After searching for a long time for the right van, we flew out to California in June of 2011 and Tim bought this beautiful 1986 VW syncro. For the non-VW geeks out there, the syncro is the rare all-wheel drive version of the Vanagon, which was only made in limited distribution from 1985 – 1992. Thus, syncros are fairly hard to find and in high demand. The van was in great shape and reasonably priced, which was a total score. We got a very pleasant surprise when we looked up and saw that the van had a large sunroof, which hadn’t been disclosed in the ad, probably because it was sealed shut. The van enthusiasts out there know that a syncro with a sunroof is a rare find indeed, but that they can also be prone to leaking if not properly maintained, thus the likely reason for sealing it shut. However, Tim found that when he scraped off the silicone, the sunroof was in perfect working order and only needed some cleaning of the gutters. Sweet!

Tim’s new baby was immediately named Vanyan, which was only fitting since his VW Golf is named Banyan. Appropriately, our first stop in was in Santa Cruz where we met up with a friend, threw in some surfboards, and hit the waves. Vanyan was made to be a surf van, it fits a longboard perfectly, and is just asking to be parked by the beach and provide a great place to hang out for beers after a good session. We then hit the highway and drove Vanyan back to Colorado. Tim had brought a large bag of tools with him in case the van needed some TLC along the way, but Vanyan purred like a kitten the whole way home.

After years of research on Vanagons, Tim knew that he wanted to replace the original VW Wasserboxer engine with a Subaru engine, which would provide more power and reliability. So he got started right away. See our post on the engine conversion for more details.

When Vanyan became a Subagon (Subaru-Vanagon) it was only fitting that he get a new name. In Greek mythology, the Chimera was a great monster that breathed fire, with the body and one head of a lion, another head of a goat, and a snake for a tail. In more modern terms, a chimera is a plant or animal that is made up of the genetic material of different organisms. Thus, Vanyan became Chimera and acquired a new rear emblem.

To test out the new engine and to celebrate Emily completing her PhD, in September 2012, we loaded Emily’s two dogs into the van and headed north on a month-long Canadian Rockies road trip. Chimera performed beautifully on the ~5000 mile adventure, with only a few hiccups here and there.

In the past year Tim has spent countless hours repairing, rebuilding, and upgrading just about every mechanical part on Chimera. Here are some of the modifications:

  • rebuilt the failed viscous coupler
  • installed a decoupler to change from all-wheel drive to true 4-wheel drive
  • rebuilt or replaced all 8 cv joints
  • built custom skid bars
  • 16″ wheels and BFG AT tires with RMW swing away spare tire carrier
  • replaced the plastic coolant lines with stainless steel ones
  • new radiator and hoses
  • new shocks
  • replaced all fuel lines and fuel pump

Typical view of Tim

Installing the decoupler

In preparation for our Pan-American Highway adventure we are focused on the interior of the van, transforming it into a sweet little home. Stay tuned for more posts about our progress.

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