Through the Years
It was back in 1947 that the original and most iconic campervan the VW Type 2 was created by Ben Pon.
Ben Pon was actually a Dutch businessman visiting the VW factory in Wolfburg, Germany when he noticed how motorised trolleys were moving parts around the factory. The trolleys were made from stripped down Beetle chassis and from there he drew his first sketch of a box on wheels. Ben Pon also known as the “father” of the Type 2 was the first dealer outside of Germany to sell vehicles manufactured by Volkswagen. He was said to be among the first people to export the Beetle into the United States. He went on to become a multimillionaire and one of the richest people in the Netherlands. In 1971, his dealership was separated from the export division and ran under the name of Pon Dealer. Audi later became a partner of Pon's. The business continued to grow, and in 1980 he incorporated Pon Holdings: an exempt private company with approximately 9,000 employees.
Pon sketched the van in a doodle dated 23 April 1947. Proposing a payload of 690 kg (1,520 lb) and placing the driver at the very front. The factory was at capacity so unable to put his drawings into practice at that time. A prototype known internally as the Type 29 was produced in a very short three months, there were issues with the chassis and the engineers were concerned about the aerodynamics. The engineers went to the Technical University of Braunschweig and used their wind tunnel to make improvements.
Heinz Nordhoff had been appointed Chief Executive of Volkswagen (on the 1st January 1948 and then on the 19 May 1949 he approved the van for production. The very first VW Van (T1) was launched in 1949 at the Geneva Motor Show. The actual T1 presented to the press and public that day ca be found in the Volkswagen Auto Museum.
On the 8th March 1950 production began at the rate of 10 vehicles per day, these started out as two different models; the commercial transporter and the Kombi. The Kombi had two side windows and a couple of removable seats in the back. The Type 2 had attracted a couple of nicknames “Splitty” due to the front windscreen being split into two windows and the “Bulli”, which was supposed to be the official name for the vehicle. The Type 2 VW had an uncomplicated design which meant Volkswagen was able to create 90 different body combinations in the first 5 years. You may see pictures of the VW campervan as a pick-up truck, fire engine, ambulance, milk floats and an ice cream van.
This year saw the introduction of a new model known as the “Samba”; this bus had 21 windows located all the way around and with the option of having two more in the roof. It had a famous two-tone paint and a large aluminium VW logo on the front. 1951 saw the company Westfalia (named after the Westfalia-Werke) the contractor that built the vans. Westfalia aptly located itself in Rheda-Weidenbruck in the Westphalia region of Germany.
Westfalia built a one-off fully fitted camper in 1952 – but the VW campervan was born yet it would be another 3 years before the production line started rolling out the VW campervan.
The Westfalia model introduced the camping box, a set of removable camping furniture
The transporter hits UK and at a price of £668 (roughly equivalent to £17,000 in today’s money). Sales weren great and only 786 units were sold.
As the popularity of the VW vans increased so did production, new factories opened in Brunswick, Hannover and Kassell
VW Kamperhire has its base in Sidmouth and has further discovered the town Sidmouth has a close association with campervan history. Jack White a local builder in Sidmouth who was fascinated with the VW Transporter decided to convert a Type 2 for his family into a Camper calling it the Caravette. Having operated from a garden shed, he then built a factory “Alexandria Works” in the town and started to produce a fully fitted camper. With 16 bricklayers at his disposal he built a factory over a weekend and JP White (Devon Campers) was born. The original factory can still be seen today and the site is still a business park. Long gone are the railway lines that use to bring in the pre-converted VW Type 2. A recent auction of a ‘Devon’ converted Type 2 camper was anticipated to sell for over a hundred thousand pounds.
A wide bed truck was available on special order and high roof delivery vans were also introduced. Flashing indicators also became standard fit. By this time in the UK there were a few other firms in the UK in completion with Jack White at Sidmouth for converting the Type 2; Moortown in 1958, European Cars Slumberwagen in 1959, Pitt Moto-Caravan in 1960, VW Dormobile in 1961 and then Danbury in 1964. During the 1960s only Devon, Dormobile, Danbury and Westfalia were the only officially sanctioned converters by VW; other conversion companies had to offer their own warranty. The Westfalia was at the top of the pile with demand outstripping supply.
