The Volkswagen T3 initially was available in Kombi and Bus versions, and while the Bus was advertised as the luxury one for escorting the wealthy from airports on their holidays, the Kombi must’ve been created for the rednecks of the world, as neither were luxurious. But it is blasphemous to say so. However unsightly, strange looking or uncomfortable these may be, they were extremely reliable, popular and well-known all over the world. It was a genuine workhorse for a lot of people when these were cheap used vans, but now – things are quite different. Their distinctive design, versatility, and enduring popularity among adventurers have carved out a very special place for them in automotive history.

VW T3 camper version
Brochure cover for an early production VW T3 camper version
© VW

The Type 2 Bus Was Still aVery Rudimentary Vehicle

Although produced in South Africa almost until the start of production for the 5th generation Golf, it replaced the T2 generation in 1979. "Replaced" is not quite the right word, however, as it was still strongly related to its predecessor – the engines were still the same, air-cooled too. The bodywork of the T3 was quite a bit heavier, so the early, underpowered T3s were actually slower than the T2s, especially the diesels, which drove as slowly as a father gets up from the Christmas table. The engines were so dwarfed by the weight of the T3 that it endangered its passengers and other road users.

Thankfully, 1983 saw a revolution for the T3 family of buses – the Kombi version was renamed to Multivan and the Bus became the Caravelle in Europe. It also got liquid-cooled “Wasserboxer” engines, in some cases even with the latest craze of the era – Bosch DigiJet injection. The new engines squeezed out more power, which was much needed. The main way to distinguish a Wasserboxer from an older model is the additional air intake grille above the bumper.

Tristar Caravelle Syncro
One of the many special editions – the Tristar Caravelle Syncro
© VW

Success in Europe, Struggles in America

The T3 always struggled in the American market. As the updated vans started rolling out, Americans themselves started producing the much more daily usable Chrysler Voyager, Dodge Caravan and Pontiac Trans Sport, which were, believe it or not, direct competitors to the Volkswagen T3. There was a bold difference in price – a high-spec T3 was almost twice the price of a base Dodge Caravan, so the bulky-looking German van had no chance. In Europe, the T3 was very successful and had several competitors. Cargo versions were popular, competing with the Fiat Ducato and its sister models, as well as the venerable Ford Transit.

American market 1980 Volkswagen Vanagon L
American market 1980 Volkswagen Vanagon L
© Car & Driver

The T3's versatility led to a cult success across Europe. Today, the desire to buy one for a lot of enthusiasts is very high, because it fits perfectly into the recipe of a classic car of increasing value – it is somewhat of a last resort (the last air-cooled Volkswagen bus), versatile, adventurous, distinctive in its appearance and reminiscent of a time in the car world that has gone by.

VW T3 German tuning atelier Oettinger
Many tuning houses took a shot at improving the T3. Here's the German tuning atelier Oettinger's discrete take
© Oetttinger

The T3 Was Ready for Adventure

The Westfalia version of the T3, also known as the Vanagon in North America, is equipped with a pop-top roof, foldable beds, and a compact kitchenette, offering impressive functionality for camping and road trips. The Syncro models with all-wheel-drive are shockingly capable off-road and very potent adventure-mobiles, allowing drivers to tackle rough terrain in all matters of weather. These vans combine form and function really well, embodying the spirit of exploration and adventure, especially if you don’t have to go anywhere quickly. There isn’t much point in saying that these vans are not aerodynamic and don’t have engines with much power because it’s obvious, but the rugged suspension and robust drivetrain made these Syncro models perfect for adventures.

Volkswagen T3 Westfalia
Cutaway view of a Volkswagen T3 Westfalia
© VW

Limited “Last Edition” run-out model of the VW T3
Limited “Last Edition” run-out model of the VW T3
© VW

The T3 Volkswagen Bus and its many versions have earned a reputation for longevity, often accumulating high mileage without many problems. With proper maintenance and care, these vans can serve as faithful companions, ensuring that memories are made and adventures are shared for years to come. I believe these are more than just vehicles; they're symbols of freedom and exploration, and I’m certainly not the only one who thinks this way. Prices have been going up for some years now and as the culture of Safari style modifications and exploring the world in a prepped van grows, the Type 2 Bus, be it Syncro, Westfalia or a plain commercial panel van in top condition, is being snapped up for top dollar. If you have one, keep it. If you want one – don't wait for too long.


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Volkswagen T3 - Commercial