“1986 Volkswagen Westfalia for sale. Original engine, 290,000 miles. Manual transmission. The refrigerator needs repair and minor rust in the usual spots. $18,500 OBO no trades.”
Yikes. Nearly $20,000 for a high-mileage camper van? What’s the deal with that? Anyone who spends time on Craigslist knows that Volkswagen Westfalia vans are not the bargain they used to be. It seems like everybody and their mother wants one, and sellers have an upper-hand in the pricing department.
Nobody says that Westfalias aren’t worth a reasonable price. But when and why did they get so expensive? Are they objectively better than cheaper American-made camper vans? Here’s why VW Westy campers are so expensive these days.
Original Volkswagen T2 vans (Transporter, Kombi, Microbus, however you refer to them) used to be dirt cheap. Remember, the 1980s were a time when judgemental car people viewed even the loveable Beetle as a ‘crappy little import’ that was driven by boring people who needed a cheap grocery-getter.
That’s not to say the VW culture didn’t exist—it’d been around since the 1960s. But nobody paid $10,000 for a $1,500 van, and even fewer people predicted that the rust-bucket T2 would become a hot classic car.
By the end of the 1970s, the T2 felt dated. 1930s technology simply couldn’t keep up with fuel injection, automatic transmissions, and other mass-market advances that were rapidly becoming standard. Volkswagen introduced the T3, which retained many of the good design principles of the T2 but was better suited for the modern market.
Westfalia vans always commanded a higher price than factory Vanagons. But the cost didn’t skyrocket until well after the last new T3 reached American shores in 1992.
Nothing depreciates like used German cars do, with one notable exception. Old Volkswagen products. And we’re not talking about ‘classic’ Volkswagen and Mercedes cars—we’re talking about T3 vans from the 1980s and 1990s.
Even dinky German compact convertibles demand a premium these days. The reason is clear: these vehicles achieved icon status in American culture.
The Westfalia is a utility and a symbol of freedom, exploration, and independence. Plus, it lacks the ‘creep’ factor of old Chevy, Ford, and Dodge vans. Over 50 years of culture drives the reputation of the Volkswagen van, and as a result, the price.
Simplicity and Reliability
You can find parts for the air-cooled T2 Volkswagen anywhere in the world. The water-cooled T3, while not quite as ubiquitous, is a lot safer and still fairly common everywhere. And if you’re not satisfied with the gutless factory powerplant, a Subaru swap will likely do the trick.
VW Westfalia Campers are Better
The Volkswagen Vanagon platform is robust and reliable. Westfalia design is just about as practical as a campervan can get. All in all, the Germans created the perfect product. It really is that simple; nothing comes close.
No other mass-produced vehicle functions so well as a house and a car. Westfalia designed an interior layout so thoughtfully that nobody could do any better. Here’s a small sample of what VW and Westfalia managed to fit into about 93 square feet:
- 2 Beds
- 2 Tables
- Hanging Wardrobe
- Water Storage
- Gas Storage
- Power Facilities
- Captain’s Chair
- Overhead Storage
- Sound System
…all while preserving the Vanagon’s utility as a car. It’s compact, efficient, comfortable, and spacious enough for 4 adults to travel and live comfortably for at least a day or two. Not to mention the thousands of people who ‘live the van life’ full-time.
Fact of the matter is that people will pay a premium for value. In the case of the Westfalia, this iconic box offers the best value available. Nothing built before or since even came close. And though the barrier-to-entry is high, owning and experiencing a Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia is completely worth it.