Volkswagen Type 2 (T3)

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Volkswagen Type 2 (T3)
Vw t3 s sst.jpg
Manufacturer Volkswagen
Also called Volkswagen Transporter (Europe)
Volkswagen Caravelle (Europe), (Australia) [1]
Volkswagen T25 (Technically incorrect)
Volkswagen Vanagon (North America)
Volkswagen Microbus (South Africa)
Volkswagen Transporter (Australia)[1]
Production May 1979–June 2002[2]
Assembly Hannover, Germany
Graz, Austria
Uitenhage, South Africa
Body and chassis
Class Light commercial vehicle (M)
Body style 3-door van
3-door pickup
Layout Rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive
Platform Volkswagen Group T3 platform
Engine 1.6 L H4 (petrol, air-cooled)
1.9 L H4 (petrol, water-cooled)
2.0 L H4 (petrol, air-cooled)
2.1 L H4 (petrol, water-cooled)
2.3 L I5 (petrol, water-cooled)
2.5 L I5 (petrol, water-cooled)
2.6 L I5 (petrol, water-cooled)
1.6 L I4 (diesel)
1.7 L I4 (diesel)
Transmission 4-speed manual
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
Wheelbase 2,461 mm (96.9 in)
2,456 mm (96.7 in) (GL syncro Camper)
Length 4,569 mm (179.9 in)
Width 1,844 mm (72.6 in)
Height 1,928 mm (75.9 in)
1,735 mm (68.3 in) (Carat)
2,055 mm (80.9 in) (Camper)
2,085 mm (82.1 in) (GL syncro)
Predecessor Volkswagen Type 2 (T2)
Successor Volkswagen Transporter (T4)

The Volkswagen Type 2 (T3) was the third generation of the Volkswagen Transporter and was marketed under various nameplates worldwide – including as the Transporter or Caravelle in Europe, Microbus in South Africa, and as the Vanagon in North and South America.

Larger and heavier than its predecessor, the T2, – and with a more squared and less rounded styling – the T3 was manufactured in Germany from 1979 until 1990. Production of the 2WD (mostly for official use, like postal service or German army) continued until 1992 at Puch in Graz/Austria, where all 4WDs had been built. South African production of the T3 continued, for that market only, until 2002. The T3 was the final generation of rear-engined Volkswagens.


Following the Type 2 T2, the Type 2 T3 initially featured air-cooled and subsequently water-cooled engines. Versions produced in South Africa from 1990 until 2002 featured an Audi five-cylinder engine.

Volkswagen marketed the Westfalia camper variant throughout the T3 production, with features including a pop up roof, refrigerator, sink, and stove.


Examples built between 1979 and 1985 featured round headlights and chrome-plated steel bumpers with plastic end-caps. Air-cooled models (1979 to mid-1983) lack the lower grill above the radiator of the water-cooled models, except on models with factory air conditioning. 1986 model year vehicles received revisions including a tachometer, more fabric choices, redesigned air conditioner, larger water-cooled engine with a more advanced engine management system, and redesigned transmissions including an optional Syncro four-wheel drive. Exterior changes include rectangular headlights (on selected models) and different paint options. Alloy wheels, larger and squarer plastic bumpers with trim along the rocker panels were optional, and standard equipment on Hannover Edition vans. For 1990 and 1991 model years, a "Carat" trim level was available which included all available options (except Westfalia conversion and 4WD).

All 1979, 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 has created a version called B32 in a limited edition. The van, based on the luxurious Carat model, was equipped with the 231 PS (170 kW) 3.2 liter Carrera engine and was originally developed to support Porsche's testing activities in Algeria. Ten of these were built, with some sold by Porsche to special customers. Porsche themselves also used the Porsche-engined bus to transport staff rapidly.[3] Top speed was around 135 mph (217 km/h), although Porsche only claimed 116 mph (187 km/h) to ensure that the numbers could be replicated with nine people in the car and with the air conditioning on full.[3]

Oettinger has developed a six-cylinder version called WBX6. The engine is derived from the "Wasserboxer" engine and has many common parts with it. The development of the engine was originally contracted to Oettinger by VW. Oettinger bought the rights when VW decided not to use it.


With the internal combustion 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 equal upon both the front and back ends of the vehicle. Unlike the T2 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 essentially standard equipment in later models).

The automatic was a standard hydraulic three-speed unit, the same 090/010 unit as used in Audis of the era. These 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; from 1983 a 5-speed transmission was available as an option on certain models; a 5-speed was fitted as standard on Syncro four-wheel drive models.

