Volkswagen Type 2 Buying Guide
Few classics enjoy a following – or can offer a social scene – like the Volkswagen Type 2, whether the pre-1967 split-screen or the 1967-on bay window
• Project: £1500-8000 • Good: £9500-28,000 • Concours: £22,000-48,500 •
• Most expensive at auction: $235,000 (1955 Deluxe)
Running costs ★★★★
DIY Friendly ★★★★
The Volkswagen Type 2 has enjoyed a cult status for decades, but until relatively recently you didn’t need to be rich to buy a split-screen example worth owning. As prices have risen inexorably, many enthusiasts have been priced out of the market so they have to settle for a bay window model instead.
The key is not to think of one of these later Type 2s as a raw deal; read on and you’ll see why buying a split screen may well not be the best move, depending on how you plan to use your camper.
Your AutoClassics Volkswagen Type 2 inspection checklist
Type 2 engines have to work hard, so look for the usual signs of wear, especially blue smoke under acceleration, indicating oil being burned because of worn piston rings or cylinder bores. Next check for excessive crankshaft end float by pulling on the fan belt pulley. Any detectable movement means the main bearings need replacing, which entails stripping down the engine. The oil in an air-cooled engine has to work a lot harder than in a water-cooled one, because it acts as both coolant and lubricant – it should have been changed every 3000 miles.
Engine accessibility isn’t great when it comes to checking all’s well before buying, but servicing is easier than you’d think, so there’s no reason to suspect neglect. On pre-1971 examples the engine pulls out from the rear after removing the bumper and valance; later powerplants have to be separated from the gearbox before being dropped to the ground.
The heat exchangers that make up the cabin’s heating system can corrode and allow engine fumes into the interior. To make sure they’re in good condition run the engine with the heater on – if the exchangers are leaking you’ll soon know about it. Replacing them is easy enough, as they bolt into place.
Apart from pre-1960 1192cc parts, most engine bits are readily available. The 1.6-litre engines tend to last no more than 60,000 miles between rebuilds; a tired unit will be down on power, running hotter as a result. There’s no temperature gauge so grab hold of the dipstick after a long run. If it’s too hot to hold comfortably, the engine is getting too hot. A healthy engine can happily run flat out all day long without overheating.
Transmissions have a fairly easy life so they tend to last for ages. More likely is a worn gear linkage rubber coupling, which perishes and leads to huge amounts of play in the gearchange. It’s easy to replace the coupling, and cheap too.
Because the original Type 2 borrowed its (underpowered) engine and final drive from the Beetle, reduction gears had to be fitted to the rear wheel hubs so it could move off. These gears rarely give problems other than oil leaks and the parts are readily available. Post-1967 (bay window onwards) vans didn’t have reduction gears.
Suspension and brakes
Some owners over-adjust the worm and peg steering in a bid to achieve rack and pinion precision, damaging things beyond repair. A rebuild kit is available but it’s costly. Vague steering points to worn kingpins, so jack up the front of the van, hold the wheel top and bottom and rock the tyre to feel for movement. Any play could be the wheel bearing, which can be adjusted, or it could be the kingpin, given away by getting someone to rock the wheel while you look at the hub from underneath. Nothing is terminal but a rebuild is expensive.
The torsion bar suspension can lose some of its elasticity, and since the 1990s lowering has been de rigeur, often by (at the front) cutting the axle beams, twisting them and rewelding them. It can be done, but you need to make sure it’s been done properly, so inspect any welds for cracks. There are many adjustable height lowering front suspension kits on the market now. To lower the rear, the spring plates can be removed and moved around a spline or more.
Drum brakes all round were fitted until 1971, with leaking wheel cylinders not unusual. Fitting new cylinders is easy but they’re costly. The brake master cylinder is beneath a hatch under the cab floor. The cylinder tends to be durable but look at the fluid level; if it’s really low there’s clearly a problem somewhere.
Some localised areas of the bodywork rot profusely, but overall the metal is fairly durable and high-quality panels are available, whether complete or as repair items. The lower panels are most likely to need attention, due to blocked drain holes and bombardment by road debris. The sills, wheelarches and door bottoms may all be showing signs of corrosion, with cover sills often fitted to mask serious problems beneath.
