A VW Vanagon camper van parked along the harbor in Croatia during the afternoon sun

The VW Vanagon Is an Iconic Road Trip Van

If you’re into camper vans, then you’re likely familiar with the VW Vanagon. A classic road trip van, the VW Vanagon has many names and one long-lasting cult following. When you dig into the vehicle’s history, it’s easy to see why. Check it out! 

The VW Vanagon Is a Road Tripper’s Dream

The Vanagon is a vehicle of many names, depending on where you are in the world. In Europe, it’s called the Transporter (or T3). South Africans call it a Microbus, and Volkswagen called it the Type 2. Whatever you call it, Volkswagen built a van for the ages.  

Produced between 1980 and 1991, the Vanagon was a bold new take on the curvy, classic hippie van of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The sharp edges and boxy design was a risky shift for engineers, but it worked.  

A VW Vanagon camper van parked along the harbor in Croatia during the afternoon sun

About the Vanagon

The specs on the Vanagon have a lot to do with what year it is. Volkswagen went through an arduous development process that took years to perfect. For instance, the 1980’s model of the VW Vanagon used an air-cooled, 1.6-2L engine that would definitely not get you anywhere in a hurry. 

However, the 1985 models included the introduction of four-wheel-drive, catalytic converters, and turbochargers. The engines were gas- or diesel-powered and water-cooled for better performance. The Vanagon finally had the power to go places. 

In 1988, VW and Westfalia released the California model of the T3, giving birth to a more complete camper van. The California had a bench seat that folds down to a sleeper, a folding table, swivel captain seats in the front, lots of storage spaces, a new pop-up top, a cooktop, a sink, and a long list of other useful camping features. It was the most popular design of the decade and is still among the most coveted models for VW van enthusiasts. 

A VW campervan with the Westfalia name on the roof driving down the highway

The tedious part of going on a road trip is finding a place to stay. You don’t have to bother with that step when you’re operating a lounge on wheels. It’s easy to see why people enjoy the VW Vanagon so much when considering its design. 

Spacious Interior

The inside of the Vanagon gives you space to hang out. The front seats can swivel around to join the social setup of the back bench seat and fold-down table. If you’re driving an advanced model, the interior will have a whole tiny kitchen equipped with a small burner, a mini-fridge, and even a sink. 

Camping is comfortable, as you can pull out the back bench seat to serve as a full-sized bed. If you have a model with a pop-up top, then there’s even more room for storage and recreation. 

Keep in mind that there were a lot of changes during the decade the VW Vanagon was produced, so it’s important to consider when a particular model was produced when envisioning the interior spaces. 

Tour a 1987 Westfalia VW Vanagon camper van

Responsive Driving

The first Vanagon didn’t have much power behind the pedal, but Volkswagen improved it along the way. When the Synchro All-Wheel-Drive system came about in 1986, the Vanagon became much easier and safer to drive in the kind of off-road settings people were taking it. 

Room for a Crowd

The pop-up models can sleep four adults in comfort. The pop-up included a full-sized bed, and the back bench seat would fold out into a bed as well. Two people could also sleep in the captain seats up front if you wanted to get cozy, making the total sleeping capacity six. 

Classic VW Style

In classic VW style, the Vanagon is a super quirky little van. You’ll either get a chuckle out of some of the design choices, or they’ll drive you insane. 

For instance, the gas tank sits underneath the two front seats. The washer fluid is underneath the floor mat in the back seat. The brake fluid refill access is through an in-cab panel, and adding a little oil will take you on a journey behind your rear license plate. 

A woman stands on top of a turquoise  VW van to pick cherries

Can You Buy a VW Vanagon on the Secondary Market?

Sure, you can! Prices vary greatly, depending on what you’re looking to purchase. However, you won’t have any trouble finding them on the market. Volkswagen produced thousands of Vanagons in the ‘80s, and the reliable design has kept them around ever since. 

Just make sure you research what to look for in the vehicle itself before you start deciding what price range you want to center your search around. Consider how much work you’re willing to put into the vehicle as well. 

Is the Vanagon a Reliable Vehicle for Your Cross-Country Trip?

A vehicle is only as reliable as its engine. You’ll need a water-cooled engine to make your cross-country trip easier, and it’ll need to be in good working order. Otherwise, yes, the Vanagon is a super reliable cross-country vehicle. 

Two people sit outside in camp chairs enjoying a fire beside their VW Vanagon camper can during the winter

Try Out a Classic Vanagon

Overall, the Vanagon is a trusty camper van option for those looking to take on a life on the road. You can even extend the lifespan of your van by buying one that needs a little tender love and care before it’s ready to hit the road.

How would you shape your Vanagon adventure?

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