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Note: This page is based on the Wikipedia T3 Article.[1]

The Volkswagen Type 2 (T3) was the third generation of the Volkswagen Transporter. It was generally known as the Transporter or Caravelle in Europe, and to some in the United Kingdom and Ireland as the T25, and as the Vanagon in the U.S. and Canada. It was built from May 1979 until July 1991 in Germany, with Syncro (four wheel drive variant) production continuing in Austria until July 1992. Limited production by VW South Africa continued until the 2002 model year. It was the last of the rear-engined Volkswagens. Compared to its predecessor, the Volkswagen Type 2, the T3 was larger and heavier, with square corners replacing the rounded edges of the older models.


The T3 was built to be the modern successor to the Volkswagen Type 2. The vehicle was underpowered given its curb weight, like its predecessors, and many of vehicles of its time. Versions of the T3 produced in South Africa from 1990 until 2002 featured an Audi five-cylinder engine which helped performance greatly. Installing engines from more powerful vehicles — including gasoline and Turbo diesel inline-four Volkswagens, Fords, Subarus, Audis, and Porsches — is a solution pursued by some owners.

The most exotic variant of the Transporter configuration, the Westfalia camper conversion, was available throughout the production of the T3. This option was quite popular, and included an array of creature comforts for a family to enjoy on a weekend outing including a pop up roof, refrigerator, sink, and stove.

Examples built between 1980 and 1985 are easily identified by round headlights and chrome-plated steel bumpers with plastic end-caps. Air-cooled models (Produced from 1980 to mid-1983) lack the lower grill above the radiator of the water cooled models, except on models with factory air conditioning installed. 1986 Model year vehicles received several revisions, which included a more luxurious interior with a tachometer, more fabric choices, redesigned air conditioner, larger water cooled engine ("Wasserboxer") with a more advanced engine management system, and redesigned transmissions including an optional syncro four-wheel drive. Exterior changes include rectangular headlights, which are probably the most notable change, and different paint options. Alloy wheels, larger and squarer plastic bumpers with trim along the rocker panels were options, and standard equipment on Wolfsburg Edition vans. For 1990 and 1991 model years, a "Carat" trim level was available which included all available options (except Westfalia conversion).

All 1980 and some 1981 models had eight welded-in metal slats covering the engine ventilation passages behind the rear windows. 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 T3's as administrative (non-tactical) vehicles. In military use, the vehicle's nomenclature was "Light Truck, Commercial".

Porsche created a version called B32 in a limited edition for their own use. The van was equipped with 3.2 liter Carrera engine and was originally developed to support Porsche 959 involvement in Paris-Dakar race.

Oettinger in Germany was contracted by VW to develop a 6 cylinder engine for the T3, which is commonly called the called WBX6. The engine is derived from the "Wasserboxer" engine and has many common parts with it. Oettinger bought the rights when VW decided not to put the engine into production, and a limited number of T3s were fitted with the WBX6 (and upgraded transmissions) in the German aftermarket.


With the 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 a 50/50 split between the front and rear of the vehicle. Unlike the Type 2 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 (most of which were standard equipment in all but the lowest trim lines of later models).

The T3 air conditioning was unconventional, being of the "hanging" type. That is, all components of the air conditioning system that are internal to the vehicle hang from the ceiling. The air conditioning housings became infamous for cracking and falling down as the vehicle aged; VW issued recalls issued to address the problem.

Starting from the 1986 model year, there was available a greatly improved air conditioning system that did not suffer as badly from the cracked housings, but also did a better job of cooling the interior of the van on hot summer days. This later system features an "airliner" style plastic duct that runs the length of the vehicle in the center with adjustable outlets at set intervals, rather than cooling the entire rear section via a single bank of outlets facing aft above and behind the front seats.

The controls were above the sun visors in the front of the vehicle for both systems until the 1988 model year when they were moved to the dash. The air conditioning ductwork for the 1988 and later years was considered a more attractive color, being grey instead of beige. The grey color housings hold their color better than the beige, which tends to yellow considerably over a several year period.

This was one of the few vehicles ever in which the automatic transmission was tougher than the manual transmission, which was caused by the fact that, up until the 1990 model year, the third-fourth gear synchro slider hub was of a flawed design.[2] This could result in cracking, or even breakage, causing the transmission to get stuck in 3rd or 4th gear. A new 3-4 hub design less susceptible to stress fractures was implemented sometime in late 1989, first showing up in early 1990 model year vehicles.

The automatic was a standard hydraulic three-speed unit, the same 090/010 unit as used in front wheel drive VWs and Audis of the era. It featured a cast aluminium 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 aluminium alloy case.

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

The T3 has some unusual features, including having the brake master cylinder inside the dashboard. The battery in gasoline-powered models is located under the passenger side front seat, to protect it from the elements. There is a compartment of slightly smaller size under the driver's side seat for a second battery. This second battery was intended as a 'house' battery for campers, but only certain "Weekender" camper models came with the second battery from the factory.

