Volkswagen Pop-Top Camper Model Overview
The following write-up is designed to clarify the years and terminology associated with Volkswagen Campers from 1968-2003. Included are some basic descriptions of their body styles, interior layout, power plants, and when VW made major changes. This is meant to be a helpful guide. It may contain minor errors and we may add or delete portions of it's text at any time.
1968-1979 VW campers were the Type 2 Bus: These models were also referred to as the "Bay Window Bus," or “Bread-Loaf Bus," or simply “VW Bus” Westfalia campers. A nice used example will run between $2500 and $4500. A totally restored one can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000. As compared to the Vanagon and Eurovan, the Bus camper is agruably the most charming camp of models. However, as you will read further on, it is by far the most antiquated and impractical of models. Compared to the Vanagon and Eurovan models, it is really just a vintage curiosity. Cool yes, practical no.
1968-1971: These are VW Buses fitted with a 1600cc VW "upright" type 1 engine. Year models 1968-1970 were basically the same. The 1971 is special because it has a "dual port" engine (about a whopping 58 hp instead of about 50 hp), and front power assisted disc brakes. You can spot this year right off the bat because they have the more common narrow 112mm bolt-pattern road wheel used all the way through 1991, that uses the more mdern, flatter hub cap. The earlier Buses (1970 and older) have the old VW wide-pattern 5-bolt wheel that accepts the taller, "baby moon" style hub cap. Other than that, and the shape of the side markers (round on earlier models, wrectangular on later models) they look pretty much the same as the 68-71.
1972-1979: You can spot a 1972 and newer Bus easily by the larger, tall narrow tail lights, as opposed to the small oval-like tail lights used from about 1960 to 1971. These years are fitted with the VW "pancake" type 4 engine. These Buses are commonly referred to as the "Porsche-powered" Bus because it has the same engine that was used in the Porsche 914 from 1970-1976. However, the truth is that the 914 Porsche was VW powered, not the other way around. Funny how rumors get started.... The 1972 and 1973 models were 1700cc with dual carburetors, the 1974 was 1800cc with dual carbs, the 1975 was 1800cc with "EFI" (Electronic Fuel Injection), and the 1976-1979 were 2000cc EFI's. The pop-top on the Bus Westy changed in 1974 from a front-tipping roof to a rear-flipping roof (like all Vanagon Westy’s have). As a rule of thumb, the newest Bus Westy is the best. The 1979 model is the best one. It is the only Bus that came with electronic fuel injection with Lambda (oxygen sensor) controlled mixture, electronic ignition, and hydraulic valves all in the same vehicle (California models only).
VW VANAGON CAMPERS
1980-1991 VW campers were Vanagon Westfalia campers. The interior layout in the Vanagon camper, unlike the VW Bus, which changed many times, stayed essentially the same throughout the years. The cabinets of the earliest Vanagon Westy’s were fake wood-grain, the seats were a funky striped design, and all the wall and ceiling covering was a thin contact paper-like material that would fall off. Around 1984 the cabinet finish changed to a soft tan color, the fabric changed to a more subdued and extremely durable tan fabric, and the funky and unreliable contact paper was replaced with a much more attractive and durable material. This interior scheme stayed in effect through 1986 and in 1987 the interior color changed to gray and remained a very high quality. All 87-91 camper interiors are almost identical. In 1989 the closet door was shortened so it could be open with the rear table in the stowed position. In 1990 the refrigerator was changed to an electric start type, but that’s about it. In 1985, 1986, and 1987 there was a special Westfalia Wolfsburg Weekender offered. These models have the same pop-top as the full camper, but instead of the frig/stove/sink assembly, it has a flip-up table instead and one rear-facing seat behind the driver. A very similar set-up was offered again in 1990 and 1991 and was called the Westfalia Multi-Van (later offered on the Eurovan platform as well). The inside set-up of the MV model was almost identical to the Wolfsburg Weekender, except it had two rear-facing seats behind each of the front seats, both of which were quick-release for easy removal. The 90/91 Multi-Vans (or “MV’s) are essentially a Carat seven-passenger Vanagon model with the Westfalia pop-top, and are probably most sought-after and valuable two wheel drive Vanagons ever made. Whereas the appearance of the Vanagon changed very little over the 12 years it was offered, mechanically they changed profoundly:
1980-1983: The Vanagon was introduced in 1980 with the same 2000cc EFI engine that was used in the last of the Buses. These air cooled Vanagons, although a great improvement over their Bus predecessors, are the worst of the Vanagons. The 2000cc air cooled engine was simply not up to the task of pushing around an even bigger, heavier box. Typical engine life is about 90,000 miles. Additionally, the first stab at the 4-speed shifter system was a complete failure and was totally re-designed with the introduction of the gasoline water-cooled model in late 1983. A good example of one of these Westy’s will run between $5000 and $7500
