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Volkswagen Campervans

Volkswagen Campervans Published: 2nd Jul 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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This versatile Volkswagen is not so much a van but a way of life and has seen prices soar. Superb spares and specialist support and a magnificent social scene. No shortage of vehicles, even if condition varies but buy well and you’ll be a convert for life

There’s no doubt about it when talking classics, with the Volkswagen Camper or Transporter van, you either ‘get it’ or you don’t but there’s little argument that it’s one of the greatest cult classics ever, with equally one of the most enthusiastic followings anywhere in the classic world, around the world. That comes as no real surprise with so many variants having been offered across seven decades of production; from pick-ups and minibuses to vans and caravanettes, there’s a Camper for everyone and for every budget even if values have rocketed of late and look like continuing to do so.


1949 The first prototype Transporter van is built using the Beetle’s chassis. However, was not up to the job, and a unitary body was developed instead, leaving just the 12-litre 25bhp engine to come from the Beetle along with its running gear.

1950 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.

1951/52 Production begins of Samba bus, otherwise known as the Microbus De Luxe. By 1952 there was a pick-up option. All have split front screens and 1131cc/25bhp Beetle engine.

1954 As right-hand drive UK imports starts, the engine’s meagre power is raised to a whopping 30bhp.

1958/59 A double cab option becomes available and the following year an all-synchro gearbox was fitted, while engine power also rose to a heady 34bhp.

1961/63 A high-roofed panel van offered while power junkies could specify a 1492cc engine at extra cost from 1963; with 42bhp on tap because of its much better pulling power.

1967 A major new chapter started in 1967, when the split-screen Type 2 was replaced by the bay window edition with same wheelbase but longer overhangs. A revised rear axle design allows a lower floor. Engine is a 1.6-litre, 47bhp taken from the Type 3.

1970/71 1.6-litre engine is upped to 50bhp in 1970 thanks to the fitment of twin-port cylinder heads. However, from 1971 there was a twin-carb 1679cc (from the 411 saloon) engine fitted, offering 66bhp; this could also be specified with an automatic gearbox from 1972. For the 1974 model year, this is replaced by the gutsier 68bhp 1.8-litre unit.

1974/79 1.8-litre engine now available with 68bhp but grows to full fat 2-litres for a rousing 70bhp plus is also available with automatic option. Production of the T2 ends in Germany in 1979, to be replaced by the angular conventional T3 and Type 25, but the old guard continues at the VW factory in Mexico with old 1.6 air-cooled engine. The Type 25 was a world away from original blueprint although still rear-engined.

1991 Mexican Type 2s finally ditches air-cooled power, but continue for a further five years using an adaptation of the Golf’s 1.4 water-cooled engine. When build ends in ’96 it carries on in Brazil.

2005 Brazil finally gives up on the air-cooled motor, and all T2s built from December onwards are powered by the Golf unit. This delivers 78bhp on petrol and 80bhp when run on ethanol fuel.

Driving and press comments

Apart from some bay window Type 2s, performance of any original-spec Camper is going to be on the leisurely side to say the least. However, far from making the driving experience a frustrating one, it just ensures you relax and enjoy the ride instead.

With its soft suspension, the VW is amazingly comfortable, and although the engine has to work hard, there’s never much noise from it in the cabin because you leave most of the sound behind, with the flat-four buzzing away quite a distance from the cabin quarters.

Perhaps the best bit about the Camper experience though is its seating position. You sit high up and well forward, so forward that visibility is excellent.

The remarkable thing about getting behind the wheel of a Camper, even a quite new one, is just how classic and right they all feel. The cab is spacious if austere, the steering wheel is big and bus-like and the pedals, which still sprout through rubber matting, take a while to get familiar with.

The T3 and Type 25, the latter with its improved suspension and weight layout, are the more secure handlers plus doesn’t pitch and wallow so much. However, all suffer from buffering in strong winds (if anything the squarer-fronted T3 is worse here) due to the rear engine position.

