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Volkswagon Campervan

Published: 21st Aug 2015 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Buyer Beware

There’s been many books written on the VW Camper but this latest one must be one of the most useful. VW CAMPER BUYERS’ GUIDE does what it says on the tin and is a full buying guide on the ranges by reputed author and camper fan Richard Copping who covers the ranges starting with the Type 1. At under £15 from publishers Behemoth it has to be the first step for anybody who dreams of owning their own thing in a classic Camper. You can find it on Amazon.

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Do you go for an old classic, or a modern classic? Paul Davies referees the battle between Volkswagen’s Type 2 and Type 5 Campers

In my, totally biased, opinion all motor enthusiasts should do two things before they hand in their driving licence; drive a Porsche 911, and own a VW campervan. Which model Porsche is easy, any one as long as the six-cylinder motor at the rear is air-cooled. As regards campers it’s a little more difficult – should it be a classic Type 2 or the more modern Type 5?

On this vexing question I’m divided. I owned (well, it was my wife actually) a Type 2 for some ten years and I (we) loved every minute of it. Only a house move prompting a lack of use made us sell it. Then a few years later we had withdrawal symptoms. These start with buying one of the many motorhome magazines, then follows an unhealthy tendency to scour the classified adverts in minute detail, then you start looking at campsite directories. Soon after, you’re hooked! That was when the new Type 5 came on the scene.

Our 1973 Type 2 was great. It was in top condition when we bought it, and we kept things up to scratch over the years with ‘selective’ re-paints, along with new interior cushions and curtains; we even replaced the engine after an unfortunate motorway blow-up. It went all over the UK and to France, towed a dinghy, helped in a house move, and even made many heavily laden trips to the local rubbish tip. We sold it to a family who promised to look after it, and even now send us Christmas cards


Which is best? Now that’s a good question! The Type 2 is an unashamed classic, indeed it has become a cult car of the highest order. The Type 5, in my mind, is merely a classic in the making. But we need to look at both models in a bit more detail before a proper verdict can be reached.

In VW language, the original Ferdinand Porsche designed Beetle was the Type 1 (although in the Porsche design office it was actually Type 60) first appearing pre-1939, but production really getting going post-war with British Army Major Ivan Hirst in control of the Wolfsburg factory.

The Type 2 – with re-designed chassis but Beetle rear mounted, air-cooled engine and running gear – was born from ideas put forward by Dutch VW importer Ben Pon, and first appeared late in 1949 in panel van, or Transporter, form.
The iconic camper was to grow from the original panel van, and by the late sixties Volkswagen was offering official conversions in the UK, by home based Devon and the German Westfalia companies. While details changed much over the years, the concept was to remain the same.

German production of the T2 ended in 1979, to be replaced by a ‘square’ looking version of the same van, known usually as the Type 25 (two and a half if you like) so as not to confuse it with the Type 3 which was a VW saloon of earlier years.

The T3 may have lost the cute looks of the earlier models but the compensation was numerous improvements, such as a better (and excellent) equal weight distribution, rack-and-pinion steering and an engine choice from 1.6-2.0-litres. There was also a more modern cabin and greater comfort; this generation isn’t the most fashionable but well-kept early examples are arguably the best of the air-cooled breed and are very good value for money. Later examples of the rear-engined T3 used water-cooled engines, with both petrol and diesel versions.

But whilst Europe gave up on the T2 way back, production continued in South America, first in Mexico and then Brazil.
In 2005 Brazil finally pensioned off the air-cooled engine, replacing the unit with the 1.9-litre four-cylinder diesel found in the Golf. Whilst the engine remained in the rear, the water radiator was at the front. You can recognise water-cooled T2s by the front grille panel. Production of the Type 2 van finally ended in Brazil two years ago, 63 years after the first vehicle left Wolfsburg.

The much changed, front wheel drive, water-cooled, T4 came along in 1990, and in turn was succeeded in 2003 by the slightly larger T5 which continues today. Engine availability has always been two four cylinder diesels (84bhp and 109bhp) and a fabulous 2.5-litre V6 diesel.

With modern engineering, economical yet pacey diesel power and power steering, the Type 5 van (109bhp) was our obvious choice for a new-style camper base. Its 40mpg and 130kph (80mph) autoroute cruise ability makes it an ideal long-distance tourer, gives us a degree of luxury over the earlier T2, and can still be used for trips to the tip!

Generally speaking (you’ll find variations) T2 and T5 campers follow the same format, a rock‘n’roll rear bench seat which folds down to make a fair double bed, cooking facilities (sometimes just a hob, but often a grille as well), a sink, fridge, storage units and a mean-sized wardrobe. Both our campers were (are?) fitted with a lift up roof, which allows decent standing height when parked or can take a kid’s-size bed.


Even the most die hard classic Camper fan has to admit that one of the VW’s many qualities isn’t pace. As a result, the 1600cc (1584cc) flat four, with just 47bhp (a 66bhp twin carb derivative was offered along with auto trans in the early 70s), struggles with modern traffic, especially when well-laden in holiday mode. The legal limit is hit only on downhill stretches, and on country roads it’s easy to build up a (frustrated) queue behind. One driver I know said he waited until there were a dozen vehicles following and you could see white knuckles on the steering wheels before he pulled over!

