Got a T4 campervan and want a bit more space? Or perhaps you are new to motor caravanning? Either way, these ‘vans make a cracking purchase.
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with VeeDubs, I’d better just say that this generation of Transport was the first to have the engine in the front, driving the front wheels. Previous incarnations going back to the very early 1950s had the engine in the back, driving the rear wheels.
This radical shift in thinking allowed Volkswagen to design a base vehicle that not only represented warp factor improvement over the outgoing model, it also provided a driving experience and magic carpet ride that was years ahead of its competitors.
Navigator was first off the blocks back in 1994. From the get-go and throughout its production run, four variants were offered: 310s on the short-wheelbase chassis and 360s on the long-wheelbase. The 310RL and 360RL are (as the initials suggest) both rear-lounge variants with a forward entrance door, nearside kitchen, plus offside shower room and wardrobe.
The 360’s extra length facilitated the inclusion of a chest of drawers between longer settees. The latter gave the option of sleeping in easy-access longitudinal single beds or a huge double.
In contrast, the double bed that was converted from the lounge seating in the 310RL required the occupants to sleep transversely across the ‘van.
Also making a brief appearance was the long-wheelbase 354, whose USP was a ‘gi-normous’ nearside kitchen.
Navigator 360E boasted a forward lounge consisting of a nearside settee with a double Pullman dinette located opposite, which included an additional two travel seats. All are ahead of the wardrobe and rear-corner washroom.
The well-equipped galley is mostly across the rear, although the fridge and worktop were located just forward of the nearside rear entrance door.
A no-cost option allowed buyers to replace the Pullman dinette with another inward-facing settee. All Navigators arrived with an additional transverse double bed in the Luton.
‘Our’ generation of Calypso was launched in 1995. Just one model and that’s all they needed, as it fitted perfectly into the target market of get-away couples who were looking for a streamlined compact coachbuilt.
Extensive use of GRP mouldings on the less prominent and lowered overcab, for the roof cap with inbuilt rails, and for the ribbed rear panel with ladder, were all key to the Calypso’s more contemporary look.
The layout included a forward lounge of two inward-facing settees, an offside rear-corner washroom and a rear kitchen.
The hardwood-framed woodgrain cabinetwork was contrasted by the very rich and colourful soft furnishing fabrics. Detractors labelled it ‘an explosion in a jam factory’, although some of us loved it.
Power-assisted steering was standard on the T4, as was the very compliant all-round independent suspension. Entry-level motive power for both Navigator and Calypso was a four-cylinder 2.0-litre petrol engine.
Extra-cost options include a five-cylinder 2.5-litre petrol engine and a five-cylinder 2.4-litre naturally aspirated diesel engine.
The latter sang a very sweet song and powers the majority, although Compass also offered a 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel unit on early Calypsos.
Owners often opted for an aftermarket turbocharger and intercooler for the 2.4-litre engine. TB Turbo sourced and fitted 99% of them. They were great engineers and the upgrade provided significantly better performance without sacrificing reliability.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Check that only VW’s own coolant has been used (it’s pink). T4s do suffer from electrical gremlins, especially concerning sensors. Thus, check that all warning lights illuminate when the ignition is turned on and that all except the handbrake warning light extinguish within a few seconds of start-up.
The 1.9TD and 2.4D units were also prone to sludging if the oil change intervals hadn’t been adhered to, so insist on FSH. Rust was also a problem, principally around the front wheel-arches and suspension mounts – you have been warned! Budget for replacing the hydraulic fluid.
As with any coachbuilt of this age, a thorough inspection for possible water ingress is highly recommended. Make sure that the gas regulator and any flexible piping are in-date and have all of the domestic equipment safety-checked by a qualified engineer.
Finally, something that is often overlooked is to make sure that all of the ‘fill-in’ cushions required to make the lounge into an all-over double bed are present and correct.
Compass had some of the best designers in the business back then, so all variants are practical. However, if there are more than two of you touring, the 360E will be the default choice, because it is the most popular version with dedicated rear travel seats.
Solo motorcaravanners and couples who want a motorhome to use as an ‘only vehicle’ might prefer the Calypso, because it is narrower than the Navigator range. Petrol-powered models are back in fashion and the 2.5-litre version is a ‘pocket rocket’.
WHAT TO PAY
Early Navigator examples are available from £10,000. Some cheaper ones are advertised, but (sadly) internet adverts for sales of VW motor caravans are a very profitable hunting ground for fraudsters and scammers. Anything with a VW badge up front commands a price premium, so be very suspicious of any vehicle in decent nick that you find for under £10,000.
Classic Cars and Campers has a lovely 2002 Calypso for £17,995 (FSH and just 47,000 miles). At the time of writing, Gumtree was advertising an early – but very low mileage – Navigator 360RL for £13,000 (2.4D auto, private sale).
OR YOU COULD TRY…
All coachbuilts on VW T4: Auto-Sleepers Clubman, Auto-Trail Cree, Auto-Trail Cheyenne. Previous to our featured generation, Compass built the Calypso on the Talbot Express with a similar layout, but with the entrance door in the rear panel. Turn-key examples are available at £5000-£8000.
- Compass Navigator on SWB and LWB VW Transporter T4 chassis-cab
- Compass Calypso on SWB VW Transporter T4
- Built 1994-2003 in Langley Park, Durham, then at Explorer Group, Consett, Co Durham
- Low-profile and Luton overcab coachbuilts
- Overall length: Navigator 5.38m (17′ 7.75″) to 5.95m (19′ 6.25″); Calypso 5.39m (17′ 8.25″)
- All under 6.0m
- Magic carpet ride
- Calypso’s GRP mouldings
- Generous payloads
- Colourful soft furnishing fabrics
- High price of some VW spares (although good availability)
- Fiddly push-button cupboard and locker catches
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The hardwood-framed woodgrain cabinetwork was contrasted by the very rich and colourful soft furnishing fabrics. Detractors labelled it 'an explosion in a jam factory', although some of us loved it