History of the 1955 - 1963 Volkswagen Type II
The Volkswagen Type 2, commonly known as the VW Camper, is a multi-purpose vehicle produced by Volkswagen between 1950 and 1979. Officially named the Type 2 Transporter (the Beetle was the ‘Type 1’), it came in many different guises. A rear- engine, rear wheel drive van, it was arguably the first people carrier and is now considered an iconic design. The first splitscreen variant (1950-67) is known as the T1 or ‘Splittie’ and the second (T2) generation (1967-79) known as the ‘Bay window’ camper (after it’s rounded windscreen). The latter is subdivided into T2a ‘Early Bay’ and T2b ‘Late Bay’ variants.
The Volkswagen Type 2 emerged shortly after World War 2 when Volkswagen production was still managed by the British. Incoming German director Heinz Nordhoff was offered a design by Dutchman Ben Pon, and by November 1948 plans were in place for the first Volkswagen Transporter - or 'Bulli' as it was known in Germany- to be made at the Wolfsburg factory.
The first Type 2 'Kombi' appeared in May 1950 and was a combination of a people carrier and freight mover which could be adapted quickly to either task. Unitary construction and front occupants sitting over the front wheels created lots of interior space, and rear access was superb via one or two outwardly opening side doors. Over 80 body layouts were made, but the ‘microbus’ or camper van is the most well-known. The number of windows varied (from 11 to 23)- generally the more windows, the higher specification of the van. In 1964 the rear door was widened, creating the well-known ‘Samba’ model.
The engine was the originally the 1100 Volkswagen air-cooled engine (also used in the VW Beetle), an 1,131cc 24 bhp air-cooled flat-four-cylinder 'boxer' engine. In 1954 this was replaced by a 1192cc, 30bhp unit and in 1959 a higher compression engine producing 34bhp was provided. With synchromesh on all four gears, this added performance. In 1963, the VW T1 van received a 1493cc 42bhp flat four engine, plus improved brakes and suspension.
In August 1967 the Type 2 T2 ‘Bay Window’ van arrived. Wider and higher than the T1, it was fitted with a sliding side door and initially a 1584cc flat-four engine with 47bhp at 4000rpm. These early T2a vans are identifiable as they have crescent-shaped rear air intakes, low front indicators and a front bumper that incorporates a step. T2a vans are the most desirable of the Bay Window campers, especially period camper conversions by Westfalia (known as the ‘Westie’). In 1971 the 1679cc Volkswagen 411/412 engine was offered, giving 66bhp.
The body was refreshed in 1973 (creating the T2b or ‘Late Bay’) van. Later, a 1800 engine was briefly offered, followed by a 1970cc ‘2L’ engine producing 70bhp. Production ceased in 1979, although Transporters continued to be made under licence (the T2c or Watercooled Transporter) in both Mexico and Brazil (until 2013).
Main issues today for buyers are rust and tired engines. Volkswagen vans (both T1 and T2) rust pretty much everywhere, but pay most attention to the chassis rails and outriggers, the base of the battery tray, the front axle and the suspension mounts- all are potential MOT failures. Floors, roof rails and windscreen surrounds are also prone to rust. Mechanically, the engines are strong but if they break they tend to do so spectacularly. However spares are in plentiful supply and inexpensive compared with many other classics.
Originality in VW Type 2 vans is hard to find. Their ‘Kombi’ nature encourages individuality, and most will have been altered in some way. Engine upgrades, either with later VW engines, or even Porsche and Subaru units is also common, as are LPG conversions. Interior upgrades and conversions are also very widespread.
For this reason, original examples, especially with period Westfalia conversions, are very sought-after. Other conversions such as Danbury, Devon, Dormobile and Viking also demand a premium. T1 campers are the most desirable, starting with the 23-window models and working down to the 11 window. Then follows the T2a Early Bay camper, The T2b Late Bay camper, then the rest. RHD models demand a premium in the UK.
Other similar models include the subsequent VW T25 van, the Fiat 850 Camper, the Bedford Debonair and the Commer Suntour.