1982-1983 Diesel-powered Vanagon: VW offered the Vanagon with the VW Rabbit water-cooled diesel engine for two (thank god) short years. Now, we at GoWesty love diesel-powered vehicles don’t get me wrong. I own four diesel-powered vehicles, three of them VW’s. However, what the hell was VW thinking when they put a 48hp 1600cc non-turbo diesel engine into this vehicle? It is simply amazing. We have converted six of these vehicles to the larger, stouter 1900cc turbo-diesel power plant with great success. They are strong running, and produce about 30% better fuel economy than a typical gasoline powered Vanagon. However, these vehicles have many of the shortcomings of all the older Vanagons (the shifter system for example), and the cost and trouble of converting one of these to the newer turbo diesel power plant is formidable. A nice Diesel westy with a 1.9 turbo engine will run between $15,000 and $25,000
1983-1985: The Vanagon was introduced in year model 1983 with a water-cooled “Wasserboxer” or “Waterboxer” (for all of us English-speaking folk) engine in North America. These first water boxer engines were 1900cc and had “Digijet” EFI. The basic design of the Waterboxer is solid. It was the culmination of some 40 years of experience VW had with the horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engine design. The Waterboxer is basically made in the same external dimensions as a VW Type 1 engine, with the internal displacement and main bearing design of the Type 4 engine, and water (instead of air) cooled. The first Waterboxer Vanagons had many problems with the cooling system. First of all, VW didn't realize until about two years into production that there was a problem with the phosphate in the coolant they were using. The wrong coolant formula caused the cylinder heads to corrode rapidly at the area where the water-jacket rubber seal (often incorrectly referred to as the “head gasket”) and cylinder head come into contact. Most engines were leaking coolant within the first couple of years, or about 40,000 miles. This stigma has plagued the Waterboxer design ever since, even though the problem was essentially solved early on. With care given to using a non-phosphate coolant, and regular 2-year flushing of the system, there is absolutely no problem whatsoever. We have seen Waterboxer Vanagons with up to 290,000 miles come into our shop completely original, the engines never having been disassembled. The rest of the problems with the cooling system were solved with the introduction of the 1986 2100cc Vanagon. You can pick up a good used 83-85 Westy for between $5000 and $10,000.
1986-1991: These are the best of the Vanagons. They are easily identified by their rectangular (instead of round) headlights. The ‘86 and ‘87’s had smaller steel bumpers, the ‘88-‘91’s had larger fiberglass bumpers and an added ventilation duct at the rear of each of the rear side windows. Many people think that these Vanagons were better because of the increase in displacement from 1900cc to 2100cc, but in fact this was the least important change. Indeed, the two engines are essentially identical in construction and design, with the exception of a longer stroke crankshaft (74mm instead of 69mm, increasing displacement to 2110cc instead of 1915cc), and an improved #1 main bearing design. The more important changes were: Improved exhaust, ignition, fuel injection (Digifant), brakes, and (most importantly) COOLING systems. The cooling system was COMPLETELY re-worked for 1986 and stayed basically unchanged through the end of 1991 production. The new cooling system had fewer parts, and was much easier to bleed and maintain than the earlier system. Furthermore, the newer engine case with the better #1 main bearing design was also slightly bigger inside enabling the displacement to be increased even further than 2110cc. As a rule of thumb, I tell folks to stay away from Vanagons with round headlights. The price difference between a clean 1985 camper and a 1986 camper is usually small, whereas the later is a much better vehicle indeed. Nice ‘86-‘87 Westy’s run about $12-18k, ‘88-‘89’s run about $14-20k, and ‘90-‘91’s run about $16-24k
1986-1991 Syncro (4WD) Vanagon: VW offered the Vanagon in a full time all wheel drive version called the Syncro. It was offered in passenger van, Weekender, and Camper versions (but not the in MV). These models all command a much higher price tag. These all wheel drive Vanagons are way cool, but way expensive not only to purchase, but to maintain as well. They cost $5,000 and $10,000 more than the exact same non-syncro vehicle to purchase, and EVERYTHING about them is more difficult and expensive to repair. My advice is to stay away from the Syncro unless you REALLY want all wheel drive, and the word BUDGET is NOT part of your vocabulary.
VW EUROVAN CAMPERS
1993-2003 VW vans are Eurovan models. Eurovan production started in 1992 in Europe. It was introduced in the USA as a 1993 model as a passenger van and weekender with and without the pop-top. All Eurovan full campers sold in the USA are Winnebago conversions, not Westfalia.
1993-1994: The only VW pop-top models offered in the USA in 1993 and 1994 was the Westfalia Weekender Multi-Van (MV). These vehicles were the same as the regular passenger vans, except they had an interior and pop-top installed by Westfalia. However, these were weekenders, without sink, frig, or stove. They had two rear-facing seats, one fixed seat behind the driver with a slide-out electric cooler under it on pop-top versions only, and the other behind the passenger seat that is easily removable (both removable on the non-pop-top version). The venerable VW/Audi inline 5-cylinder 140 hp engine powered all the 1993-1994 models. This is the same engine that was used in the Audi 5000 since about 1977. They were available in either 5-speed manual or 4 speed electronically controlled automatic. This set-up was discontinued in 1995 and re-introduced in 1997 with a V6 and made basically unchanged through end of production in 2003. The V6 was not offered as a 5-speed manual.
