left the sway bar disconnected, as it will be easier to hook it up at the same time as the left side. Seeing a wheel back on the van definitely felt like progress.

Right Front Suspension Assembled

I needed to finish the prep-work on the transmission. I replaced the drive flange seals and the input shaft seal. I greased the throwout bearing shaft and installed the bearing. I also remembered the accelerator cable bracket needed to be bolted on, so I installed it. The transmission was ready to install, so I called for my lovely assistant and she helped me remove the automatic transmission from my transmission jack and heave the manual up onto it. I got the transmission in place, attached the vent line fitting and jacked it into position. After bolting the mounts to the transmission, I installed both CV axles and removed the transmission jack.

Transmission on Jack and in Position

Transmission Installed

Once the transmission was in, the rest of my day was spent on many little tasks. I started with hooking up the electrical connections to the transmission’s reverse light switch, locking differential engaged light switch, decoupler engaged light switch and the starter. I also hooked up the pneumatic lines to the locking differential air solenoid. The decoupler lines needed to be final routed, as they are a new addition and aren’t pre-cut.. I’d previously run them back there, but without the transmission in place, they were left long. The new lines are both white. Originally, one would be blue (disconnect) and one white (engage); as was the case with my locking differential lines. I had some blue heat shrink tubing, so I shrunk a piece onto the end of one of the lines to mark it as the disconnect line. Once I fit the other end of the lines to the dash switch, I’ll use the heat shrink up there, too. For now a piece of blue masking tape would serve to ID the other end of the line. I also installed the rear half of the shift rod and bolted it to the transmission. I’d replaced all the wear parts with new parts with GoWesty’s various improved shift linkage bits. I connected the stainless braided clutch line to the hard line and used the original clamp to secure it to the crossmember.

Next, I set about gathering and tidying the wiring harnesses. I used lots of cable ties, including some with eyelets and sheet metal screws to secure them firmly to the frame. With the transmission in, I installed the rear half of the stainless steel coolant pipes. Once they were in place, I then tidied the heater hoses by cable tying them to the coolant pipes. I moved up front and did the same treatment for the speedometer cable and the coolant lines leading up to the heater valve and radiator. The undercarriage of the van is really looking sorted!

Coolant Hoses & Wiring Tidied

The final part of my day was spent drilling mounting holes and mounting the fuel filter, EVAP charcoal canister and AC receiver/drier. The Syncro’s fuel filter is sort of hidden up behind the left upper spring perch. The EVAP canister lives in the right rear wheel well on a 2WD, but is on the left side on a Syncro. The receiver/drier has to be moved a bit to make room for the EVAP canister. I initially thought I was going to have to fabricate a longer AC line, but after some creative massaging, I was able to successfully relocate the reciever/drier without doing so.

EVAP Canister & Receiver/Drier Installed

There really is very little left to do. I need to install the flywheel, clutch, Syncro-specific crank pulley seal, engine cradle and Syncro muffler saddles. Once that is done the engine can be installed. After that, I need to fabricate the metal brake lines for the trailing arms, bleed the brakes and clutch, install the left front shock/spring, connect the upper ball joint, install the rotor and caliper and hook up the sway bar. I still need to run the pneumatic lines for the front differential lock and then connect both those lines and the ones for the decoupler to the dash switches. I’ll need to recharge the AC, too. All of that really isn’t all that much.

Day Eleven complete!

1991 VW T3 Syncro — Transmission & Fuel Tank

I decided to get a late start  in the shop. The previous day’s struggle with the shock left me feeling depleted. I was meeting with a new client and felt the shop wasn’t looking as presentable as I’d like it to, so I spent a good part of my first stint out there cleaning up. As I was doing this, I was quite amazed at how many parts were on the van and no longer in bins, boxes or stashed around the shop floor. What a nice feeling!

