Vanagon syncro gear shift lever maintenance

R. Jones pushed me into this, he wanted to see how it all goes together. I’ll go through it on point form, pictures and text. Bentley has an exploded view and instructions for back up.
On the way out to the workshop I noticed a cool spider on a leaf of one of the jade plants we put outside for the summer. Got a quick snap before it moved. If you want good pics, head to A. Gordon’s Wordlessme.

Back to the job, first unscrew gear lever knob and pull off the rubber shifter boot. Then mark the position of the upper plate on the lower plate. I scratched circles through the two holes in the upper plate.

No need to remove the two 10 mm nuts you see there right now, we will be taking the two plates out together. Then it’s under the van to drop the spare and remove the shifter box, four 10 mm nuts and washers, careful, they drop easily πŸ™‚

Box removed

Now remove the vertical from the horizontal between the “ears”. It’s a 10 mm stover nut and a washer on one side, and a 13 mm headed bolt on the other.

Now you can get back into the van and pull up the plates and shifter, and take it to the bench for disassembly.

There is a set screw on that metal collar on top of that spring, hold it tight as you back the screw off and remove collar and spring. The shift lever will slide out of the housing assembly. Look at the “T” end of the lever, remove the 2 plastic bushings. These are wear items and it would be a good idea to replace them.

I didn’t as I did not have any on hand, and I couldn’t be arsed to make some up. The bolt that rides in there looked a bit worn and I suppose the small amount of play in there does contribute to the overall feel of the shifter. Here is the bolt back in the bushings.

And the wear.

Back to the other parts, now you can remove the two stover nuts holding the upper and lower plates together, you did mark position of the two plates first right? The white plastic collar on the underside of the upper plate is pried out.

Then the entire inner workings, rubber collar and all, can be pushed out from top to bottom. It might be tight, but palm pressure is enough to do it. Careful not to break the upper plastic.

The two white plastic bearing shells can be pried out of the rubber and that will allow an internal spring to sproing things apart.

Now clean all the parts.

Reassembly is pretty straightforward, first squeeze the split shells into the rubber collar, might be a bit of a struggle.

Then the one inner bearing with the protrusion is pushed in from below until it snaps into place. Good time to put a little grease on the rubbing surfaces. Not too much, Bentley makes no mention of lubricating the plastic assembly and I have seen some that are caked in grease and dirt, so it is probably best to go light with the schmalz. Do, however, put a dab of grease on the gear lever where it goes into the plastic assembly and in the bushings on the “T’ at the end of the lever. Note that the rubber collar has a “top”, the little ridge, see? Sorry about bad focus in the next couple of pics.

Then put the larger of the two springs on.

And press the upper bearing into place, again it snaps in. The rubber collar allows the split shells to spread.

This assembly is now pushed into the upper plate.

Followed by that plastic collar.

Put the upper and lower plates together and secure (in the right place using your marks) with the two 10 mm stover nuts. I risked Zinc and or Cadmium poisoning and buffed up the shift lever. The lever is inserted into the bearing assembly, the spring put on, and the collar locked down in place (there is a dimple on the shaft).

Out to the van, and pop the gubbins in.

Then under the van to connect the shift lever to the ears using that bolt and bushing arrangement. Bolt the box back on and put the spare tire and tray back in place. Back upstairs and rubber boot and shift knob back on.

That’s it. Oh, I suppose I should have mentioned that you can get replacement plastic parts for the assembly from the usual suspects, Van Cafe, Go Westy, Bus Depot etc. I re-used the old parts, they seemed to be in OK shape.

  1. #1 by IdahoDoug on May 30, 2011 - 9:51 pm

    Hey, that’s a great post and gives me something else to do while waiting for parts. Nice pictures, too.


  2. #2 by Donny Syncro on June 16, 2011 - 12:40 am

    excellent! Please post more like how to swap engines with a Subaru…

    • #3 by albell on June 16, 2011 - 7:08 am

      Don’t know much about doing a subie swap, only what I have read online πŸ™‚ try the samba


  3. #4 by Donny Syncro on June 16, 2011 - 1:16 am

    want to buff my gear shift lever too, what did you use, Never Dull? Or something else? Yours looks nearly like a chrome finish!

    • #5 by albell on June 16, 2011 - 7:11 am

      I used tripoli on a 8″ spiral sewn buffing wheel mounted on a 1 hp motor. I might have had a bit of green compound (chromium dioxide) on the wheel too.

  4. #6 by Cris on December 30, 2011 - 3:40 pm

    Took my shifter apart today and cleaned that puppy up as part of installing a short throw shifter bracket. That you for posting these lucid and entertaining instructions! You site is fine resource and entertaining to boot.

    • #7 by albell on December 30, 2011 - 6:50 pm

      Hi Cris,

      I’m happy you found the blog post useful. I’ve found that the exposed linkage under the van needs periodic lubing, no matter how well you think you did it the last time. Late model NA market syncros, and earlier ones in Europe (16″ syncros and regular syncros with the “bad way” option) have a protective tube under there that covers the U-joint plus rubber boots covering the last bushing, the one nearest the tranny. The protection must help the lube last longer and it must eliminate slush and ice building up on the linkage (I’ve had that happen, and it makes shifting really hard).

      cheers and a happy new year


  5. #8 by Jan on October 13, 2012 - 9:28 pm

    you are a god and a hero…I have to tackle this job tomorrow and was frreaking out about how to get it all out, disassembled and reassembled correctly, and hopefully still have a functioning van at the end of the process! Bentley is great but a little short on details…. this post is amazing. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to do this. The pics are so helpful for a newbie.

    • #9 by albell on October 13, 2012 - 10:25 pm

      Thanks for the compliments, but jeez, I was only taking photographs as I went along πŸ™‚

      The shift assembly is kind of interesting. Fits together a bit like a puzzle. Oh one thing, have a look at the “ears” on the end of the shifter – the ears that rub against the sides of the box that is held on by 4 10 mm nuts. Check to see if they are worn or broken. Don’t hesitate to contact me (thru blog) if you have any questions.

      cheers and good luck


  6. #10 by Fred M on July 19, 2013 - 9:57 am

    Ahh, what more can I say except your post was awesome and thank you!

    • #11 by albell on July 19, 2013 - 7:43 pm

      Thanks Fred.



  7. #12 by imdbui on February 4, 2015 - 8:27 am

    Great post! I just read through since I will be doing this when I replace a broken shift lever. Thank you!


  8. #13 by Steven on October 24, 2016 - 1:36 pm

    Thx for your post. I have been able to assembled it becouse of your post. Thx

    • #14 by albell on October 24, 2016 - 6:55 pm

      Hi Steven,

      It’s gratifying to hear that my post helped. Makes me wish I did it better but something is better than nothing eh?



  9. #15 by edbee on September 7, 2017 - 9:18 pm

    Hi Alistair,

    Somehow I missed this post until now. This is one of the few parts of my syncro that I didn’t disassemble so eventually I’ll likely have to deal with it and when I do I’ll remember this resource/post. Thanks! I did rebuild the back end of the linkage and replace the ‘mid-linkage’ bushing and it still feels pretty much like a new shifter to me so for now, this part can stay ‘as-is’.

    thanks again,


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