written by Thomas Niksch
Basically two names have to be mentioned while talking about the syncro. One is Gustav Meyer, nick-named 'Transporter-Meyer', who was responsable for VW light truck engineering. (He retired in 1990). The other one is Henning Duckstein, chief-engineer of the light-truck testing department. Both of them love to travel to remote regions in Europe and even to Africa and there especially to the Sahara. Being VW people they used to do that with their Westfalia (2WD) Campers of course. These trips to regions with poorly developed roads made it clear that a 4WD Transporter might be useful not only for traveling, but also in countries where road conditions are so bad that you need a 4x4 vehicle just to get through your way or do your daily work.
As VW top-management was not very pleased with these ideas at first engineering had to take place besides the normal design and testing activities, with a low budget. (Remember, the late 70's, only a few years after the first OPEC oil-embargo.) Seven or eight of the 4x4 'bread-loafs' were built in total. They had a half-automatic transmission, as the mechanical clutch was only used for shifting the four gears (similar to the automatic Beetle). Power was provided by a standard 70 HP 2,0l air-cooled boxer with off-rod carburators from the Iltis. To obtain a wider range of available torque a hydraulic converter was used in addition to the friction clutch. Front wheel-drive was manually selectable and there were automatic (friction-based) diff-locks. Of course rims were 16" with several different tire-sizes. Although off-road performance was admired and press reactions were extremely positive, VW didn't take the 4x4 Transporter into regular production until they got in touch with Stey-Daimler-Puch and made up their minds to launch the so called 'syncro' in 1984.
Only 2,138 16" heavy duty busses were built.
|T3 syncro total:||43,468|
|Pritschenwagen / Pick-Up Single Cab (245)||1,787|
|Doppelkabine / Pick-Up Double Cab (247)||6,849|
|Kastenwagen / Van, panels (251)||5,848|
|Kombi / Bus (253)||14,650|
|Engines||2.1l fuel injection, Cat. (95 HP)||14,233|
|2.1l fuel injection (112 HP)||6,259|
|1.9l (78 HP)||6,641|
|1.6l turbo-diesel(70 HP)||16,335|
One basic reason for the small series figures was probably the fact that european military customers interested in 4x4 half-ton trucks preferred Diesel engines for logistical reasons and were not pleased with the only available turbo-diesel. The very little 1.6l 70HP did not provide a lot of torque and power, compared to military needs and considered the weight and size of the van. Comparatively few cars were delivered to community and emergency services, rangers, paramedics etc. Commercial applications were mining, landscape gardening, maintainance of long distance, pipelines, telecom and electricity lines. One group of customers had never really been focused - private expedition and camping enthusiasts.
The extra price for a 14" syncro 4x4 drive was (approx.) 11,500 DM (~$6,600 [rates: August 97]) until 1989, then changed to 7,900 DM (~$4,800) and above that, another 6,000 DM (~$3,750) for the 16"-package, not including the enlarged 205 R 16 tires, front diff-lock and the necessary rear spare-wheel rack for 1,000 DM extra (~$600) each.
Convenient options like A/C, central-locker or power-steering (!) or even a WESTFALIA conversion were charged in addition to these fees.
In the very beginning the production process was organized in a quite complicated way: The complete pre-assembled bodywork came by freight-train from Hannover to Steyr-Puch (Graz), where the 4WD powertrain components were installed. Then the half finished vehicles made their way back to Hannover to be completed with the interior facilities. If Camper versions, another transport to the Westfalia coachwork specialists in Wiedenbrück followed. This was changed later and Steyr-Puch was responsible for the whole assembling process, except the camper conversion. Figures for the Westfalia-Camper Version were not available because the conversion was within the responsibility of the Volkswagen Hannover plant respectively Westfalia.
One phenomenon about the T3 in general was, that VW engineers were permanently trying to catch up with the needs of changing market demands. If you consider all the modifications that were made to the T3 through the 12 years of production it becomes clear that the specs at the very start were nothing but a 2WD transporter with 4cyl. boxer engines. All the changes like water-cooling, syncro, Diesel etc. were later add-ons at tremendous expenses.
