A Brief History of the VW Type II Bus


New member
In doing some research for a Westfalia article, I came across this interesting post at the BBC's web site


The birth of the VW Type II (Type I being the Beetle) arose after World War II when the British found themselves running the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. Ben Pon, a Dutch VW importer, saw the motorised trolleys built using stripped down Beetle chassis and running gear taking parts around the vast factory in 1947. He sketched a design for a beetle-based van, which looked rather like a box on wheels, after he was inspired by these rudimentary but ingenious vehicles. Heinz Nordhoff took on this idea a year later when he took over as chief executive of Volkswagen and the first VW van was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in November 1949.

The series production of ten vehicles a day began on 8 March, 1950. The basic design remained the same for four decades of production and over five million buses were produced over that time1. The forward control vehicle with rear engine and box-shaped body filled a gap created in the market in Europe after the War. There was a lack of simple but sturdy vehicles for transporting with a high degree of flexibility and low costs. The Type II filled this niche.

The Distinctive Sound of an Air-cooled Engine

The first generation of Volkswagen buses were built from 1949 to 1967, and are known as split-window buses or 'splitties'. Buses built after 1967 are known as the 'bay window models'. Where these offspring may lack the personality of the originals they feature modifications including winding windows and a top speed of 80mph. After 1979 more modern versions were developed and these became known as 'wedges'. For the original Type II devotees the charm was lost and the cosy camper had become a bungalow on wheels.

The splitties sported a split windscreen (obviously) along with a sweeping v-line front and a large VW emblem. These buses were 170 cubic feet (about 4.8 cubic meters) in volume and were spacious enough to hold a 15-hand horse. The bus had the engine and axles of the Beetle but had a unitary construction supported by a ladder frame instead of the central frame platform. The payload was roughly 750kg and the engine had a cubic capacity of just over 1100cc with an output of 18kW at 3300rpm (very low!)2. The terms 'ladder frame' and 'central frame platform' refer to the construction method of the chassis. The ladder frame is two longitudinal parallel girders or beams upon which the suspension, engine, transmission etc are mounted (hence the name). It is good for carrying direct loads. The handling is poor, partly due to a lack of torsional stiffness so it performs badly when cornering. The central frame is made of a central spar with ribs to which the engine, suspension, body and so on are attached. The load carrying capacity is not high, but the torsional stiffness inherent in the design ensures that the handling is good. This contributed to the poor handing of VW Type IIs but also explains their usefulness as transporters.

The VW Transporter can carry up to eight people and the two rear rows of seats can be removed in order to transport greater loads. As the design was so elementary, VW turned out 90 different body amalgamations over the first five years. These variations included buses, pick-ups, fire engines, ambulances, beer wagons, refrigerated ice-cream vans, milk floats, mobile butchers shops, bread vans, mobile grocers, ordinary delivery vans and the more familiar camper (the last variation).

Developing the Splittie

The Splittie is regarded by enthusiasts as the zenith of Type II production and during the 18-year production period there were a great many developments. Splitties came in many guises; barn door, panel, kombi, standard, deluxe, ambulance, single and double cab, walk-through, double door, semaphore and safari are just a few

In 1949 the First Type II was introduced called the Bulli (meaning 'Workhorse') and came in Kombi and Panel van models. The Microbus was introduced in 1950. This had nicer upholstery, two-tone paint, engine adjustments and the shape of front bumper changed. The big cast aluminium 'VW' logo appeared on the front and back

1951 saw the introduction of the Westfalia camper model. Westfalia is a coach building company located in a German town of the same name (a separate company from VW). However, the words 'VW', 'Camper' and 'Westfalia' are mutually exclusive. The camper van took off due to its characteristic tiny fittings and furnishings to epitomise the home from home. Its popularity continued as the van was adopted by 1960s counter-culture. Features such as a longer dashboard with radio and clock were added about this time along with chrome trim on the body. The Ambulance model made its debut with a rear-opening door.

In 1952 the single cab pick-up appeared and in 1954 the engine size increased to 36hp. Around 30 more versions of transporter were available, including the delivery van and ambulance.

Four years later saw the introduction of the double cab pick-up model and by 1960 the wide-bed pick-up trucks became available on special order. The high roof delivery van was also produced about this time.

During 1963 the engine size increased to 1500cc and also the sliding side door became available as an option. In 1967 the electrical system changed to 12 volts before the new type (bay window) was introduced.

To Bay and Beyond

The split-screen was replaced in 1967 by the bay window version. The bay made the Type II a big triumph and by 1975 the Hanover factory had built four million of these vehicles. A range of larger engine sizes became available (1600cc, 1700cc, 1800cc and 2000cc) and the buses became far more reliable.

Still Groovy!

50 years on, VW buses are as popular as ever, and they are enjoying a renaissance among the surfing community (as well as others). Presumably this is because they offer copious space to store boards, equipment and friends along with a cool sense of freedom. The bus owner must be prepared to frequent second-hand specialists for parts and to spend a great deal on fuel (expect no more than 25 miles to the gallon) but the rewards are great. There are also numerous customisation opportunities including lowered suspension, tinted windscreens, adding a V8 engine and the groovy paint job.

There are now plans afoot to develop a new generation of bus in the same vein as the new Beetle. Called the Microbus, it is to include a table with games console and Internet access and a camera at the rear above the license plate. The actual engine spec and performance are not yet at fruition.

The original posting can be found here.

Capt. Mike

History of Westfalia

Westfalia began as a blacksmith shop in Wiedenbrueck Germany in 1844. Johann Bernhard Knoebel opened the shop and by 1850 had expanded into the building of field wagons. By 1876, carriages were added with paint and upholstery work.

