Monday, 6 July 2015

History of the Syncro And Tristar

The Beginning of the Kombi
The story starts with the first generation Kombis with the split front window that were officially launched on 12 November 1949 and started production in 1950 when just over 8000 vehicles were produced. A total of 1.833 million were produced in Germany until production ended in July 1967, and another 400,000 in Brazil right up until 1975. The second generation, the classic VW Kombi that we often see in a camper set up and call a hippie van, started production in 1967 and ceased in 1979, although until recently they kept manufacturing a version in Brazil. This was the second generation van and was officially known as the T2 and sometimes called a "Bay Window" because of the front window shape.
The Third Generation 
The third generation van called a T3 in Europe, or T25 in the UK or Vanagon in the USA started production in Hanover in 1980 when around 218,000 units were produced. They were produced in various models from day one with 7 or 9 seat bus versions available and a pick up or "ute" as we say in Australia. In September 1981 the bus versions were renamed Caravelle and luxury versions were also produced. An even more luxury version was produced, called the Carat and marketed as an "executive limousine with space, comfort and performance".

Originally air cooled engines were supplied but in 1981 a diesel option was added using the engine from the VW Golf. Water cooled boxer engines were then introduced and in 1986 a new 2.1 engine with digitally controlled fuel injection was made available in the top of the range Caravelle GL.
The Diesel engines were modified and improved and the 2.1 litre engine became available in all models. 
The third generation van continued in production until July 1990 to make way for the 4th generation or T4 which had the engine at the front. Sacrilege to us with the engines up the back!!  A total of 1,227,669 T3 vans were produced and sold around the world. In Europe there was a popular camping version that started production in 1986 called the Westfalia. See photo of a nice looking one.
In Australia many were converted and also used as campers to continue the tradition of the early vans. As far as I know we mostly did a full pop top conversion.

The Syncro
Like all good cars with a cult following, the story of the Syncro began with two engineers. To be specific, two light truck engineers at Volkswagen who enjoyed taking their VW Type 2 Vans to far away places around Europe. They had the novel idea of adding 4WD to a VW Van to enable it to go off the beaten track. They managed to get 5 impressive prototypes working in 1978 but couldn't convince VW brass to produce the beasts.
The introduction in 1983 of the water-cooled engined vehicles to the Type 25 range allowed VW to have another rethink about four-wheel drive.
This time though VW decided that they would not further develop their T2 4WD design or even use the Audi system. 
Instead they went for a completely new and different “Ferguson” system (originally invented by a Pom) that was used on Jensen cars and well tried out on the racetracks.
Volkswagen took this system to an Austrian company Steyr-Daimler-Puch, who were already well known in the four-wheel drive “field” for their “Haflinger” and Mercedes “G-Wagen” developments. Production stared in Graz in Austria with bodies and engines coming from Germany.
I won't go into all the technical details but the 4WD works by automatically directing power to the front wheels through a "prop shaft" and a viscous coupling when traction is needed. The Vans were modified to take the new system, strengthened and had wider wheels than standard. An extra low gear was added to the gearbox.
Most of the models in the range were offered as Syncro versions. Here is a photo of my 1988 Syncro which was converted to a camper in Sydney before being registered in Victoria in early 1989. Hopefully no one will comment on the state of my pop top roof!!!
43,468 Syncros were produced but only 2108 were right hand drive. So the RH drive ones in Australia are reasonably rare vehicles. But now onto the luxury twin cab version, the Tristar.

The Tristar
Launched in September 1988 the VW Tristar was full of luxury and extras. From alloy wheels as standard to thick carpets, electric windows and mirrors, a rear heater, cup holders, cloth seats with retractable armrests, a heated rear window, interior grab handles, illuminated vanity mirror for the front passenger, wheel arch trims and different bumpers. A long list and interesting that this was 1988!!!
There were some optional extras like bull bars as shown in this photo of the front page of the advertising pamphlet.

Information on the number manufactured is not available but estimates are that 1500 Tristars were built and of these 500 were the Syncro version. It's estimated only about 20 were right hand drive. As I said in my first post, the one owned by Hartmut Kiehn is the only one in Australia and its a rare vehicle indeed.

Its well on its way to Hamburg and my next post will tell you where it is on the journey. Here it is on home territory before the drive to Sydney and loading on the container ship.

1 comment:

  1. "illuminated vanity mirror" was always sooooo very useful! Just what one needs in a truck!