Purchasing a VW Pop-Top Camper: Where To Begin?

 This article was written specifically for the visitor who is interested in purchasing a VW pop-top camper, but does not know where to start. I know, I know: you just want to talk to a human! And believe me, we're eager to speak with you about these vehicles! We could do it all-day-long! But, we just do not have the time for that—we wish! This article will answer many of your basic questions and help you narrow down your search—so that when we finally decide to pull the trigger, you will be armed with at least the most basic information! First of all, let's get familiar with the models.

Buses (“Bay window” 1968-1979): The VW bus was introduced in 1955. The original type (commonly referred to as “T1”) was made from 1955-1967, and had a 2-piece, flat-glass windshield. Those were the original “hippy van” you see in movies, and that are all now worth beaucoup bucks. We consider those basically just antique/collector’s items—and not a model GoWesty supports in any significant way.

The ”modern” bus was introduced in 1968 and looks like this (below). The split window was replaced with one-piece, curved-glass windshield and why they are commonly referred to as “Bay-window” or “T2” busses.  These Buses make up in charm what they lack in practicality…. Kinda. Let’s face it: For most people, even these “modern” buses are vintage curiosities, not serious long haul and/or reliable vehicles. Please: no hate mail. I own one myself!

Vanagons (1980-1991): The typical Vanagon Camper looks like this (below). The Vanagon replaced the bus in 1980, and is the third type thus why it is commonly referred to as the “T3”. Typically, it is wise to stick to the 1986-1991 models only. Every once in a great while you come across a 1983-1985 model that is worthy of upgrading to the newer 1986-1991 systems so it becomes, essentially, as good as the later models. The Vanagon was available in a full camper, and also a simpler "Weekender" model. See our direct comparison further down in the article.

Eurovans (1993-2003): This is the fourth type of VW van, and commonly referred to as a “T4”. These were a complete departure from earlier designs most notable because they are front-engine/front wheel drive—whereas all previous types were rear-engine/rear wheel drive. They were available in two camper configurations; the typical Eurovan Winnebago Camper (EVC) , and the Multivan Weekender (MV). See our direct comparison further down in the article.

The full camper (photo #1 below) was available in 1995-1996 (5-cylinder stick or A/T) and from 1997-2003 (all V6 with A/T only). The Weekenders (photo #2 below) were available in the USA for six years: 1993 (5-cylinder stick or A/T), 1999- 2003 (all VR6 with A/T only). 

We know these vehicles thoroughly, inside, outside, under, all over. The 1986-1991 2.1 liter Vanagon are the best of the Vanagons, and the 2001-03 Eurovan models are the best of the Eurovans. For more details as to why, it is essential that you visit the Library Section of our web site. In the Library Section please read the following articles:

• Camper Model Overview
• Am I a Vanagon or Eurovan Person?
• Diesel Engines in Vanagons

If you take the time to read these articles, you will be better informed on VW pop-top vans than most shops that work on them. It is definitely an important read that will only take ten or fifteen minutes, so please take the time.

Once you are familiar with the different models and the pros and cons of each, the next most important deciding factor, naturally, is price. Most people assume that since the Vanagon models are older, they are probably less expensive. So people on a budget initially don’t want to consider a Eurovan. However, the reality is that, dollar for dollar, a Eurovan can provide you with a lot more vehicle than a Vanagon can. The NEWEST Vanagon was built way back in 1991, the oldest back in 1980. It is not an easy, simple, or CHEAP task to make an older vehicle as reliable as a modern one. So, before you decide that a Vanagon is for you simply based on price, think again.Please read the following articles:

• Why do GoWesty Campers Command Such a High Price?
• Cheap Vanagons Are the Most Expensive

So, now that you have an idea of what these vehicles are all about, what they more or less cost, and hopefully have decided “Am I a Vanagon or Eurovan Person?" (if not, maybe it’s time for a test drive in both?), now you need to decide if you want a full camper or Weekender.

Vanagon full camper vs. Weekender with pop-top:
These vehicles are identical in outside dimensions and sleeping capacity (4 adults). They differ in that the campers have a stove, sink, and refrigerator, and seat only 4 (with extra seating possible), whereas the Weekender has none of that stuff but instead more space and seating for six or seven, standard. Either of these vehicles is well suited for daily driving. Visibility and maneuverability is excellent in both.

Eurovan full camper vs. Weekender with pop-top:
These vehicles are totally different animals. The Eurovan camper/Weekender decision is a much more significant decision. These two different models differ similarly to the Vanagon models in that the camper seats only four (with extra seating possible), whereas the Weekenders seat seven, but both sleep four adults. But in addition to that, the full camper is a significant 15.5 inches LONGER than the Weekender version, and weighs about 25% MORE. The full camper version of the Eurovan was converted to pop-top and camper by the Winnebago Corporation in the USA, using a special extended wheel base model of the Eurovan. The Weekender version of the Eurovan was converted to a pop-top by the Westfalia Corporation in Germany, using the regular wheel base version of the Eurovan. Whereas the Vanagon camper/Weekender decision may be a “toss-up," the visibility and maneuverability is MUCH better in the Eurovan Weekender than in the Eurovan full camper, where the entire left rear corner has no visibility at all (no window, all cabinet). In general, I dissuade folks from buying a Eurovan full camper if they intend to use it as a daily driver, where good maneuverability for parking is desired.

So, what should you be paying attention to, regardless of model?

Keep in mind that we are talking here about old, Old, and OLD vehicles. The most important thing to look for, and stay away from is rust, Rust, and RUST. Anything mechanical can be fixed, and improved, and there is nothing that can be wrong in the interior that is a deal-breaker. But if the body is toast: no sense in spending time on anything else. So, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is to get a SOLID BODY. All things equal mechanically, a vehicle that has just Rust is worth ten times more than one that has RUST. 

So, now that you are up to date, what is the next step? Well….. you have to start searching! One good place to look is www.thesamba.com.

Happy camper shopping!