A millennial occasion, yes after just 16 years of production the one millionth transporter was built at VW Hanover, It took only two more years before VW reached the two million landmark.
The engine size jumped from a 1200cc to 1500cc and the famous sliding door became an option.
This was the end of the T1 “splittie” German production stopped in this year, the last one rolled off the production line and at this stage VW had produced 1,477,330 vans.
So the same year of my birth saw the dawn of a new era as Volkswagen had stopped production of the T1 and now invested all its energies into rolling out the T2 known as the “early-bay”. Although we all now refer to these vehicles as the T2 Bay and T2 Bay campervan. The T2 although looked similar it was mechanically different in quite a few places. It had a different engine, new suspension and a stabilising bar added to the back. The two split windows went and were replaced with a singular window. Next year a man will walk on the moon allegedly, should have taken a VW Camper for his moon buggy
The Type 4 engine was available also known as the “pancake engine” originally produced for the American and Canadian market it was the only engine that would support an automatic transmission.
The VW designers had their drawing pens out again and the “Late-bay” was introduced. New square style bumpers replaced the previous wrap around. The front indicators made their way up the façade and onto a new grill. There were larger engine sizes on offer and generally the vehicle became more reliable. Safety features were introduced like a crumple zone and a reinforced passenger cell. The “late bays” were also converted into a camper by various firms such as Devon, Viking, Danbury, Dormobile and Westfalia. Even with the growing popularity of the VW campervan, Volkswagen did not factory produce a Type 2 Campervan; they were all converted by external companies.
As the last bay was rolled off the production line the T3 was launched. There had been in total 3,292,272 vans made at this point. T3 (third generation) was also referred to as the T25 in the UK. The T25 was the last of the rear engined Volkswagens. Compared to its predecessor the T2, the T25 was larger, heavier and wider with squarer corners replacing the rounded edges of the Baywindow, which led to the nickname of 'The Wedge' or ‘Brick’. Interior space was gained by lowering the engine compartment and the tailgate and windows were bigger than the T2. Almost all mechanical components were completely changed, the suspension was vastly improved to a double wishbone set up and frontal crash protection greatly increased. When launched this was still an air-cooled engine. There were up to 23 different paint colours a year over the models lifespan. Westfalia introduced a campervan version with a pop-up roof, a stove and sink. The 1980s saw conversions change with additional features like electric hook-up, and fridges become standard. Interior trim and fitments became more luxurious with swivelling front seats. The camper had now stepped up a gear. There were a number of other companies that also looked to exploit the popularity of the vw campervan. The following companies converted the T25 into a campervan Autohomes, Autosleeper, Carthago, Danbury, Dehler, Dormobile, Devon, Holdsworth, Reimo, Viking, and Weinsburg.
The T25 were produced under various model names, the most popular being the Caravelle, a camper van with a high specification interior produced from the end of 1981. Other model names for T25 variations included Vanagon, Multivan and Transporter. This was also the year the diesel engine was introduced (the same diesel engine from the vw golf).
The “Samba bus” was now discontinued and Volkswagens effort went into the higher specification “Caravelle”. This had the option of a 4 lamp square grill. The air-cooled engine was phased out for the water-cooled boxer engine; this still remained as rear mounted.
The models were fully revamped with the introduction of the “Syncro” a 4 wheel drive version. The 4 wheel version was capable of climbing a 54% gradient utilising centre viscous coupling, useful for those skiing holidays up in the mountains. For the other models there were new exhaust systems, front suspension, sliding door locks, and fuel injection systems. The literature said there were over 1000 changes made in this year alone.
VW campervans did have a reputation for rusting quite badly. A new rust treatment production process was introduced to overcome this issue.
Westfalia created a model known as the California Volkswagen motorhome although I’m sure we still all refer to it as the California campervan.