That said, there’s shed loads of tuning gear for the air cooled flat four to improve matters and a popular mod these days is to convert a Camper to Subaru Impreza power as it is of a similar configuration; kits are available in the US. A complete role reversal from rear engine, rear-wheel drive to FWD, the Transporter was transformed with the advent of the T4 and editor Alan Anderson (who was editor of What Van? at that time) says this VW was just as bigger landmark in van design back in 1990 as Ford’s Transit was in ’65. Based upon a modified Passat platform, T4 also set new levels of handling and roadholding and was amazingly car-like to drive. The T5 improved on it further and the VW is more enjoyable to drive than many cars we can mention!


Well, more for camping to be honest, although they can be used as a normal car. Their sizes are deceptive because as a ‘footprint’ they are MPV-sized with the T2 no larger than a Focus estate. Comparing the two, it’s fair to say that T5s tend to be more civilised. Our original had a gas fridge that was a bit, ahem, hard to start whereas the current model is electric and can be used on the move, and the tap over the sink is connected to an electric pump not a rubber bulb you pump with your feet.

We’ve also got a proper water storage tank in the T5 (T2 had a plastic container occupying the spare wheel well) and gas powered heating. There’s also a system to allow mains electric use on camp sites.

The Achilles’ heel of old air-cooled vans was a heating system that was rather theoretical, especially after several decades of decay had eaten into the heat exchangers (the modern T2 has a proper heater plumbed into the engine’s water jacket).

Both these VW campers are small (under 5m long) and limited space usually means there’s no space for a proper loo. The most you can expect in either is a small ‘Porta- Potti’ chemical toilet which stows under the seat. If such things worry you, then you’re into real size motorhomes, not campers.

Really, we’ve got two campers, three decades apart but very similar. Yes, our T5 is better equipped but there’s nothing to stop anyone modding the older vehicle to take the creature comforts of the later – except the space to work with is not so big. And price-wise (see panel) there’s not much in it.


There are plenty of original Type 2s available on the market, and Danbury is still offering brand new Brazilian versions – presumably until stocks of the base van dry up. You can divide originals into Splittie or Bay versions with the earlier models commanding top prices. If you want an official VW conversion it’s got to be Devon or Westfalia, with prices ranging from a somewhat tatty but reliable ‘Bay’ at £3000 right through to a restored Splittie at plus £30k! Best buy will be a well looked-after ‘Bay’ at, say, £10- £15K. The Type 2 rusts just like all classics but both body and mechanical parts are available from specialists such as Just Kampers.

Because it is current (and the camper/ motorhome business has boomed in the past 10 years) some really smart T5s are available from a long list of coachbuilders. Auto Sleepers, Bilbos, Reimo, Devon and Danbury, are just a few offering aftermarket conversions on new vans, whilst Westfalia are the official manufacturers of the VW listed California. New campers on either short or long wheelbase T5s start at £35K, or expect to pay £10K for an old, but quality, Auto Sleeper, or £25K-plus for a moderate miles version in good order.

New or used? Actually there’s a third way – buy a low mileage van that’s then fitted out with a camper conversion. Our red T5 you see on these pages was a 2007 van, with just 30,000 miles on the clock, converted in 2012 at a total cost (including the van) of £22,000. The conversion was carried out by Yorkshire based Elite Camper Conversions who appear to exist no longer, but other companies offer the same service.



Production begins of the Van, Kombi and Bus versions which are latter known as ‘Splitties’. All have split front screens and 1131cc/25bhp Beetle engine. A rarely spotted pick-up version follows in 1952 and a cult car is born.


Engine has grown over the years to a massive 1192cc and a meaty 30bhp! But this year it is also joined by the lustier 1500 (1493cc) unit, which managed 40bhp initially albeit with a lot more pull (and is worth fitting).



1.7-litre engine, taken from the 411 saloon, is offered as a worthy option, giving a more welcome 66bhp. For the 1974 model year, this engine is replaced by a lustier 68bhp 1.8-litre unit.


Engine grows to 2-litres and a useful 70bhp; automatic option is now added. Production of the T2 ends in Germany in 1979, to be replaced by the angular T25 but continues at the VW factory in Mexico with old 1.6 air-cooled engine.


Mexican Type 2s finally ditch the trusty air-cooled engine, but it happily continues for a further five years using an adaptation of Golf’s 1.4 water-cooled powerplant. When camper production ends in ’96 it carries on in Brazil!


Brazil finally gives up on the air-cooled motor too, and all T2s built from December onwards are powered by the water-cooled 1.4 Golf unit. This delivers 78bhp on petrol and 80bhp when run on ethanol fuel. Only recently been discontinued…

We Reckon...

So, is it a draw then? Not quite, I think. It’s really a case of horses for courses. If you want an appreciating asset to love, cherish, and take on the odd weekend trip not too far away, it’s got to be the Type 2. But, it you’re serious about camper-vanning and want to put distances under your wheels plus live in a degree of comfort and (dare I say) mechanical reliability, then the newer vehicle is the no-brainer.

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