The VW T2 Hippie Van

Welcome to the Campervan Channel, the YouTube channel for advice, information, and inspiration for everyone who loves VW campers. This video introduces the biggest selling VW Transporter of them all, the second generation or T2.

This version of the VW Bus was in production in some form, somewhere, for an incredible 46 years. We have other videos with advice on buying them and what they are really like to live with, but for now, I hope you enjoy a bit of backgrounder on the world-beating Bay window. The first generation of Transporter, the T1 Splitty, had been a ground-breaker when it was launched in 1950.

VW went on to sell 1.8 million of them and unexpectedly create a motoring icon. No pressure there then! When the second generation appeared for the model year 1968, some familiar features were still there. The forward-control driving position above the front wheels, a huge cargo space between the axles, and an air-cooled engine in the back powering the rear wheels.

. But the T2 looked different. The distinctive V-shaped front and the split windscreen of the T1 had morphed into a wraparound, panoramic single windscreen, a huge piece of curved glass that gave the new model its nickname, the Bay Window. The Transporter now had a sliding side door as standard. The electrics were 12 volts rather than 6.

And while its flat-four, air-cooled engine was familiar, it was built a little lower, allowing even more cargo space above the engine compartment. Overall the T2 was about 160mm tat is about 6 and a half inches longer than its predecessor, increasing the cargo space inside to about five cubic meters.

Less visible improvements were to do with safety, mainly to appease the Americans who had come up with a radical idea that the occupants of a vehicle should actually survive if it crashed. So, cue front disc brakes, lap belts, shoulder belts, a much safer steering column, and a firewall between the fuel tank and the engine.

Now there is a good idea! And eventually new structures to the front end to improve crash protection. The T2 was obviously part of the Volkswagen family of trucks, but early marketing stressed more to it than your average commercial vehicle. In original Ads, VW proudly claimed, “We’ve put a little beauty into the box.”

And it was “The car that comes in a box.” The car you could squeeze into a parking spot that would be too small for your station wagon. Well, a ginormous American station wagon, at least. The T2 proved even more popular with campervan converters than the splitty had been. One thing got on their wick, though.

The spare wheel. On many versions, it stuck straight up. A right pain in the load space if you wanted to put a bed in the back. Solutions including covering it with a bit psychedelic seventies fabric or building a wooden cabinet over it. Basically, pretending it was not there. But by far, the coolest solution was to pull your spare wheel out of the back and stick it on the front between the headlights.

A spare wheel up front became part of the look for Bay window campers. As with all generations of VW transporter, the T2 went through a ton of tweaks and improvements. Life is too short of mentioning them all, but there were so many between 1971 and 1973. They are the kind of watershed years between two distinct periods.

Bays before then are often called early bays or a T2a. After that, they are Late Bays or T2B. And because I know you want one, here is a spotters guide to telling them apart. An easy clue first. On early Bays, front indicators were down near the bumper, giving them another nickname, “low lights.”

On the late bays, the flashers are high up next to the fresh air intake. Earlies had rounded, wrap-around “blade” type bumpers, incorporating a step to help you get into the cab. Late bays had larger, squared-off “Europa” bumpers that did not wrap around. A structure behind them helped improve crash protection, and the step was now built into the wing.

From the rear, early bays give themselves away by having small, oval-shaped lights. Late bays have much bigger, taller light clusters. So now we can tell them apart. Well, maybe not. Because VW did not decide, right, today we are going to introduce all these new features. No, they did it gradually. So in 1972, you could buy a Bay with basically a new back end and old front end.

Vans built in this kind of T2 Twilight zone are now known as the “Crossover” Bays. So now you know. In 1973, the world was plunged into its first oil crisis. Fuel was in short supply and very expensive. So VW experimented with alternative fuels for the Bay window. Natural gas was dropped before the prototype stage, but electric power showed promise.

