In my previous post charting the history of VW camper vans I described how the T1 Splitscreen camper van was born from humble beginnings but rapidly found a market among campers the world over. During the period 1950-67 Westfalia alone produced 25,000 camper vans with Devon, Danbury, Sun-Dial and others producing their own versions.
A new model – the T2 with its distinctive Bay window – was launched by VW in 1967 and popularity soared.
Just as the T1 Splitscreen van came in a wide variety of model styles, VW also sold the T2 on its flexibility. It could be a panel van, a bus or a flatbed loader …
… it could be a works van as well as a school bus …
… the bus could hold a six-piece jazz band plus all their instruments …
… or a troupe of nine Brazilian weightlifters.
Still, VW didn’t manufacture their own camper vans but allowed other companies to do this, notably Westfalia. Their German range, developed from 1969 through to 1979 was named after European capitals including Paris, Helsinki, Berlin and Madrid. In the UK they were sold as the Caravanette and Continental and the US, the Campmobile. The early Bay campers had wedge roofs that hinged at the front and after 1974, rear-hinging roofs were introduced. Other developments included heating (as an option), swivel seats (after 1976), a 3-way fridge and fully-automatic transmission (1973).
Much has been written about the culture that surrounds VW camper vans. The personality and cult of the van grew during this period, being closely associated with hippy and surf culture as well allowing people the world over to enjoy the freedom of the road. The trailer to the Bus Move does a great job in evoking the spirit of the camper van during the 1960s and 1970s.
From 1979 onwards VW produced the third generation van, the T3 (also called the T25 in the UK and Vanagon in the US). The T3 was much larger and heavier, with a much squarer shape. An air-cooled version was initially manufactured, subsequently replaced by a water-cooled engine.
Besides being made in Germany for European and US markets, the T3 was also produced in South Africa, where the Microbus was marketed on its people-carrying abilities – popularly known as the Volksie Bus.
In the US, the introduction of the T3 “Vanagon” was traded on the familiarity and flexibility of previous VW vans – but this time, it was more powerful, had even more space and looked more modern. As a people carrier, it also provided much more space than the emerging competitor, the minivan, as these two commercials from 1984 and 1985 show.
Westfalia continued to produce camper vans based on the T3 van featuring a fridge, two-burner stove, stainless steel sink and on-board water tank. Over the years 1979-90 (and beyond of course), the T3 also developed a strong following, as this short excerpt from the Bus Movie shows.
The introduction of the T4 model in 1990, being manufactured through to 2003, saw the engine moving to the front of the vehicle. It was a compact van which was marketed on the basis of its people-carrying abilities, with a touch of European sophistication and style, as this US 1993 commericial for the “Eurovan” shows.
In Part 3 of the series I will conclude by bring the VW camper van story right up to date with the introduction of the VW California in 2005, the Beach a few years later and then speculation on the next generation, centred around the “Bulli” concept car.