campervan with a popup top and awning beside a lake

Not Just a Social Media Craze: The History of the Campervan

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You’ll hear people talking about their late-model motorhome, travel trailer, and other traditional categories at an RV show. But what would you do if you heard someone talking about their 1965 Westy Splitty Kombi SO34? The Class B motorhome, also known as a campervan, is a category that has had accordion-like popularity in the USA. Today’s Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Ford Transit, and Dodge ProMaster chassis campervans can trace their origins to the beginning of the Vintage Era (1945-1970).

Join us as we travel through the history of campervans. We’ll explore how the #VanLife started, American societies changing opinion of the category through the decades, and how one van forever altered the RV industry.

Silver campervan with a popup top parked by the beach

It All Started With a Post-WWII German Utility Vehicle

In 1934, Porsche created a daughter brand in Germany, naming it the “people’s car.” Four years later, the Type 1 sedan became endorsed by the Third Reich. They used it as a general-purpose non-military vehicle throughout World War II. The original Beetle (the nickname of the Type 1) didn’t see much production since the allies bombed it a few years later.

Once the war was over, Volkswagen rebuilt and continued the production of the Type 1. Yet, with all the destruction and need to rebuild Germany, both individuals and companies needed a light utility vehicle; cargo needed moving, and groups of people had to travel together. 

Dutch businessman Ben Pon sketched a small bus that could traverse the European streets. The light-duty utility vehicle could serve multiple purposes. The rectangular body could act as a small bus or enclosed cargo carrier. Pon also sketched a version where the back was open, making it a pickup truck. Pon used his connections to send his idea to Volkswagen’s engineering department.

The VW engineers evolved his idea, and in November 1949, the Type 2 Kombi Transporter began production. The French announced the Citroën H Van in 1947, but the German people preferred the smaller Kombi made with pride in the Fatherland.

Splitty VW Kombi

The original Kombi had a two-paneled windshield that would become known as the “Splitty.” The first passenger model had two rear bench seats, windows around the upper sidewalls, and a two-toned front cap. The cargo panel van had a windshield, front side, and rear windows. It came in a single color.

Six years later, new versions added additional windows and a sunroof to the passenger busses. One of the cargo styles realized Pon’s pickup idea, but both sides had gates.

The Splitty VW Kombi was a remarkable vehicle. Its small air-cooled rear rotary engine was fuel-efficient and tough. This purely mechanical vehicle can still turn some heads today, even when compared to today’s best-selling campervan chassis.

When you compare the Kombi to the Sprinter, today’s van can win a speed, towing, and hauling race. Yet, the Kombi is almost three times lighter and has about the same fuel efficiency as the Sprinter. It does this with half a liter less in the engine. We could imagine the conversation:

VW Kombi Splitty: “Hey Sprinter, you need to drop the turbo and enjoy the ride, man.”
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter: “Get a car wash, Hippie.”

1950s VW Kombi Splitty2022 Mercedes Sprinter 2500
Engine1.5L Flat 4 Diesel2.0L Inline 4 Turbo Diesel
Horsepower @ Torque44 @ 56 lb./ft.161 @ 266 lb./ft.
DrivetrainRear Wheel DriveRear Wheel Drive
Unloaded Vehicle Weight1,650 lbs.4,696 lbs. 
Fuel Efficiency (miles per gallon)20 mpg combined22 mpg combined
Top Speed (miles per hour)68 mph100 mph
Payload Capacity2,205 lbs.4,111 lbs.
Towing Capacity2,000 lbs.5,000 lbs.
Side by side comparison of the Kombi Splitty and a modern-day Sprinter

The Best-Worst Decision Volkswagen Ever Made

Two years after the Volkswagen Kombi hit the German streets, the company had a problem. The Type 2 was so popular – they couldn’t keep up with client orders. It wasn’t a materials issue like the RV backlog of the Remote Era (2020-2023). VW didn’t have the labor or facilities to keep up with the work orders. Volkswagen’s decision to contract third-party vendors was the best worst decision they ever made.

Companies like Danbury, Devon, Dormobile, Viking, and Westfalia (“Westy”), would receive unfinished Type 2s from VW at discounted rates. These third parties would complete the interiors as long as they met the basic scheme VW set. In other words, Devon could use different fabrics. Still, in a side-by-side comparison, the stitching patterns and the overall interior look had to have some connection to what Volkswagen produced.

