VW Camper Vans - The Iconic Recreational Vehicle Tour Bus

A Loaf of Bread on Wheels

The Volkswagen Camper vans, are the iconic recreational vehicle, tour bus and symbol of the 1960s but why is this loaf of bread on wheels so dear to many peoples hearts.

At the end of the war Volkswagen decided they needed a vehicle to transport their workers around the massive plant in Wolfsburg. Dutch car designer Ben Pon was given the task of coming up with a transporter for the plant. He hit on the idea of utilising many of the existing systems available to keep development and manufacturing costs down and by 1949 they had the basis of the first T2 van.

Built on the chassis of the military's Kubblewagon and using the Beetle's engine, gearbox lights and steering they soon had the van in production. With further modifications and the adding of a panelled rear behind the cab the traditional VW Splitty; as it became affectionately known because of its split windscreen, was born.

'67 Westfalia Splity
'67 Westfalia Splity

The Camper Van Arrives

The Splits were in production from November 1949 up until mid 1967 and this versitile workhorse of post war Europe took on many guises. In its initial form of a cab and flat bed rear was popular with builders and used as a pick up vehicle. With the addition of the panelled sides it was rapidly taken up as a delivery van transporting everything from beer and vegetables to clothes and furniture. Even the authorities made use of its versitility and you can still find Fire Engines, Ambulances, School buses and Military transporters in existence.

The real change came in 1951 when coachbuilders Westfalia converted their first van into a camper. Introducing folding rear seats, storage lockers, a stove, water tank and sink were added and it gave you the perfect home from home. By 1962 they were adding a fiber glass pop up roof to give more head room and later 12 volt batteries to run all those accessories.

Volkswagen themselves never produced a true camper, although there are a whole series of variations based around the number of companies that converted them into camper vans. Although Westfalia was the first, they were soon joined by Devon, Dormobile, Canterbury and Danbury. Each having their own individual roofing style, cupboard configurations and trimmings.

Viola, My '69 Bay
Viola, My '69 Bay

Bay Front

After eighteen years in production it was decided to give the Transporter a new look and home. Manufacture was moved to Hanover and the curvy Bay Front was developed, entering production in 1967. At first the Bay Camper vans still used many of the elements of the Splits, wrap around bumper, same lighting rigs but gradually these were up graded and developed. The bumpers were given a more functional shape and the indicator lights were made square and raised in line with the windscreen. By the time manufacture ended in 1979 Volkswagen had built over four million of these recreational vehicles, they had sporned an icon that still endures today and is just as popular amongst today's counter culture and surf dudes as it was 40 years ago.

T3 and into the Future

By 1979 a whole new, modern shape had evolved with the T3 (known as the T25 in Britian and Ireland) This was a more angular, hard, cold look, very reminiscant of most car design of the time. It eincorporated more of the latest automotive features of the era but lost a lot of the design elements that made the VW Campers a classic. Home grown German T3 production finished in 1992, while under licence in South Africa they were still produced up until 2002.

It is rumoured that along the lines of the remodelled Mini Cooper, Beetle and Fiat 500 there are plans to reintroduce a retro T2 Camper with the usual home comforts as well as games consoles and internet access. A home from home for the 21st century.

VW Ambulance
VW Ambulance
VW Fire Engine
VW Fire Engine
T3 or T25 Kombi
T3 or T25 Kombi

Camper Vans on Film

The VW Camper has always been a popular image to use in films and many have made their appearance as 60's and 70's period background props. Every now and again the Car is the star as in the 2006 hit Little Miss Sunshine.

It has also been seen in Back to the Future, in an imporbably car chase between a terrorist loaded camper van and a Delorian sports car. In the famous chase scenes in the Steve McQueen classic "Bullitt" you see one involved. Obviously Herbie wouldn't be the same without one and the recent Brit Horror film, Lesbian Vampire Killers has an old Splitty ferry the poor unfortunates to their doom. Even in animation artists can't avoid using a camper now and again. Pixars "Cars" features a Type 2 camper called Fillmore, while they are always showing up in episodes of "The Simpsons" and "Futurama".