In 1972, VW revealed an all-electric T2. Its 44 horsepower Siemens motor took power from an underfloor battery. And what a battery! Each one weighed 850kg. That is more than the VW Beetles being built at the time. It took ten hours to charge and gave the Electric Bay a range of about 43 miles and a top speed of about 43 miles an hour.

Technically, It worked, and concepts like electric taxi versions gained a lot of attention even on live TV. There is conflicting evidence about how many of these were built. But it’s thought to be no more than 200. And many of those were test vehicles. One report said only 20 e-campers were sold.

This amazing innovation was just ahead of its time. It’s only now, 47 years later, that all-electric VW Transporters are on sale again. In the mid-70s, the Bay was also used as a testbed for another leap in-vehicle technology, four-wheel drive. Just a few hand-built all-wheel-drive Transporters were built at Wolfsburg.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles have these great archive pictures of these all-wheel-drive beasts being tested. Someone in the VW Research and Development Department had been a keen off-roader and added a four-wheel-drive system to their own T2 campervan. Technically- they were a success. But VW was not convinced there was a market for them.

It was not until the mid-80s that all-wheel-drive finally became an option on the Bay successor, the T3. But let us not leap to successors just yet. The T2 Bay was a truly global phenomenon. They were sold and built around the world. They were sent to at least 15 countries in knock-down kit form. A box full of T2 parts that were assembled in a factory, avoiding high import taxes that would have been charged on a complete vehicle.

In 1971, four years after its launch in Germany, the Bay was built at VW’s plant in Mexico. From 1975, they were built in Brazil too, but these were a bit different. From the front and back, they looked like 1970s Bays. But the side walls were from the old T1 splitty, with smaller windows, air intakes above the rear wheels, and hinged doors from the 1950s.

The result, total confusion about what you are looking at. Sales of Bays boomed worldwide, and much of their popularity and high profile was due to the Hippy Movement. It is just odd that a vehicle that started life as a really practical load carrier for hard-working German business folk became the transport of choice for the most laid-back characters on the planet.

It became known as the Hippy Van, a symbol of peace, love, freedom, rebellion. Production in Germany ended in 1979. But the T2 story was far from over. Brazil did not just keep building them. It developed them, introducing a diesel engine option, for instance. Bays kept rolling out of the Mexican plant, too, with even more radical options including, would you believe it, a water-cooled engine for 1988.

There are no mistaking water-cooled Bays. They have a distinctive. Some would say hideous. Black radiator grille slapped on the front. The Mexican factory shut up shop in 1994, and all T2 production moved to Brazil, where VW finally called time on the air-cooled engine. It is worth pausing for a bit of a tribute here! VW air-cooled engines had powered a staggering 27 million Volkswagens, that is, Beetles and a few other cars as well as the Transporters.

To mark this motoring milestone, VW produced 200 special edition T2s in exclusive sliver metallic paint jobs. Still, the water-cooled versions went on, with a good few finding their way to the UK. Bristol-based campervan converter Danbury imported Brazilian Bays and turned them into water-cooled campers.

Buyers got the look of a classic Bay but with a few more mod-cons than you’92d get in the vintage versions. There was the option of power steering from a Ford Fiesta no less, and of course, the reliability of the 1.4 liter water-cooled power unit derived from the VW Fox. The Bay kept going back in Brazil, with about 25,000 being produced a year until its death knell was sounded by the looming airbag and anti-lock brake legislation.

VW decided the 2013 model year was to be the last. Bear in mind, VW Germany is producing the T5 by this time. So, the old girl finally retired. To celebrate 46 years in production and around 3.9 million Bays sold. A final run of 600 Last Edition models was built in September 2013. These days, all versions of the Bay window remain hugely popular as campervans.

Not quite as expensive as splitties, but with all the character of a true VW classic. With a thriving club scene and good availability of parts and body panels, who knows, these iconic vans could splutter on for another 50 years. Don not forget, we are planning more videos on Bay windows and all other types of VW campervans.

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