I dove back into the van by setting up the transmission. I replaced the clutch throwout shaft and its bushings. The original shaft was damaged by rust and I had to cut part of it off to remove it. GoWesty sold me a nice used one and I also bought an upgraded bushing for it. The original was a plastic sleeve with two rubber bushings that were exhausted. The replacement is a sold bronze bushing that is a much nicer affair. After that, I installed the clutch slave cylinder brackets and the actuation arm and clutch slave cylinder. I opted for a braided stainless line to replace the original plastic line for the slave cylinder and installed that, too. The Syncro has a pair of metal coolant crossover pipes that bolt to the transmission and I installed that assembly. The hoses will be attached once the engine is back in the van. I also changed the seal on the locking differential vacuum solenoid and installed it on its freshly painted bracket. I had a nice GoWesty high-torque starter that I bought a year or so ago, but it was for the automatic, so I had purchased a new one for the Syncro. It required some reconfiguration per GoWesty’s instructions to allow it to fit. With that completed, I bolted it to the transmission.

I saw the other front CV axle sitting on the bench and decided now was a good time to assemble and install it on the left side in preparation for getting the front end done Thursday when the new spring compressor arrives.

The next big thing was drilling two holes for bolts to be run through the firewall to hang the rear fuel tank straps from. The original mild steel fuel tank straps/saddles are the first thing to deteriorate on a Syncro. They just don’t stand the test of time. GoWesty sells a complete stainless steel set that are a welcome change. I installed the rear straps and also a little bracket for holding the fuel lines. I then set about sorting out the routing and retaining of wiring, pneumatic lines and front differential vent tube back where the fuel tank lives.The vent tube is a plastic tube the runs from a fitting on the front differential. The tube is then routed high up and above the rear mounted fuel tank. This is to allow the differential to vent and not allow foreign material (e.g. water) to be introduced to it. There is a similar vent for the transmission and another for the clutch. The military influenced 4WD touches are really pretty cool. Once I was certain of how these all needed to be routed and they were secured, I installed the fuel tank. The fuel tank is much easier to put in than it is to take out. It is sort of a wedge fit and once it is up in there, it stays put on its own. I installed the forward fuel tank saddles and then attached them to the straps and cinched them up tight. With the fuel tank in, I hooked up the sending unit wiring and installed the fuel pump on its mount of the left fuel tank saddle. I re-ran the fuel pump wiring harness and plumbed the fuel pump’s inlet and outlet. I installed the fuel filter into its bracket and connected the fuel hoses. I still need to drill two holes for the filter’s mount to be attached. From there it was a matter of running the fuel tank’s vent hose to the filler neck. I installed the metal filler pipe and connected that to the rubber fill hose coming down from the filler neck. The filler neck was then attached to its mount. I filled the fuel tank with the 5 or so gallons I’d saved from when I’d drained the original tank. No leaks!

Fuel Tank Installed and Strapped in

Left Saddle with Integrated Fuel Pump Mount

Connections at Filler Neck

It was getting pretty late, but I decided to install the aluminum coolant junction at the firewall (another GoWesty upgrade from the original plastic) and the right rear shock, now that the fuel tank was in.

Coolant Junction

Right Rear Shock

I then gathered the two skid rails and connected them to their mounts on the front subframe. They run back to the rear crossmember and are attached to two brackets that are welded to the crossmember. The rails have a little crossmember of their own that ties them together, which I installed. I then attached the two brackets that I’d removed from the donor. I swung the whole assembly up to the rear crossmember. The idea here was to find the location for the two brackets in order for me to weld them on. Interestingly enough they had been spot welded to the frame of the donor and I’d drilled out the two very large welds, which left holes in them. One hole on each bracket lined up perfectly with the threaded holes in the crossmember for the 2WD transmission mount, so I bolted them up in place. This will hold them for tack welding, prior to fully welding them in.

Skid Rails Bolted up

Skid Rail Mounts to be Welded in

Day Ten complete!

1991 VW T3 Syncro Conversion — Subframe Madness

I started the day out by drilling out the two broken fasteners in the differential. My technique is to center punch the broken fastener and then use ever increasing diameter drills until the broken bolt is so thin walled, that it can be wound out with a pick or pliers. Sometimes I have to collapse a wall of the now tube-like piece and pluck it out with a pick or needle nose pliers or what have you. I don’t trust “easy outs” or the usual broken bolt extractors. For one, if the bolt sheared off its head trying to come out, then it is really stuck fast. I’ve broken off an extractor in a broken fastener, which is a wretched situation. For now, you have a piece of broken tool steel in, what used to be, a mild steel, easily drilled piece of material. No thanks.