If you want, you could use your VW every day with confidence and ease. By modern standards, Campers are fairly heavy to drive, but that’s all part of the character. Being van-based there’s more than enough space for daily life, although most folk seem to deck theirs out as a motorhome as rear engine results in an extremely high rear load deck. Fuel economy will depend upon the age and condition of the vehicle in question, along with how it’s driven. The pedestrian performance can mean that the pedal is to the metal all too often. Even so, expect around 25-30mpg when driven sensibly.

How about making it a Mexican? Having just a Golf 1.4-litre engine to propel it doesn’t sound much, but it’s ok and the overall driving experience is remarkably similar to the original but the brakes are very competent, the presence of a servo and front discs mean you have to make little allowance for the age of the overall design.

Road tests of Campers in magazines were thin on the ground but contributor and friend of Classic Motoring Paul Davies (who relates to his love of Campers elsewhere in this feature) had this to say over 45 years ago. The then editor of Car & Car Conversions used one for his 1973 holiday to Scotland and, understandably, being used to high performance and competition cars was hardly looking forward to the 500 mile haul. “Not for one moment did I think I was going to enjoy driving the thing… Surprise, surprise, I reckon I could live with one all the time”, he wrote in the November 1973 edition. And he’s been a life-long owner and convert ever since – read why!

Values and marketplace

Campers in general and not only VWs, are really gaining in interest and this will influence market values. There’s no shortage of Vee Dubs around although this doesn’t seem to affect their values as much as you’d expect. The T3 may not have 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.

They are arguably the best of the air-cooled breed and are particularly good value for money – although it’s (and will always be) the T2 that everyone still yearns for. Customising on all is rife and it’s a matter of personal preference; it may not influence values greatly now but may do as originality is fast becoming preferred.

Deluxe or Samba Split Screens command the highest prices; you can pay up to £30K for a good one. Early barn doors also command high prices due to their rarity, but £15K buys a fair split-screen, although projects can swallow ten grand from the coffers before you even start. Bay window values are steadily catching up, but remain roughly half the price with Type 25s and T4s cheapest.

There are always plenty of LHD vehicles being imported; pay 10-15per cent less for these. Campers have been sold for over 70 grand and up to £50K isn’t uncommon for original top notch ‘splitties’ and Sambas with rising values show no signs of abating.

According to leading parts supplier VW Heritage ‘splitties’ are still the most popular by a long chalk, but soaring costs prevents it being ‘entry level’ for most folks. Almost every part is available – for a price: Roofs, full side panels, and now chassis frames are included.

Bay Windows are probably the biggest selling bus range for the company. Buying costs have ‘calmed down’, so projects are available from around £3K. Most parts are available although sometimes conversions from later ‘Brazil spec’ are needed, especially for early bay front panels, but manufacturers are now seeing the potential to make the parts for the early buses, too says the outfit.

The Type 25 is well and truly in the classic camper club now, and as a result very popular for their low entry costs – projects available for £1000+ although as it’s still in the process of crossing over into full classic status there’s a limited supply of larger panels to contend with. Modern classic T4s are hugely popular and well supported for service and mechanical parts. Bodywork restoration repair panels are available, but as with the Type 25 (or T3), there is a limit on the number of larger panels available.

There are loads of T4s (and T5s) at every show as they are cheap, practical, faster and reliable and still have the VW cool factor.


If the pace of these old timers doesn’t appeal there’s a massive amount you can do to perk these vehicles up but the current fad is to slot in the Subaru boxer engine, as found in Impreza and Legacy ranges. The engine is quite similar in design and size and there are complete kits available in the United States. Otherwise, there’s a wealth of tuning equipment for the legendary air-cooled lump including larger piston and barrels for easy engine enlargements and 135bhp from 2-litres is in sight although just simple carb and exhaust upgrades (try Just Kampers and VW Heritage) show a good response.

There are performance transmissions, choice of axles ratios, a rear axle conversion to enable Beetle gearbox swaps for better gearing and also a IRS rear suspension if you want. A popular modification is to fit a heavy duty anti-roll bar, to improve the van’s roadholding and stability, although ride height adjusters as well as a rack and pinion steering conversion are useful further steps.

