Hello there Aaron,
I think your machine probably has the piston that does not have a valve on the base. All the later Caravels had a hole/valve built into the very bottom of the piston and the water enters the piston chamber here. However on the early VAM machines the piston simply raises up above the water inlet and thats how it fills. This means the pull is a little different- and perhaps a little smaller, try this method:
Raise the lever fully and jiggle a little at the top. Lower completely- then quickly raise again- and lower. Two complete pulls.
Use a very fine grind- the idea is that on the second pull you have a fair amount of resistance (my VAM has a different basket than other Caravels- with more holes- this means very fine grind and well tamped). The first pull doesnt need to be so tight... in a way the first pull is almost like a pre-infusion.
I found this method works well with my VAM model Caravel.
You should certainly not have a problem with crema... I get a black and tan affect.... with a good 1cm of thick crema once it settles...