Volkswagen Type 2 (T3)

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Volkswagen Type 2 (T3)
Vw t3 s sst.jpg
Manufacturer Volkswagen
Also calledVolkswagen Transporter (Europe), (Australia) [1]
Volkswagen Caravelle (Europe), (Australia) [1]
Volkswagen T25 (United Kingdom),
Volkswagen Vanagon (North America) (South America),
Volkswagen Danfo or Faragon (Nigeria),
Volkswagen Microbus (South Africa)
ProductionMay 1979–June 2002 [2]
Body and chassis
Class Light commercial vehicle (M)
Body style 3-door van
3-door pickup
Layout Rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive
Platform Volkswagen Group T3 platform
Transmission 4/5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
Wheelbase 2,455–2,480 mm (96.7–97.6 in)
Length4,569 mm (179.9 in)
Width1,844–1,870 mm (72.6–73.6 in)
Height1,928 mm (75.9 in)
1,735 mm (68.3 in) (Carat)
2,055 mm (80.9 in) (Camper)
2,085 mm (82.1 in) (GL syncro)
Kerb weight 1395 kg
Predecessor Volkswagen Type 2 (T2)
Successor Volkswagen Transporter (T4)

The Volkswagen Type 2 (T3) was the third generation of the Volkswagen Transporter and was marketed under various nameplates worldwide – including the Transporter or Caravelle in Europe, T25 in the UK,[ citation needed ]Microbus in South Africa, and Vanagon in North and South America.


It was larger, heavier, and more angular in its styling than its predecessor, the T2 but shared the same rear-engine, cab-over design. It was produced in a rear wheel drive version as well as a 4WD version marketed as "Syncro."

The T3 was manufactured in Hannover, Germany from 1979 until 1991. Production of the Syncro (mostly for official use, like postal service or German army) continued until 1992 at Puch in Graz, Austria, where all 4WDs were built. A limited number of 2WD models were also produced at the Graz factory after German production had come to an end. South African production of the T3 continued, for that market only, until 2002.

The T3 was the final generation of rear-engined Volkswagens.


Following the Type 2 T2, the Type 2 T3 initially featured air-cooled engines; later years had water-cooled engines. Versions produced in South Africa from 1990 until 2002 featured an Audi five-cylinder engine.

Volkswagen marketed the Westfalia camper variant throughout the T3 production, with features including a raised roof (either pop-up or fixed), refrigerator, sink, and stove.

1984-1986 Volkswagen Caravelle (253) CL van (2015-12-07) 02.jpg
1991 Volkswagen Transporter (245) 2-door utility (2015-07-10) 02.jpg
Volkswagen T3 Westfalia Camper (5001202078).jpg
Volkswagen T3 Westfalia Camper

Examples built between 1979 and 1985 featured round headlights and basic steel or chrome-plated steel bumpers with plastic end-caps. Air-cooled models (1979 to mid-1983) lack the lower grill above the radiator of the water-cooled models, except on models with factory air conditioning. Production of the Syncro four-wheel drive model began in late 1984, with the world premiere taking place at the Brussels Commercial Vehicle Show in January 1985. [3] The original Syncros came equipped with the gasoline 1.9 with 78 PS (57 kW) and a "4+G" gearbox, with the G being a low gear for offroad use (Gelände in German). [3]

1986 model year models received revisions including a rev counter/tachometer, more fabric choices, redesigned air conditioning, enlarged water-cooled engine with a more advanced engine management system, and redesigned transmissions. Exterior changes included rectangular headlights (on selected models), and different paint options. Alloy wheels and larger fiberglass bumpers with trim along the rocker panels were optional (standard on Hannover and Wolfsburg Edition vans). For 1990 and 1991 model years, a "Carat" trim level was available which included all available options except the Westfalia conversion and Syncro.

Some 1979 through 1981 models received 6 welded-in metal slats covering the engine ventilation passages behind the rear windows. All later models had black plastic 16-slat covers that slotted in at the top and screwed down at the bottom.

During the 1980s, the U.S. Army and Air Force in Germany used T3s as administrative (non-tactical) vehicles. In military use, the vehicle's nomenclature was "Light Truck, Commercial".

