A Subaru-Powered 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon 4×4 Camper

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This 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon has been through a restoration that included new paint, new interior upholstery, new suspension, and perhaps most interestingly, a new Subaru 2.5 liter flat-four engine.

It’s been set up as a minimalist camper, with a fold-flat seat in the rear that makes a double bed, and the addition of a small portable refrigerator. With its lifted suspension, 4×4 drivetrain, and all-terrain tires it’s ready to go where most vans can’t.

Fast Facts – The Volkswagen Vanagon 4×4

  • The Volkswagen Vanagon was originally introduced into the North American market in 1979. The name is a portmanteau of van and station wagon – VW claimed that it had the room of a van, but drove like a station wagon to make it seem less intimidating to people who had never driven a van before.
  • The Vanagon was offered in a variety of trim levels, from basic up to a more luxurious specification, and a Westfalia pop-top camper version was also offered.
  • The Syncro 4×4 models were produced in low numbers between 1984 and 1992. The four-wheel drive platform was actually manufactured by Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Austria.
  • These 4×4 Vanagons have become highly sought after due to the modern resurgence in van popularity due to the “Van Life” movement, a movement that continues to pick up steam.

The Volkswagen Type 2

The first generation of the Volkswagen Type 2 was released back in 1950, just five years after the end of the Second World War.

Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro

Image DescriptionThis is the Vanagon Syncro, meaning it came from the factory with a 4×4 drivetrain developed by Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Austria.

As the story goes the idea for the Type 2 van was actually conceived by the Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon. He was visiting the VW factory and saw what they called the “Plattenwagen” – a very primate transport vehicle used to ferry parts around the factory, and it was based on a Type 1 Beetle platform.

Pon sketched a doodle of his proposed van design, it impressed the executives at VW enough that they put a version of it into production, though there was a three year delay as production struggled to meet demand for the Beetle.

When it was put into production the Type 2 (T1) proved to be revolutionary, it inspired a slew of other similar forward-control vans from manufacturers around the world, and it remained in production until 1975 when the Brazilian factories switched over to building the newer Type 2 (T2).

The Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 4×4

The Vanagon was the model name given to the Volkswagen Type 2 (T3) in the North and South American markets.

Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 1

Image DescriptionIn the rear the seats fold flat to create a double bed for weekends away in the wilderness. There’s also a portable battery powered refrigerator to keep your supplies cool.

The name is a portmanteau of van and station wagon, this was chosen to play on the fact that VW was marketing the van as being as easy to drive as a normal family station wagon.

Volkswagen Type 2 (T3) was larger and faster than its predecessors but it retained their fundamental layout, with a forward control driving position, side doors, a large rear cargo (or passenger) compartment, and a rear-mounted engine under the floor to maximize space.

A few special versions of the Vanagon were offered, from the cheaper and more simple base model to the Vanagon L with un upgraded interior. The Vanagon GL was the top of the line model with more luxury accruements, and the company also offered a Westfalia pop-top camper version.

From 1979 to 1983 the Type 2 (T3) was fitted with the classic VW air-cooled flat-four engine with a capacity of either 1.6 or 2.0 liters. From 1983 onwards they recieved more modern liquid-cooled engines with sizes ranging from 1.9 to 2.1 liters.

Perhaps the most interesting version of the Vanagon was the Syncro model, it was fitted with a full four-wheel drive drivetrain developed by Steyr-Daimler-Puch. It had a slightly shorter wheelbase, increased ground clearance, and 48/52 front/rear weight distribution.

Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 6

Image DescriptionThe 2.5 liter Subaru flat-four and 5-speed transmission give this Vanagon much better highway legs than it would have had originally – ideal for cross-country trips.

The Vanagon Syncro became popular with people who wanted a more off-road capable camper van, and many remain today fulfilling this role.

The Subaru-Powered Vanagon Shown Here

The 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro you see here is a little unusual, it’s now powered by a Subaru flat-four and it has a 5-speed gearbox, giving it much better modern highway capability than its siblings.

A restoration was commenced in 2018 which saw the van get a full respray, a newly upholstered interior, uprated suspension, all-terrain tires, heavy duty off-road bumpers front and back, an LED light bar, and that aforementioned Subaru engine upgrade.

The van is now a minimalist camper of sorts, with its rear seat folding flat to create a double bed, it also has a battery-powered portable refrigerator.

It’s now for sale on Bring A Trailer out of Kirkland, Washington. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.

Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 8
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 20
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 19
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 18
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 17
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 16
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 15
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 14
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 13
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 12
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 11
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 10
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 9
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 7
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 5
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 4
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 3
Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 2

Images courtesy of Bring A Trailer

Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro 19

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