1995-1996: The first Eurovan full-campers (EVC's) were available in the USA starting in 1995, and were Winnebago camper conversions. Although there theoretically were 1996 models that were presumably the same as the 1995 models, all of the 5-cylinder EVC's we have seen at GoWesty have all been 1995 models. We have never seen a 1996 model. All EVC's are based on an extended delivery-van version which is 15.5 inches longer than the regular Eurovan CL, MV, and GLS models. They were delivered to Winnebago basically bare inside from the behind the front seats (the front seats are VW, everything back from there on the inside is Winnebago), but fully loaded with all creature comfort options (AC, cruise, power everything). Winnebago then converted them to a pop-top camper. These early Winnie campers had the same power plant as the 93/94 regular Eurovan models, the same VW/Audi 5-cylinder in-line engine that was used in the Audi 5000 and VW Quantum models. These 5-cylinder EVC's were available with 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transaxles. In general, you want to stay away from the 95/96 models unless you HAVE TO have a stick-shift Eurovan. The manual trans options was only available in 1995/1996. If you don't HAVE TO have a manual trans, then get a V6 EVC FOR SURE.
1997-2000: In 1997 VW switched to the 139 HP/172 ft-lb “VR6”, 12 valve V6 and dropped the 5-speed option. This new engine was more reliable than even the highly reliable 5-cylinder, and it DOES NOT have a timing belt to maintain! The interior fabric pattern although still basically gray, changed from a thin-stripped arrangement to little triangles. In 2000 the interior fabric changed again to a circular pattern, and all the interior ABS plastic changed to a lighter color gray. The interior stayed the same from 2000 through to the end of production in 2003. From 1997-on, dual air bags became standard. However, the glove box disappeared.
2001-2003: These were the best of the EVC's. In 2001 the VR6 was redesigned with all new engine management system, 4 valves per cylinder instead of 2 (24 valves total instead of 12), with variable cam timing and individual coils for each spark plug, eliminating the need for high tension "spark plug wires". The HP jumped an amazing 45% to 201HP, and the engine was even more reliable. It should be noted that the engine was not any larger in displacement but rather remained the same at 2.8 liters. Therefore the engine's torque output only increased to by 8 ft-lbs to 180, only 5%. So, the seat of the pants feel between the 1997-2000 models and the 2001-2003 models is not very much different, and in fact the lower HP engine is quite satisfactory. I once towed a Vanagon Westy on a tow dolly behind a 2000 EVC from Portland back to Los Osos, California. Without even shifting the transaxle manually I could travel the speed limit up and down all the grades and cruise at 90 on the flats! Now THAT'S PLENTY of power. With the introduction of the higher HP engine, the 15-inch road wheel was replaced with a 16-inch wheel to make room for larger brakes. Additionally, a rear sway bar was added and the rear suspension was raised about 2". Other than that, it didn’t change noticeably outwardly. Indeed, a 1997 EVC fitted with 16" wheels looks just like a 2003. All V6 Eurovans should have the original plastic impeller water pump replaced with one that has a steel impeller. That is pretty much the ONLY part on a VR6 engine that fails prematurely and suddenly, and can cause catastrophic overheating and engine melt down. A new water pump with steel impeller is only about $80!
The Achilles Heel of the Eurovan is the Automatic Transmission.
All years of the Eurovan with the Automatic have proven to be potentially problematic. Almost all automatic transmissions, foreign and domestic, are electronically controlled after about 1990, and the Eurovan is no exception. The term “electronically controlled” means there is a computer, wiring, and electric solenoids involved telling the transmission when to shift, and into which gear. Because of their complicated design, quality control is extremely critical. It is pitifully common to have the AT on a Eurovan completely fail at 70, 60, or even 50K miles! The design of the Eurovan AT is basically very solid. All of the failures that we have seen have been quality control related. A bad connection, a loose roll pin, something seemingly inconsequential “brings the whole house down”. Failures come often without warning, leaving folks stranded. Some of our customers have opted to have their transmission gone through before it fails as an extra measure of insurance, and save money and potential inconvenience. We have taken Eurovan automatic transmissions apart with over 100k miles that were working fine as a preemptive measure, only to find they were less than 50% worn! The bottom line is this: If a Eurovan automatic makes it past the first 100k miles or so without a failure, chances are it will go the distance. Eurovans with between 40 and 100k miles are in what we call the “danger zone”. A transmission failure is almost always preceded by debris in the oil pan, which is clearly evident during an oil change. That is why we recommend transmission oil changes every 15k miles until past the danger zone, and then every 30k miles thereafter. Even still, every Eurovan we sell with mileage in the “danger zone”, we strongly recommend to the buyer they also purchase an extended warranty that specifically covers the transmission. These can be had for under $1500, and can be well worth it. You can expect to pay $5,000 to $6,000 and have to wait a week for a rebuilt transmission installed in a Eurovan at a typical repair shop, in the middle of nowhere. Now the good news: GoWesty stocks rebuilt transmissions for $3995, and can ship anywhere in the country, usually the same day!