With that done, I finished up the job of replacing the output shaft seals and installed the differential into the subframe assembly. With that ready to go, I “offered up” (love the Queen’s English) the subframe to the body of the van and bolted it in.

Subrame Fully Installed

I installed the uprights onto the lower ball joints and set about assembling the front CV axles. I got the right one done and installed it. I decided to install the right Fox shock and spring assembly and try to finalize the one side. I had a bit of a struggle with the shock and spring. My spring compressor isn’t well suited to the van and, after some immense struggle, I ordered a different design that arrives Thursday. That should help with setting the ride height via the adjustable spring perch on the right side and the whole installation and adjustment on the left side.

Right CV Axle

Shock & Spring Installed

Day Nine complete!

1991 VW T3 Syncro Conversion — Exhaustion

My 107° marathon had a cost and I was paying for it today. It’s good to get some rest.

A couple of times I tried to go out to the shop and make some progress, but other than hanging the rear bumper and installing the clutch pedal cruise control switch, everything else was a half hearted attempt and I accomplished nothing. The Hungarian Grand Prix was fun to watch. Go Hamilton!

Rear Bumper & Hitch

Day Nine not complete!

1991 VW T3 Syncro Conversion — Final Paint & Reassembly Begins

Knowing we were due for a scorcher, I got out early and Raptor coated the front half of the underbody. It looks great and I was thrilled that it was finally done, because that meant it was time to start assembling. As I was peeling off the masking tape and paper, I had the realization that my van was now simply a disassembled Syncro and that was a cool thought.

Underbody Coating Done

I started by bolting in my new lengthened rear control arms. I installed the bearing/stub axle carriers and the rear brake assemblies. I’m going to have to fabricate longer rear metal brake lines, as the added length of the arms will necessitate that. I bought four 1/2″ lifting pads for the rear springs. I’m running the GoWesty 2″ lift spring in the rear plus the two 1/2″ pads for a 3″ lift total. I opted for a set of Fox long travel adjustable shocks with full compression adjustment. I mounted up the left rear, leaving the right off to facilitate the fuel tank install.

Left Rear Suspension Installed

I had to take a moment to organize the order of operations. There was so many different directions I could have gone next, I needed to make an intelligent plan, so that I didn’t forget something that would later be more difficult to install if more components were already on. I ended up installing the LP gas tank and it’s guard. Then I moved onto re-running the wiring harnesses. I installed the pneumatic reservoir and then ran the Syncro pneumatic and wiring loom. I had to add the two new pneumatic lines for the decoupler, the wiring already existed from the factory.

LP Gas Tank Installed

The next step was installing the radiator and the new stainless steel coolant pipes. GoWesty’s kit comes as a four piece set. They designed it this way as the forward halves of the coolant pipes on 2WD and 4WD are the same, whereas the rear halves are different. By manufacturing their kit in four pieces, it is not only easier to ship, but cuts down on manufacturing costs. I ran the front halves and installed their hangars. I eliminated the rear heater core, as I’m intending to install a Propex propane heater for cold weather camping. I ran new heater hoses the length of the van.

Stainless Coolant Pipes & Heater Hoses

I remembered that I needed to run the clutch hydraulic line and set about doing so. It is a two piece setup with a short length making the vertical run from the clutch master cylinder and a long length running under the van. I also installed the front half of the shift rod, which included a new bushing of improved design from GoWesty. The throttle cable for a manual gearbox setup is different from an automatic, so I installed the new accelerator cable that I’d purchased.

it was time to tackle the front suspension parts that aren’t a part of the subframe assembly. I’d bought urethane rack mount bushings and installed those in the rack mounting ears. Once the rack was in, I had to re-bend the powersteering hard lines, due to the rack mount being further forward than the 2WD one. One of the lines is fairly large in diameter and was a bit of a wrestling match to re-bend. I then installed the shorter Syncro-specific steering rod between the u-joint on the rack and the steering coupler further forward. With the rack fully in, I installed the upper control arms.
Upper Control Arm

