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I still remember when I first saw a VW pop top camper. I was at my grandparent’s house in Southern California, and they had a bright orange bus parked out front at the curb. It was the mid-1980s, and I was a child who loved crawling through the bus’ spacious interior. I marveled at the built-in kitchen, cabinets, bed and pop top roof.
I’m not the only one in love with this iconic van life machine. VW pop top campers have been an American camping dream since the 1950s.
If you’re wanting to hit the open road in an iconic VW, you’ll want to check out these makes and models to get inspired! Maybe soon, you’ll be camping in a bright orange Volkswagen, just like my grandparents used to do.
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Not ALL Volkswagen Camper Vans are Pop Tops
When you think of a VW Campervan, you’ll most likely envision a van parked at the beach with the pop up, surfers lingering around nearby. But Volkswagen buses didn’t start out as pop top campervans!
The journey of Volkswagen vans and their iconic pop-top feature is one steeped in ingenuity and a bit of aftermarket magic. The original VW campers, like the Type 1 or “Splitscreen,” didn’t come with a pop-top roof straight out of the factory. Instead, this feature was added through specialized conversions, most famously by the German company Westfalia.
Westfalia began converting VW vans into campers in the 1950s. Their conversions included practical amenities like storage, a kitchenette, and the ever-important pop-top roof. The pop-top feature became one of the main reasons why VW campers gained a cult following among van lifers and outdoor enthusiasts. It provided extra headroom, ventilation, and a second double bed, making the compact van feel like a spacious tiny home on wheels.
This collaboration between Volkswagen and Westfalia continued through various VW models, including the Type 2 (T2), known as the Bus, and its successor, the Vanagon (or Type 2 T3). These Westfalia-converted models are so ingrained in van culture that many people assume all VW campers come with a pop-top, when in fact it’s a feature specifically added through the Westfalia conversion.
Types of VW Pop Top Campers
VW camper vans come in various models and styles, each with its own unique features and characteristics. Most of them were converted by Westfalia, with Winnebago taking over with the VW Eurovan.
Here is a list of the most popular types of VW pop-top campers:
VW Westfalia Campers, AKA “Westies”
- Small kitchenette complete with a sink, stove, and refrigerator
- Thoughtfully designed storage spaces
- Pop-up roof
- A Cult Classic: The Westfalia name carries weight in the van life community, and owning one is like joining an exclusive club.
- Compact and Nimble: Most Westfalias are built on smaller van frames, making them easier to handle and park than some modern, bulkier models.
- Resale Value: Due to their iconic status, well-maintained Westfalias can hold or even appreciate in value over time.
- Age: Many Westfalias are vintage models, which can mean more frequent maintenance and difficulty finding replacement parts.
- Space: While cozy, the compact nature of most Westfalias means less space for storage or moving around.
- Cost: The Westfalia’s iconic status also makes it a more expensive option compared to other, less famous van conversions.
- Driving Experience: Many owners of the VW Westfalia say its sluggish, and doesn’t go up hills very well
Volkswagen and Westfalia’s partnership is the stuff of van life legend. These converted VW vans with an elevating roof became synonymous with freedom, adventure, and a carefree approach to living on the road. Westfalia took basic VW van models and transformed them into cozy, compact homes on wheels. What makes a Westfalia special isn’t just its functionality, but also its soul. Each model captures a sense of wonder and wanderlust, making it more than just a vehicle; it’s a lifestyle statement.
Westfalia worked on various Volkswagen models over the years, creating iconic camper conversions that have been beloved by van lifers and outdoor enthusiasts. Here’s a rundown of some key VW models that Westfalia converted:
Known as the “Splitscreen,” this is the original VW camper that laid the foundation for the iconic Westfalia conversions. Though the original didn’t feature a pop-top, later aftermarket conversions often did.
Often just called the “Bus,” the T2 was another classic converted by Westfalia. Unlike its predecessor, this model often came with a pop-top, making it a favorite among those living the van life.
VW Vanagon (T3)
The successor to the T2, the Vanagon Westfalia provided a roomier and more modern canvas for Westfalia to work its magic. These models featured improved amenities and are still highly sought after today.
These models form the core of the Westfalia-Volkswagen partnership, each offering its own unique charm and set of advantages for van life enthusiasts.
Eurovan Pop Up VW Camper (T4)
- Pop Top
- Kitchenette with two-burner stove and fridge
- Lots of storage space
- Longer wheelbase than previous VW vans
- Modern Comforts: The Eurovan came equipped with modern amenities like air conditioning and an auxiliary battery, making life on the road more comfortable.
- Spacious Interior: Thanks to its larger footprint, the Eurovan offers more room for storage and movement compared to classic VW models.
- Powerful Engine: The Eurovan features more robust engine options, offering better performance for those long-haul drives.
- Less Fuel-Efficient: The Eurovan’s larger size and more powerful engine can mean less fuel efficiency, impacting long-term travel costs.
- Harder to Park: Its increased size makes it a bit less nimble in tight spaces compared to smaller VW models.
- Higher Price Point: Well-maintained Eurovan models can come with a hefty price tag, especially those in excellent condition.
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 weekender, as they are drastically different campervans that appeal to very different audiences.Photo: 2003 VW EuroVan Camper. Available for Rent on Outdoorsy.
- Hydraulic pop-top roof for extra sleeping space.
- Integrated kitchen unit with a two-burner gas hob, stainless steel sink, fresh and waste water tanks, and a Waeco compressor cool box.
- 8” Ready to Discover infotainment system with wireless app-connect.
- Additional LED lighting in the pop-up roof, tailgate, and kitchen cupboards.
- 3-Zone climatronic climate control for tailored comfort.
- Folding table to use outside your campervan
- Turnkey Solution: The California comes fully equipped for van life, eliminating the need for aftermarket conversions.
- State-of-the-Art Amenities: Modern conveniences like climate control and advanced navigation systems make it a comfortable choice for extended travel.
- Safety First: Equipped with the latest safety features such as airbags and driver-assist technologies, the California is built for secure adventuring.
- Limited Availability: This model is primarily designed for the European market, making it less accessible for those in other regions.
- High Cost: The California’s array of features and modern conveniences come with a premium price tag
The VW California models are newer, sleeker, and more modern than the prized VW campervans we’ve grown up seeing. Targeted mainly at the European market but capturing hearts worldwide, this factory-fitted new vehicle comes with everything you’d need for life on the road. Imagine whipping up a meal in the middle of nowhere with the California 6.1’s fully fitted kitchen, featuring a cool box, sink, and stove.
Even the California 6.1 Beach Camper version offers a mini-kitchen that’s perfect for basic meal prep and tucks away easily when you’re on the move. And don’t forget about the camping table and chairs—ready for an outdoor feast or easily storable to maximize interior space.
The reimagined pop top on these California campers works electronically – all you have to do is push a button to create more space and an extra bed.
We were just in Europe in a campervan rental and saw TONS of these small VW California vans at campgrounds and on the roads. We do find it hilarious that even though these are called the VW California, you don’t see them in California!
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.
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