Buying a bus ( VW type 2a and 2b) novice guide.

Discussion in 'Buying a VW Camper' started by Poptop2, Sep 6, 2015.

  1. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Along the lines of the new owners guide I have decided to do a simple guide to buying a bus.

    Previously I have bought both well and badly,so can speak with a little authority on the subject. This will be primarily aimed at novice prospective owners. Although it may be a good memory jogger to a few of us.

    The bay window
    is a very simple monocoque vehicle that sits on a heavy steel chassis that is made up of two main chassis rails, ouriggers and jacking points. They are vitally important as they complete the monocoque structure, and as such should all be in good condition.

    The engine is in the back and consequently all controls and electrics run a long way to the front of the van, this can cause issues regarding wear and poor linkages. More about that later.

    1. All bays from the period 67/8 until 79 came from the factory with a type of aircooled engine, either a type 1 upright, or a type 4 pancake. I will post up pictures of each in time.

    The bay window left the factory in one of four forms.

    1 - Panel van - van without windows, three front seats and a full bulkhead behind the seats. The main option was single sliding door or double.commonly known as a twin slider. A van with sliding doors either side of the van.


    2 - Microbus. a bay with windows and passenger seats in the rear built in at the factory. These were favoured by conversion companies as the windows were already built into the side panels. As with the panel van, the main option was single or twin slider. Twin sliding doors would mean a none walkthrough ( Area between driver and passenger seat allowing access to rear ) and full length half height bulkhead behind the three seats.


    3 single cab pick up. A pick up truck with single cab. three seats in the front and window directly behind. Known as a sika - Short for einzingelkabine ( single cab) in German.


    4- Double cab. Dopplekaben, Doka or crewcab. As above single cab, but with two rows of seats enabling a crew of workers to be transported. The crewcab has a shorter loadbed than a single cab.


    There of course were other variations such as fire tenders. cherry pickers etc, These were normally based on the crew or single cab and fabricated after factory at companies such as Kemperink, a specialised conversion company that also built campers.

    I think that is a simple eough guideline to the type of bay window vehicle offered. It doesn't need to be comprehensive as we are mainly concerned with the purchase of a motorhome and the issues that may effect your purchase.

    To explain the type 2A and 2b. The split screen bus was a type 2 ( beetles being type 1's) A bay window camper built after Aug 1967 and before Aug 72 had low front indicators and was a type 2A. A bay window camper built after Aug 72 has higher placed front indicators and was denoted a type 2B, or late bay.

    It is a very extensive subject to address from a everyone's angle, so I will try and address it from the point of view of a complete novice wanting a good bus with minimal work in the first instance. In passing I will refer to restoration and the type of owner that may be considering a purchase for restoration.

    Right. First thing to remember is, a lot of these vehicles have been driven around for over 40 years. They have usually by now had a myriad of owners and been used for a assortment of purposes, from being a daily driver through to being a makeshift spare room and not actually moving from that spot for some years, as they have stood they could easily rot from the inside out, condensation, cooking and washing leaves water that has to end up somewhere, and we all know water runs down, the sills, jacking points and outriggers provide perfect traps for the water and the result is rust. The other thing that rots out a vehicle in the UK is salt. In the winter we add salt to our roads to melt ice. This salt mixed with the wet from the road clings to the underside of all vehicles and in time accelerates the rust process.

    The other cause of rot is poor maintenance and exposed metal. if there is way of water getting in, it will. particularly along the window seals. Always check around the window seals. jacking points, outriggers and chassis for rust or signs of repair. Some repairs are good, some not. buyer beware. get underneath and have a look. if you're not confident to do so get a friend to come along who will.

    If the vehicle you are buying is a British market vehicle that has been used on our roads for 30 plus years, it is likely to be suffering from or has suffered from the problems listed above and further on in this thread. You will be very lucky to buy a UK bus that hasn't.

    A UK bus is usually a bus with the steering wheel on the right and the sliding door on the left. I say usually, but I have seen a uk bus with a slider on the right only, which I think was once a twin slider with the LH slider welded up. I have even seen a UK registered from new bus that was LHD.

