History Of The VW Campervan
The history of the VW Campervan dates back to 1950 when the concept of the VW Transporter was conceived. It was later identified as the perfect vehicle to convert into a camper van. Over 6 generations the transporter has developed to incorporate more streamlined bodywork, more efficient engines and greater comfort inside. However, the original campervans still have a passionate and dedicated following and a whole culture has built up around people’s love for these classic campers.
We therefore thought we’d explain how the VW Campervan has changed over the years and how we arrived at the model we use today in our VW Campervan Conversions.
The Type 1 VW Beetle was based on a design by Porsche titled ‘Prototype 1’, hence why it was known as a Type 1 car. The first production of the VW Beetle was in 1945.
Some of the features of the VW Beetle include luggage storage, torsion bars with a front stabilizer bar, metallic painted surfaces and adjustable seats. It also contained an air-cooled engine which was located in the rear of the car.
VW Bus / Transporter
The Type 2 VW Transporter (also known as the VW Bus, Kombi or Microbus depending on the vehicles body type) is a panel van designed by Volkswagen in 1950.
As the VW Beetle wasn’t practical for ‘work’ use, the Type 2 was designed as an alternative. With various models and generations of the Transporter being produced over the years, the VW Campervan has emerged as a favourite amongst camping enthusiasts.
Volkswagen Type 2 Splitscreen (T1)
1950 – 1967
In 1950 the Volkswagen T1 Transporter (more commonly known as the ‘Splitscreen’ or ‘Splitty) was created based upon a sketch by Dutch businessman, Ben Pon, following a visit to the Volkswagen Factory.
Pon’s sketch was inspired by a parts-mover that he had seen during his visit and seeing this vehicle sparked an idea of how the VW Beetle (Type 1) could be developed into a commercial vehicle.
It then took a while for Volkswagen to begin production of the Type 2 Transporter as they were already very busy with orders for already established Beetle.
T1 Transporters were built in Wolfsburg from 1950 to 1956, after which time production was moved to Volkswagen’s new factory in Hanover due to its popularity and the mass orders. The vehicle came with a split windshield and included multiple variations throughout the years. This includes changes to the Volkswagen air-cooled engine, the wheels used, rear barn doors, cargo capacity and the engine bay size. Sliding doors were added as an option from 1964.
There were various model options for the Transporter including; the Panel Van, Microbus (7-seater and 9-seater versions), Samba, Kombi, Ambulance, Pick-Up and Double Cab.
Volkswagen stopped production of the T1 in 1967 in Germany, although production continued in Brazil until 1975.
Volkswagen Type 2 Bay Window (T2)
1967 – 1979
Following the success of the T1, Volkswagen introduced the T2 Transporter (more commonly known as the ‘Bay Window’ or ‘Bay’) to the public in 1967. The T2 saw the disappearance of the T1’s split windshield and the vehicle was also noticeably larger and heavier than the previous Transporter.
Some of the upgrades included a larger engine, 12 volts battery/electrical system and half-shaft axle rear suspension. Other modifications included the 90° front doors, front brake discs, new wheels with brake ventilation, placing of the front indicators and the addition of side bars which could be used as a step for getting in and out of the van.
The Volkswagen T2 was built in Germany until 1979, with Mexico carrying on the production up until 1994.
Volkswagen T3 / T25
1979 – 1992
Volkswagen started production of their T3 (or T25 as it’s often known) Transporter in 1979 and moved on to market the Transporter under various names worldwide. In Europe it was known as the Transporter/Caravelle, South Africa knew it as the Microbus, whilst North and South American knew of it as the Vanagon.
Once again the vehicle grew larger in size and heavier in weight in comparison to the prior Type 2 Transporters. The vehicle itself was visibly squarer than previous versions.
During the production of the T3, the Westfalia Camper was marketed by Volkswagen as a conversion option that included a sink, oven, refrigerator and pop-up roof.
There were many features available with the T3 including; air conditioning, power steering, heated mirrors, and much more. The T3 Transporter had larger disc brakes in the front and larger drums in the rear than earlier Type 2’s. There was also an oil filler tube for the engine located behind the license plate.
Production in Germany drew to a halt in 1990, but continued until 1992 in Graz/Austria and until 2002 in South Africa.
1990 – 2003
With the success of previous Transporters, Volkswagen began production of the T4 in 1990. The van had a water-cooled engine in the front of the vehicle, making it the first Volkswagen Transporter to feature this.
Volkswagen marketed the T4 as the Eurovan in North America where the Transporter was very popular.
This fourth generation Transporter came with a range of options including:
- Standard or high-top roof
- Sliding door on passenger side or both
- Short of Long nose at the front of the vehicle (the longer nose allowing the installation of a V6 engine)
- Permanent 4WD system.
The Production of the T4 lasted until 2003 after a successful 13 years on the market, largely due to it being established as a very popular base vehicle for building campervans.
2003 – 2016
Although the T5 was launched in 2002, production for the van didn’t begin until 2003. The van was available globally, excluding the United States due to the 25% extra chicken tax on importation costs.
The van was available in a wide range of variants including Short-Wheelbase (SWB) and Long-Wheelbase (LWB) vehicles with optional low, medium and high rooflines.
T5 Transporters were available in various configurations such as the Van, Minibus, Single-cab, Double-cab, Drop side or Chassis Truck. It was also available as a people carrier with various seating options, which were also known as the Shuttle, Kombi, Caravelle, and Multivan.
Kombi vans were the entry level for the people carrier Transporter range and were available with every roof height and wheelbase option. The van was able to seat up to eleven people.
Shuttle vans were the next level up and were only available as an SWB or LWB wheelbase option. Optional extras such as colour-coded bumpers and bench seats were offered with the Shuttle van.
The Caravelle came with most of the Kombi and Shuttle features as standard. The Caravelle van contains ten seats maximum and is only available in a Short Wheelbase or Long Wheelbase.
Multivans were available with six/seven seats and had a rail feature that allowed the seats to slide forward and backwards. The van included various conversion options that could fit into the rails and be moveable.
T5 GP / T5.1 / T5 Facelift
Volkswagen released a new version of the T5 Transporter which is often referred to as the T5 Facelift, due to the cosmetic changes made to the front of the vehicle. It included small changes such as traction control and day light running lights (DLRs), but the most significant change was the addition of an upgraded 180bhp engine.
The easiest way to spot the difference between the T5 and T5 GP is to look at the front edge of the bonnet above the VW badge. The T5 has a small cutout whereas the T5 GP does not.
2015 – Present
In 2015, Volkswagen announced the sixth generation of their Transporter which had been modernised to feel more car-like than ever. The passenger side sliding door comes as standard and there is an option for a driver’s side sliding door also.
Compared to the changes in the T5 GP there have been numerous cosmetic changes to the van which includes; a new front bumper and grill design, changes to the light clusters and position of the side repeaters, a larger rear window, slightly modified rear bumper and a scallop around the number plate mounting area.
Some other new features include a 15% more economical fuel consumption, a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox option for higher-output models and a driving alert system which can detect whether the driver is tired.
The Future VW T7 Transporter
What we can expect from the future VW T7 Transporter is unclear at this time. Volkswagen often release prototype designs that hint at a futuristic design, but these are often dumbed-down when it comes to the actual model release.
What we can be sure of though is that the VW community will continue to thrive and that we will continue to see VW Transporters, from classic T1’s to modern T6’s, being used as campervans around the world.
Autohaus Campervan Models
If you’ve been inspired by reading about the history of the VW Campervan, and are interested in our very latest VW Campervan Models, simply click the links below to learn more.
Rudolf Stricker [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
Dennis Jordan (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons