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5.5 million VW buses have been produced worldwide in the past three decades. With an initially split windscreen and a round front, the angular and distinctive new generation is looking to the future. Conceptually, it follows on from its predecessors, combining the advantages of front steering and the engine in the rear with current modern insights into development and production.
The body is broader while remaining unchanged in location and height, providing more space for passengers and loads. Despite its one ton payload, the new Transporter has the character of a passenger vehicle thanks to an improved chassis design and independent wheel suspension. Rack and pinion steering allows a larger steering wheel angle, and makes the T3 appear exceedingly manoeuvrable with a turning radius of only 10.7 m. Driving stability has been considerably improved through, among others, lowering of the vehicle's centre of gravity and the balanced axle loads of 50 to 50 in both loaded and empty states.
The standard flat engine concept, which places the cooling air blower on the crankshaft, increases the usable space over the flat engines. The engine cover is 165 mm lower than in its predecessor. This increases the clearance under the rear lid by 75 percent. At 37 kW (50 PS) from 1.6 litre capacity and 51 kW (70 PS) from 2.0 litre capacity, the performance data of the two air-cooled engines builds upon the tractive force and grade ability of the predecessor. Water-cooled flat engines, especially developed for the bus, will follow, as will a diesel engine with and without turbocharger. And that is not all: the all-wheel drive Transporter follows in the mid-80s. Its name: Syncro
The new Volkswagen Transporter is produced in a wide range of types: as a panel van, as an estate with or without seats, as a bus seating seven, eight or nine passengers, as a luxury bus, as a pickup, as a large pickup and as a double cab. This range of models allows a variety of special vehicles to be supplied: fire engines, ambulances, assembly vehicles, heating and cooling vehicles, sales vehicles, dumpers and vehicles with lifting facilities. Equipment such as Caravelle, Multivan and California will increase the variety of the T3 in the next twelve years.
The new Transporter has made considerable advances in safety. Crash tests at 50 km/h against a concrete wall, a collision with a passenger car and a roll-over at 50 km/h from a catapult vehicle are now part of the standard tests, as is the test of crashing into a stationary passenger car from the front at 64 km/h; this test is performed according to US rules. A spectacular crash test from 1984 proves the exceptional safety concept of the Transporter T3 in comparison to other front-steering constructions.
The engine performance remains unchanged initially. However, the standard flat engine concept, which places the cooling air blower on the crankshaft, increases the usable space over the flat engines. The engine cover is 165 mm lower than in its predecessor. This increases the clearance under the rear lid by 75 percent. At 37 kW (50 PS) from 1.6 litre capacity and 51 kW (70 PS) from 2.0 litre capacity, the performance data of the two air-cooled engines builds upon the tractive force and grade ability of the predecessor.
Two years after the premiere, a water-cooled diesel engine with four in-line cylinders operates in the rear of a Transporter for the first time. It was just one year later, in 1982, that water-cooled flat engines were specially developed for the bus; their performance reached up to 82 kW (112 PS) from 1984.
Numerous technical innovations follow six years after the debut. Petrol engines are fitted with a catalytic converter while Diesel engines receive a turbocharger, which give the rather sedate normally-aspirated Diesel a boost of an additional 20 PS. 51 kW/70 PS are now available to drivers of the compression-ignition engine.
It is mainly the all-wheel drive Syncro Transporter, with its viscous clutch for variable power distribution among the front and rear axles, that adds attractive versions to the ever-increasing range.
It will soon become apparent that the Syncro, built by Steyr Puch in Austria, and especially the 16-inch chassis version, leave many off-road vehicles high and dry. 2138 of these heavy-duty Syncros will be produced in the Graz plant in the coming years, and they will leave a lasting impression on the globetrotter and off-road scene. Volkswagen does not stint on the costs required for this technical balancing act between coach and off-road vehicle. As well as raising the chassis and enlarging the wheels, brakes and first gear, which is designed as a crawling gear, it is necessary to modify the chassis in a variety of ways.
Almost 130,000 units are constructed in 22 years in Uitenhage / South Africa. From 1991, an engine emerges that has never been available in Germany. The well-known Audi five-cylinder engine is implanted in the engine compartment; initially with 2.3 litres, and later with 2.6 litres capacity and a performance of 100 kW (136 PS). The end comes in 2002, with the Microbus Activ. It is an homage to the Caravelle Exclusive, and accordingly extensively equipped.
The T3 is very spacious, and is therefore an excellent base for camper vans. There is a veritable wave of innovation in the camper van sector. AAC, Bischofberger, Carthago, Dipa, Eurec, Ferber, La Strada, Lyding, Polyroof, Karmann, Reimo and Teca – to name but a few. They all use the panel van as basis. Bimobil, Road Ranger and Tischer are different. They rely on removable living cabins. Tischer even extends a chassis with driver's cab to create a large partially-integrated camper van. Varius develops a roof that can be removed and tipped over to serve as a boat. Unforgettable: the smart Dehler Profi with its medium-height roof, louvered windows and versatile plastic interior, including a shower with a folding tray.
They provide a jolt of innovation to the recreational vehicle sector. Some ideas also stem from a competition that Volkswagen provides for camping fans. Participants come up with ideas such as extendible extensions, removable interiors and even sanitary spaces. Studies by Weekender or Traveller Jet are replies to these ideas, and heat up the entire sector. In 1983, an expert mechanic from Speyer even converts a Volkswagen Transporter into a swimming pool.