Even the famous own the occasional camper, Chef Jamie Oliver, Comedians Johnathan Ross and Vic Reeves, Actors Ewen McGregor, Martin Clunes and Jerry Sienfeld are all rumoured to have one.

How better to get away from it all than to jump into your camper and take off.

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Comments 16 comments

Nancy's Niche profile image

Nancy's Niche 7 years ago from USA

VW’s, WOW--- the memory this brings back…I remember the outside of some VW’s painted with flowers and other “far out” art work…Still, they were one of the best vehicles on the road. I would love to see them make a big come back….

knell63 profile image

knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy Author

Thanks Nancy, There are somethings that you just see and they make you smile. I find Vee Dubs one of those things. When I am driving around in mine the amount of people who seem to get pleasure from seeing it is crazy.

jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines

Very interesting! I have always wondered how it feels to be driving around in camper vans. Never had a chance to find out.

Thank you for sharing this!

BRIAN 7 years ago

It's 'VOLKSWAGEN' (not Volkeswagon).

knell63 profile image

knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy Author

There are always one word that you have problems remembering the correct spelling for, Volkswagon to my eternal shame is mine. Never mind all corrected now and no one is any the wiser.

pgrundy 7 years ago

Offsite commenters are always the meanest ones. I don't know why.

Great hub! This brought back fond memories and also made me want one of these things. Thanks! ;)

knell63 profile image

knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy Author

lol, I was just going to ignore it and delete but then thought at least I am prepared to admit I am human. I bet if big Brian let us read his stuff it would be filled with gramatical errors and spelling mistakes as well.

Thanks for the support Pam. They are great to drive, mine's exhaust it broken so you can hear me coming 10 miles away.

Camping Dan profile image

Camping Dan 7 years ago

Several of my friends have these and use them in the Rockies. Just be forewarned that if you have to be there in a hurry do not take one of these vans. They are not speedy, especially once you load them down with gear.

knell63 profile image

knell63 7 years ago from Umbria, Italy Author

HI Dan,

Tell me about it, I drove mine 1,5oo miles over the Alps fully loaded. I struggled to keep third gear. The cost a fortune to run as well, drinks petrol. Thanks for reading.

MikeNV profile image

MikeNV 7 years ago from Henderson, NV

I have passed a few VW's on fire in my day. They are very cheap to maintain though. But over here so incredibly expensive to buy ... the Westfalia Camper vans really hold their value and are water cooled.

Conversion Vans 7 years ago

Here in the United States the used VW Camper Vans retain their value well. There is still a large demand for used WestFalia's on VW Chassis because they are well built, get good mileage, and are garageable.

vw camper 6 years ago

The UK scene is exploding with VW Camper events, like Bug Jam, Volksworld and the like, each a sell out, and having camped in a westfalia - there is nothing more convenienent - turn up and be camping within the hour.. cool huh

nomoretrucks profile image

nomoretrucks 6 years ago from scotland

Great hub this Knell, your right about them drinking gas, usually with a queue of traffic behind you, until recently i had a 33 yr old bay window with rust and one blue door(faded). i lived in it for a bit and welded a washing machine(flattened out) underneath for its M.O.T. You get thumbs up and smiles everywhere. My ex-wife sold it for next to nothing, i felt as though i had lost my best friend. I built a tiny motorised replica of a splitty, check it out.

Used Vans 6 years ago

I found this hub really interesting. Its always been one of the things i would love to do is to travel around europe in VW camper van

KLeichester 6 years ago

Very cool and useful for me. I like this hub.

Fred 5 weeks ago

Had ours from 1960 until mid 1967. Converted it to a camper. Could sleep four (4} in the back plus ( 2) awake in the drivers compartment. Put over 100,000 miles on it. Took it to Germany when I was assigned there. Sold it in Germany. As I recall I got a really good price for it. Probably because it was a neat camper!

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