Viva la VW camper van


The campervan is dead. Long live the campervan! Volkswagen’s iconic Type 2 - for many, the only campervan, whether split-screen, bay window, Devon, Westfalia or whatever – will reach the end of the road this year as new health and safety regulations in Brazil mean production will no longer be allowed. As of 2014 all vehicles produced in Brazil must be fitted with air bags and anti-locking braking systems (ABS) and it’s thought the camper van’s classic design just won’t accommodate these changes. Production of van was halted in Germany in 1979 for similar reasons. So slip on your Birkenstocks, throw some flowers in your hair, and step back in time with us…

A brief history of the campervan

The Volkswagen Transporter made its debut at the 1949 Geneva Motor Show, and was among the first ‘forward control’ vehicles which placed the driver directly above the front road wheels.

Initially, just two models were available, the Commercial and the Kombi, which had two side windows and seats which could be easily removed to allow for greater load space. The iconic campervan followed in 1951, but it wasn’t until the hippy lifestyle blossomed a decade later that the vehicle found its enduring identity.

The 1960s also saw the introduction of the second generation transporter, known as the T2, which did away with the small slip windscreen design in favour of a larger ‘bay’ window. It also boasted a more powerful 1700cc engine and a 12volt electric system. While the previous split-screen campervans had seen versions such as the pick-up truck and the Samba van –which, with its glass roof inserts is arguably the most sought after van of its type – so the T2 saw pop-top conversions take off as companies such as Devon, Danbury and Westfalia all left their mark on the iconic van.

When safety regulation put paid to German manufacture of the T2, the T3 was introduced, incorporating the distinctive grille used by the VW Golfs and Polos of the early 1980s. The T3 engine remained air-cooled (which is the source of that distinctive engine noise) until 1983, when a water-cooled version was introduced, predominantly at the behest of the American market. So to the 1990s and the most dramatic overhaul of all came with the production of the T4, which saw the water-cooled engine move to the front of the bus in line with other Volkswagens of the time.

The fifth generation T5, launched in 2003, provided the basis of the Volkswagen California camper van, which comes with seating for four and a two birth bed as well cruise control, regenerative braking and a quieter, more fuel efficient engine – so no familiar sewing machine sound here. And although production of the old-style Type 2 is about to cease, as long as there are enough spare parts and a love of the lifestyle going around, the campervan will never die.

Owning a VW campervan

So what’s it like to own a campervan? Jody Oakes from our video team, has only gone and bought one. So over to her…

I’ve always loved the VW Campervan. Every time we saw one on our travels as kids, we’d shout ‘CAMPERVAN!’ and wave at the driver – who would always, with a big smile on their face, wave back. I remember thinking how cool it would be if we had one… All the camping trips you could go on, staying where ever you wanted, not worrying about the weather because you could sleep in it, cook in it and then drive off to the next stopping place.

Well, I finally met someone as nutty over campervans as I was and we decided it was now or never to buy our dream machine – a 1979 T2 bay, in excellent condition (give or take a few rust spots). We christened her Olive, and she is as cool as I’d imagined. She’s a quirky old thing. She’s still got her original interior, and she’s the hardest thing I’ve ever driven – I have huge muscles in my arms just from steering! But I wouldn’t change a thing about her. I love driving past people who smile when they see us coming or wave at us, just like I used to do. She certainly is a conversation starter, and now I can give my nephews something I dreamt of as a kid… camping EVERY weekend!

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