VW Camper Van

[Picture of green splitty]As everyone knows, Adolph Hitler scribbled his design idea for a people’s car or ‘Volkswagen’ and this became the VW Type I (more commonly known as ‘The Beetle’).

  • What most people probably do not know is that a VW Type II became the equally iconic camper van.

At the final defeat of Germany, the VW factory was in British hands. The innovative and pragmatic British modified a Type I car chassis to be used as a motorised trolley for quickly transporting parts around the factory to get production levels up.

A Dutch car importer called Ben Pon visited the Hanover factory, saw these adapted trolleys, and thought that a big box could be mounted on top to provide an excellent and very spacious van. When Heinz Nordhoff became Chief Executive of the VW company, a new vehicle was required to compliment the people’s car — and Pon’s idea of a simple work-horse van was a perfect project; it was needed for post-war rebuilding and for use by working-class folk for moving things about. The design was quickly developed and eventually the first VW van (split-window or ‘splitty’) was launched at the Geneva Motor Show.

After a year of production of Type II 8-people buses, delivery vehicles and even fire-engines, Westfalia (a firm of coachbuilders) developed the Type II into a camper van for VW, mainly by putting in a double bed and a cooker as well as elevating roofs to increase headroom. VW Westfalia won over the USA market, while in Britain the most popular conversion was the VW Devon produced by JP White of Sidmouth, but one will easily come across conversions by Martin Walter, Danbury, Canterbury Pitt and Moortown too.

The VW camper van conversion is clearly a classic design icon for the simple reason that it is an instantly recognised item (despite variations); it is ‘of its kind’ (the first van for camping in, a home-from-home), and the basic design remained the same for four decades of production with over five million manufactured and sold.

The classic VW camper van conversions were built between 1951 and 1967. A rear-mounted air-cooled standard ‘Beetle’ engine of about 1.1 litres produced 18kW of power at 3300 rpm, on a standard ‘Beetle’ axle and chassis.

[Picture of red splitty]

Almost ‘art deco’; it resembles a train or an aeroplane with the split front windscreen, sweeping v-line front and large VW emblem. These ‘splitties’ had a spacious volume of nearly 5 m3 and a payload of about three-quarters of a tonne. During 1963 the engine size increased to 1.5 litres and also the sliding side door became available as an option. The electrical system was 6V, although this changed to the standard 12V just before the redesign of 1967.

[Picture of Red Bay VW Westfalia]The first major design variation was in1967 — the front windscreen had the split removed and the spare tyre was mounted at the front. These are known as ‘bay window models’. The more modern versions produced after 1979 are known as ‘wedges’.

The bay window model made the VW camper van conversions a commercial worldwide success and by 1975 the Hanover factory had built four million of these vehicles. Reliability improved with a range of larger engine sizes became available (1.6, 1.7, 1.8 and 2 litre).

[Picture of the Mystrey Machine]The classic icon status was sealed when the Volkswagen (sometimes misspelled as ‘Voltswagen’) camper van was featured in the ‘Scooby-Doo’ cartoon as the ‘Mystery Machine’. The van has become Americanised and associated with the ‘Summer of Love’, hippies, and now the surfing community in the USA and in Australia.

[Picture of busball] [Picture of busball]



13 Responses to VW Camper Van

  1. Jamie says:

    As Quoted ” The classic icon status was sealed when the Volkswagen (sometimes misspelled as ‘Voltswagen’) camper van was featured in the ‘Scooby-Doo’ cartoon as the ‘Mystery Machine’.”

    When infact the Mystery Machine was a 1968 Chevy Van. It is officially designated a G-10, 1/2-ton van on a 90″ wheelbase-the shortest Chevy Van made.

    I hope this correction can be made on your site, Associating the Mystery Machine with a Volkswagen is almost an insult.

    – Jamie

  2. Geek Mythology says:

    Jamie, you are misinformed!
    (1) The 1968 Chevy Van does not have (and cannot have) a spare tyre on the front,
    (2) The VW has a spare tyre on the front
    (3) The Scooby Doo Mystery Machine has a spare tyre on the front

    (4) The 1968 Chevy Van does not have a sliding side door
    (5) The VW has a sliding door on the side
    (6) The Scooby Doo Mystery Machine has a sliding door on the side

    Conclusion 1 — The Scooby Doo Mystery Machine IS NOT the 1968 Chevy van. Fact.

    This suggests that the Mystery machine is a VW Camper Van… however,

    (7) The Scooby Doo Mystery Machine looks boxy — more like the Chevy than the VW,

    Conclusion 2 — The Scooby Doo Mystery Machine is not any actual vehicle; it is a cartoon, but it is intended to evoke the iconic VW Camper van associated with hippies and surfers and often painted in flower-power designs.

    The fact remains that it is the VW camper van that is the iconic vehicle here (who’s heard of a Chevy Van?) — the VW is the one that Jamie Oliver took on his recent Italian trip and cookery show, it is the vehicle driven by Nina of Nina and the Neurons on Childrens’ TV.

    At the end of the day, everyone knows that Shaggy and Scooby Doo had a Mystery Machine that was a hippy-surfer van painted in flowers — it has a sliding side door and the classic, iconic spare tyre on the front! It also has the VW luggage rack bars on the roof. The above post shows the two side-by-side — just compare the headlights!

    The “official designation” you claim is impossible — I can find no such designation. I can only hazard a guess that you are referring to the recent motion picture which used real actors (as opposed to the classic 70s cartoons by Hanna Barbera).

    It is an insult to compare a crappy old Chevy with one of the most iconic and classic vehiclesd ever designed!

  3. Whataboutbob says:

    I agree, The Mystery machine was always meant to be a wedge or bay window VW camper van, but for legal reasons they could not be so blatant, so they made it more boxy. It’s a slight difference but enough. It makes no sense to say it was meant to be a Chevy! Why, if it wasn’t for that pesky meddling hollywood movie…

  4. campery says:

    VW Camper is really art of camper

  5. Scooby says:

    It’s actually a comboth! Shaggy!!!!!

  6. johan lotter says:

    looking for a design ofvw camper interior

  7. Ben says:

    Although Hitler coined the term VolksWagen or at least suggested its requirement, the now infamous Ferdinan Porche sketched out the beetle and used the cash (and pinched the concept of the flat-4 engine) and later set up Porche. Interest enouth to note that Hitler was so pleased pleased was this amazing car he said that it was suitable that this VW should look strong like a beetle! This is such an affectionate and contemporary name, strange as it was stated by one of the most hated man of the 20th century. The greatest shame of course is that so few beetles were actually buillt until the British Royal Engineers took over the plant after the war. German people bought coupons for this peoples car and they never say them, as all this money became Kublewagons and other machines of war. Also I think Shaggy would like to be driving a VW Type 1 splitsceen but also agree that it is definately a VW Type 2 Micobus model as they were very popular for youth during the hippy era as they were so cheap to buy and drive!!

  8. G says:

    The T1 (Splittie) maybe the iconic camper but all of them – well, ok maybe not the T4 and T5 – are the business.

  9. Anonymous says:


  10. Rattling good visual appeal on this website , I’d rate it 10 10.

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