T3 B32

Porsche created a version called B32 in a limited edition. The van, based on the luxurious Carat model, was equipped with the 231 PS (170 kW) 3.2 liter Carrera engine and was originally developed to support Porsche's testing activities in Algeria. Ten of these were built, with some sold by Porsche to special customers, even having a Porsche VIN. [4] Porsche themselves also used the Porsche-engined bus to transport staff rapidly. [5] Top speed was around 135 mph (217 km/h), although Porsche only claimed 116 mph (187 km/h) to ensure that the numbers could be replicated with nine people in the car and with the air conditioning on full. [5]

Other versions

There was one other six-cylinder engine used in the VW Transporter: the Oettinger WBX6. The development of this engine was originally contracted to Oettinger by Volkswagen; it was derived from the regular four-cylinder Wasserboxer and meant for projected use in the T3. When VW abandoned the project, Oettinger bought the rights to the design and put it on the market. As such the six-cylinder shares many parts with the four-cylinder Wasserboxer. [6] The WBX6 was originally only available with a three-speed automatic transmission, incorporating many Audi 100 parts to accommodate the higher power and torque. [7]


With the internal combustion engine and transaxle mounted very low in the back, the T3 had much larger disc brakes in the front, and drums in the rear. Axle weight is very nearly equal upon both the front and back ends of the vehicle. Unlike the T2 before it, the T3 was available with amenities such as power steering, air conditioning, power door locks, electrically controlled and heated mirrors, lighted vanity mirrors, and a light above the glove box (some of which were standard equipment in later (non-commercial vehicle) models).

The automatic was a standard hydraulic three-speed unit, the same 090/010 unit as used in Audis of the era. These featured a cast aluminum alloy case for the transmission section and a cast iron case for the final drive section.

The 091 manual transmission was a four-speed unit, featuring a lightweight aluminum alloy case; from 1983 a 5-speed transmission was available as an option on certain models; a 5-speed was fitted as standard on Syncro four-wheel-drive models.

The automatic features a 1.0 ratio top gear, while the manual features a 0.85 top gear.

The oil filler tube for the engine is located behind the flip-down license plate door, as is the oil dipstick and the power steering fluid reservoir (when fitted) on Petrol models. Diesel models have the reservoir in the front right corner of the engine bay. Early models had a twist-on/off non-locking gas cap right on the outside just under and behind the passenger side door. A locking cap was standard on later models. 4 Wheel Drive (Syncro) models have the fuel tank in the rear above the transmission so the filler is on the right-side rear corner. The spare tyre lies in a tray under the very front of the van (as the engine is in the back), just below the radiator.

Volkswagen T3, Club Joker, 1981, Air-cooled, one front grill Volkswagen T3 Club Joker.JPG
Volkswagen T3, Club Joker, 1981, Air-cooled, one front grill


Because of the engine placement, a T3 has nearly equal 50/50 weight distribution fore and aft. The early air-cooled engines were somewhat expensive to produce and had some reliability problems. Volkswagen originally meant to replace them with the Golf's inline-four engine but the cost of re-engineering both car and engine made them opt for updating the flat-four instead. [8] An overhead-cam design was mooted but rejected as a willingness to rev was considered to be of less importance than low-end flexibility and low cost. [8] The new 1.9 L "Wasserboxer" (for a water-cooled boxer) was also originally considered for use in certain other Volkswagens such as the Gol, which still relied on the old air-cooled flat-four at that time. [9]

The U.S version 1.9 liter and up water-cooled gasoline engines experienced significant and repeated problems with cylinder head surface erosion and coolant leaks. 2.1 L engines suffered the same, mostly due to not having the antifreeze changed often enough, and the use of phosphated coolant, which caused corrosion in the cooling system.

Volkswagen wasserboxer engine Wasserboxer.jpg
Volkswagen wasserboxer engine


There were four general petrol engine variants between 1979 and 1991, with several sub-models. All were overhead-valve push-rod horizontally opposed four-cylinder engines. Available engine options differed between regions. Aftermarket VW specialist Oettinger also offered the WBX6, a six-cylinder version.

The Wasserboxer featured an aluminum case, cylinder heads, and pistons, and a forged steel crankshaft. The Wasserboxer, as with all VW boxer engines has a gear-driven camshaft. It also featured Heron, or "bowl-in-piston" type combustion chambers where the combustion takes place within the piston bowl area, and not just in the cylinder head as would be the case with flat top pistons. The switch to water-cooled boxer engines was made mid-year in 1983. T2 transporters or 'bay window' vans, produced in Brazil until 2013, were switched to inline-four-cylinder water-cooled engines and a front-mounted radiator in 2005.

Oettinger WBX6, aftermarket six-cylinder engine Oettinger wbx6 engine.jpg
Oettinger WBX6, aftermarket six-cylinder engine

Diesel engines

In contrast to the standard flat-four gasoline engines, all diesel engine options were of an inline-four configuration. The turbodiesel arrived in January 1985. [3]

U.S. model variations

1988 California-spec VW Vanagon Wolfsburg Edition Vanagon wolfsburg.jpg
1988 California-spec VW Vanagon Wolfsburg Edition
1991 US Vanagon Multivan Interior 00707 knRz5aAT8e0 1200x900.jpg
1991 US Vanagon Multivan Interior
1984 US Vanagon Wolfsburg Edition Vanagon 1984 US Wolfsburg Edition.jpg
1984 US Vanagon Wolfsburg Edition

In the U.S., the T3 was sold as the Vanagon, which is a portmanteau of van and station wagon. The name Vanagon was coined by Volkswagen to highlight their claim that the T3 had the room of a van, but drove like a station wagon. U.S. Vanagon model variations included the Vanagon, featuring vinyl seats and a spartan interior; the Vanagon L with optional cloth seats, more upscale interior panels, and an optional dashboard blower; the Vanagon GL with more equipment like a padded steering wheel and front armrests; and the Westfalia pop-top camper Vanagons, which came in two versions. A Camper version known as the "Campmobile" with integrated kitchen, complete with refrigerator (which ran on propane, 110 V or 12 V), a two-burner stove, and stainless steel sink with onboard water supply. A fold-down rear bench seat converted to a bed and the pop-top included a fold-out bed; these models could sleep four adults. A 'Weekender ' version that lacked the refrigerator, propane stove, and sink of the full 'camper' versions offered an optional removable cabinet with a 12 volt cooler and self-contained sink. In 1984, the Wolfsburg edition was configured with a rear bench seat and two forward-facing middle seats. Under the bench seat, which folded down to make full-size bed, was a storage compartment and a rear heater.

Wolfsburg Edition "Weekender" models featured two rear-facing seats behind the front seats in place of a centre bench seat and a table that could fold up from the sidewall – or fold down when not in use. Multivan models featured Wolfsburg Edition trim and an interior with rear-facing seats, the same fold up table, a pop-top with an upper bed, and cabinet behind the rear seat on the driver's side. Wolfsburg Edition and camper van vehicles were outfitted for Volkswagen by the Westfalia factory.

Syncro models were manufactured in limited numbers from 1984 through 1992, with the four-wheel-drive system added by Steyr-Daimler-Puch Works in Graz, Austria, with a short wheelbase and 48/52 front/rear weight distribution. The majority of the Syncro production run used the same 14 inch wheels as the RWD version. A limited number of 16" Syncro versions were also produced. The main differences between the 2 models was 16" wheels with 205R16 tires, larger front brakes 280mm discs instead of 254mm disc that was on the 14" Syncro but they shared the same calipers and brake pads. The 16" Syncro had larger rear brakes taken from the VW LT and fender flares which hid the area where VW trimmed the arches to give more room for larger tires.

Model years 1980 through 1985 featured round sealed beam headlights. Subsequent models for North American and European markets featured round sealed beam headlights or smaller square headlights, with the primary lights outboard and high beams inboard. Later models from South Africa returned to round headlight housings for both the primary headlights and high-beams. This is known to VW enthusiasts as the "South African look," and swapping the square headlights to round headlights is a popular conversion by van owners with non-South African vehicles.

The T3 was replaced by the T4 (Eurovan) in the U.S. market in 1993 (1992 saw no Volkswagen vans imported to the U.S. market, aside from custom campers sold by companies other than Volkswagen). Top-of-the-line Wolfsburg Edition Westfalia Campers, which had all options, were at the top of the price range. In addition to the camper models, a Carat trim level was available for 1990 and 1991 model years. This model included all options available for the Transporter configuration. Some models featured optional aluminum alloy wheels.

