Vanagon syncro – front spring swap and radius arm bushing replacement

The other thing I did recently was swap in a pair of front springs from my old ’82 westy into the front of my ’86 syncro. You know that that suspension set up is different between the 2wd and syncro vanagons, the syncro has a spring perch on the shock absorber and uses (generally) shorter springs than the 2wd vans. I compared the spring lengths of the ’82 diesel westy and my ’86 syncro in this blog post, and in this post. This particular 2wd spring is about 20 mm longer than the syncro spring, but the wire diameter (approx 16.6 mm) and number of turns (8) are the same. The spring rate, if I have identified the 2wd spring correctly, is according to the IG16 wiki 80 N/mm. It is the same spring rate as the syncro springs I have. It seems only one spring type was installed in North American market syncro tintops and westies.

I’ve not been pleased with the amount of  “springing” in the van. With the westy conversion it must be a bit heavier than it was as a tintop, and I find that the van scrapes the spare tire clamshell on the ground when I’m negotiating ditches, trenches etc on logging roads. Friend Simon would add that my excessive bulk is not helping things. The distance between the front fender lip and the wheel centre was about 18.25″. I would like it to be at least 19″, but not more than 19.5″. At the back it is trivial to add some shims to raise things, and I did do that (rear measurement 19″). That shimming made the front end look even lower.

I’m not ready to dive into the hyperbole ridden and expensive world of aftermarket springs and shocks, and one must consider springs and shocks together. Increasing the spring rate does require increasing the dampening abilities of the shock.

Originally thought that I would add a shim to the top of the spring, but then I decided to give the spring swap a go. I did not know whether the “no compressor spring removal” technique would work with longer springs so I bought a rather cheap spring compressor from Princess Auto. Spring compressors give me the willies, I feel like I am on a bomb disposal mission when I use them.

Upper A-arm disconnected from upper ball joint, you’d think there is enough room to get the compressors in.


Nope, not enough compression with this set up.


Ditto here. The hex area at top of compressor does not allow you to get a grab on a higher coil, plus at the other end, the screws are too long and interfere with the axle shaft. I wasted about an hour mucking around with the compressors, I finally gave up. I could have cut the screws down, but I was of two minds about that. Was it worth wasting more time trying to get them to work or try and return them to the store?


So I went back to the no compressor method. Radius arm arm was removed, sway bar drop link disconnected, nut and rubber bushing removed from top of shock, and the lower control arm carefully lowered so that the spring and shock could be pulled out to the side and the spring removed. One thing though, I had installed a westy swivel seat base on the passenger side this summer. So I had to make a hole in the base to access the plug that, once removed,  allows you to put insert a tool to guide the shock back up into the shock tower during re-install.


So, I got the passenger side spring installed (radius arm bushings on that side done too) on New Year’s day. With one spring installed, and before driving to settle things in, I got a 19.5″ measurement from hub centre to fender lip. I like that look, it is as high as I want to, or should go. A couple of days later I got the other side done and the hub to fender height settled in at 19 1/8″. Driving the van felt a little different, I could tell the front was higher (yes, I really could detect the change), there was no difference in how the van dipped or raised over bumps. Mind you this was only driving over the lumpy roads in North Saanich, no logging road travel done yet.


Now some shameful pics of the dreadful state of my radius arm bushings…

New bushings and radius arm. Note the shiny spacer I made over a year ago.


Old and new.


“By Timothy, what a difference”





Well I think the spring swap was worth the effort but I will add a teeny tiny little spacer (about 1/4″ thick) to bring it up to 19.5″ hub to fender lip measurement. As to the radius arm bushings, I don’t think any further comments are needed.

  1. #1 by famillysyncro on January 6, 2013 - 8:47 pm

    Looks good Alistair.
    Did you do something to your shocks or are they stock size?
    I had problem with my setup (GW +2″ and OME shocks and 7pass van) as those shocks were tooping up on bigger bumps so my shocks are close to 2″ longer know.
    But I think GW said the setup I got is good on a Westy….

    • #2 by albell on January 6, 2013 - 9:03 pm


      I kept the stock shocks. I figured that if I was right that the spring rates were the same, then the stock shocks would be ok. I am not ready yet to really try and improve my springs and shocks. I have fantasies of an inexpensive route to an adjustable spring perch shock, and a more common, North American spring (how about the Moog 5660? about 25% stiffer spring rate than the stock spring).



      • #3 by famillysyncro on January 8, 2013 - 8:27 pm

        I was thinking about the length of those shocks in front as you raised the van so I had to make the rod of shocks longer to compensate the added elngth of springs.


      • #4 by albell on January 8, 2013 - 9:24 pm

        Yes, I understand, but Jerome, I only raised it a bit, I think (but could be wrong) that I am still within limit of shock stroke.

        I’ll see if I can work it out, using stock shock data.



  2. #5 by peterpilz on January 6, 2013 - 8:55 pm

    good morning !!

    i´ve been following your blog for quite some time now. you live in Canada, right? you work outdoors, right ? doesn´t it ever snow/ get cold in Canada ?

    peter from Austria ( 1989 T3 syncro multivan. MV engine, 2.1liter.

    • #6 by albell on January 6, 2013 - 9:08 pm

      Yes Peter, I live in Canada, but in the part of Canada that gets little snow, sigh…

      I’m on the north end of Saanich Peninsula, which is on the south end of Vancouver Island. The Pacific ocean keeps us pretty well snow free, but there is a lot of snow on the hills and mountains of Vancouver Island. I can see some of it from home, about an hour’s drive.

