The History of the VW Campervan

VW Camper

The beginning of the VW Type II bus was just after the Second World War in the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.

In 1947, Ben Pon (a Dutch importer) noticed the motorised trolleys that carried around parts in the factory were made of running gear and stripped down Beetle chassis. He sketched a design of a Beetle-based van inspired by the strange looking box on wheels in the factory. The following year, the new chief executive of the company saw potential in this idea. In November 1949, the first VW van was officially launched at the Geneva Motor Show.

In March 1950, the German VW factory was producing ten vehicles per day. In the succeeding four decades, the basic design was retained and about five million vehicles were produced during that time. The VW Type II with the rear engine and boxed type body was able to fill the gap in the market – providing a simple but well-built vehicle, and flexible in terms of transport and very cost-effective.

The VW transporter’s unique design enabled the rear seats to be removed and the vacant space for transporting additional loads. Due to its uncomplicated design, VW was able to produce ninety different body combinations in its first five years. These include pick-ups, buses, ambulances, fire engines, beer wagons, refrigerated ice cream vans, mobile butcher shop, delivery vans, milk floats, bread vans, and the renowned camper.

The Split Screens Era

The first generation of VW buses with split screens were produced in 1949 to 1967. These split screen buses, a.k.a. “splitties”, were called as such due to the split windshield and the sweeping V-line front. The simple, reliable air-cooled engine is positioned at the rear.

During the 18-year production of the “splitties”, many notable developments were made. The original buses were designed for better performance and durability. The Kombi and Panel van models also came in at this point. In 1950, the microbus was launched with the famous two-tone paint, fancier upholstery, and the huge cast aluminum VW logo.

In 1951, the Westfalia was introduced. The name originated from the company’s interior conversion contractor named Westfalia-Werke, which was located in Germany’s Westphalia region. The VW campervan was an established model and very popular. It has numerous features including a longer dashboard with clock and radio, and chrome body trim.

The VW Camper was released in the United States in the mid-1950s. It was a success and by 1963, over 150,000 units were sold.

The Bay Style Windows and Wrap-around Bumpers

In 1968, the split screen version was replaced by the “early bay” style window version. The bay style brought drastic changes in the suspension and engines fitted with stabilising back bar. Wind-down windows and single piece windshield were added, and just about every moving part of the vehicle was changed.

The “late bay” was introduced in 1973. During this time, the wrap-around bumpers were updated into the square style, the front indicators were moved higher to the new grille, and larger engine options were also made available – 1600cc, 1700cc, 1800cc and 2000cc.

The “bay style” made the VW campervan successful and it was larger than the previous “splitty”. Bay style vans were also converted by different companies such as Devon, Danbury, Viking, Dormobile, and Westfalia. They offered varying interior configurations for storage, cooking, and sleeping, and different types of roof ranging from straight-up vertical pop tops, to front, side, and rear hinging.

In 1979, the last bay was produced, which also marked the end of the renowned VW air-cooled engine. Between August 1967 and July 1979, the company had rolled out over 3 million bay window vans.

In the following years, the T25 and T4 were produced, and the immensely successful VW camper continues in the subsequent T5 model. The iconic splitty and bay versions are still remarkable to this day, that many collectors and independent companies restore and conserve them for the enjoyment of the present and, hopefully, the future generations.