VW Camper Family

A camping forum for VW bus and camper owners.


My wife and I are in the market for a VW Camper.  We're weighing the pros and cons of older (more classic look) vs. newer (maybe more practical?).

I'm certain this is probably an old and frequent question, so I thank anyone in advance for being willing to offer any advice on this, point us to some prior posts we can read, other resources, etc.

Also wondering if there is anyone on this forum in the greater St. Louis area?  We live just across the river in Edwardsville, IL.

Kind regards,


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The first thing to do is to make sure that you can actually afford it. Seen prices lately?

Decent VW campers now start at about $6000 and run to $30,000 or so (for the fancy ones of the later years). The prices that they're getting nowadays for these (15-40 year old) campers is often enough to cause someone to reconsider.

And while VW campers are no doubt endearing, there is a case to be made for buying a relatively new, converted Chevy Astro with its easier parts availability and proper air conditioning.

Assuming that you're still with me, have stopped fanning yourself and have put away the smelling salts, my suggestion is to look for the cleanest 1978 or 1979 Westfalia you can find. These buses, in my opinion, have the best combination of power, soul and quality.

The one thing that they do lack is air conditioning. Although it's a bit nippy outside at present, you may have your heart set on camping during the warmer months. In which case the "Late Bay" (as it's known) won't work for your needs , unless you like never-ending blasts of hot air on your face from the open wing window. For me, air conditioning on full-blast is the only way to travel from May until October.

In which case you need to forget about the bus with soul and look at the far more costly, finicky Vanagons.

The ones frequently seen for sale are the early ones (1980) which are aircooled and to be avoided. Too much body for too little engine. You want a watercooled one, preferably with the later, larger engine which makes it a 1986-1991.

These buses, when bought with camper interiors, are very expensive. The "bargain" ones always need $5000 worth of work, no exceptions.

Be prepared to overpay, be prepared for sticker shock. You are looking at $10,000 - $15,000, more or less. Avoid the Vanagons with automatic transmissions, by the way. Rebuilding them properly is nearly impossible.

Maintenance seems to run roughly $2000, according to one Vanagon Westy owner, some pay more. These are old cars now and they're showing their age.Your mileage may vary.

Joe, I can't thank you enough for your thoughtful reply.  This is just the sort of help I need.  I'm financing the purchase by selling two other "toys" I haven't used, a very nice 1956 Airstream (26'), and a 1997 27' Class A RV with only 22.xxx miles on it.  I've come to the conclusion as I've gotten older that smaller is better for me.  The RV is a recent purchase, and we really bought it with the knowledge that we might resell it, but bought it from a relative of a friend who was old and sick, and was just unloading stuff at bargain basement prices.  He actually passed on three weeks after we bought it from him.  (Thank goodness we paid his asking price, or I might feel a little bad!)

You've really captured the issue precisely for me: Trying to find that "sweet spot" of soul and function.  And when I say "sweet spot," I understand that there isn't any "perfect" solution to the dilemma.  But I really like your thoughts about the 1978 or 79 Westfalia, and I will spend more time looking at those in particular.

If it's ok, I might get back with you with other questions?

btw, my dad was a great mechanic and somewhat of an inventor.  He used to buy junk VW bugs and rebuild them for use on the family farm.  One time he actually made a "dually" out of one... took a pair of wheels/tires from an old Lincoln Town Car and somehow put them on the rear axel with the original smaller tires.  Man, you couldn't get that thing stuck if you tried!  It was great fun going through creek beds, etc.

Thanks again for your help, and if you think of anything else, let me know!



And not to mention that the "bargain" sales price is usually in the 5k range just to allow it to park in the driveway.

Try to get one with as many service records as possible.  It's usually my third question to the seller.  

The first is, "Does it have a clear title in (your) name.

Second is, "Does it have a smog cert within the past three months"

But hey, that's just me.

Thanks for this... I particularly wouldn't have thought of the smog thing... It would be a bummer not to be able to license it after buying.  If emissions are an issue, is that something difficult to remedy in a VW?



Depends if you're a home mechanic or a check book mechanic.  Being a bit of both eases the pain of wallet drain.

All German cars, imo, need a special certain type of pampering.  I've had a few of them over the years

Haha!  Haven't heard the "home mechanic" vs. "check book mechanic" thing before...

Well, I'm a little of both... sort of.  I'm not good with mechanics personally, but have a brother in law locally who works on cars, particularly old cars, and is always a help when needed.  Plus, I could see myself developing an interest in learning a bit more about this... I have a nice barn with a workshop.  I wish I'd spent more time with my dad as a kid when he was tinkering... He was really good, and in fact taught airplane mechanics during WWII. And he loved VW's.  I was more interested in dissecting roadkill on his workbench!  He was in the hardware business for 38 years, and I went into medicine... so I guess we both ended up tinkering with what interested us the most.

My goal is to find something that is in pretty good shape to start with, and then hope that the maintenance will be tolerable... Our anticipated use for this will be mostly day trips to the lake, maybe the occasional overnighter/weekend trip.  But  doubt we'll be doing any long range stuff.

Thanks again...


Seems like both of you, turned your hobbies into money, as the saying goes.

As for the long range stuff, these things get into your blood.  My guess is that you'll turn a bit gypsy like the rest of us.

Just sayin'

Good luck with the search.  Don't be hasty.  Take your time and bring along a friend for the third wheel effect.

Happy trails,

"Turning a bit gypsy" sounds like a lot of fun, and just what I could use about now!

I'm with you on taking my time... I'm really not in a hurry, and I have a sense that the more I look and learn, the more I'll know it when the right one shows up on my radar.

I've searched around the internet for a club in the St. Louis area that has an interest in VW campers, but no luck so far.  It would be great to have someone come along who knows these gems.  My brother in law is always a fallback position, but he doesn't know VW vans in particular.

Thanks for all your help, and if you think of something else, let me know... And I'll keep you posted!



I love my 68!! Very basic and easy to work on. Great for day trips and camping! A little slow for the freeway but I can get her up to 65 on a good day. Best thing about her is she is smog exempt here in California!!!

Well not the Best thing but one of them


Thanks, Brett.  You make a good point... I don't see myself taking really long trips with this... mostly a weekender, sometimes maybe just a day trip to the lake.  So speed isn't huge issue for me.  Dependability is important to me, and safety, i.e. would love seatbelts... I think I'd feel naked without them.  I wonder if there are any other safety things that were added in the decade following yours?  Thanks again!


I have seat belts in the front. I think they added seatbelts to the back after mine. that and front disk brakes in 71

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