South African models

Production of the T3 continued in South Africa until June 2002, when, due to the economies of scale, Volkswagen SA were obliged to discontinue production after parts supply started to become an issue. The South African T3s post-1991 had a face-lift which included modified front door sheet metal, bigger side windows behind the B pillars, and different rear grilles in the D pillars. The bodyshell is a true RHD design lacking the unused door track cover on the offside and LHD wiper arm mount points as found on earlier models (which were originally designed as an adaptation of a LHD twin-sliding door bodyshell). On models with 5-cylinder engines, the boot floor was raised to accommodate the taller engine and has small storage areas either side of the engine hatch. Internal changes include a fully padded dashboard featuring a smaller glove box and updated vacuum-powered ventilation controls operated by round knobs rather than slide levers, while the fuse box was also relocated to the right-hand side of the steering column. At the front of the vehicle, twin headlamps in both round and rectangular configurations were fitted along with a full width lower grille incorporating the indicator lenses, which were changed from amber to smoked lenses from 1999 onwards. This grille and headlight combination was not found anywhere else in the world. These later South African T3s became known as Big Window T3s due to their larger side windows.

In January 1991 the 2.1 Wasserboxer engines were replaced with five-cylinder Audi engines in the "Microbus" and "Caravelle", while a VW 1.8 inline-four cylinder engine was used in the "Kombi" and "Van" models. A 2.1 Wasserboxer Syncro Big Window model was also added, in Microbus or Caravelle trim. 89 Big Window Syncros were sold in 1992; the big-window body was used in the Syncro from 1990 and in 1991, mixed in the "German" small-window body, so exact numbers of Big Window Syncros are unknown, although 89 were sold in 1992. The Syncro model was discontinued in 1992. There were also 4 or 5 factory-built 5 cyl 2.5i Syncros, with K-Jetronic fuel injection, 16" rear trailing arms and brakes and 15" wheels. One was in a small window body, 3 are known to survive (1 small window, and 2 Big Window Syncros). The five-cylinder T3s came out initially with a 2.5-litre K-Jetronic fuel-injected engine in 1991, but this was replaced in March 1995 with a 2.6-litre with an improved fuel injection system and two styles of 15" alloy wheels as standard (Rhein or Starburst) along with larger ventilated front disc brakes. The automatic option for the 2.5 was dropped, leaving only the five-speed manual. A slightly lower spec 2.3 five-cylinder fuel-injected model was introduced four months after the 2.6, but was equipped with a 4-speed transmission and modified wrap-around steel bumpers. There was also a basic bus, with an inline-4 inclined 1.8 carburetor engine. The 1.8 carb motor was a Golf-derived motor, fitted into the bus like an inline-4 diesel in a T3. Called the "Volksie bus", it was a basic bus, with steel 15" rims, single round headlights, steel wrap-around bumpers, and with no aircon or PAS. Near the end of production, a top of the range Caravelle 2.6i known as the "Exclusiv" incorporated two rear-facing seats in place of the centre bench seat, a fridge and a folding table in the back of the vehicle and Carat 2 alloy wheels. A Microbus 2.6i with similar features, but with Rhein alloy wheels were known as the "Activ". The last T3 off the production line in Uitenhage on Friday 16 June 2002 was a gold-coloured Microbus 2.6i which Volkswagen SA retained for their AutoPavilion, Place of Cars and Legends, which first opened its doors in 2004. The vehicle was later written off in a transporter roll-over accident in November 2006, after returning from a display in Cape Town. [10]

Five-cylinder Audi Engines used

Approximately 45 WBX6 3. 2i Oettinger engines were imported to South Africa.

Safety and Crash Tests

In 1994, the Swedish insurance company, Folksam tested a Vanagon T3 in a head-on collision with a Volvo 700 series wagon (estate). The crash test was full-frontal (50/50) at 31 mph (58 Km/H). The result was that the driver of the Volvo would have received a head injury criterion (HIC) of 3868. An HIC of 1000 is considered deadly. The Vanagon driver would receive a HIC of only 155. Furthermore, the "chest impact" for the Volvo driver was 65. A chest impact of 60 is considered deadly. The Vanagon driver's impact was only 30. [11] [12]