The Birth of the Campervan

In 1951, a British Officer approached Westfalia with a special order. He wanted a “Camping Box” installed in a Kombi, allowing him to live in the vehicle. While stationed in Wiedenbrück, Germany, he wanted a vehicle that had living accommodations. The resulting Kombi had a double side door, a complete set of curtains, a sofa, a folding table, a roll-front cabinet, and a seat bench. The company loved it so much that they began offering the floor plan to their customers. Hence, the birth of the campervan!

For the rest of the 1950s, the VW Splitty Westy Campervan was such a hit in Germany; the other vendors soon created their versions. Today, we see this in modern RV companies like Thor Motor Coach, Forest River, and others buying stripped-out vans and finishing them with RV interiors. 

The difference is, once Volkswagen realized they were losing money from the campervan market, they tried bringing it back in-house. Unfortunately, the demand was too great, and Westfalia led the pack. VW designed a campervan interior and competed against its vendors.

VW Kombis in the USA

The Westy SO34 and SO42 were the first Type 2 campervans in the United States. Westfalia’s SO34 came in the Splitty VW Bus. The vehicle had multifunctional furniture and grey plastic surfaces. 

The SO42, seen in both versions of the VW Bay (Bay refers to the single glass windshield version), had insulation. Advancements included an icebox, water tank, wardrobe with mirror, and other features. Towards the end of the American production, the pop-up roof became a standard feature giving more room in the kitchenette. 

In the mid-1960s, Volkswagen’s Type 1 and 2 were the best-selling vehicles in the United States. Detroit’s Big 3 (Chrysler, Ford, and GM) were having a hard time competing against these small fuel-efficient vehicles in the age of the muscle car. So after lobbying and international political events, President Lyndon Johnson imposed the “Chicken Tax/Tariff,” which increased import prices on several items. One of which included foreign vehicles to help American automakers.

By 1979, Westfalia and Volkswagen had pulled out of the American market. VW shut down the German factory that produced the Kombi Type 2 retooling for the next evolution of the van sold only in Europe. The Type 2 Late Bay Kombi would stay in production in Brazil until 2013, but Westfalia would focus on the European campervan market. 

You can still find collectors out there that have restored the various Kombi campervans on the road today. There are also some for sale that needs some TLC. Parts still exist, and you can find tradeshows in your area. Learn about how VW built them, the differences between each year, and other things if you want to restore one of these campervans. 

Riding in Style With Conversion Vans

In the Modern Era (2008-Present), the term “van conversion” has two different meanings. The new understanding relates to taking a cargo van to a specialty van conversion company. Once there, the van gets added features making it a self-contained RV, turning it into a Class B motorhome with a sleeping space, kitchen, bathroom, dining/work area, and other features. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, the original meaning of a conversion van was a full-size van with additional features that made long rides more comfortable. Such features included:

  • Full carpeting that had more of a residential feel
  • Insulated sidewalls that had speakers and other amenities
  • Second-row captain chairs
  • A third-row bench that converted into a bed
  • Overall plush seating
  • Additional entertainment features like a TV, VCR, rear radio with headphone jacks
  • Electric kitchen features

You could spend a night or two in these converted vans, but there’s only so much you could do in them. Without plumbing and other necessities, you’d need to keep a weather eye for a rest area and dining opportunities along your journey. 

Even though these were the last years of the Kombi Splitty, the American vans had some interest in the campervan community. When the traditional RV lifestyle picked up again in the Classic Era (1971-1989), that’s when the mentality changed for campervans.

After the 1973 OPEC gas crisis, the RV community had a new list of requirements:

  1. More space
  2. Lightweight
  3. Avoid gas-guzzling V8s if possible

Today’s conversion vans are used as mobile offices, limousine alternatives, and more. The plush leather interiors, multi-speaker surround sound systems, and built-in internet network allow everyone inside to experience the best theatre quality experience.

Whether they’re watching a mounted LED TV or using a tablet, all seven passengers (not including the driver) can sit comfortably, take care of business, and even enjoy a beverage or two.

Sportsmobile’s Long Memory

Off-white Sportsmobile VW campervan from the 1960s
Sportsmobile VW campervan. Photo from Sportsmobile

One of the companies that remember this time the best is Sportsmobile. In 1961, they started as Sportswagons in El Paso, Texas. Curtis and Charles Borskey were the Westfalia of the United States. As they expanded around the country, they changed their brand name to Sportsmobile a few years later. They kept the campervan floorplans alive but also built conversion vans from base model Kombis. 

