THE VW T2 'Bay Window' camper van was manufactured between 1967 and 1979.
It was built with a range of engines from 1.6, 1.7, 1.8 or 2.0-litre and quirky design details such as the rear, air-cooled engine and forward-control cab ensured it would achieve cult status. Having the rear engine and rear-wheel drive configuration meant there was no need for a propshaft under the cargo area and the new model carried on from its predecessor, as a popular base for camper van conversions.
Its versatile camping interior has become a trendy and consequently highly desirable vehicle to own. Volkswagen only created the Transporter vehicle, leaving the likes of Devon, Danbury and Westfalia to transform them into camper vans and there is now a wide range of original and bespoke examples to buy ranging from the tatty rat-look to spotless show winners.
With prices starting at around £2000 for an abandoned project, up to £10-15,000 or more for concours versions, buying a Bay Window is a minefield, with many first time owners spending too much on recently restored examples, only to find they are disappointed with lowered suspension, rippled paintwork, impractical interiors and a dated ride quality when compared to modern motorhomes. If you fancy a VeeDub, but want to know what to look for, read our guide, put together with help from Herbie Hospital and Just Kampers.
What to look for when buying a
Volkswagen T2 camper van
Inspect the bottom six inches around the entire vehicle for rust. Starting underneath, common rot spots include the chassis rails, both sides of the sills, the outriggers and larger jacking points. Repair panels are available for most of these areas.
Feel around the front wheel arches and look inside them for corrosion. Open the doors and look for rotten metal on top of the arch and up to the seatbelt mount. Check the underneath and top of the step into the cab.
Move to the rear wheel arches and have a thorough look around. Locate the battery and check acid hasn’t rotted the surrounding metalwork. Look at the rear wheel arches from inside the ‘van to see if they are rotten.
The floors of a Bay Window ‘van can corrode in all sorts of places. Common spots include the area behind the front seat squabs and along the side panels. At the front, look for rust on the inside of the front panel.
Check along the bottom edge of all opening panels (doors, tailgate and engine lid) for water collection and corrosion. Make sure they all close flush and lock. Inspect any seals for perishing and check the windows wind up and down.
Other rot spots include the front and rear beams, the top edge where the front bumper is fitted, the bottom edge of the windscreen and the roof guttering. Repair panels are available in many cases, but the work involved is time consuming and expensive.
If you are buying a vehicle that has recently been resprayed or promises to be in show condition, make sure the side panels are straight and the paint is even. Signs of ripples, patchy paint or uneven reflections indicate a poor job. Don't overpay for shiny paint.
Thoroughly check a pop-top or elevating roof, ensuring it works properly and closes securely. Make sure any canvas isn’t torn or mouldy. Look for signs of leaks, which can run down to the floors of the ‘van and cause corrosion.
Look underneath the engine between it and the gearbox for oil leaks, suggesting the rear main crankshaft seal may have failed (engine removal to fix it). Oil around the sides of the engine can indicate further worn seals.
On the Type 2 engine shown here, waggle the crankshaft pulley forwards and backwards. There should be some movement (end float), but if you can see the pulley moving, internal bearing wear is probable and the engine needs rebuilding.
Ask the owner to start the engine whilst you look at the fumes from the exhaust. If they are blue, the engine is worn. If they are a smoky black, it’s burning oil. Rev the engine to double check.
With the engine running, try to select all gears. If they are difficult, parts of the gear selector mechanism may need replacing. Set off and look for clutch judder, indicating clutch trouble (e.g. oil leaking onto it) or worn gearbox mounts.
Press the brake pedal down hard. If it sinks to the floor, there’s a leak or the master cylinder needs overhauling. Check the front discs (if fitted) for pitting and excessive rust. Test the brakes when driving (the ‘van shouldn’t veer).
Make sure all the ‘van’s electrics work, including camping equipment (fridge, lights, sockets). If a leisure battery is fitted, ask how it is charged and wired-up. Check the heater blows warm air through to the front.
Look for leaks around the shock absorbers. Turn the steering whilst driving; if it’s stiff or there’s lots of play before the road wheels move, the steering box may need replacing. Whilst driving, listen for suspension clunks and knocks.
Inspect the condition of the headlining, which is expensive to renew. Are the seatbelts operational and the driver’s seat adjustable? Can the doors be closed and locked from inside? If a rock and roll bed is fitted, does it work?
VW T2 engines
Most Bay Windows will be powered by an air-cooled flat four engine, but there’s no set pattern as to what size or type is fitted, despite the history books being full of dates and manufacturing records.
Early engines have the dynamo or alternator mounted in full view with a tin fan housing behind it for cooling. Whilst these engines displaced 1584cc in a standard Bay, they can be stretched up to and beyond two litres.
The later and larger engine in the Bay started as a 1.7-litre, but was also fitted as a 1.8 and 2.0-litre. This has the alternator concealed and the fan housing mounted lower, so there appears to be more space around the top of the engine.
For information on other common Volkswagen problems, click here
Buying a restored T2 Bay
If you are looking for a Bay that has been recently restored and is ready to drive off into Europe for a family holiday, tread very carefully. Bay Windows have become extremely popular and very expensive. Don’t rush into something that is the wrong colour and has the wrong interior for your camping needs.
Test drive the vehicle and make sure you are happy with the ride quality. If the suspension has been lowered, make sure the front wheels don’t foul the arches. T2s do not drive as well as a modern motorhome, even if a lot of money is spent on engine, suspension and braking tweaks. On the plus side, they are relatively easy to drive, despite being slow and a well sorted conversion make it a cracking camping vehicle.
Cheap VW T2 - Buy a Project
If you can’t afford the higher price tag that recently restored or good condition Bay Window campers appear to be selling for, then a cheaper approach is to get stuck into an abandoned project.
At the budget end of the scale, be prepared to weld. If you’re not so keen on welding, look for a rust free import or an abandoned project where the welding is complete. Forget about interior specs and paintwork, just look for a solid vehicle as a starting point. However, the escalating costs of a project may result in the final bill being more than if you bought a restored ‘van, particularly if you can't do much of the work yourself.
VW Polo-powered T2s
The Bay Window may have ceased production within the UK and Europe in 1979, but it has continued to be manufactured in countries including Brazil. It is now available in RHD and powered by a 1.4-litre water cooled engine, which was also fitted to the VW Polo.
Campervan converters Danbury are now offering new conversions on these Brazilian Bays. Practical Motorhome magazine ran a Diamond Classic model for several months in 2010. The benefits are obvious. Buyers get modern camping equipment including a fridge, running water, electrics and a gas hob. Crucially though, you get none of the rust issues or mechanical fragility that come with classic van ownership.
Conversions are not cheap at around £20-30,000, but with the price of original Bays rising steeply, a new Danbury campervan can make sense.
VW T2 - Nice to haves
- Later Bays have servo-assisted brakes, which feel better when braking.
- Some imports have larger 2.0-litre air cooled engines.
- The Viking camper conversion has the largest elevating roof and can sleep five or six people.
- A 2.0-litre tin top African or Australian import is a good starting point for a project, if you can find one cheap enough.
- Early 67-69 Bays have smaller rear lights and are more desirable by Bay Window purists.
- A leisure battery, fridge, cooker and rock and roll bed are useful ingredients for practical camping.
- Front disc brakes were fitted from late 1970.
Useful Bay contacts
Words and photos: Rob Hawkins
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