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

The oil filler tube for the engine is located behind the flip-down license plate door, as is the oil dipstick and the power steering fluid reservoir (when fitted). Most vans had a twist-on/off gas cap right on the outside just under and behind the passenger side door. A locking cap was optional. The spare tyre lies in a tray under the very front of the van (as the engine is in the back), just below the radiator.


Because of the engine placement, a T3 has nearly equal 50/50 weight distribution fore and aft. The early air-cooled engines were somewhat expensive to produce and had some reliability problems. Volkswagen originally meant to replace them with the Golf's inline-four engine but the cost of re engineering both car and engine made them opt for updating the flat-four instead.[4] An overhead-cam design was mooted but rejected as willingness to rev was considered to be of less importance than low-end flexibility and low cost.[4] The new 1.9 "Wasserboxer" (for water-cooled boxer) was also originally considered for use in certain other Volkswagens such as the Gol, which still relied on the old air-cooled flat-four at that time.[5]

The U.S version 1.9 liter 1984 and the later 1985 and up water-cooled gasoline engines experienced significant and repeated problems with cylinder head surface erosion and coolant leaks. 2.1lr engines suffered the same, mostly due to not having the antifreeze changed often enough.


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. Aftermarket VW specialist Oettinger also offered the WBX6, a six-cylinder version.

  • Air-cooled (1979–1982)
  • Water-cooled (1983 onwards)
    • 1.9 litre engines:
      • 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (83 bhp) (Serial # DH) water-cooled (or "Wasserboxer") engine used for the 1983½ to 1985 models, which used a fuel injection system known as "Digijet" (Digital Jet-tronic)
      • 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (59 bhp) (Serial # DF) 8.6:1 compression ratio, 34-PICT carburetor
      • 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (76 bhp) (Serial # DG) 8.6:1 compression ratio, 2E3 or 2E4 carburetor
      • 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (55 bhp) (Serial # EY) 7.5:1 compression ratio, 34-PICT carburetor
      • 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (89 bhp) (Serial # GW) 8.6:1 compression ratio, Bosch Digijet electronic fuel injection
    • 2.1 Litre engines:
      • 2.1 L (2,109 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" which now digitally managed ignition timing as well as fuel delivery.
      • 2.1 L (2,109 cc) (90 bhp) (Serial # SS) 9:1 compression ratio Wasserboxer
      • 2.1 L (2,109 cc) (112 bhp)(torque 128) (Serial # DJ) 10.3:1 compression ratio, Digijet injection, only sold in European countries not requiring catalytic converter.

The Wasserboxer featured an aluminum case, cylinder heads, and pistons, and a forged steel crankshaft. The Wasserboxer, as with all VW boxer engines has a gear-driven camshaft. It also featured Heron, or "bowl-in-piston" type combustion chambers where the combustion takes place within the piston bowl area, and not just in the cylinder head as would be the case with flat top pistons..

The switch to water-cooled boxer engines was made mid-year in 1983. T2 transporters or 'bay window' vans, produced in Brazil until 2013, were switched to in-line 4-cylinder water-cooled engines and a front-mounted radiator in 2005.

  • Oettinger WBX6 (aftermarket)
      • 3.2 L (3,164 cc) (165 bhp) VW-Oettinger Wasserboxer, fuel injected.
      • 3.7 L (3,664 cc) (180 bhp) VW-Oettinger Wasserboxer, fuel injected.

The six-cylinder engine as used in the VW Oettinger WBX6 was developed by VW in conjunction with Oettinger for use in the T3. When VW abandoned the project, Oettinger took the design, refined it and put it on the market. As such the six-cylinder shares many parts with the four-cylinder Wasserboxer.

Diesel engines[edit]

In contrast to the standard flat-four gasoline engines, all diesel engine options were of an L4 inline configuration.

  • 1.6 L (1,588 cc) (37 kW / 50 PS / 49 bhp) (Serial # CS) Naturally aspirated Diesel I4, available in the US on 1982/3 models only.
  • 1.6 L (1,588 cc) (51 kW / 70 PS / 69 bhp) (Serial # JX) Turbocharged I4.
  • 1.7 L (1,715 cc) (42 kW / 57 PS / 56 bhp) (Serial # KY) Natural aspirated I4.

