Six decades of the VW camper van

Posted on: 18 March 2010 by Mark O'haire

The VW Transporter is 60 years old, so we thought we'd take you through six decades of the classic bus.

The VW Transporter - the camper van - is famous for more than just being the thing Jamie Oliver drove around Italy in for a cooking programme. It's a legend that's spanned five generations across six decades.

It turns 60 this year, making it even more enduring than the MINI, so here's our decade-by-decade lowdown.

1950s: Split beginnings

The exact conception of the original camper happened on April 23rd 1947, when Dutch car dealer Ben Pon scrawled a childish picture of a van into a notebook. He'd seen a pickup truck based on the Beetle platform and figured it could be turned into a useful van. By 1949 a prototype had been made, built on a new platform and called the Type 2.

Initially it was a proper van, with its 25bhp engine in the rear and side doors on its windowless box of a body. May 1950 saw the Kombi launched, which had side windows and seats that could be removed. Later referred to as the 'T1' generation, this is the classic camper, with its 'split screen' and massive VW badge at the front. The 'splittie' would last for 17 years, replaced by the T2 in 1967.

1960s: All kinds of camper

Even though the split screen T1 generation Type 2 camper is the most famous, there were loads of body variants. They included a pick up truck, an ambulance, a 'high-roof ' version, the 'Deluxe Microbus' with glass panels in the roof, and plush conversions by Westfalia, with full fitted kitchens, extendable roofs and side tents.

The camper also became synonymous with the hippie movement of the 1960s, with T1s seen hand painted in psychedelic colours.

1970s: Second generation

The 1967 T2 officially lasted until 1979, but is actually still built in Brazil today. Like many replacements, it lost some of the original's character, but got bigger and quality improved. The split screen disappeared, but it had a 'massive' 47bhp 1.6-litre engine - nearly twice the power of the original. Later models accommodated engines up to 2.0-litres.

1980s: Caravelle club

The T3 generation was built from 1979 until 1992 and was the last to house its engine in the rear. It was much better equipped than the T2, and the first to get diesel power and an automatic transmission.

As usual, plenty of special editions were made - including one by Porsche, who put a 3.2-litre 911 engine in the back. It became the support vehicle for Porsche's Paris-Dakar race team.

1990s: More room in the back

The T4 camper was officially called the Transporter and put the engine in the front for the first time - twenty years after VW had done so with its cars. A wide range of engines was available during its 13-year lifespan between 1990 and 2003, including a 2.8-litre six-cylinder unit from the Golf VR6 hot hatch.

2000s: Nice van, man

In keeping with the tradition of the original T2, masses of body styles quickly became available with the launch of the T5 generation in 2003. There are single and double cab pickup trucks, a nine-seater version, a high-roof delivery vehicle, and the classic Transit-type van. For that reason, many believe the T5 has lost the spirit of the original camper - although there are still plenty of aftermarket convertors plying a trade in T5 van conversions.

The T5 was facelifted in 2009, and it now gets a twin-clutch DSG automatic gearbox as an option, as well as VW's latest touch screen satnav. Today's hippies need to get to their meetings fast, see.

By Mark Nichol (www.carenthusiast.co.uk)

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