Volkswagen Westfalia Campers were conversions of Volkswagen Type 2 (better known as Transporter or Micro-Bus) vehicles in the early 1950s through 2003. Volkswagen subcontracted the modifications to Westfalia-werke (most often called Westfalia) in Rheda-Wiedenbrück. Various models and options were available.
Early Volkswagen split-screen windshield Kombi models were built between 1950 and 1967. Volkswagen introduced the bay window in the 1968 model year, replacing the split screen style. Production of Volkswagen camping cars continued well into 2003, and was based on the Volkswagen Kombi or "bus" as it is often referred to. Other coachbuilders, including Dormobile, ASI/Riviera, Holdsworth, Danbury Motorcaravans, and VW Sun-Dial, also built camping cars based on the Volkswagen bus.
Between 1951 and August 1958, approximately 1,000 Camper Box conversions were made by Westfalia, the official Volkswagen Camper conversion coachbuilder. In August 1958, the SO models were introduced. The SO is short for German: Sonderausführung, meaning Special Model.
Westfalia special models included the SO-23; the SO-34, SO-35, SO-33, SO-42, SO-44 and SO-45.
Volkswagen Campers were available from Volkswagen dealers throughout the world. Vehicles were also delivered via the Tourist Delivery Program where a customer would pick up their new van in Germany, drive it in Europe, and transport it home, typically to the USA. Many Volkswagen campers were purchased by USA Servicemen and brought back to the USA in the 1950s and 1960s.
- Various Foldout seat arrangements for sleeping
- Birch plywood interior panels
- Laminated plywood cabinetry for storage
- Ice box or cold-box
- Sink (some models)
- Water storage and pump
- Electrical hookups
- Screened Jalousie Windows
- Laminated folding table
- Attached "pop up" tops with canvas/screen sides
- Awnings and side tents
- A portable chemical toilet
- A camping stove
- Various camping equipment
- Child sleeping cot in driver cab
- Storage box which matches interior. Can be placed between front seats by sliding door.
- Rear swing table
- Small map table mounted on dash
- Automatic Transmission (beginning in the 1970s)
- Air conditioning (dealer installed)
Awnings and side tents
A number of tent and side awning designs were available as extra-cost additions. Collectors often have difficulty determining whether one of these options was specifically available from and for Westfalia models, or were developed and sold by other camper conversion vendors such as ASI/Riviera and Sundial.
SO-22 "Camping Box" Period (1952–58). During this period no tent per se was available from Westfalia, but one could obtain a striped canvas awning that stretched almost the length of the vehicle, and extended about six feet out to the side. The awning frame seems to be similar to that of the SO-23 period "large tent" described below. This earliest of Westfalia "tents" is shown on the cover of the July, 1955 issue of Popular Mechanics and in a 1956 brochure that describes it as "a large, colorful side awning."
SO-23 "Deluxe" Camper (1958–1965). Two tent options were available during this period. One was similar to the 1952-58 awning, with the addition of removable side curtains, and the other was a small vestibule or "foyer" that only covered the side door area. These had no names other than "large tent" and "small tent," and the larger one seems to have been available with and without a "bathroom" as described below.
The small tent, available in either red/white or blue/gray stripes, was less popular and thus is less often seen today. It consists of a single piece of heavy canvas, with a strip of vinyl along the bottom acting as a reinforcement and splash guard. It fits over the side-door opening (and has a gap for one leg of the roof rack) as a sort of foyer or vestibule. It's big enough for two adults to stand inside, but little else, and was probably intended as a means of getting in and out of the camper in cold or wet weather.
The stripes are about four inches wide. The tent itself is about four feet wide by three feet deep, and inside headroom is well over six feet. A long white zipper runs up the middle of the front, while the back is open and contoured to fit the bus. The frame consists of four metal poles which fit into pockets inside the top of the tent and lock together to form a square. Legs on two of the poles fit into brackets which were bolted to the camper's roof. Two additional poles dogleg into the top frame and have small chain-hooks to hold the doors open. The lower ends of these poles fit into holes in the jack supports. Rubber grommets help protect the paint on the doors and the jack points. The lower edge of the tent is secured to the ground with about a dozen metal stakes. Each stake is about six inches long and is formed from hardened 1/4" rods with a loop at one end. Two storage bags made of (usually matching) canvas with leather straps are supplied for the tent and poles.
The large tent, probably a revision of the SO-22 awning model, has also been called the "privy tent" because most models seen today have a "bathroom" in the rear side wall. This is a zippered, metre-square room that sticks out toward the back, and is held up by telescoping poles and guy ropes. Open grommets are placed near the top for ventilation.