US model variations[edit]

1988 California-spec VW Vanagon Wolfsburg Edition

US Vanagon model variations included the Vanagon, featuring vinyl seats and a spartan interior; the Vanagon L with optional cloth seats, more upscale interior panels, and an optional dashboard blower; the Vanagon GL with more equipment, and the Westfalia pop-top camper Vanagons, which came in two versions. A Camper version with integrated kitchen, complete with refrigerator (which ran on Propane, 110V or 12V), a two burner stove, and stainless steel sink with onboard water supply. A fold down rear bench seat converted to a bed and the pop-top included a fold out bed; these models could sleep four adults. A 'Weekender ' version which lacked the refrigerator, propane stove, and sink of the full 'camper' versions offered an optional removable cabinet with a 12 volt cooler and self-contained sink. In 1984, the Wolfsburg edition was configured with a rear bench seat and two forward-facing middle seats. Under the bench seat, which folded down to make full size bed, was a storage compartment and a rear heater.

Wolfsburg Edition "Weekender" models featured two rear-facing seats behind the front seats in place of a centre bench seat and a table that could fold up from the sidewall – or fold down when not in use. "Multivan" models featured Wolfsburg Edition trim and an interior with rear-facing seats. Wolfsburg Edition and camper van vehicles were outfitted for Volkswagen by the Westfalia factory.

Syncro models 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.

Model years 1980 to 1985 had round sealed beam headlights. Subsequent models for North American and European markets had round sealed beam headlights or 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.

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). Top-of-the-line Wolfsburg Edition Westfalia Campers, which had all options, were at the top of the price range. 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 wheels.

South African models[edit]

Production of the T3 continued in South Africa until June 2002, when, due to the economies of scale, Volkswagen SA were obliged to discontinue production after parts supply started to become an issue. The South African T3s post 1991 had a face-lift which included modified front door sheet metal, bigger side windows behind the B pillars and different rear grilles in the D pillars. The bodyshell is a true RHD design lacking the unused door track cover on the offside and LHD wiper arm mount points as found on earlier models (which were originally designed as an adaptation of a LHD Twin-sliding door bodyshell). On models with 5-cylinder engines the boot floor was raised to accommodate the taller engine and has small storage areas either side of the engine hatch. Internal changes include a fully padded dashboard featuring a smaller glove box and updated vacuum-powered ventilation controls operated by round knobs rather than slide levers, the fuse box was also relocated to the right hand side of the steering column. At the front of the vehicle twin-headlamps in both round and rectangular configurations were fitted along with a full width lower grille incorporating the indicator lenses, which were changed from amber to smoked lenses from 1999 onwards, this grille and headlight combination was not found anywhere else in the world. These later South African T3s became known as Big Window T3s due to their larger side windows.

The 2.1 Wasserboxer engines were replaced with five-cylinder Audi engines in the "Microbus" and "Caravelle", while a VW 1.8 inline-four cylinder engine was used in the "Kombi" and "Van" models. The 5-cylinder T3's came out initially with a 2.5 litre fuel injected engine in 1991, but this was replaced in 1995 with a 2.6 litre with an improved fuel injection system, 5-speed transmission and two styles of 15" alloy wheels as standard (Rhein or Starburst) along with larger ventilated front disc brakes. A slightly lower spec 2.3 five cylinder fuel-injected model was introduced along with the 2.6 but was equipped with a 4-speed transmission and modified wrap-around steel bumpers. Near the end of production, a top of the range Caravelle 2.6i known as the "Exclusiv" incorporated two rear-facing seats in place of the centre bench seat, a fridge and a folding table in the back of the vehicle and Carat 2 alloy wheels. A Microbus 2.6i with similar features, but with Rhein alloy wheels was known as the "Activ". The last T3 off the production line in Uitenhage on Friday June 16, 2002 was a gold-coloured Microbus 2.6i which Volkswagen SA retained for their AutoPavilion, Place of Cars and Legends, which first opened its doors in 2004. The vehicle was later written off in a transporter roll-over accident in November 2006, after returning from a display in Cape Town.[6]

Five-cylinder Audi Engines used
  • 2.3i (AFU) 90 kW
  • 2.5i (AAY) 100 kW
  • 2.6i (ADV) 100 kW

Approximately 45 WBX6 engines were imported to South Africa.

Eighty-nine Big Window T3's came out in the Syncro Edition from 1991 to 1992.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Australian Brochures, Retrieved on 24 January 2014
  2. ^ "Goodbye 'Gus'". Car Magazine (South Africa). Ramsay Media. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Kacher, Georg (September 1984). Cropley, Steve, ed. "Autobahn activist". Car. London, UK: FF Publishing: 99–100. 
  4. ^ a b Kacher, Georg (May 1982). "Intertruck: Germany". TRUCK. London, UK: FF Publishing Ltd: 31. 
  5. ^ Kacher (May 1982), p. 33
  6. ^ "Pics: VWSA museum cars destroyed in wreck". 

External links[edit]