Even if keeping it stock, it’s still wise to convert to 12 volt electrics and electronic ignition, the latter which is said to be very beneficial. If you want retain a six volt set up then a ‘Hard Start’ ignition switch from Just Kampers at only £7 eases starting worries considerably. When it comes to Camper customising, the options are seemingly endless if originality isn’t important.

Latest crazes concentrate on comfort and refinement such as sound deadening kits and heated front screens, try Noise Killer Acoustics UK Ltd ( for the former.

Powerplant pointers

Unless you’re looking at a pre-1960 Type 2 saddled with a 30bhp 1192cc Beetle engine, anything you’re likely to need to repair or maintain a Camper powerplant is readily available. In contrast, other than service parts, bits to keep the really early engines going while not extinct altogether, are just a fair bit harder to find now.

Air-cooled Campers are heavy and underpowered, so the engines get used hard and wear accordingly. Look for blue smoke as the van is accelerated, which indicates worn piston rings or cylinder bores.

If the engine has worn out, the cheapest option is to fit a used unit if it’s cheap and good. But the lifespan of these engines is necessarily limited, so it’s best to go for a rebuilt or new engine at closer to £1044 upwards with tuned substitutes available.

Feel for excessive crankshaft end float by pulling on the fan belt pulley. If there’s any detectable movement, the main bearings need replacing, which means completely stripping down the engine.

Check the colour and level of the oil, which should have been changed every 3000 miles. The oil in an air-cooled engine has to work a lot harder than in a water-cooled one, because it acts as the coolant as well as the engine’s vital lubricant.

See if oil is leaking from the rocker covers. As long as it’s just weeping there’s no problem (it’s unlikely to be anything more), and it just needs replacement cork gaskets. It’s an easy job and costs just a few quid to buy the bits.

The 1.6-litre engines tend to last no more than 60,000 miles before needing a rebuild, as they’re generally used hard and often drop a valve once this mileage has been racked up. A tired engine will be down on power, running hotter as a result.

Two families of engine were used; powerplants within each set are interchangeable, but you can’t swap between the two groups.

The first group (1192cc, 1493cc, 1584cc) are Beetle-sourced and are all plentiful. The second group (1679cc, 1795cc and known as the Type 4 unit) were unique to the later Type 2 and 411/412, which are now quite rare. The 1970cc unit was only ever used in the Type 2 and is getting difficult to find in good order, not least because Porsche 914 owners want them as base replacement units!.

Just because it’s air-cooled don’t think it cannot overheat. Damaged or broken ‘vanes’ are usually the culprit along with dodgy fans and shrouds so watch the causes when on a test drive.

There’s no temperature gauge fitted, so grab hold of the oil dipstick after a long run – if it’s too hot to hold comfortably, then the engine is getting too hot. A healthy engine, using good quality oil, can happily run flat out all day long without overheating.

Water cooled 3/Type 25 engines are usually robust; the main concern being corroded cylinder head bolts which can snap and also, in worst case scenario, crack the cylinder head. It also has a reputation for hot running but it’s as tunable as the earlier units. Diesel versions are painfully slow, particularly with a load on board but durable enough.

T3 & Type 25

Not as popular but the T3 and later Type 25 rightly has its own following and was produced right up until 2002 in South Africa. This model was a bit of a mix of new and old; the VW was bang up to date with a new chassis and independent suspension layout yet still relied on a rear-mounted, albeit all new, air-cooled “Wasserboxer” engine, which was hugely expensive to make considering its short production run before water-cooled units took over. With a 50-50 weight balance plus the option of Syncro four-wheel drive it was the best handling Camper of them all. Caravelle people carriers are particularly good with the Carat the most luxurious and yet Type 25 prices are the cheapest of all models.

