Volkswagen pop-top campers, also known as VW campers or VW buses, have been a favorite choice for campers and travelers since the mid-50s. These iconic vehicles have a unique design, with a roof that can be raised to create more headroom and sleeping space.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss what defines a pop-top camper, the pros and cons of VW pop-top campers, and the different styles available.
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What is a VW Pop Top Camper?
A VW pop-top campervan is one of the most longstanding and well-known campervans ever made. It has a hinged roof at the front and can be raised to provide additional headroom and sleeping space.
Heavy-duty fabric is attached to the roof and provides walls around the section that is raised up. When the roof is “popped up,” it creates a comfortable sleeping area that can fit two kids or two adults. The sleeping quarters also feature windows on the fabric sides that can be opened to allow for ventilation and a panoramic view of the surrounding scenery.
Types of VW Pop Top Campers
VW pop-top campers come in various models and styles, each with its own unique features and characteristics. The price of VWs varies greatly depending on what condition the camper van is in. If you’re interested in VW campervans, we’re here to help you with your search.
Here is a list of the most popular types of VW pop-top campers:
VW Bus (T1/T2)
Also known as the “Splitty” or “Bay Window” campervan, this is the original VW pop-top camper that was first introduced in 1955. It has a classic retro look and features a split front windshield, a rounded body, and a pop-top roof, making the van big enough to accommodate up to four people. Two adults can sleep in the top bed, and two can sleep in the lower part of the camper van.
Any VW bus prior to 1968 is considered a collector’s piece now, and rarely used for actual camping today. From ’68 to ’79 a more modern version of the bus was released that a few die-hard VW fans are bold enough to maintain and use.
This VW pop-top camper was produced from 1980 to 1991. It has a much boxier shape than its predecessor and came in two versions: a fully converted camper van perfect for long trips, and a simpler model for weekenders.
Vanagons have a tight turning radius and good clearance, making them easier to drive down tight winding roads when looking for an epic campsite. Most Vanagons have rear-wheel drive, and some have a four-wheel “Syncro” option.
Westfalia or “Westy”
Many people have heard the term “Westy” and assumed it was any VW campervan. In fact, Westfalia, or Westfalia-Werke, is simply the name of the company that first started converting the well-loved VW Buses and Vanogans into campervans for recreational use.
Westfalia has been converting all types of vehicles into campervans for decades and is well known for its quality products. They focus on details, from the materials used to perfectly fitting everything into place, a Westfalia van conversion is practically a piece of art.
Produced from 1993 to 2003, this VW pop-top camper features a modern design with a flat front and square body. The most notable shift for the Eurovan camper is that the engine moved to the front of the camper van, instead of the traditional rear-stowed engine that Volkswagen was known for.
Eurovans are a more comfortable ride for sure but are lacking in other ways. They don’t have the clearance or turning radius that the Vanagon has, making them less desirable for those who like to get off the beaten path.
Winnebago started doing the camper conversions and although functional and aesthetically pleasing, the quality of craftsmanship just wasn’t the same. It’s rare to meet someone who is a fan of both the Vanagon and the Eurovan, as they are drastically different campervans that appeal to very different audiences.
Volkswagen Transporter and California Models
The VW Transporter and California models are newer, sleeker, and more modern than the prized VW campervans we’ve grown up seeing. Unfortunately, they are based in Europe and not available for purchase in the United States due to a very high tariff that is associated with exporting the vans to the US.
What’s Inside a VW Pop-Top Camper
The interior of VW pop-top campers is functional and most models have everything you need for a comfortable adventure of any length.
There is a surprisingly spacious kitchen area, complete with a propane cooktop, sink with (cold) running water, and a small refrigerator.
The driver and passenger seats are often on a swivel to add more seating room inside, and there is a small table that is mounted on a movable arm that can be utilized when sitting in the reversed seats.
Storage is located under the rear bench seat, and in cabinets easily accessible from the interior of the van. Often an aftermarket propane heater is installed under the passenger seat.
The rear bench seat can be folded down into a bed, and when the campervan roof is popped up, another sleeping space is above the lower bed. This makes for a convenient bed if you don’t want to have to convert the bench daily, and also makes more room for guests if you want to fit more people in your campervan.
There is also a “weekender” version of the Vanogan that is simpler with fewer amenities than the rest of the campervan models.
4 Pros and 4 Cons of a VW Pop-Top Camper
As with anything, there are always pros and cons to even the cutest and most popular of campervans. Even VW lovers themselves have a love/hate relationship with their quirky VW Bus, Vanagon, or Eurovan.
We’ve listed a few of the most common pros and cons of camping in one of these timeless adventure mobiles.
Pros of VW Pop-Top Campers
- Additional Sleeping Space: One of the biggest advantages of camping in a pop-top camper is the added sleeping space it provides. When the roof is raised, it creates a comfortable sleeping area that is separate from the main living area. This is especially useful for families with kids or friends who want to sleep separately.
- Compact Size: VW pop-top campers are relatively compact compared to other RVs, making them easier to maneuver and park in tight spaces. You can get around town just as easily as you can drive on narrow forest service roads, and you will have more parking options than larger campervans or RVs.
- Classic Design: The classic design of a VW pop-top camper is timeless and has a nostalgic appeal for many people. These vehicles are often associated with the 1960s and 1970s and have become an iconic symbol of the hippie era. They are also great conversation starters.
- Versatile: VW pop-top campers can be used for a variety of purposes, including camping, road trips, and as a primary vehicle. Some models are also suitable for off-road travel and can handle rugged terrain. There are a variety of upfitting options available to make your stock VW even more capable of exploring all types of forest roads.
Cons of VW Pop-Top Campers
- Limited space: While the compact size of VW pop-top campers is an advantage in many ways, it can also be a disadvantage. The living space is limited, and it can feel cramped if you have more than two people.
- Basic amenities: VW pop-top campers do not offer the same level of amenities as larger RVs. For example, they don’t have a bathroom (although you can add a portable toilet if you want) or a shower, the refrigerator is small, and the power system is very simple. Of course, there are lots of aftermarket amenities you can add to your VW campervan, but with limited space, there’s only so much you can do.
- Maintenance: As with any vehicle, VW pop-top campers require regular maintenance to keep them in good condition. Parts can be expensive, and repairs may be difficult to find, especially for older models. Not all mechanics are able to work on VWs, so if you don’t understand mechanics yourself, you’ll be at the mercy of whoever you can find to help when things break down.
- Weather-dependent: VW pop-top campers are not suitable for extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rain or snow. The pop-top roof can leak, and the camper is not well-insulated. If it’s windy the sound of the fabric walls on the pop-top can be loud and not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Is a VW Pop Top Camper Right for You?
VW campers are a great choice for camping enthusiasts who value versatility, compact size, and fuel economy. However, they may not be suitable for everyone, especially those who require more living space and amenities.
Each type of VW pop-top camper has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the one that best fits your needs and preferences. Whether you’re planning to live in one full-time, or are avid weekenders, be sure to consider factors such as size, fuel economy, amenities, and maintenance requirements when you decide what VW pop-top camper is right for you.