Franz Knoebel, Jr., descendent of the company’s founder invented the ball-headed trailer coupling, which was later patented in the United States in 1939. Early successors to the VW camper were Westfalia produced vacation trailers. Many were tiny, for the small European cars, and some little more than teardrop shaped camping gear carriers.

Anticipating an increase in leisure time, Westfalia management organized a special projects group on November 11, 1948. The R&D team conceptualized the first factory produced “motor home”, basing their concept on the VW chassis. The theory then was to create a camping set that could be easily installed, and then removed from the vehicle, so that the vehicle could also be utilized as a working vehicle during the week. It was thus common to see many brands of delivery vans used as campers, but these were not VW’s production models.

The link between Westfalia and VW occurred in 1951. Volkswagen called upon Westfalia to incorporate a camping kit into their then new microbus. The result became one of the earliest motorized campers with the addition of camping cabinets attached to the swing-out side doors. These became available in Europe in 1951. It included a 6-foot bed and features for two childrens' bunks in the front bench seat. 1952 saw the additional of the adaptable tent awning, followed in rapid succession by other built-in features such as clothes closet/wash basin and drapes.

The first Westfalia campers available in North America were in 1956, with a 100 units sold. By 1960, the campers had come into their own with accessories permanently mounted, unlike previous “kit” versions.

By 1969, over 50,000 camping buses had been produced at Westfalia. By 1971, 100,000. Redesigned for the T2 chassis, the 200,000th was produced in 1978. The camper was again redesigned for the Vanagon chassis 1980-1991.

Following publication of these articles by VW, Westfalia continued to produce campers on the Eurovan chassis. Westfalia has also produced a number of vehicles on their own initiative and for contracts that utilized the VW chassis, but were not VW production vehicles. The first VW campers were actually Westfalia initiatives and the factory connection didn’t begin until 1951. A number of features were ‘permanent’ installations and substitute equipment, yet all were built ‘after production’ of the chassis and therefore removable. Thus the change from “kit” to dedicated camper is more a matter of semantics. However by 1960, VW no longer considered the camper as a commercial vehicle used primarily as a delivery van and the camping equipment was installed without consideration for quick and easy removal.

Ref: Parts & Advice, Vol 15, Issue 1 & 2, Vol 15, Issue 1

Other companies in both the US and Europe have made camper conversions of VW busses. One US version was supported by the dealer network in the western states during the '70s. The current campers in the US are Eurovan conversion made in the US by Winnebago and are now exported to Canada. Winnebago also makes at least two versions of motorhomes based on the Eurovan Chassis. These are Winnebago RV bodies on Eurovan bare chassis/drive-trains with front cab, not camper conversions.

Capt. Mike

VW Westfalia is no more!

For those that didn't know, VW no longer has any arrangement with Westfalia for van conversion. We all know the N. American market was contracted to Winnebago, but are you aware that the European market has also changed? Add that the Winnebago VW camper was disconinued after 2003 and we have NO VW camper.

From a Wikepedia post:
Westfalia is the designation of various specially-coachbuilt Volkswagen camper vans. It is named for Westfalia-Werke, the contractor that built the vans, which is headquartered in Westphalia, Germany.

Westfalia-Werke also converted non-VW vans, and made trailers and other products, but they were best known for their Volkswagen camper conversions. Westfalia began converting Volkswagen Busses in 1951. Their famous "pop-top" package was added later, and became very popular on the second-generation VW Bus from 1968-1979, its successor the Vanagon, and then the T4 EuroVan, which was discontinued in 2003. This design also inspired many imitators, with dozens of other companies worldwide offering poptop van conversions. Therefore, not all pop-top Volkswagens are Westfalia conversions (although in the U.S., the Westfalia conversion was by far the most common). Conversely, not all Volkswagen Westfalia conversions had poptops. Volkswagen offered a "Weekender" package in the 1970's with a Westfalia interior but no poptop.

In 1999, Daimler-Chrysler purchased a 49% stake in Westfalia-Werke's van conversion division, and in 2001 absorbed the remaining 51%. Of course, since Daimler-Chrysler is a Volkswagen competitor, this spelled the end of the Volkswagen-Westfalia partnership. While Volkwagen still offers pop-top camper conversions in Europe, they now do the conversion themselves. Meanwhile, Westfalia now makes high-roof (rather than pop-top) factory camper conversions for Mercedes vans (distributed in the U.S. by Airstream and badged as Dodge Sprinters). They also provide automotive accessories to BMW, including trailer hitches.

I guess that pretty well explains things. I don't know how we'll reconcile Westyville and not have folks start associating it with the undesireable Daimler-Chrysler RV market.


New member
I found a book at the library called "VW Camper - The Inside Story," written by Briton David Eccles. The subtitle is "A Guide to VW Camping Conversions and Interiors 1951-2005." Book was published in 2005 in England. The ISBN number is 1 86126 763 0. Retail price is $34.95. The price on amazon.com is $22.02 plus shipping. It can be seen at amazon.com

This is a basic coffee table book with lots of photos. It covers a wide variety of camper conversions done of the bus. Of its 160 pages there are fewer than 10 about Vanagons; and about 30 for Westfalia completely. Many of the conversions covered were early British and European conversions for post-World War II people who could not afford two vehicles - one for camping and one for commuting. It shows several unusual models including Devon Camping Conversions, Viking, Jack Camping, etc. And it does provide a nice timeline for the whole life story of the VW camper.

Virtually worthless for practical material, but a fun look-see at what was offered.