Model identification quick guide


March 1950-March 1955: ‘Barn door’ – huge engine compartment door
March 1955-August 1963: Small ‘post box’ rear tailgate window
August 1963-July 1967: Full-width rear tailgate window

Bay window:

August 1967-July 1972: Low-level front indicators (just above the bumper)
August 1972-July 1979: High-level front indicators (just below the windscreen)

I’ve bought several

Our man Paul Davies is a great camper fan, in fact he’s currently on his fourth. All apart from No 3 (which we won’t mention here) have been VW-based, starting with the iconic Type 2 which owes its origins to the VW Beetle and its creator Dr Ferdinand Porsche. So, are you surprised he’s a VW camper fan?

Actually Paul says that the Type 2 (a 1971 bay window model which was in fact a purchase by Mrs Davies who found it unmarked and low mileage in a barn near Bishops Stortford) came into the family before the first Porsche appeared in the Davies garage. The Bay – an official VW Devon conversion with 1600cc, air-cooled, flat-four in the tail – spent some ten years as holiday transport, peoplecarrier and general dogsbody before passing to a new and (still) very appreciative new owner. “Just like a Porsche, the Type 2 becomes a way of life”, says Paul. “It’s asthmatically slow, wanders all over the road in a side wind, and is liable to front left piston failure due to poor cooling. But with a Type 2 you buy into a cult that’s just as strong as early Porsche ownership.”

After the Type 2 came a jump – no a leap – in campervan ownership, next in line being the thoroughly modern, front-wheel drive, T5; a 2.0-litre Tdi diesel with 103bhp as opposed to the 50bhp (if you were lucky) of the Bay. The new ‘Van Rouge’ as it became known was fully equipped with ‘fridge, cooker, central heating, rock n’ roll bed and a ‘pop top’ lifting roof for occasional junior sleepers. As a new conversion on a second hand van it was the cost-effective way to get into modern camper ownership. Now there’s ‘Van Rouge 2’ with a brand new, state of the art, VW T6 Birchover camper manufactured by Hillside Leisure of Derby. With Euro 6 compliant diesel it’s as ‘green’ as they come (emissions-wise, it’s still red in colour) and good for 40mpg on a trip.

So what’s the attraction of campervanning? For our man it’s the trip as much as the holiday. “The T6 handles (almost) like its near relation, the VW Golf, with SUVstyle high-level seating without the embarrassment of driving an SUV, and has all the comforts of home when you get to your destination. At 4.9 metres long it’s small enough to sit on the drive and there’s enough room inside for those essential trips to the refuse tip. In fact, it’s a daily driver as well as a holiday home,” remarks Paul.

Top five buying tips

1. The great thing about Camping is that there’s not an easier classic to own, repair and maintain with fantastic specialist support both here (VW Heritage, CGF, Vee Wee and Just Kampers for parts) and in the US. Virtually all you need apart from shells, everything is available new or used but in general Bay Window models are better served.

2. With such a choice of models and variants, you really do need to sit down and work out just what Vee Dub camper you desire; contact and preferably join, an owners’ club first. You can hire one and that’s a great idea as you never know, but it might not be your cup of tea after all and it’s better to find out now than waste time and money…

3. The heat exchangers that make up the cabin’s heating system corrode and allow engine fumes to permeate the interior. Run the engine with the heater on – if the exchangers are leaking you’ll soon know about it! Replacing them is easy enough, as they just bolt into place but never neglect them and they cost some £150 each .

4. Interior is not a major problem as a lot of original style trim is still available, like a full refurb kit at around £700 from specialists, such as VW Heritage’s Heritage Parts Centre although bear in mind that a good many owners will have done their own thing. Whether or not it’s your cup of tea is another matter but it may prove to be a bargaining point.

5. Drum brakes all round were fitted until ’71, and they need to be tip-top. The aftermarket keeps parts supply flowing, such as Just Kampers with its general rear brake overhaul kit for only £100. Nut and bolt front disc conversion kits from VW Heritage start from under £900 but cheaper types from Vee Wee are also available.