Inspect the front valance, which is hidden by the bumper so it gradually dissolves to the point where it’s too far gone to do anything with, other than replace it. Scrutinising the floorpans is essential, especially towards the front where there’s no leaked engine oil to protect the metal. Lift the engine cover and inspect the inner wheelarches; the battery often leaks acid onto its tray and dissolves both the tray and the surrounding metalwork. One battery was standard, but many vans have had another fitted to power interior lighting and fridges.
The leading edge of the roof also corrodes, as does the metal immediately below the windscreen, so water gets into the cabin; check the footwells for dampness.
Also check the chassis, although serious rot is unlikely. The chassis consists of a pair of girders, to which are attached outriggers. Replacing the outriggers is easy but it’s very rare for the main rails to rust significantly. Some years are fitted with a second floor that hides the outriggers and chassis rails from view. Even if this is intact, don't assume that the outriggers will be.
Cotton-sheathed rubber hose is used for the fuel lines, which run from the petrol tank above the rear axle to the front of the engine. This hardens and perishes out of sight then leaks petrol over the engine and exhaust; it should be replaced every year or two, and properly secured.
Exterior trim parts are generally scarce, especially if specific to just a few model years. For example, between 1950 and 1967 there were four different types of bumper fitted.
Original door cards and load area trim are scarce, as are original furniture pieces in good condition, but there are plenty of reproduction or custom trim parts available. Original cab seats in good condition are hard to find, but rebuilding and retrimming is straightforward for a specialist.
- 1949: The Type 2 is first shown, with an 1131cc powerplant offering 25bhp.
- 1950: The Type 2 Kombi goes on sale.
- 1951: The Samba bus is launched, otherwise known as the Microbus De Luxe.
- 1952: A pick-up variant arrives in showrooms
- 1954: Engine capacity is increased to 1192cc; power rises to 30bhp.
- 1954: Right-hand drive made available
- 1958: Double cabs go on sale.
- 1959: Power is increased to 34bhp and an all-synchro gearbox is now fitted.
- 1961: A high-roofed panel van goes on sale.
- 1963: A 1492cc engine is now available at extra cost; it produces 42bhp
- 1967: The split-screen is replaced by the bay window with a 47bhp 1584cc engine.
- 1970: Dual-port cylinder heads are now fitted, to give 50bhp.
- 1971: A twin-carb 1679cc powerplant is now fitted, to give 66bhp.
- 1972: An automatic gearbox is now available on all models except the pick-up.
- 1973: The engine is enlarged to 1795cc to give 68bhp.
- 1975: A 70bhp 1970cc engine is introduced.
- 1978: Five 4WD prototypes are built, but they don’t reach production.
- 1979: The T3 goes on sale.
- 1991: Production restarts in Mexico, still with an air-cooled engine.
- 2005: The engine is now water-cooled.
- 2013: The final Type 2 is built.
• Famous Owner: Pete Townshend
Some people travel around the world in their VW campers, living in them for months (or even years) at a time; that’s how practical they are. But you don’t have to drive around Africa to appreciate the Type 2’s qualities.
Demand constantly outstrips supply with split-screen examples especially sought after. But all Type 2s are desirable, with high prices making it viable to restore basket cases. All the panels you’ll need to restore a van are available and you needn’t spend a fortune on them either. But early vans are not only the most costly to buy – they’re also the priciest to buy parts for.
Buy an early Type 2 and you’ll have a punishing maintenance schedule to contend with, including greasing the suspension every 1200 miles. Bay window campers though have better performance, less rigorous servicing requirements and are more usable into the bargain.
Whatever you buy make sure it hasn’t been badly modified; lowered suspension can destroy the ride. Other mods can also prove to be a bad idea, so before you buy, pin down exactly what you’re getting for your money.
|Type 2 1950-1954|
|Type 2 1955-1963|
|Type 2 1963-1967|
|Type 2 1.6 1967-1979|
|Type 2 2.0 1967-1979|