VW Camper History

Since it’s introduction in March 1950 the Volkswagen Transporter has become an instantly recognisable, classic icon on the roads all over the world. We take a brief look at some of the events that helped shape the VW campers we know and love today.

Click through the key dates below:

Split Screen Campers

The 1951 ‘Barndoor’ was one of the first professional fully fitted camper conversions, and surprisingly it wasn’t Westfalia who were first to market, this claim if held by a local car dealer in Dresden, the then East Germany. The interior layout formed a U shape and was constructed of wooden box arrangement housing a two ring burner and a sink in seating behind the bulk head. But it was Westfalia who introduced the world to the VW camper. The early camping box’s had lift in/out camping units that housed the essentials.

By 1955 Westfalia were producing fully fitted campers and the SO 23 released in 1959 set the standard of others to follow. Over here in the UK  Dormobile and Peter Pitt were producing motor caravans but it was the Pitt who imported and converted the VW bus into a camper in 1956. Devon showed their first conversions in 1957, with Dormobiles arriving later in 1961 and the now well known British manufacturer Danbury releasing their version in 1964. All versions were officially sanctioned by VW. As demand out striped supply in the US other conversions were launched including the EZ camper and Sundial campers.

The Elevating Roof Arrives.

While Dormobile had been fitting elevating roof s to vehicles since 1957 it wasn’t until 1960 that it became an option on VW buses. In 1962 Devon offered it’s own version of the pop top roof but named Gentlux but the Dormobile had gained such popularity that Devon were inf act offering those as an option over it’s own version. It wasn’t until 1964 that Westfalia offered an elevating roof as an option on their conversions using their own design or again offering the Martin Walter Dormobile roof.

T2 Bay Window Campers

1967 saw the introduction of the Bay Window aptly named for it’s large curved one piece windscreen. Offering more internal space this model quickly became popular with conversion companies with elevating roofs and rock and roll beds becoming the norm. It was in this year that Holdsworth also stared converting vehicles into campers and brought the first elevating roof with an aluminum side to the market. Most pop tops at this time offered hammocks but it was Vikings 1974 roof bed that offered the most space with it’s huge roof sleeping space. It was around this time that new materials were introduced to the market that saw an end to hardwood interiors which were increasingly becoming replaced with cheaper and lighter alternatives. Mass productions was well and truly underway.

T3 T25 & 4×4 Syncro Variant

1980 saw the third generation of the VW bus launched, the T3 (often referred to as the T25) and was a serious step up in terms of luxury and refinement. Advances in engineering and production made this a more modern driving experience that replaced the slow T2’s. These advancements were also reflected in the interior with up to date gas appliances and electrics were now becoming the norm for most people. Swivel seats were fitted for a more social dining experience and layouts began to resemble luxury recreational vehicles. It was also the year that the first 4×4 variants ran off the production line. Named the Syncro this four wheel drive version,  originally developed for army/navel services, relied on a viscous coupling (VC) to engage when the wheels spun to engage the front drive.  Models were also fitted with Diff Locks, some with both front and rear to lock the drive shafts to enable serious off road performance. Today these are increasingly becoming the most sought after (and thus expensive) VW camper vans.

T4

At it most sophisticated these camper vans were often better equipped than modern homes with microwaves, showers, satellite navigation systems, CD/DVD players were now becoming the norm and a far cry from the ‘camping box’ of the 1950’s. Camping had now become a form of escapism and a chance to get away from it all with friends and family. Some say that part of the charm was also lost around this time, with layouts becoming increasingly predictable and lacking any real character.  Vehicle reliability was now at it’s peak with very little ‘home’ maintenance needed, the camper was becoming another commodity rather than a cherished hobby for many who were coming into the market. That said some of  the T4 Westfalia California models are becoming just as loved as any other model and increasing in value like it’s predecessors.

T5

The first T5’s came in 1 1.9 85bhp model and like other transporters it’s popularity took off as a work as a reliable work horse.  With the camping lifestyle boom of the late 200o’s held, fed mainly by the credit crunch forcing people to reconsider there foreign overseas holidays, many of these van were converted at home or by the increasing number of smaller conversion companies that had popped up, after they had served there time in the field. Today Danbury can still be found offering their take on the T5 conversion while VW purists flock to the California model in all its variations.

VW Camper History From The Archives:

This fantastic historic video documents the construction of Wolfsburg factory, the birthplace of the VW camper where the first Split Screen kombis rolled off the production line in the 1950’s.

Anyone who loves a #vwbus will love this vintage footage.

Posted by VW Camper Directory on Friday, April 10, 2015

The last of the Brazilian bays rolled off the production line in 2013. This short video made by the Telegraph newspaper reveals the Bristol based convertors, Danbury’s take on the end of an era.

If you have something you would like to contribute to our history section please feel free to get in touch.