Last Thursday, Trish and I met in Boise, Idaho to begin our Syncro Rescue Road Trip. You might remember we bought a ski bus a couple months ago. After Devoxx and Thanksgiving, we finally had time to pick up our new rig. We rented a car from Boise and drove to Bruce's (the owner) house near Sun Valley. We arrived at Bruce's house, met his family and were introduced to our new Volkswagen. We spent the next hour learning about its engine, suspension, beds, captains (swivel) seats, propane system, RV hookups, fridge, stove and roof tent. It was impressive and I couldn't wait to drive it!
Looking back, after reading all the receipts, it's obvious that Bruce did great things for this vehicle. When he bought it in 2004, he worked with Small Car to convert the engine to a 3.3L Subaru SVX. He also installed a 2" lift kit, disc brakes, and better gearing. It was a cool car before Bruce bought it; he turned it into a mean machine. I thought it'd be small like my '66, but it's more like a tank, that you have to crawl into. We like it more every time we drive it.
After spending the night in their cozy guest bed, we enjoyed some good coffee and got on the road.
I was immediately impressed with the Syncro's acceleration. The Subaru engine has some great pickup in lower gears. In third gear, you can easily get up to 75 mph (120 kph) before shifting into fourth. The fourth gear is a lot like overdrive, bad for power but great for gas mileage. Within the first ten minutes, I was pleased to find the cruise control still worked. It took another hour for us to figure out to work the heater. Once we did, we had all kinds of heat, which was handy considering it never got above 5°F on the whole trip.
Trish's first shift at the wheel was met with some resistance: the e-brake was on. After a couple miles, pulled over for something else, but realized the mistake as soon as we parked. It smelled a lot and hasn't worked since.
Our Friday destination was Jackson Hole, where we figured we could find a nice place to stay and possibly ski the next morning. We briefly considered sleeping in our new camper, but with no auxiliary heater (possessed, but not installed) it seemed like a bad idea. We got our first taste of bad roads over Teton Pass. We figured it wouldn't be a problem since the Syncro is a 4WD, but we used the wrong lever (the differential lock instead of the 4WD) and slid all over the roads. We drifted sideways a few times, but soon after figured out how to engage 4WD, resulting in great traction. We celebrated our safe arrival with tasty beers at Wyoming's oldest brewery.
That evening, we moseyed into Jackson and found some great live music. While driving around, we noticed the stereo and cigarette lighter / phone charger quit working. The next morning, I woke up early to get some new windshield wipers and fix the blown dash fuse. After some inspection, I found it wasn't a fuse problem (there was a wire into where the fuse should be). I texted the previous owner, who pointed me to the auxiliary battery. Wiggling some of the battery's wires got everything working again.
After breakfast, Trish and I decided to do the responsible thing and drive back to Denver rather than go skiing. The conditions were still frigid and there was only 1" of fresh snow. We left Jackson around 9:30am and arrived in Denver just before 7pm. We only stopped for gas and our vanagon drove like a dream.
We've got some work to do before our next road trip (to Montana in two weeks). It seems the previous owner did most of his improvements when he bought it in 2004. The engine, drive train, suspension and wheels/tires are all in great shape. The Subaru conversion is "beautiful" according to a vanagon mechanic I talked to today. The upholstery could use a refresh and the stereo is showing its age. It failed an emissions test today, but there's a shop a few blocks away that specializes in Subarus.
Our Syncro is a real joy to drive. It cruises on the freeway and works great in the city with its quick acceleration and impressive turning radius. Let the VW adventures begin!