I started working on the front differential. First, I installed rear carrier and then its front mount. I bought urethane mounts for it and new hardware. The originals were in bad shape. I had also bought new output flange and driveshaft flange seals. I ran into my first snag while trying to install the new output flange seals. The flange came off no problem, but the seals are installed in threaded cups that are used to set the differential side bearing preload and differential location. These cups have plastic retainers that are secured with two 8mm philips head screws. The top screw came out without difficulty, but the bottom screw on each side wouldn’t budge. Ultimately, I had to shear off their heads with a chisel, leaving me with the broken-off threaded portion still in the casing. Like a dope, I didn’t prepare the differential months ago and have all this sorted ahead of time. These screws really are the last of the crusty parts from the donor Syncro. I was pretty bummed, not just for the hassle, but because I had really wanted to get the subframe assembly installed today. Oh well.

I wanted to end the day on a better note, so I installed the new GoWesty steel front bumper and the upper and lower grills. The van sure looks better for it!

GoWesty Steel Bumper

14 hours work day in 107° heat — intense.

Day Eight complete!

1991 VW T3 Syncro Conversion — Raptor Coating & Subframe

it was going to be really hot today and I wanted to get the Raptor sprayed early to avoid shortening its pot life. Besides, I was pretty eager to see how it turned out. The Raptor kit comes with 4 750ml bottles of product, a 1000ml bottle of catalyst and a spray gun. It is really easy product to work with. You just add 250ml of catalyst to one of the 750ml bottles, shake for 2 minutes, screw the actual bottle to the gun and start shooting. You want to wear a respirator suitable for paintwork and some protective clothing. The Raptor sprays really easily with minimal overspray. Working under the van as I did it was even pretty easy to shoot above me. The hardest part of the job was seeing well enough to make sure I got good coverage.

Back Half of Underbody Done

The best part of doing this job is seeing the results. Detailing the underbody is pretty much going to be a massive win no matter how you approach it, as anything is going to look so much better than how it did when you started. Furthermore, it’s the underbody and you don’t have to be completely careful as you would painting the body itself or some nice part. The photos don’t do it justice. It looks far better in person. I hung my LP gas tank on my parts painting rack and set it over dirt as the Raptor has a fair amount of spatter and I didn’t want that raining down on my concrete drive. I sprayed the tank and after an hour or so I spray painted over it in white. It turned out great!

Raptor Coat on LP Gas Tank

White Top Coat Applied over Raptor

As I was painting the tank, I heard the UPS truck and knew my 12 ga sheet metal plate had arrived. If you ever need a small quantity of sheet metal (in my case a 12″x12″ piece), check out eBay. I’ve ordered a few small bits of metal there and had great results.

The temperature was 104° and I was really feeling delirious. I rested for a very short while, but my desire to complete this project overcame my need for self preservation, so I set about cutting my two subframe mounting plates. I test fit them and made some small length adjustmets, so they fit how I wanted them to. My next step was to install the subframe in order to get a sense for how the plates should sit side to side. I set the subframe on a rolling rack I have and lowered the van onto it. I bolted it in at the rear and placed the plates in position, carefully taking measurements and centering them. After I was satisfied with their placement, I tack welded them in place and removed the subframe. I then fully welded them in and refit the subframe to mark my mounting holes. Those were drilled, I bolted the subframe and stood back. My van was no longer a 2WD van, but basically a disassembled Syncro. This moment was monumental to me.

Test Fitting Subframe

Plate Clamped in After Fitting

Holes Drilled in Welded Plate

Subrframe Fully Bolted in

Once this was done, I marked and drilled the holes for the two sway bar mounts that attach just behind the subframe on those same plates. While this was happening my lovely assistant was, once again, masking and hanging plastic sheeting for the tomorrow’s Raptor coating of the front underbody.

Day Seven complete!