It was the day before Halloween in 2013, and Brendan and Chloe Couvreux were cruising through rural Nevada in their 1987 VW Westfalia Syncro. Chloe was behind the wheel, while her husband, Brendan, was in the back with their two young boys. The couple had purchased the van two years earlier and arranged their work schedules as an ER nurse (her) and a paramedic (him) so the family could spend weeks at a time exploring climbing routes across the West. They were doing about 70 miles per hour when the wheels kissed an off-camber gravel shoulder and the van rolled.
No one was hurt, but Chloe was traumatized. “I almost killed us,” she says. “Then, after we’d all recovered, Brendan said, ‘This is what we do. The risk of being on the road is the risk of being on the road.’ I told him, ‘I’m not ready for another van.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry. It’ll take forever to build out a replacement.’”
They had their Westy towed to Sacramento, where Vanagon guru Stephan White stripped it and grafted all the useful bits—including four-wheel drive—onto a hard-top 1990 VW passenger van, then pimped it out with a rugged aftermarket suspension, skid plates, and a welded-on Westfalia pop-top. Brendan had spent half his childhood sailing the world with his parents, so they added yacht-inspired touches like wooden cabinetry and a foot-pumped sink. “You can be conservative with water, and it doesn’t use any electricity,” he says.
By the time they picked it up 18 months later, the family was jonesing to resume their road-tripping ways. “It’s exactly what we wanted,” says Brendan. “We didn’t need a huge vehicle to hang out in all day. Getting outside with the boys is the whole point.”