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?”