To be honest we didn’t spend a lot of time deciding to buy a VW van. We previously had a couple of VW T4 plumbers vans, which are more modern & more powerful and are good looking. Easily modified and supported by a host of suppliers. Ours were great and we really enjoyed them, but there were two things we didn’t like:
1. With the bed down there’s very little floor space, around 40cm in a short wheel base and 80cm in a long wheel base. That’s measured from the foot of the bed to the back of the cab seats. Even with the front seats turned around to face rearwards, it wasn’t enough mainly because I’m quite tall and not very flexible.
2. After visiting Busfest and watching the Syncro trail, plus my years of travel and off road experience through work, we decided we wanted to visit places along roads less travelled and a Syncro was required. Of course we could have had a T4 Syncro, but VW’s ugly duckling had better ground clearance and shorter over hangs. Plus it’s resemblance to military vehicles such as the Land Rover Forward Control, or the PInzgauer made it seem a better choice all round.
So, the the love of VWs meant the T3 easily won the competition. It has a rear engine that means the cab seats are at the front so you have just over a metre from end of bed to cab seats and it’s a proper off-roader. Inadvertently we had ticked several other significant criteria such as: it will fit inside a standard ISO shipping container and you can get under it easily to work on, even with my portly frame! Coupled with it sitting between the more desirable T2 Bays /Splitties (hyper expensive) and the modern T4/T5s ( more affordable but becoming really common), it meant the prices were relatively low. Inexplicably known as “the Wedge” or “the Brick”, VWs last rear engined trucks are fugly, but they have a charm which will grow on you…
Buying a Syncro is a tricky proposition: they command higher prices than regular T3/T25s and are relatively rare, especially in right hand drive. They can suffer badly from rust and are often badly neglected. Syncro parts are quite rare, especially gearbox and drive train items, although that’s improving with companies such as Brickwerks sourcing new suppliers for hard to get bits and panels. In the time we’ve owned ours, prices have risen steadily. We were told to work on spending £12,000 – this translates as your total spend before you start modifying. For example, if you buy a van for £5,000, you will likely spend a further £7,000 getting it sorted (rust, mechanicals etc). Likewise if you spend £10,000, you’ll probably only spend £2,000 fixing it up. To be honest, that was pretty accurate and I’d say this number has probably now risen to around £14k. If you start modifying, adding engines etc, then you’ll easily hit around £20k.
But don’t be put off. Ask yourself what do you want to do with the van? What can you live with? What can you do yourself? Provided it’s safe, mechanically sound and watertight, all the cosmetics can probably wait. People are waking up to these old buses as affordable alternatives to the hippy wagons of old, so prices are rising. The most desireable (here in the U.K.) is a right-hand drive Syncro Westfalia and they command the highest prices.
Of course you can use any van, it doesn’t have to be a VW. Many people are doing the same thing with a range of vehicles, so whatever you have can be made to work.
So here we are putting together a truck that we hope will take us to Norway in the spring of 2017, Morocco, Iceland, The Baltic States and then off to the Far East through Iran, the Stans, India and Mongolia… eventually.
But first there’s the interior….. but that’s for another day.