History of the VW Camper Van


In 1947 the VW Type 2 Bus was born! Dutch importer Ben Pon got the idea from the motorised trolleys used to transport parts around a VW factory in Wolfsburg.  They were made from stripped down Beetle chassis! 

This lead to his sketch on 23rd April 1947 of a Beetle-based van, slightly resembling a box on wheels!



A year later when Heinz Nordhoff became the Chief Executive of Volkswagen, he took on this idea.  The first VW van was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in November 1949. 



On 8th March production began at the rate of 10 vehicles per day.  For the next four decades, the basic design remained the same and roughly 5 million buses were produced over that time.  The Type 2 filled a much needed gap in the market, with its rear engine and box on wheels appearance.  The uncomplicated design meant VW was able to turn out 90 different body combinations over the first 5 years.  Variations included buses, pick up trucks, fire engines, ambulances, beer wagons, ice cream vans, milk floats and the well known and well loved camper.

The Split 1949-1967

The first generation of VW buses came in the form of the 'splitties', which earned their name from the split screen windscreen.  The rear air cooled engine initially boasted 25bhp!


In 1950 the microbus was produced, with it's now famous two-tone paint and big aluminium VW logo.


In 1951 came the introduction of the Westfalia, named because of Westfalia-Werke, the contractor who built the vans and came from the Westphalia region in Germany. The VW camper van proved extremely popular with many features added about this time, including a longer dashboard with radio and clock, and chrome trim on the body.


The single cab pick-up appeared in 1952 and in 1954 the engine size was increased.  Roughly 30 versions of the transporter were available, including a delivery van and ambulance.  Four years later came the introduction of the double cab pick-up and the production line had moved from Wolfsburg to Hannover. 


In 1960 the wide bed trucks became available on special order and the high roof delivery vans were also introduced. Flashing indicators also replaced the semaphores.


This was the year the engine size increased from the original 1200cc to 1500cc, and the sliding side door became an option.


1967 was the end of an era for the 'splittie'.  When the last bus rolled off the production line, VW had produced 1,477,330 buses.


The Bay


In 1968 the Split screen was replaced by the 'early bay'.  The radical rethink in style was just the beginning.  There were major suspension changes and engines were now fitted with a stabilising back bar.  A one piece windscreen and wind down windows also added to the changes - in fact just about every mechanical part and body panel was replaced!


The 'late bay' was introduced in 1973, with the new wrap around bumpers replaced with a square style, the front indicators moved up to the new grill and with the option of larger engine sizes the bus became much more reliable. 

The late bay also introduced a range of safety features including improved brakes, a crumple zone and a reinforced passenger cell.

Late bays were converted into campervans by various firms such as Devon, Viking, Danbury, Dormobile and Westfalia.

The last bay rolled off the production line in 1979 with 3,292,272 buses made.




1979 production of the T2 Bay ceased and it was replaced by the T25, although the Bay is still manufactured in South America. 

Whilst these later models may not (yet) have quite the iconic status of the Splitty and Bay, they remain massively successful, selling in huge numbers and still enjoying the same loyal following.


1981 bought the introduction of a water-cooled 1600cc diesel engine with 50bhp (37kw). This engine originally came from the Golf.

September 1981 

Introduction of the Caravelle, offering a more luxurious interior.

October 1981 

This month saw the first water-cooled flat four petrol engines in two versions: DF 1900cc 60bhp (44kw) and DG 1900cc 78bhp (57kw). Rear air intakes became plastic inserts.


End of production of air-cooled engined models in Germany.

August 1983 

Introduction of a higher spec ‘Caravelle’ with the option of a 4 lamp square grille.



The year of a full ‘revamp’ of the model. Changes included new exhaust systems, front suspension, sliding door locks, fuel injection systems, to name but a few. It is said over 1000 changes were made in this year alone. 1985 also saw the introduction of the Syncro, a four wheel drive vehicle, which was built with Steyr/Daimler/Puch in Austria. Capable of climbing a 54% gradient utilizing a center viscous coupling.


Onwards vehicles did not suffer so badly with rust as a result of a new rust treatment in the production process.

September 1990 

The last T25 left the Hanover factory, however production carried on in South Africa until the end of 2002. The last Syncro was built in 1992.