Once the 1961 Ford Econoline hit the production lines, Sportsmobile adjusted current and made new floorplans for the American Van Revolution. By 1964, Chevy’s Greenbrier (a.k.a. Corvan) and Dodge’s A-Vans were ready to compete against their US and German competition. 

When you look at Sportsmobile’s history, you’ll walk through a virtual museum of campervans and conversion vans from 1961 to today. The 1970s brought on the pop-top Penthouse in the VW Kombi. It also gives you a glimpse into the California surfing craze of the shag carpet Surfer built on the Dodge B-Van. 

The 1970s brought on their Town & Country Pleasure Wagon Campervans when avocado green complimented harvest gold plaid upholstery and dark walnut cabinetry. The 1980s toned down the decor but continued with the pop-top, roof expansion cap, and other technological marvels as they developed.

Roadtrek Hangs its Shingle

Canadian Jac Hanemaayer had a dream of designing an RV in 1974. Working with Home & Park Vehicles, he combined the features of a large Class A motorhome into an easy-to-drive full-size van. By 1980, the iconic sweeping roofline and lowered, three-section floor plan became a standard-issue feature with their campervans. Hanemaayer now owned the company and renamed it Roadtrek.

Roadtrek did well in the 1980s and 90s. You’d see one or two pass you by on the road, but Class A and Class C motorhome sales were running circles around them. Still, you’d live a fully self-contained RV life in them with a convertible bed, wet bath, kitchenette, and other features.

Pleasure-Way

Located in Saskatchewan, Canada, Merv Rumpel wanted more out of the RV industry than his Glennwood Trailer dealership. So after 18 years of selling all of the other categories, he used his back lot building as a production shop for the first 10 Class B motorhomes. Once built, he sold them under his new brand, Pleasure-Way, in 1986.

By 1988, he was shipping his campervans to Alberta and Manitoba RV dealerships. As the brand became more popular, his 1,000th Pleasure-Way van left the production shop in 1994. Rumpel’s vans used the Dodge chassis, but in 2002, they switched to the Ford E-Series when Dodge stopped producing their American-style vans. Two years later, Pleasure-Way would return to Dodge using one of the most important motorhome chassis the RV industry has ever seen.

The Industry Changing Sprinter Van

In the RV industry, a select number of chassis have changed motorhome design. They’ve benefited floorplans, added strength, and opened the drivable RV sector to possibilities never seen before (in no specific order):

  • Dodge M-series Chassis 
  • The Osh Kosh/Freightliner RV Chassis 
  • Ford F-53 Chassis 
  • Ford E-Series 
  • Chevrolet G and Express Series
  • Toyota Hilux Chassis
  • Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Series

When Mercedes-Benz merged with Daimler-Chrysler, one of their intentions was to introduce their Sprinter van to North America. The biggest hurdle was convincing this part of the world that Mercedes had more to offer than luxury-level cars and SUVs.

To everybody else, Mercedes-Benz is the General Motors of the world. They make vehicles of all shapes and sizes for virtually every economic level. So the solution was to sell the Sprinter under the cloak of one of Chrysler’s best-selling brands.

From 2003-2008, Mercedes sold the Sprinter under the Dodge brand, giving U.S. and Canadian customers the idea that this European-styled van was a rugged workhorse full of potential. Instead of the wide wheelbase, rectangular American-style van the public had known for decades, the Sprinter uses a narrower wheelbase with a rectangular shape. 

The Sprinter allowed users to stand upright, had similar capabilities as the American-style V6, but came in a 2.7L inline 5 with 154 horsepower @ 243 lb./ft. torque. North America saw this fuel-efficient van perform well against the American-style competition for the next five years.

The Big 4 RV manufacturers (Forest River, REV Group, Thor Ind., and Winnebago Ind.), Roadtrek, and Pleasure-Way switched out their van chassis to the Sprinter. 

Mercedes-Benz did everything to infuse the Sprinter into every aspect of American life, to convince consumers that the Euro-style van is better than the classic American-style van. Of course, they also made sure to sell the public on the idea that the Sprinter was the best one.

When Mercedes-Benz sold Daimler-Chrysler to Fiat in 2009, the Sprinter was in the hearts and minds of North America. So Mercedes took its van back. The company placed its logo on the front hood and continued selling the Sprinter under its authentic brand.  

