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A Rough Guide To/Brief History of Transporter Types

Updated: Feb 17, 2023

In this, our debut blog, we’re going to get to the bottom of arguably the most pressing issue concerning anyone who is looking to buy a Volkswagen campervan in the near future. And that is the identifying and understanding of each and every acknowledged Transporter type.

And those you might not have heard of.

With more varieties than Heinz and its iconic 57 brands, this blog delves deep into recognizing the breakdown of every type of VW campervan you’re familiar with. Or arguably, not familiar with.

Essentially, the why, which, when, what, where and how of the Veedub campervan world.

Albeit in a digestible format.

From Microbus, Westfalia, Bulli and Kombi, through to Splitty, Shuttle, California and Caravelle. Hopefully our bitesize guide will afford you the basics.

VAN FACT: Kombi refers to passenger vans.
Volkswagen Transporter Types: Explained
T1 Transporter (AKA, The Bulli, Samba, Bus, Kombi, Microbus)

The Type 2 VW Transporter (also referred to as the VW Bus, Kombi or Microbus - depending on the vehicle's body type) was the original panel van created by Volkswagen back in 1950. Technically - and retrospectively - known as the T1 (as well as affectionately known as the ‘splitty’ or ‘splitscreen’), the Type 2 is the chronological starting-point in the official Transporter timeline.

Confused by this?

Brace yourself - there’s much more where that came from.

VAN FACT: Samba Deluxe boasted 8 small skylight windows (including sliding sunroof), as part of a 23-window total.

In terms of its DNA, the T1 was borne out of a sketch by Dutch businessman, Ben Pon. In the aftermath of a visit to the VW factory - and inspired by parts-movers witnessed - he imagined a more versatile and utilitarian version of the VW Beetle built on a similar platform as the parts-mover. Which the industrious Pon later put to Veedub’s hierarchy’ while the rest became history.

T2 Transporter - (AKA, Bay, Bay Window, Kombi)

Following closely on the unmitigated success of the T1, the T2 Transporter arrived in 1967. Immediately nicknamed the ‘Bay’ (and ‘Bay window’), this iteration continued until 1979 when it was usurped by the arrival of T3. The Kombi iteration was produced for Westfalia conversions, yet it wasn’t long before Danbury, Dormobile, Devon, Viking and Canterbury Pitt started converting panel vans and Kombi’s to their bespoke interior specs.

VAN FACT: The ‘T’ numbers - although well-known today - were only applied retrospectively when the T4 model came into being as of 1990. The T6.1 is the very latest in a long line.

T3 Transporter - (AKA, T25, Flat Screen, The Wedge, Brick, Westy)

Otherwise known as the T25 (and all the abovementioned), this is the point at which the Transporter acquired a multitude of monikers.

Therefore, this is the bit where you need to stay focused.

Afforded a host of different guises globally for marketing purposes, in Europe the Transporter was recognised as just that. The Transporter. Apart from when it was called the Caravelle. However, it was another story elsewhere, with South Africans identifying it as the Microbus. Whilst in America it was the Vanagon.

VAN FACT: The T3 saw the rise in popularity of the Caravelle and California models.

During the T3’s tenure, the VW-crafted Westfalia camper was debuted. A dedicated conversion singled out by virtue of its inclusive sink, oven, fridge and crowning glory; its pop-top roof feature.

T4 Transporter

The T4 Transporter was introduced in 1990, and had a production run of some 13 years in that specific guise. In America this particular revision was referred to as the Eurovan. No drama (or confusion over variations on a theme here, you’ll be pleased to learn).

VAN FACT: The unique ‘Razor Back’ was built as a brewery delivery vehicle, complete with a lowering floor designed to load/unload beer barrels.

T5 Transporter

Not so when we fast forward to 2003 though; and the T5 Transporter honed into view. The T5 really moved the goalposts for the Transporter.

Made available in a broad range of different examples - including short-wheelbase and long-wheelbase versions - the T5 also brandished roofline options for the very first time. Which materialistically manifest as low, medium and high.

VAN FACT: The T5 was the first model that saw the California camper produced in-house, making it VW’s first full factory-built campervan.

Individual configurations marked the T5 out of the Transporter pack too. Along with the traditional van format, buyers were given the seemingly expansive choice of minibus, single-cab, double-cab, drop side and chassis truck. For those of a more camping persuasion, the T5 was presented in Shuttle, Kombi, Carvelle and Multivan eventualities.

The Kombi was the entry-level version, and came in every roof height and wheelbase option. And able to accommodate up to 11 adventure-seeking occupants.

VAN FACT: The Kombi derives its name from the German word, Kombinationskraftwagen. Or ‘combined use vehicle’ for short(er).

The Shuttle came next, and incorporated colour-coded bumpers and bench seats.

While the Caravelle and Multivan added sliding seats amongst other features.

And if a multitude of names - official and modular-defining - weren’t confusing enough, the number game was ramped up to when the T5 Transporter landed. The T5.1 for example, being a timely facelifted version.

The T6 Transporter

In T6.1 flavour, the T6 is the Transporter which remains in production. The current model in the Veedub campervan timeline. In the modern era Transporters are defined more by trim levels. Ascending from the ‘Startline’ models, through the ‘Trendline’ and ‘Highline’ models, ranging right up to ‘Sportline’.

VAN FACT: T26/T28/T32 etc refers to payloads. 2.6 tonnes, 2.8 tonnes, 3.2 tonnes. Although actual payload will vary based on empty van weights.

But let’s not complicate matters any more than they might already appear.

That said, we hope that we’ve managed to simplify some aspects of the whole VW Campervan model and submodel minefield. If not, you know where to find us.

In the meantime, here’s a quick reminder as to the historical permeations.

At a Glance

The main differentials are typically as follows:

California - 4-berth, 4-seat

Kombi - 5-seats, 2 rows of seats and middle windows

Caravelle - 7-seats, executive spec

Shuttle - 8/9-seats, windows all round

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