While in the U.S. I had a chance to spend some quality time with SyncroBo again. I took him out for a nice trip in the U.S. and I fell back in love with that van. The compact size, the great ergonomics, and the efficiency of it all. So I wanted to take some time to offer some thoughts for other Vanagon lovers who are building their own vans up, based on our experiences.
SyncroBo System Thoughts
Engine & Trans
- Bostig and Daryl (RIP) lived up to their reputations. Both performed great. We did have a small bit of seepage from the seal around the locker pin in our front diff. Daryl offered to reseat it but it wasn’t enough to warrant pulling it out and resealing. We ended up using our rear locker and decoupled all the time. We used the front locker just a handful of times.
Suspension & Tires
- Our suspension set up has performed well. But if I were to do it all over today, I would go with Burley’s Radflo suspension set up. We went through lot of iterations of suspensions and mixing and testing different manufacturer’s parts together. While SyncroBo’s current blend of BMS + German parts works great, it was a painful costly journey to get there. Burl has now finalized his custom suspension and it would be a wallet and time saver to get it all from a single vendor. You then have a single source to go to to adjust it all and guarantee its performance. During our suspension journey, one manufacturer would blame another if things didn’t work right. You don’t have that problem when you have a single supplier. Also SyncroBo’s complete suspension, springs, shocks, arms is in the neighborhood of $9,000, a tad more than that actually. Burley sells his entire system for around $5k.
- The light bar was a savior! The side lights we didn’t need to use too much. But the main light at in rural and off road environments was key to navigating bad or no roads at night. While we always say we will never do it, we did need to make up time some days and drove at night.
- Burley’s tire rack and expedition rack were awesome. We never got a flat tire but we used the rack a ton. We often loaded firewood on top of the cans. For most future trips we will carry just two-three casanduse the rest of the space free for firewood as impromptu tasks.
- We used our Trasharoo for dirty clothes more than trash! And it was awesome to keep the smelly clothes out of the living space.
- Not much to say here except everything has been durable. Leather and vinyl were the best choices we could have made. In a small space things spill, and stains happen. It’s nice to have a space that is wipeable. I would never have a cloth camper!
- Curtains were a must for stealth camping even with the dark tint the curtains helped us to ensure privacy. Highly recommended.
Water & Power
- Our water filtration system worked great as did the spare tank. I didn’t like the ability for grime to build up around the tank cap, but it was well sealed from entry. But I did carry some Clorox wipes to clean the fill area before use. One addition we are making is the addition of silicon pad tank heaters to the water tank for super cold weather. When we built Bo we had our eyes set on Africa. Not Russia in the winter 🙂
- Solar was the biggest surprise of the trip. Again we designed our system with Africa in mind, so we were very surprised by the low amounts of solar we generated. In the U.S. It was normal for us to produce 100ah or more per day from solar. In Europe in the winter, 20-30ah was a good day. This has a huge impact on our boondocking capability. Luckily we still had the alternator for a high amp charging source. But if we wanted to stay parks for days, we needed to be councious.
- One of our Lithium battery pack cells died spontaneously. The manufacturer deemed it a defect and covered it under warranty, but the problem was that we were in Europe and their was no way to replace it. So we went through all of Europe on a single 200ah battery.
Random things we love…
- I know I am going to be accused of being a fanboy, but our Bostig engine conversion is a champ. It just worked. I have met other travelers on the road with subarus and other engine conversions and many of them have had issues. Some of them minor and some of them catastrophic. If you follow a lot of over landers on Instagram, you will see the carnage. We didn’t experience a single issue with our conversion, though we did call Jim from Poland for his advice to unstick a frozen accelerator cable. I think this speaks volume to their product, you don’t hear account of blown up Bostigs and Bostigs that won’t start, or are suffering some strange issue. We dealt with that with our Subaru conversion and so glad it hasn’t happened again with our Bostig.
Induction Cooktop & Portable Gas Cooktop
- We never used our propane cooktop the entire time we were in Europe and the U.S. We used a portable electric induction cooktop and portable butane (?) cooktop that used disposable cylinders. The induction was our preferred was of cooking inside the van be the butane cooktop outside. The induction we fast, didn’t heat up the van, but would draw 100 amps when on! The gas cooktop was convenient as we could grab it and put it on a picnic table and cook. The gas bottles last a long time and they are relatively cheap.
Espar B3L Gasoline Heater
- The heater we installed under the rear bench is amazing! It’s been a true performer, keeping us safe and warm in 20 degrees below zero weather in Poland. It’s extremely economical on gas, burns a readily available fuel, and isn’t too much of a power hog. I am not sure why these aren’t more popular than the Propex! Why use propane when you can use the same fuel as your engine.
Streamlight Rechargeable Flashlight
- I know it seems like a little thing, but having a powerful flashlight always ready to go has been an awesome convenience. Whether to check something outside the van at night, or to spot jackrabbits in the desert. Its not cheap, but we highly recommend it as an addition to your rig.
Some things we didn’t love…
- Expedition vehicles are heavy by the time you outfit them all the fun stuff you WANT to put on them. They don’t really need all of that stuff to go 90% of the places you want to go. All the addons and customizations add weight and that weight wears the components of the van. We felt this most when we wanted to go play in mud or deep sand, and also going over really bad roads and trails in Eastern Europe. If we built it over again we would use alumnimum in many more places, and also curb the need for so many spares. Outside of Belarus, it really wasnt an issue to find anything we needed.
Retrofitting the AC system
- SyncroBo as a tintop had AC, but the Subaru conversion did not connect into it. When we put in the Bostig and installed the pop-top, we sourced an original Westy rear AC unit. This was a HUGE pain in the butt and very expensive. We got everything figured out on the Bostig to feed this system, but it wasnt as elegant as everything else on Bo, and ultimately we disconnected the compressor, because the 30 year old AC unit has a crack in the plastic pan that we need to find and fix to keep condensate from draining onto the back seat. In hindsight, i would have just skipped it, and put in one of the small dometic system or just gone without it.