The Effects of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in the US

In 2002, Ford found out what Mercedes-Benz would do so they brought their European van, the Transit (that dates back to 1965 in Europe), to the US game. Fiat also imported their Ducato European van to America. Fiat exchanged the chassis and engine for Chrysler components to calibrate it to American standards and called it the ProMaster (the ProMaster City comes from Turkey).

Today, the popularity of the European-style van chassis has expanded into different sectors of the RV categories. We see it in the subcategory B+ and the small-chassis Class C. You’ll find Class B touring coaches like the 2022 Airstream Atlas, which has a starting price of $276,106. On the other end, you can build a DIY stealth campervan that barely reaches $30,000.

Why Are Sprinter Campervans So Popular?

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Campervan’s popularity resides in its versatility. The van has the right specs, whether you have the 2.0L inline 4-cylinder gas engine, older 2.7L inline 5, or the 3.0L V6 diesel. You’ll have plenty of horsepower, torque, and fuel efficiency to cruise the highways.

Inside the motorcoach, the floor-to-ceiling height allows most people to stand straight. The structural components like the shell, frame, and floor come from the factory with a builder’s mindset. It doesn’t take much to connect insulation, interior walls, and other components to them.

Sprinters are easy to drive and don’t take much practice to adapt. In addition, all Mercedes-Benz vehicles have a high mileage oil change requirement, so depending on how much you travel, one oil change a year may keep you going. 

As time progressed, Mercedes expanded its licensing for Sprinter servicing. You’ll probably never find a locally owned repair shop in a small town that’s licensed to work on your van, but the nearest big city probably has a shop that can do the work. 

What Does the Future Hold for the Campervan?

Before all of the controversy, Camping World and Lordstown had a plan to revolutionize the RV industry even further. Using a Lordstown EV truck chassis, they would use the Class B motorhome as a model to create the first Class E motorhome. It would be the first all-electric drivable RV.

One battery bank would power the automotive and coach sections. Unfortunately, those plans are on hold, but they aren’t the only ones with the idea. Other companies are also trying their hand at the concept too.

We can say that the first all-electric motorhome is more than likely going to be a campervan or something similar to it. The EV technology is still in its toddler years, so who knows what the future will hold. 

9 thoughts on “Not Just a Social Media Craze: The History of the Campervan”

  1. It was 1971, I was a single mom with 3 girls, all on special diets due to medical problems. I had to prepare all their food, plus I loved camping and we were moving up from a 3 person backpacking tent… My bus, the love of our life. I learned to flip a fan belt on when it spun off, change the oil. The big jump was when I researched and put in my own sunroof for ventilation. Drilling that first hole in the roof took guts. With that and lots of tubes of silicone I managed to install the sunroof, put I-bolts over the door spaced perfectly for me to tie on a lightweight tarp as an awning. J.C, Whitney had a whole section devoted to VW conversions. The back seat folded down, so a sheet of paneling cut to fit plus a foam mattress cut to fold in half became a fold out bed at night. Put a cushion on the freezer chest and it became a seat for meals. A small table folded down against the sidewall. A Coleman stove and catalectic heater and we were ready to travel. Even had giant Mickey Mouse decals on the doors and cartoonish flowered curtains. And travel we did. Summers and winter, explored all of the Northeast…in 1981 our baby got t-boned. Dare I say, there was nary a dry eye as we sadly watched it being towed away by a couple who bought it knowing the damage. Somewhere I like to believe it still is running and making someone as happy as we were. Years later we considered going back to those days with a Sprinter…than reality set in, at 80 we are no longer limber enough to bend and squeeze, reach and climb to make another camper a beloved home. So a 27 ft. B+ will have to do. Lots of comfort but lacking in the character unique to the VW van conversion. Now, instead of playing cards in bed at night by flashlight we have a comfortable table, TV and club chair to relax in before we turn the lights out.

  2. While well researched in some areas of the VW history, it has several glaring errors.

    First – the original T1 version of the Type 2 (T-2) Splitty “Microbus” started out with the same late 1940’s flat-4 aircooled 1000 cc GASOLINE engine as used in the Type 1 “Beetle” (and in the first Porsche 356 models), then gradually increased to the 1500 cc motor in the mid to late 1960s – and it was GASOLINE not diesel. Also, the 1000 cc VW version only put out 25 HP at first – not 44 as the article’s comparison chart lists.

