Families — Parents — Kids

3 Volkswagen Vanagons and a Jetta: How One Family Built Their Westy Syncro

email this page

johns syncro vanagon westfalia on the beach in mexico, baja

Hooking up with a sweet Syncro with Westfalia conversion isn't nearly as easy as it once was. John Franzen consumed three vans and a Jetta to get this one done. Here she is, all gussied up proper-like for Baja. And the rest of the story follows. Enjoy. — Mark

You don't have to be all that offbeat to appreciate a Volkswagen Bus of any species.  Just a bit.

The window from 1985 to 1992 in the life of the VW Vanagon was a particularly splendid one - coinciding with the pinnacle of popularity of the mullet, that's when Volkswagen produced the full-time 4WD Syncro version. Drool. The really really killer versions were further refined by Westfalia, a German camper conversion company that installed the pop-top camper. Let's put it all together for accuracy, posterity and blatant SEO: Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro Westfalia. All those names . . . if it weren't for the pronunciation, you'd think it was Italian.

As you can imagine, the used market for Syncros with Westfalia conversions continues to thrive to this day - as in, it's good to be selling, not so good to be buying. Due to their obvious age and limited run, you can't just go hit up Craigslist and find a sweet one this afternoon.

John Franzen, a Syncro owner, has a cool story about his van:

My van is an '85. I bought it for the body alone. Then I bought an identical but trashed van with only good interior. I combined the two, then had a Jetta 2.0 ABA engine conversion installed. At the same time I sourced an old rust bucket of a tin top Syncro in PA and brought it down here just so I could pull drive train. Sooooo.... I have a FrankenSyncro from 3 vans and a Jetta. Painted up and ready to go.

He's not afraid of putting this beauty on the road either. He's doing a back road traverse of New Mexico and Arizona in April, then he'll go into southern Utah - a classic I wish we could all keep quiet about - and finally he'll tour through Colorado with his wife and daughter later in the summer. I had to catch up with him to dig deeper.  A few questions with John:

So, the Syncro.  What is the best thing about it that makes it a great fit for your family?

It's the ultimate Stop and Pop! There were so many things that went into the decision for us to raise a Syncro from the dead. I wanted a small vehicle footprint with a tight turning radius. An extremely capable but ‘cool’ rig too. For me, modern vehicles just seem to lack soul. I added a decoupler along with the stock rear locker and slightly raised suspension and now the van can go just about anywhere. I also wanted a vehicle with enough room for my 150-lbs best friend Mason to be comfortable traveling since both dogs travel with us as much as possible. As far as a family rig I was looking for something that my wife could access the back easily instead of having to hop over a seat or stop the vehicle. Total privacy to change, go potty or have mommy daddy time is key too <wink>. I like having indoor living space. The table and seats make it really nice for cold mornings or rainy weather, especially when kids and dogs are along. The not-one-but-two double beds played a huge factor. With it being a “van” what better sherper or gear hauler could I want? Well, other than a totally pimped out $100k Sportsmobile!

Desperate dudes everywhere are dying to know: You've navigated that tricky road between marrying a non-outdoorsy girl to getting her into it. How'd you do it?

Hmmm… not so sure I have unlocked any deep secrets. She still hates bugs, still hates the cold, scared to death of the remote possibility of a run in with a bear, and so on. Remember, you can take the girl outta Jersey but you can’t take the Jersey outta the girl! My recommendation is marry the right woman for the right reasons and she’ll want to do things just to be close with you. Jaci’s rule is no more than three nights without a hotel stop. Compromise: happy wife, happy life!

Okay, hit me with the Proud Dad stuff <grin>

Kaeli, our daughter, is turning 9 in May. She is the perfect little girl. So good that we are still here 9 years later debating whether we want to have more children or just continue our tight-knit three some. Kaeli is very independent and very well rounded. Not much for the traditional organized sports but, like dad, she’ll give just about anything a go. Most recently we have been going to a climbing gym where Kaeli has really excelled. She loves to read which occupies a lot of her time at home and when traveling. Loves to do any type of arts and crafts and loves fashion. She likes to choreograph her own dance routines as well, although she refuses to take any instruction because, as she says, "I already know how to dance." And of course she loves hiking, camping, swimming all the fun outdoorsy stuff. Next year will be interesting as the ‘I like bringing a friend’ issue is starting to come up. I guess Dad can’t be cool forever.


Mike Key
+3 / -1
# Mike Key 2011-03-09 21:28
That is beautiful and awesome! I wonder if it could of fit a TDI motor or possibly the GTi motor in that thing? Hurm, really gets the gears spinning.

I am seriously considering one of these!
Mike Key
0 / 0
# Mike Key 2011-03-09 21:47
Does John have a website we can follow?
Mark Stephens
0 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2011-03-10 08:43
Mike, not that I know of.
+3 / 0
# Karl 2011-03-12 10:40
Quoting Mike Key:
That is beautiful and awesome! I wonder if it could of fit a TDI motor or possibly the GTi motor in that thing? Hurm, really gets the gears spinning.

I am seriously considering one of these!

Of course! The TDI is THE best option for a serious off-road Syncro - I converted mine to diesel long before the crowds followed. 30 mpg and all the torque needed.
+2 / 0
# Luis 2011-03-10 10:20
We considered a Syncro Westy, but the cost scared us away. I must say, now that we have been on the road for 20 months it seems like one of the best thought out platforms for extended vehicle based travel and John's seems particularly drool worthy.

Could John comment on reliability?
Mark Stephens
+3 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2011-03-10 16:16
It's crafted from 3 different vans and a Jetta. What could possibly go wrong? :P
+5 / 0
# Jed 2011-03-10 10:43
Yep Syncro's sure do rock!!!

Good to see a feature on John's Westy....

+2 / 0
# Gavin 2011-03-10 18:45
TDIs, Zetecs and Subaru engines are common transplants, with tons of kits on the market.

Perfect timing on the article Mark!
0 / 0
# Mark 2011-03-11 08:47
Gavin, your van is next.
OurBoler | Chris
+3 / 0
# OurBoler | Chris 2013-04-08 09:52
That is a great camping truck, would be so much fun.

You have no rights to post comments

Don't-Miss Daily Deals