What To Look For

Transmission tales

Transmission has a fairly easy life thanks to the low torque levels. More likely problems include a worn gear linkage rubber coupling, which perishes and leads to huge amounts of play in the change. It’s easy to replace the coupling, and cheap. Clutches are usually not a problem: uprated types can be had for just over a £100 so aren’t any dearer over standard. Because the original Type 2 borrowed its (underpowered) engine and final drive from the Beetle, reduction gears had to be fitted to the rear wheel hubs so it could move off. These gears rarely give problems other than oil leaks. All the parts are readily available at about £100 per side, but it’s a job that needs doing very infrequently (less than every decade). Post-1967 (bay window onwards) vans didn’t have reduction gears in their hubs.

Rights and wrongs of the running gear

The steering box is best left well alone – many drivers, unfamiliar with the characteristics of worm and peg steering try to make it give rack and pinion precision by adjusting the peg and subsequently damaging the peg and worm beyond repair. If the steering feels vague you need to check for king pin wear by jacking up the front of the van. Hold the wheel top and bottom and rock the tyre to feel for movement.

The suspension is simple, with torsion bars all round. As well as losing some of their elasticity, you need to make sure that the vehicle hasn’t been lowered, before being returned to normal spec. In the early 1990s there was a trend towards lowering by cutting the torsion bars, twisting them on their splines and rewelding. Some people are still doing it, but you need to make sure it has been done properly.

The brake master cylinder often gets overlooked because it’s beneath a hatch under the cab floor and as such can be neglected. Have a look at the fluid level – if it’s really low, there’s clearly a problem somewhere that needs investigating.

If you want to carry on camping, check for rust!

The metal is fairly durable, but if any panels need TLC, nothing should present any problems. All panels are
available (including a handful of chassis from VW Heritage), whether complete or as repair items, and they’re
made to a high standard so little fettling will be required.

It’s unlikely that anything other than the lower parts of the bodywork will need attention. The sills, front valance,
wheelarches and door bottoms may all be showing signs of corrosion, with cover sills often being fitted to
mask serious problems beneath.

Check the floorpans, especially towards the front where there’ll be lots of mud but no leaked engine oil to
protect the metal. Also lift the engine cover and see what state the inner wheelarches are in; the battery often
leaks acid onto its tray and dissolves both the tray and the surrounding metalwork. Approx prices? T2 front
panel, £256 (Just Kampers); door shin £61 (Vee Wee); and floors £120-£130 (VW Heritage).

The leading edge of the roof also corrodes, while the metal rots immediately below the windscreen. The result
is water getting into the cabin, so inspect the footwells for dampness.

Three Of A Kind

VW Transporter T4
VW Transporter T4
Most fundamental change to the VW occurred in 1990 when it went front engined and front-wheel drive, using a Passat platform as its base. The most car-like of van when launched, perhaps they lack that essential character but are extremely civilised and usable with 4x4 ‘syncro’ version also available. Caravelle is a fine people carrier and there’s chassis cabs, pick ups and more to choose from.
Ford Transit
Ford Transit
Made all other vans seem relics when launched in 1965 and was better than many cars at the time. Transit is the byword in vans although doesn’t have the cult appeal of the VW. Original Mk1 used a gruff V4 power unit before a Cortina 1600 engine was substituted before switching over to Pinto power for the Mk2. While not as good as the Volkswagen, parts and support is pretty fair and residuals ever rising.
Bedford CF
Bedford CF
It’s said that when the Transit was launched, Vauxhall immediately binned the CA replacement it had and started afresh – result being Bedford CF which some claim is the better vehicle with nicer handling and lustier Victor engines of up to 2.3-litres. The downsides are scarcity of spares and support and an acute storage of vehicles so a good one will need some tracking down.


You don’t need to be a hippie to own a Camper; as a classic, or second vehicle, they make sense. As a van, or in people carrying Caravelle guise, this bigged-up Beetle was always a high quality, if Spartan, commercial, but with a build only bettered by Mercedes. No wonder this VW has been a massive hit with poseurs and pragmatists alike for decades – and will remain so we hope.

Classic Motoring

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