    Second & a far bigger omission – VW did NOT pull out of the US/Canada Camper Van market in 1979! In fact, August of 1979 they started selling the new design 1980 model year T3a “Vanagon” (T25 in the UK) & its “Westy” Camper & Weekender versions – which were still running the 2.0L Flat-4 as used in the last years of the “Bay Window” T2 vans. While the Vanagon T3/T25 was designed to utilize VW’s upcoming flat-4 “Waterboxer” watercooled motor for better smog controls, that engine wasn’t ready until mid-1983 & the 1983.5 models were all switched to the new 1.9L Waterboxer. Whether aircooled or watercooled version can be identified by the waterboxer’s added lower front grill for the radiator, which the aircooled versions lack.

    You’ll see Vanagons referred to as T3a 1980-83.5 & T3b 1983.5-92 (2002 – see below) for the change from aircooled to watercooled – as well as the T3a to T3b demarcation line at the 1987 design refresh & driveline update – when they went to the most visible differences of the 2.1L Waterboxer with the rectangular headlights – which had been round 7″ diameter headlights & the initial 1.9L Waterboxer prior to that. VW uses the latter 1987 model update as the T3b – because the T3a Vanagon was originally intended to start life with a Waterboxer in 1980 model year, but VW had to “Punt” with the 2.0L Aircooled motor for 3.5 years while the Waterboxer was improved to production standards. Therefore, the 1983.5 change to Waterboxer was just implementing what the T3a was supposed to be all along.

    Vanagon production lasted 1980-92 model years for the USA, with ROW extending later, & South African production went up to 2002. VW typically continues to produce popular older models such as the Bus/Van, Beetle, etc. in other ROW markets at their plants in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, etc. – with those models living on as new cars for many years after superseded in the US/Canada & UK/European markets. The last of 21.5+ million aircooled Type 1 Beetles rolled off the line at VW’s Pueblo Mexico plant on July 30, 2003.

    Oddly enough, you include the video for the “”Birth of the Camper Van” featuring the Vanagon Westy in the article, as well as the first two shots of the current era VW Van Campers / Westies. So this error is perplexing that the author Brian Newman would make such glaring mistakes in his research & writing.

    But USA & Canada VW Camper Vans didn’t end in 1992 with the exit of the T3b Vanagon based Westfalia – it simply updated to the VW T4 “Eurovan” front engine/front wheel drive format – the the Westfalia Weekender with the camper features of the pop-top roof & fold-down top bunk, the full width fold-down rear bench seat/bed, a table that folds up from the sidewall, sliding & screened rear side windows, & a small refrigerator/cooler under the rear facing rear seat (but not quite a full camper, lacking the galley, LP & water tank) for 1993-03 – plus a Winnebago contract built Full Camper based on the slightly longer & heavier GVWR Cargo version T4 in 1995-03.

    Winnebago also produced under contract with VW their T4 based “Rialta” Class B/C full Camper from 1994-03, as a fully boxed camper without the pop-top, with sleeping for 2-4, a unique pop-out wet bath, full galley & many more features than the pop-top campers. Rialtas are referred to as Class B/C due to their smaller than Class C size at 22′ long, and T4 Eurovan Cargo Van based chassis.

    Westfalia has also produced smaller fixed-top “High Top” Vanagons, and for T4 – T6 Camper versions for the ROW markets as well as the pop-top Westies we get here. You’ll occasionally see them imported the the USA & Canada as 25 year exempt vehicles, as well as a few “Gray Market” cars brought in prior to the 25 year exemption & converted to pass DOT standards.

    Of note, VW likes to confuse the issue of their models by using T-“X” as both the model type – as in Type 2 Microbus, and in the iteration or version of the model T1, T2, T3, T4, etc. Ergo, the first Splitties were T1 of the Type 1 (T-1) 1947-67; then the 1968-79 T2 of the Type 1 Baywindows; then the T3 of the Type 1 as above noted. And now they’re up to T-6 Vans in the Rest-of-the-World (ROW) markets, & they still build & sell ROW Westy models today – but don’t sell them in the USA since 1992 (not the erroneously claimed 1979). Don’t give up hope – after 25 years the USA allows importation of any non-USA cars without converting them to USA DOT & CARB/State standards. So you’re able to import up to 1997 Westy in 2022.