From the late 1980's on, VW marketing-department was already planning the introduction of the new front-wheel-drive Transporter T4, which was due to get started in late summer 1990. They knew that this would be a job at least as hard as it had been to convince beetle owners to buy a Golf in the early 1970's, due to the fact that the T3 version was still extremely popular, especially for camper-conversions.
When private customers and big organisations like e.g. the Bundespost (federal mail service) still insisted in purchasing the T3 until 1992, VW was forced to move the T3 4x2 fitting-plant competely from Hannover to Graz in the same line with the syncro versions and continue production for a last series of some ten-thousand, while the Hannover light-truck plant was beeing remodeled and already producing the new T4 Transporter. A main reason to develop the T4 had been the manufacturing costs of the old T3 technology and the expensive boxer rear-engine not beeing used in any other model.
As VW and Steyr-Puch decided to do the modifications as properly as possible, it is clear that it couldn't be cheap in the end, because everything was limited by a concept deriving from the mid-1970s and even earlier roots. So with every T3 delivered instead of a T4, VW would comparatively loose profits and - once they had made up their minds for the T4 - their intention was to let the T3 die as fast as ever possible. It is clear, that there was especially one thing VW managers did not want to have in these days: : large amounts of publicity with a T3 high-tech 4WD Off-Road version. They aimed at the opposite: attention was needed badly for the new model, which was at first not well accepted by the majoity of the customers. This may also explain why the 16" version didn't even come to the US or Canada. It is interesting to talk to motor journalists involved in Off-Road tests in the late 1980's and early 1990's. They describe the amazing stiuation that they had to appear in Wolfsburg and - more or less - beg for demonstration cars of the syncro 16" and not the other way round as usual.
The 16" version differs from the 14" in a lot of details. To follow the flow of the manufacturing process we have to start with the bodywork. As the T3 Van has no seperate chassis-frame, additional reinforcements had to be integrated into the bodywork sheet-metal structure. This means thicker or more rigid material for the b-column, the shock-absorber flanges, suspension hinges. Gear-box and transmisions may differ from the 14" in their ratio according to the engine version in combination with options like high-roof etc. A rear diff-lock was included in the package, for some countries even the front diff-lock. There are e.g. also some special air tubes for the transmission and friction housing in order to avoid to sucking water while wading. The front suspension of the later models was changed from welded sheet-metal to a more rigid and corrosion-resistent steel-cast part, the CV-joints are covered by a special PUR protection shield. The rear half-axles have a bigger flange-diameter (108 instead of 100 mm). The filling of the visco-coupling is said to be slightly different in order to accelerate its traction control function. The 16'' package includes also enlarged brakes from the VW LT 3,5t light-truck - conventional drums at the rear, 280 mm disk-brakes in front. Factory tire size was 195 R 16, the 205 R 16 or 7.00 x 16 were also available with a new car, aftermarket suppliers enlarged the choice up to 31x10,5x16 or 245/75 R 16. Clearance between rear-suspension and the 16" tires seemed insufficient, so a modified suspension was designed, which also enlarged the wheelbase for another 20mm. More clearance is the reason for the modified wheel-wells. As the sheet-metal would otherwise interfere with the enlarged tires, the 'fenders' are modified and covered with these typical black extensions molded in polyurethane.
First of all it is not very likely to get in touch with one outside of Europe or the states around the Mediterranian Sea. Have a look at the numbers at the sticker near the fuse-box near the drivers-doors or in your service booklet. You will find one number starting with e.g. 253 for a Kombi based vehicle, 255 for a Caravelle or Vanagon GL (see also production figures above and the dictionary at vanagon.com) The three digit number that follows tells you about the stock engine, body, tire & rim combination. The first two digits are quite complicated to structure, the last one tells you factory tires for your model were 185 R 14 tyres if '7', 205 R 14 if '5' and finally 195 R 16 if 'A'. The optional 205 R 16 tires were encoded M 855.
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