The spare tire lies in a tray under the very front of the van, just below the radiator. To access the spare, 19 mm bolt in the bottom of the front bumper must be loosened and a small latch pulled back, and then the tray will swing down.[3]

Overall, these vehicles have exceptionally well-built and strong chassis (frames) that are often found to be as good as new underneath, thus creating a platform with good scope for very long life if given even the minimum attention annually.


Because of the rear engine placement, a T3 has nearly equal 50/50 weight distribution fore and aft.


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.

  • Air-cooled (1979–1982)
    • 1.6 L (1584 cc) (50 bhp/37 kW) (Serial # CT) Air-cooled, single Solex 34 PICT-4 carburetor, available on non-USA models
    • 2.0 L (1970 cc) (70 bhp/51 kW) (Serial # CU or CV) Air-cooled, twin Solex 34 PDSIT-2/3 carburetor or fuel injected (Bosch L-Jetronic, USA models) Flat-4 in the 1980 to 1983 1/2 models
  • Water-cooled (1983 onwards)
    • 1.9 litre engines:
      • 1.9 L (1913 cc) (83 bhp) (Serial # DH) water-cooled (or "Wasserboxer") engine used for the 1983 1/2 to 1985 models, which used a fuel injection system known as "Digijet" (Digital Jet-tronic)
      • 1.9 L (1913 cc) (59 bhp) (Serial # DF) 8.6:1 compression ratio, 34-PICT carburetor
      • 1.9 L (1913 cc) (76 bhp) (Serial # DG) 8.6:1 compression ratio, 2E3 or 2E4 carburetor
      • 1.9 L (1913 cc) (55 bhp) (Serial # EY) 7.5:1 compression ratio, 34-PICT carburetor
      • 1.9 L (1913 cc) (89 bhp) (Serial # GW) 8.6:1 compression ratio, Bosch Digijet electronic fuel injection
    • 2.1 Litre engines:
      • 2.1 L (2100 cc) (95 bhp) (Serial # MV) Wasserboxer, used until the end of Vanagon importation into the US in 1991. This engine used a more advanced engine management system known as Bosch "Digifant I" which now digitally managed ignition timing as well as fuel delivery.
      • 2.1 L (2100 cc) (90 bhp) (Serial # SS) 9:1 compression ratio Wasserboxer
      • 2.1 L (2100 cc) (112 bhp) (Serial # DJ) 10:1 compression ratio, Digijet injection, only sold in European countries not requiring catalytic converter.

The Wasserboxer engine had an aluminum case, cylinder heads, and pistons, cast iron cylinder liners, and a forged steel crankshaft.

The Wasserboxer engine, as with all VW boxer engines, directly drives the camshaft via a small gear on the crankshaft, and a large one on the camshaft that makes direct contact, so there is no timing chain or belt to worry about. The entire mechanism is internal to the engine so there is no concern as long as the oil is changed regularly.

As with the air-cooled engines that preceded it, the Wasserboxer engine has Heron, or "bowl-in-piston" type combustion chambers where the combustion takes place within the piston area, and not in an area of the cylinder head.

The Wasserboxer engine had cast iron cylinder liners inserted into a water jacket with a "rubber lip" style head gasket, a design different from most vehicles. The top of the cylinder liners is pressed into a recessed cut-out in the cylinder heads and sealed with compressible metal rings to prevent leakage.

The Wasserboxer engine can suffer water jacket gasket failures due to several design problems. The alloy used for the construction of the cylinder head could weaken when overheated; when heated over 90 °C, the metal composition could shrink and crack, allowing water from the cooling system to flow into the engine oil.

Engine failure could also be a result of the use of incorrect engine coolant leading to corrosion in the cooling system, of poorly placed sensors, and of low fluid levels caused by many areas that were subject to leakages.

The switch to water-cooling for the boxer engines occurred mid-year in 1983 because VW found that the air-cooled engines could not be made to meet newemissions standards. (The previous generation T2, produced in Brazil for many years, was re-engined with a water-cooled Audi in-line four in December 2005 in response to Brazil's chaning emission laws.) Water-cooled models can be distinguished by a second, lower, front grille.

Diesel engines

In contrast to the standard flat-4 gasoline engines, all Diesel engine options were of an inline configuration.

  • 1.6 L (1588 cc) (48 bhp) (Serial # CS) Naturally aspirated Diesel inline 4, available in the US on 1981-3 models only.
  • 1.6 L (1588 cc) (70 bhp) (Serial # JX) Turbocharged inline 4.
  • 1.7 L (1700 cc) (54 bhp) (Serial # KY) Natural aspirated inline 4.

A diesel variant of the T3 was also available and widely sold in some markets. Unfortunately the early models had a 1.6 L (1,588 cc) (48 hp) (Serial # CS) SOHC Inline-four engine which rendered the van severely underpowered, with a top speed somewhere around 100 km/h (62 mph). This shortcoming was later corrected, however most likely for this reason in the North American market the diesel T3 was discontinued after three model years between 1981 and 1983. Later models received a diesel engine of the same displacement but turbocharged, which improved driveability. Fuel economy of the diesel was significantly higher than that of the gasoline model, often approaching 30 mpg US.

