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The fast and the furnished: A tour of modern Volkswagen bus campers


September 25, 2013

The all new SpaceCamper TH5 is powered by a Porsche engine and billed as the world's fastest camper (Photo: SpaceCamper)

The all new SpaceCamper TH5 is powered by a Porsche engine and billed as the world's fastest camper (Photo: SpaceCamper)

Image Gallery (44 images)

With the original Volkswagen T2 Microbus set for extinction, the days of VW bread loaf camper conversions appear numbered unless something like the Bulli concept comes to fruition. As Gizmag learned at the Dusseldorf Caravan Salon, however, the VW bus camper is not only alive in the 21st century, it's thriving.

The original Volkswagen T2 Microbus disappeared from more prominent markets decades ago, after its German production run ended in 1979. But it has continued production in Brazil to this very day, making it the longest produced vehicle model in history, according to VW. While other markets have moved through multiple generations of Transporter vans, up to the current T5, Brazil has pumped out the beloved Kombi continuously since September 1957.

Last year, news reports of a 2013 T2 demise began surfacing, indicating that Brazilian safety legislation requiring airbags and anti-lock brakes would officially make the antiquated mini-bus a thing of the past. Volkswagen revealed last month that the iconic bus will be phased out with a 600-model Last Edition version. Those 600 buyers will get their chance to buy into the VW T2 bus dream, but after that, daydreams of concert-to-concert road tripping in brand-new conversion campers will officially be outdated.

Or so the "half empty" crowd would have you believe. While later generations of Volkswagen vans don't have the distinctive styling or iconic status of the T2, they still make sound platforms for small, maneuverable, mobile-living caravans. In fact, the VW badge appeared again and again throughout the halls of the 2013 Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf, popping-up on everything from basic, factory-produced models to a juiced up camper billed as the fastest in the world.

Der SpaceCamper TH5, World's Fastest Camper

Gizmag covered German VW caravan outfitter SpaceCamper in depth a few years ago, and the company has added a few new innovations to its line of multi-use camper vans since then. At this year's show, it premiered what it calls the world's fastest camper, the SpaceCamper TH5 (pictured at the top of the article). Built with the help of TH Automobile, a German outfit that adds Porsche engines to Volkswagen vans, the TH5 caravan is powered by a 542-hp version of a 911 V6 engine. TH also donated other Porsche drive components, including the transmission, to give drivers confidence at up to 174 mph (280 km/h). SpaceCamper lists the starting price of the TH5 at an unsurprisingly hefty €250,000 (US$338,000).

The SpaceCamper TH5 is built on the VW T5-based SpaceCamper Open, which the company revealed at last year's Dusseldorf Salon. That model's name is derived from the dual side doors that help to make it airy and flexible. The kitchen unit pulls out of one of the side doors, getting you cooking outdoors mere minutes after you pull into the campsite.

Volkswagen California and Caddy Campers

The "people's car" manufacturer had plenty of its own campers on display, showcasing a series of California vans, as well as the smaller Caddy Tramper. Volkswagen does a lot with a small amount of space, packing amenities like stoves, sinks, fresh water tanks, and compressor cool boxes into its vans. While Volkswagen's camper vans didn't appear anywhere near as rugged as some of the fully equipped off-road rovers of the show, the manufacturer does offer 4Motion all-wheel drive and underbody protection packages.

The most notable of the California campers on display was the California Generation, which made its debut at the show. Designed to celebrate 25 years of the California – and some 100,000 models produced – the special edition Generation packs a long list of features, including an extended deluxe sleeping surface, dark tinted windows with reinforced sound insulation, a four-bicycle tailgate holder, a WLAN router in the glove compartment, and a ParkPilot obstacle monitoring system. As equipped at the show, the 180-hp, "Black Berry Metallic" Generation lists at €76,863.29, but less ambitious buyers can get started at €58,310.

It may have been its banana-yellow color, compact size, 4Motion all-wheel drive, cool pop-up roof box, or more likely a combination of all four, but we liked the 110-hp Caddy Tramper over all other official VW campers. The small, wagon-like van was displayed with camping amenities like a cool box, table and chairs, tailgate awning and ventilation grille. The show model lists at €37,762, and the base model Tramper starts at just under €21,000.

Terracamper Tecraft

Terracamper had several rugged off-road SUVs on display in addition to the Terock that we looked at last week. While the Tecraft, based on the large VW Crafter van, doesn't look quite as armed and dangerous as the Terock, due to the lack of a snorkel, it still brings plenty of hardware to the dirt, including 4Motion AWD, up to three differential locks and a 120-mm lift kit. Like the Terock, it can also be outfitted with a winch, snorkel and other off-road-specific accessories.

As with Terracamper's other models, a rail system inside allows the driver to quickly set the van up with furniture and equipment for camping, rearrange the layout, and strip it to an empty cabin for cargo hauling. The single rear seat is also removable. The van includes an 80-liter fresh water tank, inside/outside water system, portable toilet and two-burner stove.

HymerCar Cape Town

One of the most visually interesting VW van campers on display in Dusseldorf, the Cape Town from German manufacturer Hymer, adds some wood-style trim to the sides of a 2.0-liter VW T5, putting a contemporary spin on classic styling. The Cape Town includes a generous pop-top roof with folding double bed, insulated flooring and a 3-kW diesel auxiliary heater for winter use, a 35-liter fresh water tank with sink and shower, and a full kitchen with 49-liter compressor refrigerator and dual-burner stove. Hymer says that it carefully structured the layout of equipment to ensure spare space for recreational gear like skis and boards. The Cape Town comes in several interior layouts with seating for up to five, and prices start at €55,900.

You can tour these VW campers more closely in our photo gallery. Since it's pretty difficult to photograph every angle of a camper on a crowded show floor, we've added some manufacturer photos to give you a better feel for each model.

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

"World's fastest camper" I tend to expect driving a 174 mph would be a bit tricky in even the most well equipped van… I have been in a GMC conversion van sporting an Opal 410 and full race suspension at around 115MPH and the ride was actually pretty nice. A real challenge is slowing something like that down once it's going that fast regardless of the size of brakes; a strong smell of barbecue asbestos accompanied deceleration; the owner had to replace brake pads and rotors quite frequently. If I remember correctly he had to set the rear wheels out slightly to accommodate larger rotors. The guy who owned it was a real character now probably passed who went by the nickname of Grizz. He was an ACSE master mechanic and built it himself. His favorite activity at the time was laying very long patches in the quieter areas of Pepperell, MA. It also include a very thick front bumper made from I channel steel directly connected to the frame. He once told me about an adventure during which he pushed someone in a pickup truck right off the road in the course of a road rage "dispute".

Benjamin Greene

The problem with fast campervans, at least here in New Zealand, is that driving on winding roads fast, the stuff at the back can shift and unsecured portable toilet spill the beans literally! I do have a fast enough campervan, MB Sprinter which can keep up with the traffic. But on the other hand I prefer cruising slowly and enjoy the views. As my nickname suggests, I live in my van and I am already at home where ever I travel in NZ. This camper in this article might be justified for somebody living in Germany with those fast autobahns?

Henry Van Campa

Porsche 911 never had a V6.

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