VW’s ‘bay window’ camper is a cult classic – what to look out for
The Volkswagen Type 1 was the Beetle saloon, and the Type 2 was the light-commercial derivative. Introduced in 1950 and available in many different forms, it was almost completely re-engineered in 1967 to become the ‘bay window’ – a reference to its big one-piece windscreen.
‘Bay windows’ were available in pick-up, crew cab, panel van, Kombi (a van with windows) and Microbus (with seats) formats.
VW didn’t build them as campers, but they were adapted for the job by a variety of converters. The German Westfalia typically features a pop-top roof, cooking facilities, some very clever storage and a ‘rock ’n’ roll’ bench seat that converts into a bed. Other converters who produced Type 2-based campers included British specialists Devon and Danbury.
So popular are these conversions that Danbury, in particular, continued to make them long after the T2 went out of production in Germany in 1979. In fact, it’s still possible to buy a new one today: the Type 2 remained in production in Brazil until December 2013, latterly with a water-cooled VW Polo engine, and a few are still waiting to be converted into campers.
Between 1967 and 1972, the 1584cc Beetle engine was standard, but from 1972 power gradually increased with the new Type 4 engine. This came initially as a twin-carb 1700cc, an 1800cc (from 1973) or a 2.0-litre (1970cc) from 1978.
A large number of detail changes occurred in the early 1970s and it would take pages to list them all.Until 1972, the front indicators were set low on the nose, but were then re-sited higher up either side of the front grille. The front bumpers changed at the same time with squarer ‘grooved’ versions replacing the former wraparound arrangement. The rear end layout was also redeveloped to reflect the use of bigger engines, including enlarged air inlets. Taller, larger tail lights are another feature of the ‘late bay’.
Bear in mind, though, that purists rate pre-1972 models more highly than later models, and this preference is reflected in higher prices.
Volkswagen Type 2 Camper
Top speed 68mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Check you’re looking at the real thing. The first three digits of the chassis number give the clues. First is a 2
(Type 2), the second shows the model (2 means Microbus, 3 is Kombi, 4 is a De Luxe Microbus). A 1 means you’re looking at a converted panel van. The third digit shows the year (8 for 1968 and so on). If the camper has been created by one of the known conversion companies, that’s great. If it’s a DIY job, inspect the quality of the conversion very carefully.
The panels behind the bumpers often rust out because they are hard to clean and get neglected. Look at the bottoms of all the opening panels
– specifically the doors, tailgate, engine lid – and bear in mind that not all T2 doors are the same. The front panel rots just under the windscreen; if the spare wheel is mounted on the front panel, check behind it. Vans that have been stored outside for years often have holes in the guttering where it has rotted through – these are difficult and expensive to repair.
Rust is the killer of these VWs. Repair panels are available for most common problem areas, but you’ll need to factor in the cost of professional welding. Underneath, check the chassis rails, sills, outriggers (which run on top of the chassis rails across the full width of the vehicle) and jacking points. Beware black-painted sills – they usually mean bodgery! Check the floor, especially where it touches the front and side panels, in the area behind the front seats and in the cab. Look at the wheelarches; at the front, open the cab doors to check the area around seat belt mountings, and, at the rear, take a look from inside the body as well as outside.
Engine upgrades are commonplace, mainly because the early ‘bay window’ is desperately slow with its standard 50bhp 1600cc engine. Only you can judge the quality of such a conversion. Another favourite upgrade is lowered suspension. This is done partly for looks and partly to reduce the T2’s formidable cornering roll. Remember that it’s a conversion, and that DIY quality standards can sometimes be dodgy.
All engines on German-built ‘bay windows’ are air-cooled. On early engines, rock the crankshaft pulley back and forth. A bit of end-float is normal, but excessive movement probably means worn bearings. On these engines and the Type 4 (with concealed alternator and lower-mounted fan), look for oil leaks. Oil over the sides of the engine means it needs new seals; if oil is dripping from the rear main crankshaft seal, the engine needs to come out before you can fit a new seal.
On the road, don’t expect crisp handling, but do beware of imprecise steering: the steering-box is prone to wear and fitting even a reconditioned one is expensive. Steering is heavy at low speeds. Gear selection – of reverse, in particular – was always imprecise because of the long linkage, but good aftermarket short-shift conversions tighten it up significantly. On the standard type, replacing the selector bush can sometimes make a difference. High noise levels came as standard, so don’t imagine that somebody has removed the sound insulation and then forgotten to put it back!
As built by VW, the Microbus (also available in De Luxe trim) came with seven or nine seats, some facing backwards. As modified by DIY-ers and professionals alike, the rear interior can come in many guises. As a general guide, check the state
of the headlining, which is expensive to replace, and go carefully over the elevating roof, if fitted, because its seals can leak (so rotting out the floor), as can the fabric if it gets damaged. The electrics need careful examination if they’ve been modified in any way from VW’s original installation.
Some owners buy T2s for their iconic style, others still view them as wholly viable family campers. If you’re going for a stylish classic, it’s best to avoid the higher prices asked for well-preserved top-class conversions. Whichever you choose, the light-commercial origins are always in evidence – so be sure to try before you buy.