Weekly Craigslist Hidden Treasure: 1990 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro

Car Culture

For when the hippies started having kids.

Volkswagen has not built the Type 2 Vanagon since 1993. Well, it was called the Vanagon in the US but the name Microbus was used in other markets. Officially, the Vanagon, the subject of this week’s Craigslist hidden treasure, was the Type 2 (T3) generation of the VW Transporter and compared to its predecessor, it was heavier and larger.

The hippies of the 60s were becoming the aging baby boomers of the 80s and 90s and they had kids to feet and transport to soccer practice. Too bad most of those former hippies switched to more conventional vans (now minivans) such as the original Dodge Caravan. But the Vanagon still appealed to enough people to justify its existence until 1993 when the T4 debuted, but VW opted not to export it to the US. Too bad because the Vanagon was actually pretty cool.

It was available in a number of trims including the GL Camper, Carat, and limited-edition Wolfsburg Edition. All trims, however, came powered by the same 2.1-liter water-cooled four-cylinder engine with a grand total of 90 hp. A four-speed manual transmission was standard but buyers could opt for a five-speed manual on certain trim packages. The latter gearbox could be paired to VW’s Synchro all-wheel drive system (rear-wheel drive was standard). A three-speed slushbox was also an option.

Other relevant mechanical bits included rack and pinion steering, power-assisted brakes, and a front and rear independent suspension, all of which made the Vanagon a better-suited daily driver compared to it more basic predecessors. Again, it was a van that fit the times.

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Want more proof? VW even made standard front bucket seats, rear window defogger, padded instrument panel, and a lockable glove box. Upgrade from the base to the GL trim and you’d receive upgraded front seats, powered heated mirrors, rear window wiper, interior carpeting, and air conditioning (hey, it was the 80s). Things became far more interesting with the GL Camper, however.

This trim got you a stove, sink, refrigerator, cabinets, and even folding stow-away tables. Calling it ‘Camper’ is not just a clever name. Still not home-like enough for you. The Carat trim offered up privacy curtains while the Multivan added clothes locker and a two-person sleeping loft. It was the ideal road trip vehicle.

Amazingly, the Vanagon was fun to drive and had pretty solid handling considering it was a box on wheels. It could be a little hard to find one of these for sale in decent condition, so we were quite pleased when we came across this particular 1990 model. According to the Craigslist ad, the only real issue with this old Vanagon panel van is that its fuel gauge no longer works. It can be fixed but the seller claims its non-functional status never bothered him. Rust? None.

This Vanagon has all-wheel drive and is actually a former NATO military vehicle. Its current owner bought it specifically for desert adventures and for the beach on weekends. Instead of its original (and we’re guessing Euro-spec) 1.6-liter turbo diesel, this one is powered by a 1.9-liter turbo VW diesel that was recently installed, although the odo says 220,000 miles.

Other upgrades include new body and paint, 16-inch steel wheels wrapped in Cooper all-terrain tires, 2-inch lift GoWesty springs, and a new hightop for the roof. Inside, there’s new upholstery and a rear bench seat that converts into a bed. Someone, and we’re guessing the current owner, added custom cabinets, a sink, and even a solar power electrical system.

This 1990 Volkswagen Vanagon, customized features and all, is supposedly in perfect driving and conditioned and priced to sell at $31,000. Sounds kind of expensive, we know, but the seller is willing to take a trade. Own a sailboat or Airstream trailer, by chance?

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