The SyncroBo Build: Part 0 – The Inspiration

We like to volunteer for a small non-profit called a Filmmaker For A Cause ( that makes free short films for other non-profits to help them tell their story to gain awareness and support for their mission. We are all volunteers and do it for free for other non-profits. We are all passionate about filmmaking and helping others so this is our skill we are donating. About 2 years ago we got the idea to do a bit of a global tour and try to combine a long period of time to work on the road. To date we were a team of weekend warriors, scrounging together vacation days and weekends to make it happen. We wanted to take a year and tackle a larger project. We researched around the world airline tickets coupled with car rentals to haul all of our gear, and hotels to lodge us and the cost were through the roof. It wasn’t a smart approach. When we looked at our spreadsheet, the car rentals and lodging were the biggest expenses. We abandoned the idea.

One day while driving through downtown Chicago, I saw a Bay Window Westy parked at a Whole Foods (cliché right?), and the idea dawned on me. How about living in a van? I thought I could sell my SUV, buy a van and make some small “tweaks” and I could let the FMFAC team do a test run in the US and if that worked, look into shipping it abroad. At this time, I knew nothing of VWs or busses, except that Bay Windows looked awesome, and roomy enough. I figured I could spend <$10k and have a reliable home base on wheels for our project work, and if I paid personally for the van, it would just cost our organization food, and gas which would allow us to reach more organizations and cheaper.

So with the idea hatched, I went to eBay to buy a bus. Yeah yeah I know, but I didn’t know any better. I found a bay window in Humboldt County (who’s seller didn’t get their reserve), and a buddy and me flew out to make the deal and drive 1800 miles back. I’ll save that long story, but basically I learned; I am too big to fit in a bay window comfortably and that bus was in horrible shape. But I was determined to drive back a bus, I found another in Seattle. A 1980 air cooled Vanagon. Second owner, claiming it has only 60,000 original miles. We drove up from CA to Seattle, WA bought the van on April Fool’s day and headed east. We did change the oil before we left! But other than that, we just put her on the road. I hadn’t read all of the horror stories on thesamba yet about melting air cooled engines, the need for a temp gauge, certain fuels, changing fuel lines, etc. etc. I just drove. We went up and over mountains, though slow, and beyond the fuel tank seals leaking in North Dakota, we made it all the way back to Chicago without issue.

Here is Baby Blue!
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IMG_0850 by RandallBrownIII, on Flickr

Back here in Chicago, I discovered thesamba, and set out to make “Baby Blue” perfect. Changed brakes, lines, fluids, battery, etc. overhauling basically anything we could find that needed it, then proceeded to use Baby Blue as my primary vehicle and also for our org to complete projects. It was a huge success and the community of people we began to meet was amazing,

With the “test” complete, we went back to planning a larger and longer project tour. We set our sights on Europe and Africa. After much debate and research, we deemed Baby Blue not robust enough being 2wd for Africa, had we found Drive Nacho Drive then, we may have reconsidered. While reading my Bentley, I kept seeing the reference to Syncro, and then YouTube video watching ensued. I was hooked. I would buy a “cheap” Syncro, fix it up (I would spend less than $20k!), and then volunteer it to FMFAC for a year for the project. Easy…. So I thought….

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IMG_0027 by RandallBrownIII, on Flickr

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DSC_6507 by RandallBrownIII, on Flickr

Baby Blue & SyncroBo
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