The VW camper, which was debuted in Germany by Volkswagen in 1950, is one of the iconic images from the 1960s and ’70s due to its popularity in the counter-culture and hippie movement of those years. Volkswagen continues to produce a line of similar campers, or mini-buses, even today, although many people feel that the earlier models were the heart and soul of the VW camper. There have been several different models of VW campers produced throughout the years, and many of these models can still be found on the road today.
In this article we will explore the history of the VW camper van, see the various models that have been made through the years, and discuss the differences between the models. We’ll also talk about what you can expect if you are in the market for a VW camper, what to expect from owning one, and how much you should pay for a used VW camper.
VW Van Models and History
Like I said, there have been several different types of VW camper vans produced through out the years, and it’s not surprising that there are a number of different names for the VW camper. The first model, called the T1, was introduced in 1950 and was produced until 1967. This model was called the Microbus or Splitty, so named because of its split windshield (as you can see in the picture). The Splitty had regular swinging doors on the passenger side, much like you would find on a full-size van, and, as all VW vans, had a rear engine design.
Early versions of the T1 were also called the T1a or the Barndoor, due to the large rear engine cover. The ’55 to ’63 models were called the T1b, and the models from ’63 to ’67 were called the T1c. Additionally, starting with the ’63 model, a sliding passenger-side door became available which would make the T1c the first minivan. It is common for people to refer to the early VW camper models by the number of windows they had: the standard camper was referred to as the 11-window – split windshield (2), front cabin (2) side windows (6) and the rear windshield (1) – and there were also the 13-, 15-, 21- and 23-window versions as well. The 23-window had the standard 11 windows plus an additional 2 side windows, 2 rear window, and 8 little skylights.
The next generation of the VW camper bus was introduced in 1968. It was called the T2 and was produced until 1979. The T2 is commonly called the Bay Window, due to the change in the front windshield from two windows to one, and is also called the Bread Loaf, due to its doughy shape. The T2 is probably the most commonly recognized VW camper model, and is highly sought after by enthusiasts and nostalgic collectors.
There were two versions of the T2, the T2a, produced between ’68 and ’71, and the T2b, produced between ’72 and ’79. The T2a, also called the Early Bay, was a good bit larger and heavier than the T1 models. The T2b models introduced several changes to set them apart from the T2a models, including redesigned bumpers, turn signals, front doors, and engine hatches, as well as a larger and more powerful engine.
The T3, also known as the VW T25 camper in Ireland and England, and the Vanagon in the US and Canada, was the next model in the VW camper line, and was produced from 1979 to 1991. The T3 was very similar in size to the T2 – it was wider by about 1 foot and had additional interior space, but was the same height and length as the pervious model. In 1985 the Syncro option became available on the T3, offering a full time four-wheel drive system for the first time on the VW camper.
Other popular nicknames for the VW camper include: VW bus, hippie bus, hippie van, hippie mobile, mini-bus, V-dub, campervan, and kombi. It is also occasionally called a bully, as that was the original name of the T1 in Germany, but the name was changed before production.
Buying a VW Camper
The biggest thing to consider before buying a VW camper is that you are going to be buying a used car that is anywhere from 20 to 30 years old. Not only is this a big maintenance concern, but an important safety issue as well. Things like airbags, crumple zones, anti-lock brakes and 5-mph bumpers really didn’t exist back when the VW camper vans were made, and were certainly not widely available in any case. If you do get a VW camper, keep these things in mind when you are deciding where and how often to drive it (if you do indeed want to have it to drive in).
Another issue is that of comfort. In addition to the items above that I listed, other things that belong on the “Not Available Back Then” list include power steering, power windows, power locks, remote anything, cruise control, heated seats, cup holders, and automatic seat belts. I don’t want to discourage you from buying a VW van if you want to, but it’s important to have an accurate idea of what you’re getting into beforehand.
And lastly, not to belabor the point, maintenance is going to be an issue. Anything that breaks on your VW van is going to be difficult to replace, as most of the parts stopped being made years ago. If you look hard enough you’ll be able to find just about anything, but it will certainly be more difficult than finding a part for a Honda Accord or Ford Taurus.
There’s really no one place to go if you’re looking for VW campers for sale. You’re obviously going to have to buy used, as the older models aren’t produced any more. Your best bet is probably to try auto trader and truck trader type magazines. You might have some luck with used car websites online and you could also try contacting any VW dealers in your area to see if they have any leads or even offer some pre-owned models for sale themselves.
If you do find a VW camper for sale that you like, make sure to take your time and check it out thoroughly before you purchase it. I recommend taking it to a mechanic to have it checked out, but if you’re handy with cars you can probably check it out yourself. Most VW vans go for around $10,000 to $30,000 these days, but you can spend up to $45,000 or more if you want a collector’s item.