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1990 Volkswagen Vanagon DOKA - German for Crew Cab

Posted in Features on May 14, 2016
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Photographers: Fred Williams

Everyone wants what they cannot have, whether it is the forbidden fruit or a diesel Power Wagon. For S. Lucas Valdes, it is a diesel Volkswagen DOKA Syncro. There are a lot of words in there that our readers might not be familiar with, so let us break it down for you. Volkswagen imported the Vanagon to the United States from 1980 to 1991. It was the son of the hippie bus and father of the Eurovan. Kind of like the XJ was a Cherokee, but the son of the FSJ and father of the current KL Cherokee. The Syncro is the 4WD version of the Vanagon, and is fairly rare. The DOKA is the double-cab pickup version of the Vanagon, which was never sold in the U.S. Still confused? It is a 4x4 Volkswagen crew cab truck, based on a van, with a diesel.

As it happens, Valdes has built an entire business (GoWesty) around these unique vehicles and their dedicated following. So it makes sense that he would have the coolest of all Vanagons with tons of rare options and custom features. His friend Thomas, who frequently scours the German countryside for all sorts of interesting VW stuff, imported the DOKA shell from Germany where it served as a railroad municipality vehicle.

For four years Valdes built the truck up in his spare time, something you all can relate to, whether you drive a Jeep, a Chevy, or a Volkswagen. The end result is not only super-rare, but with a diesel engine and lockers front and rear, it is uber-capable as well.

When a friend of owner S. Lucas Valdes negotiated for this DOKA in Germany, he argued that the condition, or even the presence of the engine and transmission, were not important, which was a feature the sellers were pushing hard. After reaching a deal with the sellers, he went to grab a quick lunch. When he returned, the sellers were gone—and so was the engine and transmission! Valdes took the opportunity to replace the stock naturally aspirated 1.6L diesel with a turbocharged, intercooled 1.9L diesel. The engine is backed by a five-speed transaxle with revised gear ratios to crawl over obstacles while still being able to comfortably travel at freeway speeds.

30-inch-tall tires may seem puny, but they are a significant upgrade when you consider that the factory tires are only 25 inches tall. Valdes has been really pleased with the low noise and high traction of the Falken Wildpeak AT3W tires. They have 3D siping and a silica tread compound for excellent wet weather performance.

The Syncro platform uses independent front and rear suspension with A-arms in front and trailing arms in the rear. Valdes’ DOKA has GoWesty progressive-rate coil springs that provide 3 inches of lift and 1 inch of additional wheel travel. The springs work in conjunction with Fox smooth-body reservoir shocks, one at each corner, that have GoWesty-specific valving.

The differentials in the front and rear of the Syncro are interchangeable. Valdes put Peloquin limited slip differentials inside the factory vacuum-actuated selectable lockers in both axles. He also swapped the factory 4.86 gears for lower 6.17 ring-and-pinions front and rear. In addition to the locking front and rear differentials, the DOKA is also fitted with a driveshaft decoupler for 2WD/4WD selection on the fly.

An incredible amount of work has gone into the interior of this truck, but the quality is so good that it looks factory to the uninitiated. The original, bare-bones DOKA dashboard has been replaced with a more plush Vanagon GL assembly, complete with knobs to activate the center differential driveshaft decoupler, as well as the front and rear lockers. The seats are also from a Eurovan, and the rear window is out of a Ford Ranger. Most DOKAs only have one rear door, but Valdes added a second rear door from a Tristar to his truck on the driver’s side.

Those seats though! Valdes swapped in late-model heated front seats from a Eurovan and had them covered in black leather and vintage 1974 VW camper bright yellow, black, and green plaid that has an uncanny resemblance to our Ultimate Adventure Summer Camp Jeep. For more comfort and legroom he swapped out the rear seat for a much more comfortable and safe Eurovan GL rear seat. Since the diesel Vanagon battery is in the rear rather than under the front seat, the underseat battery boxes were cut away to provide more legroom for rear passengers.

Tech Specs
1990 Volkswagen Syncro DOKA
Drivetrain
Engine: 1.9L intercooled turbodiesel
Transmission: 5-speed manual transaxle
Transfer Case: Volkswagen decoupler
Front Axle: Volkswagen with 6.17 gears, Peloquin limited slip, and selectable locker
Rear Axle: Volkswagen with 6.17 gears, Peloquin limited slip, and selectable locker
Suspension
Springs & Such: GoWesty 3-inch coil lift springs and Fox remote reservoir shocks (front and rear)
Tires & Wheels: 30x9.5R15 Falken Wildpeaks on factory VW rims
Other Stuff: Fourth door added, Ford Ranger rear sliding window, VW Camper plaid/black leather interior, custom diamond-plate bed with sprung-hinged engine compartment door, removable rear side panels, Vanagon GL dash, heated Eurovan seats, power windows, power door locks, sliding sunroof

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