This tent is most often seen in a yellow/blue-grey stripe, but were also available in red/white, orange/blue, orange/white, and green/white. The tent's frame mounts to brackets on the roof and bumpers. The front bumper mount is a flat plate of steel bent into an open S or Z shape. Tent poles are steel, either black or grey, around 2 cm in diameter, and there are fourteen sections that must be assembled to create a rectangular, peaked awning with support rods leading to the bumpers. Once the awning has been set up, curtains can be attached to the three outer sides (with Tenax "lift the dot" fasteners) to achieve a weatherproof - though windowless and floorless - portable shelter. Leather straps secure the sidewalls to the support poles, and stakes hold the bottom edges down as with the small tent. An additional set of poles and stakes were available to permit the outer flap to be extended horizontally as a second awning, resulting in a large shaded space on the side of the bus.
The "Big Top" Tent (1965–1967). This is the largest and most colorful of the Westfalia side tents. It's different from the earlier awning-based tent in two important ways: the addition of large, screened windows on the side curtains, and a free-standing frame that allows the tent to be left at the campsite while the bus is driven to town for groceries or side trips. The tent has a rear door that can be zipped closed at such times. Both front and rear flaps can be rolled up and held open by cloth ties or (on later models) straps with lift-the-dot fasteners.
This is the final Westfalia tent produced for the splitscreen bus and is arguably the most collectible version. Tents in good condition have been sold for well over $1000US.
Early Baywindow Tent. When Volkswagen transitioned to the baywindow or breadloaf model with large single curved windshield and sliding side door, the Westfalia camper was modified to include an angled poptop. This design provided space for a large child's cot overhead, and on later models, the poptop was further enlarged to fit a full bed large enough for two adults.
The add-on side tent underwent a complete redesign. The new model (referred to in publicity materials as an Add-a-Room tent or a Motent) superficially resembles the late splitscreen "Big Top" tent in general shape and colors, but is otherwise quite different. For one, the tent's frame is now external, with the canvas supported by elastic loops and plastic hooks, somewhat like a shower curtain. Instead of a single opening front panel, there is a zippered screen door in the middle of the front (side away from the bus) with a small awning flap that can be lowered for wind and rain protection. This tent also features a waterproof floor, and the attachment method on the vehicle side results in a securely closable shelter (i.e., no more gap below the bus floor).
Other "Westfalia" Tents. See the references for links to websites containing information about other Westfalia- and VW-supplied tents, as well as tents supplied by other manufacturers, through the Vanagon and Eurovan periods (1980 to present).
M-Codes are used to identify the vehicle factory options. Beginning in 1958, a metal plate was riveted to the back of the right front seat. The plate lists the date of manufacture, and various options that were incorporated into the vehicle.
The information included the date of manufacture, the option codes, the export destination, model number and paint finish (typically a durable finish referred to as Nitro-Lacquer), the paint color codes and the VIN or serial number.
This plate is located behind the front right rear seat on Volkswagen Buses through 1976. In 1977, the location was moved to sit atop the air duct on the left side, just above the fuse panel.
DD M Y DD=Day of Month M=Month (1-12) and Y Was the year between 1958 and 1964 (removed in 1965 and placed in first digit of serial number)
XXX XXX XXX XXX M-Codes
Many factory and aftermarket options exist for these campers. Owners of Camping Vans and many Volkswagen clubs manage websites detailing these vehicles and their accessories.
The Volkswagen camper has become something of an icon in British and American culture, as a symbol of hippy and surf culture that grew in the mid-to-late 1960s. The bus has appeared in numerous television series and films, including Back to the Future (where a sunroof bus, not a camper, was driven by terrorists), Little Miss Sunshine (again not a camper, but a bus with classic VW bus symptoms) and a sketch performed by British comedy duo Hale and Pace (where they impersonated two stereotypical 1960s hippies with a Volkswagen camper emblazoned with "flower power").
- Website located at http://so23westfalia.com/about.htm viewed 14 July 2006
- Popular Mechanics, July 1955
- Schuler (1985), The Origin and Evolution of the VW Beetle, ISBN 0915038455
- Website located at http://www.type2.com/library/camper/tents.htm viewed 8 November 2009
- Website located at http://www.thesamba.com/vw/archives/info/id.php viewed 14 July 2006
- : A website in French and English serving the members and non members of the Club International Camping Car Westfalia, the CICCW
- GermaRetro.com: A website in Wiki format to display individual air-cooled Volkswagen Buses, Beetles and Karmann-Ghia's
- 1976 Westfalia restoration (fr): Example of a restored 1976 Westfalia
- LoveMyBus.com Online community for VW Bus owners and enthusiasts. Forums, Classifieds, pictures, technical information.
-  SO model numbers reference site
- Split Screen Van Club a club for Volkswagen bus owners and enthusiasts
- Westfalia.org Westfalia Owners Web Site. An online community for Westfalia owners and enthusiasts.
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