The Type II VW Campervan

VW Splittie
Designer Volkswagon
Dates 1950 - 1979


The Type II Campervan is an instantly recognizable, aerodynamic, almost art deco shape. It is about 1970mm wide by 2120mm high, if the roof is an elevating design with a skylight. The length is 4380mm, all of which combine to give an interior capacity of nearly 5 cubic metres with a payload of 750kg. It is is mounted on a standard Beetle axle and chassis and has an air-cooled rear-mounted engine, which was increased from 1.1 litres to 1.5 litres capacity in 1963. The sliding door was made optional in 1963 and the electrical system was upped from 6V to the standard 12v in 1967.

Westfalia made the first campervan conversion in 1951 by putting in a double bed and a cooker and an elevating roof. These come in several variations, the pop-top and the concertina top

The classic Splittie was produced from 1950 - 1967,after which the Bay Window version was built, much heavier, and with half-shaft axles and cv joints fitted instead of the swing axles of the Beetle. The engine was also increased to 1.6l

The Type II was modified again in 1972 when the Type 4 engine was introduced at 1.7, then 1.8 and 2l, which was far more reliable than the Type 1.

In 1974 the body shape changed slightly with a squarer set around the lights and larger bumpers with a compressible structure behind the front bumper which made it far safer. However, this was the last incarnation of the classic Type II Campervan; the far more practical yet less iconic Wedge van (the Type III) was introduced in 1979.

The Type II Campervan comes in many different colours, the T2's with a distinctive V down the front, and was often handpainted as a counter-culture symbol of the 60's and 70's. These Vans are highly prized and go from about 3,000 for fairly poor condiction, to 20,000+ for restored or beautifully maintained examples. However, the VW Campervan has an extreme tendancy to rust (known as ironworm), the engines have a habit of blowing up and the heating pipes rust through and are fiendishly expensive to replace (500 in 1990).

The Type II interiors come in a variety of conversions, the Devon being the most popular in the UK, with a side concertina top, containing two hammocks, and a wide double bed, captain's seats, sink unit, cool box, folding table, gas-fired cooker and cupboard space.

A Personal View

The VW Type II instantly evokes the feeling of freedom, of sunlit beaches, the open road, and fun and good times. People come up to you and chat if you are driving a Type 2 VW as they instantly assume you are a friendly, laid back kind of person, with or without a surf board.

The look of the Type II too,is immensely attractive, with its curved lines, and the smiley grill or big V and headlights making a friendly face at the front, and at the rear the bumper looks like a little frill around an ample bottom, which is very cute and adds to the charm of the vehicle.

Sliding back the side door, the interior is open and light and airy. The layout is user-friendly and very simple. The older Type 2's don't even have a zig unit, so the tap operates with a foot pump and there is an insulated cool box instead of a fridge and you heat the water up on the little gas stove. This is a miracle of design as it folds down under the passenger seat, and when up has a fully-functioning grill and two burners, all surrounded by an integral windshield. The seats are very comfortable and fold out into an R'n'R kingsize bed.

The elevating concertina roof PopTopfolds up and out like an accordian, with 2 integral canvas shelves which can be used as in-flight storage or used as surprisingly comfortable bunks, with a view straight out of the skylights, lovely to watch the birds first thing in the morning. In fact, all the windows give superb all-round visibility, and as they are virtually the same circumference as the vehicle you don't have to worry about out-of-sight boots or bonnets to crash into things.

It's also a fabulous dual-function or Kombi vehicle, as we found in our cider-show days. For instance, going to a craft fair in Kenilworth Castle, we could load all the cider, the stall equipment, the dogs and our holiday stuff into the campervan and head off to Warwickshire without a separate load-carrying vehicle. Once there,you can unload straight into the marquee, drive the van to the campsite et voila, there's your home-from-home, no need for a B&B or anything. Happy days, until the craft fairs got too expensive to be viable.

I have also transported in our Type II chickens, a baby Shetland pony, large mirrors,huge rolls of wire netting, 45 gallon barrels (empty) and large quantities of people (before the rear seatbelt laws came into force of course).

The versatility is great too. On holiday you can drive down to the beach first thing in the morning, take the dogs for a walk, then have swim while you partner is cooking a wonderful breakfast, which you eat while looking out over the sea after getting changed in your own Type II, in between talking to other admirers of the vehicle.

The cult appeal of the Type II permeates through popular culture. Anyone who watched Scooby Doo as a child will remember the purple Mystery Bus, the vehicle of choice for those crazy kids. CJ Macall mentioned a Chartreuse Microbus in the song Convoy - it appeared in the film too, stacked out with hippies who had answered the call of the road. The whole Californian surfer scene used the VW Type II, and the perceived 'coolness' of the movement, with its good-looking people and sunny music helped establish the Campervan as a worldwide style icon. Recently, the Oscar-nominated film Little Miss Sunshine was set in a VW Campervan and I can't wait to see it, probably because of the van rather than the slightly drippy-sounding storyline.

It does have its drawbacks, of course, mostly rust, expensive spare parts, and, with the older version,a fragile engine, and of these three, the greatest evil is rust. Despite this, the iconic appeal of the vehicle is such that people (including us) spend enormous amounts of money and effort to keep them on the road as they have such a powerful pull on the imagination.


VW's first model was the Type I, known as 'The Beetle', a design icon in its own right. The Type II was first mooted by Ben Pon in 1947, and after sorting out the aerodynamics, the first van production model was made in 1950 in Wolfsberg. As detailed above, it went through several modifications, from the T1 through to the T5. Its innovations, such as placing the driver over the front wheel and having a rear mounted engine had many imitators, among them Ford and Chevrolet. The Campervan idea was also copied, the Dormobile and the Ford Transit conversions being well known, but none have ever reached the cult status of the Type II.

It was adopted by the hippies in America in the 1960's and 70's and used as a counterculture symbol - you could 'tune in. turn on and drop out' in a VW and show your antiwar views by replacing the VW logo on the front with a peace symbol. VWs themselves were often handpainted and were known as Art Buses.Art Bus

German production of the T1 version of the Type II model stopped in 1967, but continued in Brazil, although not using exactly the same tooling. The T2 of the Type II was made in Germany until 1979, thereafter in Mexico and Brazil. The outer modifications changed the Type II slightly, but the 'feel' of the vehicle remained the same, although the splittie with its bifurcated windscreen remains the iconic vehicle within the Type II cult.

the VW Type II became a design icon as it broke new engineering and utility barriers and because it didn't look like anything else. It was unique. It could never be confused with any other van and even the big VW logo on the front was a design icon in its own right. It is a great shame that the TIII or Wedge was unable to keep the iconic design of the previous VW Campervans. It is practical but not beautiful, and looks like many other campervans, so the early unique design values have been lost. With the Type II you put up with the rust, the under powered engine and the lack of facilities because the vehicle itself was the big attraction. At least they are still made in Brazil, although you have to pay upwards of 20,000 for the very basic model, needing about 10,000 of extras to make it really usable. However, even the tattiest of the Type II survivors are now greatly valued, so are being restored instead of being scrapped. 15,000 for a people's car anyone?

Links - gives links to the history of the VW Campervan and some very useful links if you are thinking of buying one - firm importing new Brazilian built VWs with all sorts of customisation - an online shop selling funky surfer clothes and accessories - extensive information on VW's of all sorts

Author: Heidi Davies Date: March 2007