    Let me suggest further reading on VW Van Campers at these links:
    https://www.gowesty.com/tech-article-details.php?id=1
    https://www.gowesty.com/tech-article-details.php?id=3

    Additionally, as a Third Omission – although not technically the “One Box” Van body – there were also “Van Life” types of “Car Campers” made by or with Ford Model Ts, Pierce Arrows, and many other Cars & light Trucks since the early 1900s – virtually as soon as cars were available for other tasks. So I contend that “Van Life” is actually over 120 years old, & not a new phenomenon at all – just one made popular again in recent years.

    By the way – the VW T2 Type 2 Baywindows of the 1970s were only slightly better mpg than the V8s of the day – whether in the 1.6L, 1.7L, 1.8L or 2.0L aircooled flat-4 motors – due to the weight & lacking aerodynamics of the Bus. Think “Brick on Wheels”! While my 1973 Porsche 914-2.0 aircooled with a 5-speed manual got 29-35 mpg highway – my Dad’s heavier & bulkier 1978 aircooled 2.0L aircooled 4-speed manual Weekender T2 Bus only got 20-22 mpg on the flat lands – but my 914 weighed half of his Bus. And then our 1988 Westfalia full camper with the 2.1L Waterboxer & Auto Transmission only got 16-18 mpg highway, which was about the same mpg as my two brothers’ late 1980’s Ford & Dodge V8 Van Conversions with Auto Trans. So VW’s Vans/Buses didn’t necessarily get much better mpg after Detroit improved their V8 engined vans from their dismal 8-12 mpg highway Hi-Po engines’ mpg performance after the 1973 Oil Crisis.

    Cheers!
    Tom – an original & still owner 1988 VW Vanagon CamperGL Westfalia
    ///////

  3. Thank you! While the world waits for “ERVans” please also check the latest VW Ocean and MB Marco Polo as smaller alternatives to the VW Crafter and MB Sprinter. Also please check Thor after their Hymer acquisition they might introduce some ideas from Europe where motorized RVs are more popular than towables and the Ducato chassis is the market leader for more affordable A/B/C classes.

  4. Well, we will never own a Sprinter again. The cost for repairs or parts is quite high! Looking forward to a gas-driven van instead of diesel. We will say thought that in a rollover accident (someone plowed into us while talking on phone) we survived. The upper cab (Sprinter View 24′) flattened out above our heads, but our heads remained in shape! The back of our motorhome was obliterated with only the couch still attached to the floor. Everything else – walls gone, etc. Our next Sprinter motorhome broke down on the freeway. Long story – had it towed home to WA for $4,000. Better than the $20,000 quoted to fix the engine back in 2014 at a CA Mercedes dealer.

  5. A couple of corrections – The first is that the VW Type 1 and Type 2 were not powered by “rotary engines” as the article states; they were powered by air cooled, 4 cylinder opposed, reciprocating engines. The second is as much a question as it is a correction; that is the mention of “narrower” wheelbase of the modern European style vans. Does the author mean shorter wheelbase? Or does the author mean narrower track? I’ve not looked up the specs on these vans to compare with conventional US made vans (such as the Ford E series, for example) to compare them but, when seeing the Sprinter and Transit vans on the road, their wheelbases and track widths do not appear to be greatly different than a similarly sized conventional van. Ford, Dodge, and GM vans that preceeded the now popular European style vans here in the US were all offered in standard and long wheelbase versions. I believe that is true also of both Ford Transit and Mercedes Sprinter vans as well.

  6. Bit of misinformation here, the 50’s VW engine was neither rotary nor diesel. Flat four, or boxer, gasoline piston engine, 1.1 or 1.2 liter 22-36 hp. Guess I was a pioneer, in the early ’70s I camped out sometimes in a 1965 Chevy half ton panel wagon with carpeted floor and walls, a lantern and stove. Quite the upgrade from a sleeping bag on some pine boughs!

  7. More Van Life & VW Camper History –

    VW Campers continued in the USA after 1979. In August 1979 – 1992 The had the T3 Vanagon Westfalia Full Camper & Weekender models. In August 1992 – 2003 they had the T4 Eurovan Westfalia Weekender & Winnebago Full Camper Vans, as well as the Winnebago T4 Eurovan Class B/C Rialta. So the USA actually had VW Type 2 Microbus/Van Campers all the way up to 2003 – not ending in 1979 as the article states.

