VW’s ‘Wedge’ van bridges the gap between rose-tinted nostalgia and everyday practicality. If you’re searching for a van or a camper, here’s what to look out for
How much to pay
• Project £1000-2500 • Good £4000-7000 • Concours £9000-13,000 •
Running costs ★★★
Spares availability ★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
The Volkswagen T25 was the Transporter that marked a significant leap of faith for the German company. The last rear-engined Transporter bid farewell to the halcyon days of air-cooled hippy nostalgia that accompanied the T2 versions (the Split Screen and Bay Window vans) and stepped confidently towards the modern, daily practicality of the more familiar light-commercial market.
Early examples were released with air-cooled engines, using the last of the motors from the Bay Window. These continued with horizontal rather than upright cooling fans, making packaging easier, but their performance still lagged behind that of their counterparts. Air-cooled vans can be identified by their single front grille.
Later, water-cooled engines were introduced as technology finally caught up. The ‘Wasserboxer’, or ‘Water Boxer’, engines (still a flat-four design) were better, yet they also had their limitations. There were several petrol versions and a couple of diesels along the way, but the cream of the crop was the 2.1-litre injected motor found in the very last of the T25s (notwithstanding the decade-long production run of South African-built-and-sold examples).
Volkswagen hadn’t yet started building its own campers, but names such as Westfalia and Devon continued their respective traditions for quality and innovation. For those wanting the ultimate family vehicle, though, the Caravelle model remains the most desirable, with its ability to transport seven in comfort and double as an overnight/weekend camper.
The T25 is perhaps the least over-priced way to access VW van or camper ownership, although it’s widely regarded as the least ‘cool’. And that, in our mind, makes it the one to go for…
Your AutoClassics Volkswagen T25/T3 inspection checklist
Older, air-cooled engines can overheat, which can lead to all sorts of issues including cracked cylinder heads and excessive bore wear. Oil leaks are fairly common, so check how much is present and what it looks like – these engines are as much oil cooled as they are air cooled.
The Wasserboxer engines are similar in principle to the air-cooled examples. They are still a flat-four design, with a short, three-bearing crankshaft. They also still have an alloy block and heads, with the camshaft sitting below the crankshaft and gear driven, so there are no belts to worry about. The unit also still uses steel cylinder barrels pressed into the block. Unlike with older versions, though, these are surrounded by the water jacket.
Unfortunately, there are several inherent issues with the water-cooled engine. Leaks are common, and the cylinder-head bolts – which hold the top end of the engine together – pass through the water jacket. You can imagine the effect the water has on them.
Ideally, the coolant should be changed annually to prevent any further corrosion issues. Check the coolant pipes from the front-mounted radiator for evidence of leaks, and make sure the engine gets up to – and stays at – the correct temperature. Ensure that the heater works as well.
As with the older variants, the transmission is generally robust as long as it is looked after. The change can be sloppy, however, as there is a lot of metal and bushes between the gearknob and the ’box at the back of the van. A quick-shift kit can tighten this, although ‘quick’ is only relative…
The T25/T3 marked another departure from the older vehicles by adopting coil springs and dampers front and rear; the last Bay Windows still used torsion bars at both ends. The T25/T3’s dampers run inside the springs at the front, with an upper wishbone and lower arm, but they are separate at the rear, which uses trailing arms.
As the front is complex and involves a lot of bushes, these need to be checked; knocks or clonks during a test drive are tell-tale signs that something needs replacing. The rear is simpler but , as with the front, bearings and driveshafts should be play free. Also have a good look at the suspension components themselves, to make sure they haven’t started to corrode.
The T25 introduced rack-and-pinion steering, and the set-up also got power assistance later on in life. This meant anyone could drive it, not just East European shot-putters…
As with any vehicle of that age, bodywork will be one of the main issues. A good check underneath is necessary before looking at the bodywork itself. In particular study the chassis rails where they join, and the condition of the jacking points.
On the bodywork itself, rust generally starts in the seams, out of view. By the time it’s visible, it’s too late. The good news is there are plenty of suppliers with replacement panels available, so virtually anything can be saved if the desire is there.
The T25/T3 was a step on from the Bay Window vans. It’s more car-like, although ultimately it’s still a van. The Caravelle version will be fully insulated with side windows and proper seats, while all dashes are MkI Golf-ish.
Camper conversions carried out by the officially approved converters – Westfalia, Devon, Danbury, Auto-Sleepers, Autohomes and Holdsworth – will be well designed and properly put together. However, conversions by other companies or, indeed, DIY by previous owners, will need careful checking to make sure that gas installations or travel seats, for example, are fit for purpose.
- 1979: Volkswagen T25 introduced with 1.6 or 2.0-litre air-cooled engine.
- 1981: 1600cc water-cooled diesel and 1900cc w/c petrol (60/78bhp) engines introduced.
- 1985: Revamp for model range and design. Introduction of Synchro 4WD version and 2.1-litre injected engine (95bhp).
- 1992: Last T25 built in Europe. Production continues in South Africa.
- 2002: Last T25 produced in South Africa, using Audi five-cylinder engine.
The T25 seems to be the least desirable, and hence most affordable, of the five generations of VW Transporter. It is an easy way to access the VW ‘scene’, while there is still something eminently satisfying about cruising in an older VW that other vehicles can’t provide.
It’s a feeling that envelopes you as soon as you fire up the slightly odd-sounding engine, engage a gear and wonder what is wrong, as everything feels so sluggish. Nothing is wrong, that’s just the pace at which travelling in a VW camper is enjoyed – until the T5 anyway. So kick back and enjoy the ride – and the view – that comes with an older, slower VW.
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Volkswagen T25 1.6-litre