August 1990 saw the introduction of the T4 (Fourth generation) also known as the Eurovan in the USA. This model shifted the engine from the rear to the front. It wasn’t long before people saw the opportunity to convert these vans into a campervan. This was the first of the front engine transporter, with front wheel drive and having a monocoque (single shell) construction unlike the previous versions. This was built in the Hanover factory and available as a SWB (short wheel base) or a LWB (long wheel base). The last of the T3 models produced in 1992 included a ‘LLE special edition’ this featured a fold down table and rear fold down seats converted into a bed. Although the last T3 left the Hanover factory, production still carried on in South Africa until the end of 2002.
A T4 Multivan was introduced and this was based upon the top of the range Caravelle. Standard equipment included power steering, rear mounted heater, electric windows and electric heated door mirrors, and optional extras included air conditioning and cruise control. Over 700 multivans left the factory as RHD models over a 10 year period.
The nose of the T4 was adapted for the VR6 Caravelle as the size of the engine wouldn’t fit. Rear disc brakes were introduced and the 2.5 litre TDi engine.
8 million and still going. VW Brazil had already been producing a version of the T2 Splitscreen in their Sau Paulo factory since the 1960’s. The T2c model was a real hybrid of vehicle parts from various models and years. The steering and suspension is fundamentally the same as the pre 1967 German Splitscreen, many of the body panels are the same as the German produced mod 1970s T2, In December 2005 the plant moved to modern water-cooled engines a 1400cc Polo & Fox engine sporting the 4-speedgearbox. To mark the end of the Volkswagen air-cooled engine a Special Edition Kombi with exclusive Silver paint job, and limited edition emblems were applied to only 200 units in late 2005 The T2c produced in Brazil were each hand assembled with a lot of attention to detail at a rate of about 35,000 per year. These were all finished in white and shipped to Danbury Motor Caravans who were the sole UK importer.
This was a record production in the Hanover factory. Over time famous name like Devon and Dormobile disappeared and were replaced with names like Reimo.
This saw the end of Westfalia producing anymore vw campervans. DaimlerChrysler (a vw competitor) purchased the controlling stake in Westfalia and the relationship with Volkswagen ended so no more vw campervans.
T4 ceased production. T5 unveiled
The T5 (fifth generation) now went into full production. As the relationship with Westfalia had ended in 2001 this was probably the motivator for Volkswagen to produce its own factory-made camper and retained the name VW Caravelle. The Caravelle was aimed at the luxury end of the market and initially was only available in LHD from October 2004. VW set up a new factory at Limmer to kit out the interiors. Demand was high and a RHD model of the Caravelle became available in 2005. VW decided to introduce a cheaper model called the beach which had an elevating roof, roof bed, double bed and some storage. RHD versions of the beach weren’t available until 2010.
VW announced it had produced the one-millionth T5 at the production line ion Hanover. In the September the T5 went through a revised facelift and new engine and transmission options including a 7 speed (DSG) double clutch gearbox.
At the fifth generation comes to an end the T6 (sixth generation) was launched in April 2015. All the engines in the T6 were diesel TDI ranging from 84PS to 180PS. There has been much discussion on whether the T6 was actually a new model or has ended up being a revised facelift on the T5. That one I will leave with you to decide. So with the demonising of diesel engines then we eagerly await Volkswagen’s production of the all-electric transporter.
The Buzz which I’m sure if you pronounce fast in a German accent perhaps does may sound like bus; I will take the reporters word for it who suggested such a thing. The VW ID Buzz is the all-electric concept vehicle recreated in the style of the classic Type 2. The concept car appeared at the Detroit Auto Show in 2017. Having watched a couple of videos on YouTube about this it’s going to be interesting and exciting to see the Camper or Caravelle version when it launches. I would love to have one of these new ID Buzz Camper to Hire – so if anyone is reading from Volkswagen HQ – then please please get in touch.
I hope you enjoyed this worldwind history of the VW Camper. Thank you to Wikipedia as a great source of information and the internet in general – where would we be these days without it.