    It will pay you as a prospective buyer to familiarise yourself with the different conversions and engines before you set off on your quest as this is quite important re adaptations done by previous owners. It will help if you can find the M plate and have it decoded. it will tell you what the bus came out of the factory as, what colour it was, where it was destined and the day of manufacture.

    A M plate will look like this and be behind the passenger seat on the bulkhead pre 76 and on the airpipe below the glove box post 76.

    Decode your M plate in this link here. Follow the instructions on the page.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 31, 2023
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  2. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Chassis numbers.

    The chassis number is located in two main places. On a plate behind the drivers seat and a matching number will be stamped into the chassis lip just inside the engine bay left.

    Vin plate


    Rear chassis stamp


    If these numbers do not match up, think carefully before purchasing and do a hpi check.

    While you are in the engine bay have a good look at the engine. Pull the flywheel ( The bottom one that the fan belt sits in) towards you, if it moves outwards the engine is likely suffering from end float. Basically the casing where the crank sits is worn thin. It can be shimmed, but in all likelihood is a expensive repair.

    While your head is in there take a look at the peripherals. Look at the base of the engine bay, if you can see the floor there is some tinware or the foam gasket missing. This is vitally important for efficient cooling of the engine, in the case of the tinware it can be expensive to replace.

    Check the oil. They should have a oil change every 3000 miles, this does not give it time to clog up or go sticky and black. It should be dark,but clear. There should be no small metal filings in it and it should be to the mark on the dipstick. The dipstick is located below the alternator on the right hand side.

    Check for pipes hanging that look as if they should be connected to something - they should!

    Look at the general condition of the engine bay walls, pay particular attention to the top of the chassis rails and battery trays either side of the engine. They are both prone to rot. Look below and around the area for excessive oil leaks. People say ' They all leak oil' They shouldn't,but often do. It is up to you what you deem excessive, I regard any oil leak above the tinware as excessive. Look again at the piping if this is the case, the oil Breather pipe on the right behind the dipstick may have come adrift.

    Ask the owner to start up the vehicle ( if it's a runner) while you stand at the back with the engine lid open. Look out for excessive black smoke and listen for unusual noises. If it doesn't sound right, it isn't right. Excessive black smoke can signify valve or ring wear.

    Think hard and long before handing over your cash if any of the above apply, seek further advice and remember, you can now barter the price down.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2023
  3. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Body work.

    Body work is the area of paneling from the sills to the roof, including all doors, roof and front panel.

    Start with a general view from a short distance. You are looking for straight lines along the whole of the vehicle, the vehicle should sit level on the ground and the doors should all line up with the shuts. The gaps should not be wider at the top than the bottom or one side to another. the doors should open and close with ease. there should be no lifting to shut them or squeaking and tight hinges. if there are, look for signs of other problems such as bad repairs to the doors or posts they hang on or close to. ( A and B posts) While you have the front doors open, lift the cab floor mat completely and check for rust, check the cab step at this point too. The cab step and cab floor are very commonly prone to rot and can be a expensive repair as usually the whole wheel arch and cab floor will need replacing.

    Try the sliding door, it should slide easily in and out of the opening. The runners should work easily and the bottom sill rail will be clean and not rusted through. The sill area of the sliding door and all door pillars should be checked at the bottom for rot along with the inner and outer sill both sides of the vehicle. These are all repairable, but will cost money. Take a jotter book and begin a list of jobs you notice. While you are at the side door pop your head under and if there is no belly pan, check the cargo floor for rot in that area. if there are belly pans fitted, hit the them sharply with the flat of your hand and listen for sounds of flaked off will make a racket if there is a lot of it settled on the top of the belly pan. If there is and you still like the vehicle, ask the owner if you can come back and see them unbolted, or try the best you can to see if there is rot above them or in the chassis and floor pans.

    The belly pan is a panel beneath the chassis members that covers the underside of the vehicle. Quite often it has been removed, either because it has rotted,or for access to the underside. It is better if they are fitted,but not too worrying if they aren't.