      But really, we do get some snow during the winter, maybe about 3 day’s worth each winter. Otherwise it is around 2-4 C, and quite rainy.



  3. #7 by Leon on January 6, 2013 - 10:41 pm

    I use scissor type spring compressor to install front springs. It works much better but has some limitations too.
    It compresses spring in an arch and it’s hard to install shock because of that.
    I used to attach bottom first and then fished top of shock rod using special tool i made myself.
    Now i attach top first and try to guide bottom part to line up with bolt hole. Little easier to do.
    Never heared of 2wd springs in front of Syncro. I got GW springs/OME shocks and like this setup
    Relatively soft, works great on washboards.With 31″ tires steering feels light but i got used to it

    • #8 by albell on January 7, 2013 - 9:27 am

      Hi Leon,

      yeah, I was frustrated by the compressors I bought. They really weren’t the right kind. Your description of the spring compressed in an arch makes me nervous 🙂

      One day I’ll install a better shock/spring combo, but for now my quick and dirty swap will do.



  4. #9 by peterpilz on January 7, 2013 - 11:47 am

    i just envy you. i don´t have a garage, but it is almost impossible for me to work outside due to low temps. and there would be so much to do on my car. because i don´t drive my car during the winter months, i´d have plenty of time to work on the syncro as well. but, it is indescribable how much salt is thrown on the roads here, just to get the tourists on the ski slopes on time! i enjoy your blog (and Ed´s) very much. ii the past it has helped me quite a bit. thank you and good luck for the future. peter

    • #10 by albell on January 8, 2013 - 2:05 pm


      it is worse than that. I have a garage/barn that is so full of junk I cannot pull the van into it. I have a work-free day today and I am trying to make enough room in one bay to pull the van in. Big incentive is the weather, pouring rain today, water everywhere. Here is a link to the local weather forecast page:

      I had the Idea that there was less salt used in Austria (you are in Austria, not Germany, right?). Brine of some sort seems to be the choice locally the few times it does snow.


      • #11 by peterpilz on January 9, 2013 - 12:24 am

        hi !

        yes, i live in austria. in styria, to be exact. in everyday german we say s a l z for salt. but in old german the word for salz was h a l l. therefore you´ve got salt mines in:: Salzburg, Hallein, Bad Reichenhall (which means: rich in salt) Schwaebisch Hall etc., etc..
        in my area there many ski resorts. now that the borders are open, due to new EU-regulations, you get many, relatively rich, tourists from Poland, Slovania, Hungary, Czech Republic and so on. (Germans, French Swiss, Italiens stay in their own contries). in order to get the people to the ski towns relatively safe, they throw salt on the roads in amounts that make your head spin! we´ve got enough of the stuff. see above. even though these tourists drive Audis, BMW´s, VW, Skoda´s, Korean/Japanese and what not4X4´s, these people are bad drivers. to compensate for this, the local authorities dump salt (not brine!) in unbelievable amounts on the roads to make them “snow free”. get there quickly and safely. that´s the story. that´s the truth. makes me mad as hell! thank god, i live way up (1,300m) and very secluded. no one bothers me up here. except in the summer time when mountain bikers think that it is cool to throw their Red Bull cans into the bushes. but most of them speak german, so i have no problem in telling them how to behave in nature!

        thank you for your replies even though you are a very busy man.

        auf wiedersehen (in Austrian dialect :: S e r v u s), pilzpeter

      • #12 by albell on January 10, 2013 - 8:42 am


        thanks for the salt info. It never occurred to me before, duh, Salzburg… of course. Interesting how “hall” is the other word used, it must be from the latin root for salt (or is it “sea”?), and we use in words like “haline”, “halide”, “halo” (as in halophile). So you have words from both Germanic and Latin origins in Austria.

        Don’t local and regional governments worry about the bad effect all that salt is having on bridges?

        So we have the the same kind of people the world over – the ones that litter in the wilderness. Annoys me no end, saw a lot of it this last summer. Out here you find empty cans of “Lucky Lager” and quite often hundreds (really) of spent shotgun shells together in one spot. Yup, drinking and shooting. Not a problem with me, just clean up after AND use lead free shot please!

        1,300 m elevation eh? Must be very pretty. You need to get a picture of the farm and snow to me!



      • #13 by albell on January 10, 2013 - 9:44 am


        my foreign correspondent informs me that there are only 3 types of vehicles seen on the roads in Styria, “Audi, Mercedes and the tractor”.

        He sent picture of typical street scene in Graz 🙂

        Graz street scene



  5. #14 by Lucky Stu on October 12, 2014 - 10:05 pm

    Hi Alistair, after reading this and a bunch of other bits and bobs on the Samba as well as videos on Campervan Culture I just did this same mod. I also ended with 19.5″. I attempted to do it without compressors, expecting to have the same clearance issues as you describe but in the end gave up and used them without drama, so clearly the design of some suits better the syncro then the design of others. Also without any special (or even mediocre) tool I was able to guide the shock up using force applied to push in the extended shock while my good wife jacked up the lower shock mount with a bottle jack.

    My little project can be seen in this Samba Thread:

    I have not yet added the front spring ‘story’ and don’t have too many images (I was too busy cursing).

    Anyway, thought it worth commenting that your post here is appreciated and was very useful to me. Cheers!


    • #15 by albell on October 12, 2014 - 10:47 pm

      Hi Stu,

      Glad my post helped a bit. I’ve got more to say but will have to get back to you later.



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