    VW continued to build T5 & T6 Westfalia Weekender, Full Camper Joker & California, etc models for the Rest of the World (ROW) up to today, & for their upcoming 2022 T7 “Multivan” version.

    VW also offered hard shell topped non-pop-top “High Top” Westfalia Campers for the ROW markets based on the T2 Bay Window & T3 Vanagon & all later T4 – T6 VW Vans, which are sometimes seen in the US & Canada being imported here after the Federal 25 year exemption took effect (i.e.: when they no longer need to be modified to US-DOT standards for importing).

    Also, the first late 1940s & early 1950s T1 Type 2 Splitty Microbus started with VW’s 1000 cc flat-4 aircooled engines only putting out 25 HP, and gradually grew in size to 1100 cc, 1200 cc, 1300 cc, 1400, cc, 1500 cc, & 1600 cc from 1947 to 1967 – with all being gasoline engines. I don’t think that there were any diesel VW Splitty nor Baywindow Buses/Vans imported to the USA. I believe that the Splitty based Westfalia Camper conversions sold by VW dealers here in the USA did not start until the early or mid 1960s.

    The 1968 to 1979 T2 Type 2 Baywindow Buses grew from the 1600 cc, to the 1.7L, 1.8L & finally the 2.0L aircooled flat-4 engines – ending up with about 90 HP from the 2.0L last model. Westfalia Campers were offer for all of those years.

    The 1980-92 T3 Vanagon was intended to be watercooled from the start, but the Waterboxer wasn’t ready in late 1979 for the 1980 model introduction. They were later converted to the 85 HP 1.9L flat-4 Waterboxer in mid-1983 (1983.5) up through 1986 as the T3a, & there was a diesel offered in the T3a era. In 1987 the T3b was introduced with the much better 95 HP 2.1L flat-4 Waterboxer & the facelift which had the rectangular headlights. Vanagon production continued in South Africa up to 2002, including Campers.

    Notably, in 1985 Porsche also built the very low production Porsche B23 Carrera Bus powered by their 3.2L aircooled flat-6 & G50 5 speed transaxle which sold for over 100,000 West German Marks – which was more than the 1985 Porsche 928 sold for at the time. Interestingly, by 1985 Porsche had to back-date the Vanagons for aircooled engines – since they were all watercooled as built by VW by that time. Of the only 17 B32 Vanagon bodied Porsches built – only two were Westfalia pop-top full campers, with the balance being fitted out as 6 seat “Executive Cars” – one of which is in the VW Commercial Vehicles “Bulli Museum” in Germany.

    The factory authorized “Porsche Tuner” RUF also did at least one Porsche engined Vanagon conversion – a passenger van – which is considered to be a true Porsche by the rules of the Porsche Club of America for all club events & activities.

    The T4 Eurovans introduced the new gen front wheel drive platforms with 4, 5 & VR6 cylinder watercooled engines 1993 to 2003, with the above mentioned Westfalia & 2 Winnebago versions sold by VW dealers – except the Rialta was sold at Winnebago dealers.

    All other T5, T6 & T7 VW Type 2 Bus/Van iterations have had front drive & front engine/transaxle gasoline & diesel engines, and all model years to date & going forward offered a range of pop-top, high top & even slide-out camper van versions for the ROW markets. Eventually these will be able to be imported into the USA once they reach 25 years old under the long standing Federal exemption.

    There have also been other Camper Conversions available here in the USA & Canada since the early 1900s – including those based on Ford Models T & A, Pierce Arrow, & many other automakers. Although they were not necessarily all the “One Box” design of Vans – most having front hoods (Two Box), but then many “modern” vans are actuall Two Box designs – including VW’s T4 on vans.

    And should you wonder – NO Chrysler did NOT invent the “Minivan” as their ads erroneously claimed, they just used the name – because VW & a few other automakers around the world were building Vans, Minivans, Micro-Buses or whatever marketing name you want to assign to Vans.

    Enjoy Your Camper Vans!
    Tom T
    Original owner 1988 VW Westfalia Vanagon CamperGL full camper
    ///////

  8. Early in this article the engine of the VW van was called a “rotary” type. This is misleading, it was a horizontally opposed 4 cylinder internal combustion engine. A “rotary” engine is very different. I’ve had experience with VWs a long time, but I never heard of a diesel engine in a late ’40s or early ’50 VW van or bus. “Splitty”, “Westy”? What Gen-Z or Millenials came up with these titles? Too cute.

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