Furthermore, the German engineering testing laboratory for the insurance industry Allianz Zentrum für Technik (AZT) performed tests on 4 June 1984 in Japan. The results were published in the September 1984 ADAC Motorwelt journal. The Vanagon/Caravelle with subjected to crash tests into a fixed 40% barrier at 35 Km/H, which corresponds to a head-on collision at 50-55 Km/H. According to AZT, this test is said to be representative of 90% of all accidents. A series of these crash tests were performed, which compared the T3 to similar vans manufactured by Nissan, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and two vans from Toyota. The written results stated, "The Volkswagen Transporter type 2 affords excellent passenger safety". "The legs were not endangered. And the legroom was only slightly restricted." All doors opened easily. With regard to repair of the vehicles after the crash tests, the five Japanese vehicles were declared a "total loss" or "write-offs". Regarding the Vanagon, the report states "It would be possible to fully repair the VW type 2 at reasonable cost". [11] [12]

Crash tests were also conducted using US market vehicles by Californian firms Calspan and NTS on behalf of the NHTSA. Three full-frontal tests at speeds of 29.5-34.9mph (47.7-56.2kph) with a fixed barrier were conducted between 1980 and 1988. While all three tests showed minor passenger compartment intrusion, the resultant HIC for the driver of the Vanagon ranged between 1313 and 1905. The passenger dummy fared better receiving a HIC between 831 and 1060. [13] [14] [15]

In a 47 mph (75 Km/H) crash between the front of a Volkswagen LT31 (structurally the same as a T3) and rear of a stationary full-size Chevrolet Impala, the rear of the Impala was completely destroyed with the rear trunk being pushed up to just behind the driver's seat. Yet, the VW remained "operational" (drivable) and "the doors could be opened relatively easily" And "the deformation of the interior was negligible", as declared by the testing agency. [11] [12]

In an "overturn" test of "a fully equipped VW (Type 2 T3) Westfalia customized camping vehicle" traveling 'sideways' at a speed of 31 mph (50 Km/h) on a specially designed 'sled' that 'launched' the vehicle causing two complete rollovers, the report found that "the roof remained fully intact and the doors remained closed". The report went on to say, "If passengers wear seatbelts, the danger of injury in this kind of accident is relatively low". In another rollover test, the T3 was rolled down a 32ft high (10 M) hill. This is equivalent to a 3-story building. This resulted in the van flipping over 4 1/2 times. It was reported, "the shape of the body and the roof remained intact." [11] [12]

These vans were made with a "forward deformation zone" consisting of four "side members" below and in front of the passenger compartment making a four-pronged forked frame with a "deformation element" which is mounted in front of this making it extremely effective at absorbing impact. The front cab has extensive protection by means of four vertical struts that connect an impact-absorbing box section cross-member. Additionally, there is another box framed horizontal strut on the inside of the vehicle that attaches to the door frames. And another yet goes through the sides of the doors to help protect passengers from lateral impact. The steering wheel has two energy-absorbing buckle points, with a detachable steering column that prevents the steering wheel from being pushed into the cabin. And the spare tire, which is mounted on the underside in the front of the vehicle, is also used to absorb shock. [11] [12]


The T3 has a large cult following, especially the Westfalia camper version, and many owners have had the VW engines replaced, due to their reputation of being underpowered and unreliable, particularly the Wasserboxer. [16] [17] Subaru EJ engines are one of the most popular engines to install for increased power, as the EJs flat-4 design is similar in size and configuration to the original VW pushrod engines. [18] Other conversions have included Porsche 911 engines, VW Rabbit diesel engines, Golf/Jetta petrol engines and Ford Zetec engines. [19] [20] Five-cylinder Audi engines were used in South Africa on higher-trim vans after the Wasserboxer engine was discontinued in 1991, until the T3 was discontinued in 2002. [21]

See also

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  12. 1 2 3 4 5 Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine : "Volkswagen - Volkswagen Safety - Volkswagen Safety Research (1984)". YouTube .
  13. Approved Engineering Test Laboritories (12 November 1980). (PDF): 46 . Retrieved 13 November 2022.{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. Calspan Corporation (25 May 1985). (PDF): 9 . Retrieved 13 November 2022.{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. Calspan Corporation (14 January 1988). (PDF): 8 . Retrieved 13 November 2022.{{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. VW conversions
  17. subaru-vanagon
  18. "Subaru EJ25 Engine Conversion Review". LIVE THE VAN LIFE.
  19. "Porsche-powered Vanagon".
  20. "Tom's VW Pages! - Converting a Diesel Vanagon to Gas".
  21. "Engine Conversion Comparison".