In 1988, the rumour mill begins to turn: Apparently, Volkswagen plans to produce its own camper vans. This would really stir things up. After all, the number of caravans and camper vans continues to grow in the eighties, so own activities would appear lucrative to Volkswagen. And that is what happens: When the Caravan Salon in Essen opens, the first camper van from Volkswagen appears at the Volkswagen stand. Its name: California. As the press says: "VW sets your leisure time in motion."
The idea is not quite new. For some time, Westfalia has been building a camper van named Joker on the basis of the VW Transporter. The layout, with a two-seater folding bench in the rear, which can be converted into a flat bed, and a narrow kitchen with a fridge, gas cooker and sink, along with storage space on the left-hand side, had proved itself in the past years. However, the Joker is too expensive for many customers. This is where Volkswagen came in. Using a red pen and larger series production, the equipment of the Joker is reduced to a healthy level. The success of this diet: an entry price of only 39,900 Deutschmark.
It is not difficult to find a partner for the production of the new camper van. Westfalia is given the contract for construction. The California is available with a pop-up roof or a high roof made from GFK, both of which provide an additional double bed. This turns the California into a "mobile holiday home for four persons", as the brochure of the time puts it. The new camper van is sold through the Volkswagen partners with full warranty as a single-invoice vehicle.
For logistical reasons, the California is only available in two colours: pastel white and marsala red. The list of additional equipment is also fairly small. With its double headlamp grille and bumpers from the Carat luxury model, and with a roof spoiler instead of a roof luggage rack on vehicles with a pop-up roof, the California is a real eye-catcher. With this equipment, the first California coins the term "mobile leisure time". After all, "Volkswagen makes leisure time pleasant", as the prospect says next to the VW insignia. After one year, 5000 customers agree with this. Approximately 22,000 California models based on the T3 were planned.
Just one year later, the California is joined with an extensively equipped sibling. The Atlantic costs 7000 Deutschmark more, and is aimed at Joker customers. For an additional sum, the Atlantic is also available as a Syncro; an option that was previously denied to drivers of the California. Double-glazed windows in the rear, auxiliary heating with a timer, and an additional battery are all characteristics of the more expensive version. Fully electrical exterior mirrors and plastic panelling on the sides are also part of the series.
After only two years of construction, Volkswagen refined the original tasks of the VW bus; to transport goods or persons. Exclusively equipped buses cropped up again and again in the past, but they never had an own name. Anyone wishing to transport persons from A to B had to use a standard window bus with benches. This allowed up to nine seats.
It happens in 1981: the Caravelle is initially the pinnacle of Volkswagen's bus design. As well as an interior made from velour, the new passenger vehicle is mainly characterised by the two-tone exterior. Other components include rubber skirting boards on the bumpers and a heated rear window with wipers.
And that is not all: two years after it originally appeared, the Caravelle is joined by a sibling with better equipment. Its name: Caravelle Carat. It draws attention through its all-around plastic panelling, and through a radiator grille with two angular double headlamps. The four single seats in the rear are inviting, and the front two of these can be rotated. A folding table on the left-hand side of the vehicle round off the interior concept. Rear air-conditioning with an air outlet in the roof is available upon request.
But success also involves responsibility: in 1984, Volkswagen already provides additional equipment for the Caravelle upon request. Electric exterior mirrors, electric windows, power steering, seat heating and a glass pop-up roof among others are added to the list of available extras. Even a lit make-up mirror is now available. Central locking, cruise control and an anti-locking system are also transferred from passenger car development.
In 1985, Volkswagen presents the spatial concept of the Multivan for the first time at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt. The multi-purpose vehicle has its premier there after one year of development, even though Volkswagen still refers to it officially as a study. The "test run" of the new product is so popular with the audience that production begins one year later.
The engineers have a clear development order: along with the Caravelle and the Estate, the new vehicle will be an all-rounder, and will build a bridge between private passenger cars and light camper vans. The specification sheet includes requirements such as "sleeping accommodation, space for large loads and space for families with luggage and hobby equipment".
At the end, the Volkswagen engineers present three different concepts. They all share the rear bench that can be folded into a bed. Volkswagen rejects the solution of a flat cupboard in the left of the rear compartment, but this develops immediately into a niche for a number of providers of camper vans. The other two versions invent a new generation of recreational vehicle; one version has two removable folding seats, while the other has a folding bench in the rear, one seat behind the driver's seat but facing away from it, a folding table, interior lighting, and a large cool-box. This equipment makes the Multivan unbeatable when it comes to flexibility. Especially as a pop-up roof and a variety of additional equipment is available.
From 1988, the special models Blue Star and White Star demonstrate what can be created from the Multivan concept. The complete and well-equipped recreational vehicles redefine the term "multi-purpose vehicle". "Hannover Edition" says a proud plaque on the front of the vehicle, while the sales documents speak self-confidently of "the stars among multi-purpose vehicle". The popularity of these versions is apparent even after the official end of the T3: In the Spring of 1992, one and a half years after the successor, T4, has been presented, Volkswagen produces a revival in the Limited Last Edition, a special series of 2500 vehicles in the trim of the Blue Star.
The legendary “people’s car”, which is what ‘Volkswagen’ stands for in German, was born in 1937 in Germany and has its headquarters at the German city of Wolfsburg, in the Lower Saxony State. This is one of the top selling car brands in the world today.
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