US model variations

There were several Vanagon models available in the US. Early models included:

  • Vanagon, which featured Vinyl seats and a very spartan interior.
  • Vanagon L, which had optional cloth seats, more upscale interior panels and an optional dashboard blower.
  • Vanagon GL, which had the nicest amenities (mentioned above).

There were also Westfalia pop-top Camper Vanagons, with an integrated kitchen and bedding. Westfalia campers came in two variants, the standard model and the 'Weekender,' which lacked the propane stove, sink, and Dometic refrigerator of the full 'camper' versions. A removable cabinet with a 12V cooler and a self-contained sink was an option for a Weekender.

Wolfsburg Edition "Weekender" models had two rear facing seats behind the front seats in place of a centre bench seat and a table that popped up from out of the wall. There also existed "Multivan" models, which had the Wolfsburg Edition trim and interior with rear-facing seats, but the Westfalia pop-top. All Wolfsburg Edition and camper van vehicles were specially converted for Volkswagen by the Westfalia factory, and it is these campers and converted vehicles that are still desirable today, due to their design and build quality.

There were four-wheel drive T3s that were branded by Volkswagen as "syncros". The manual transmission in the T3 syncro had an extra-low-ratio 'G' or 'Gelände gear' for slow off-road use, thus giving the appearance of a five-speed transmission (Gelände = cross country). 'G', 1st and 2nd are often used off-road.

(following section need revision and checking of stated facts)

Syncros were manufactured in limited numbers from 1985 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, these vehicles have surprisingly good off-road capabilities. They were sold in 14 and 16-inch wheel models, with the 16 inch not being sold in the USA; the 16-inch has a 1" longer wheelbase, bigger wheel wells, stronger rear driveshafts, larger CV joints, larger brakes all round, and some body stiffening (NB. 14" syncros are perfectly strong and stiff for heavy off-road work). The syncros all have extensive and strong underbody protection for the engine and transmission in the form of skid plates and bars. The drivetrains (transmissions) suffer from their own issues; as the transmission and rear final drive unit share the same oil, the standard differential housing is not that strong, the crown wheel and pinion are subject to premature failure if loads are carried and are very expensive to replace.

Syncros could be supplied with optional locking differentials; either front and rear, rear only or none at all depending on customer specifications and/or the country in which they were to be sold. The diff-locks help to prevent wheel slippage across an axle in off-road conditions, but don't change nor were intended to change the reliability of the transaxle or front differential. Diff locks are also considered a must for serious off-road work to overcome the vehicles limited axle articulation (measured by the Ramp Travel Index); they also give the T3 syncro a distinct edge in traction over many other off-road types, being easily switched on/off from the cab by the driver while on the move. During late production, VW added oil deflection plates into the transmission to enable better oil distribution. For these transmissions, fully synthetic gear oil is recommended. These gear boxes are very expensive to rebuild, and difficult to get properly rebuilt so they last.

Early in production, VW used a decoupler unit on the transaxle output shaft to disengage the drive forward to the front diff from the gearbox. This was replaced during production with a viscous coupling unit in the front differential. Due to the excess load put on the boxes from the drive of the front wheels back to the box, the viscous unit is prone to failure. The provision for a decoupler is still in the gear housing, the decoupler unit is expensive to buy and set up. It gives an advantage when driving on the highway, with the viscous coupling still available for slipperyt, icy and off-road conditions.

Model years 1980 to 1985 had round sealed beam headlights. All subsequent models for North American and European markets had 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, and the South African grille/headlight combination is a popular aftermarket accessory.

The T3 was replaced by the T4 (Eurovan) in the US market in 1993 (1992 saw no Volkswagen bus imported into the U.S. market, save custom campers sold by companies other than VW). Production of 2WD Caravelles continued in South Africa until 2002, the last models having Audi 2.6L 5-cyl engines, deeper rear windows, larger ventilated disk-brakes and many other modifications, being considered the best multi-seat (9~11) taxi then available in the SA market.

Many believe that Volkswagen should have re-engined the T3 with modern power-plants, and developed and continued to improve the vehicles, because their last models are still considered one of the best packaged Day-Van, Multi-van and Campers even today. Just as the T3 4WD syncro was being phased out, the great boom in off-road capable vehicles began, which Volkswagen missed, despite bringing out a syncro version of their Eurovan T4 FWD vehicles (which were not a fully engineered off-roader).

Top-of-the-line Wolfsburg Edition Westfalia Campers, which had all options, were at the top of the price range. Syncro-equipped examples in exceptional condition can command up to $80,000 USD today.

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 had optional aluminum alloy star-shaped wheels, (which were available at extra expense). Most came with standard black steel wheels with plastic flying saucer-shaped wheel covers.