    All doors should be checked, along with Engine lid, rear hatch and around window seals. The roof gutters should be inspected for filler and repairs, they should be straight and filler free. Gutter repairs usually mean roof repairs too. Think hard before buying a van that needs gutter repairs.

    Look at each door individually, commonly cab doors rot through around the bottom front and base front.The skin rots from the frame and quite often a lot of doors are filled. Treat every door on the vehicle to the same inspection. Inspect the rubber around the front windscreen carefully, the front of the vehicle is covered by one large panel, it often rots out from the windscreen seals down. Inspect the front panel carefully. A badly fitted New front panel will lead to future door opening issue's if there isn't already. Listen carefully to what the seller tells you about the vehicle, if you find your delving contradicting his description too often, walk away or quiz him as to why he has it wrong.
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2015
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  4. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Chassis rails, Outriggers and jacking points.

    They can often end up looking like this beneath the rust.



    Buyer beware. You should inspect these carefully for signs of rot. They are made of reasonably strong steel and surface rust can be acceptable. If you can push a finger through, or it is rusted through it is likely to need completely replacing.

    This picture shows the jacking point after repair.


    Inspect the chassis rails beneath the cab. They form a V shape and are often rusted through. At the front of the vehicle welded to the chassis rail ends is a valance that runs from A post to A post. inspect this for rust. On a bay pre 72 ( low indicator model)the valance is covered by the front bumper. On a late bay 72 on a deformation panel is connected to the valance. This too needs inspecting for rust.

    Front beam. The front beam is the large metal tubing that runs from side to side beneath the connects the front road wheels to the vehicle and is the main steering and suspension unit on the vehicle. A quick visual check for rust is essential before your test drive.

    It should look like this

    IMG_9810.jpeg IMG_9811.jpeg

    Not this


    The rust in the bottom of the tower is not terminal, but will cost to get repaired.

    if you have been diligent and inspected all of the above for rust, you have now completed the initial walk round stage of your inspection. Time for a drive.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2023
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  5. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The test drive.

    Before you test drive any vehicle on a public road be sure you are insured and legal to do so.

    Before you take the vehicle far or at any speed - try the brakes. If they do not work well, either try pumping them and drive cautiously, or stop and get out.

    The handbrake is in the middle beneath the dash, pull it out slightly, twist to the left and release. You should feel the brakes release. If there is no noticeable difference or the brake lever control feels loose to operate, something is amiss, be cautious and do not trust it on a steep hill.

    The van should drive in a straight line.It should stop at junctions when you touch the brake. It should not wander across the road, it should not keep rolling when you apply the brakes, there should be no unusual knocks and noises from the road wheel/suspension, the steering should be stiff but positive. and it should not smell of fumes in the cab area. It will be slower and less responsive than a modern day car, this is perfectly normal. drive it as you feel comfortable. you will soon get the hang of it.

    Satisfied the van drives how it should without leaving plumes of black smoke in your wake, then it's time to check out the electrics.

    Checklist for electrics.

    Horn. sidelights, main lights, dipped and high beam, hazards, indicators, wipers. brake lights.

    If all of the above work you have a rarity. Now check out the rest of the interior.

    If you are purchasing a camper with conversion and pop top, the first thing to do is lift up the pop top. check for ease of use and ripped canvas, this can be expensive to repair. ask the owner to explain the workings of the camper conversion. cooker,fridge, beds, heater etc. do a visual and manual check on all cupboards, and working components. Again they can be expensive or hard to replace, ask the owner if he/she has any parts that should be with the conversion stored away.

    Last edited: Sep 8, 2015
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  6. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    The two main types of engine. Plus a note about Subaru conversions.

    The two main types of engine in a VW bay are the type 1 1600 upright and the Type 4 1700 to 2000cc pancake engine. It is easy to distinguish between the two by simply looking in the engine bay. A quick glance will tell you if its a later pancake engine from the uncluttered area above the engine and the lower height of the actual engine. A type 1 upright engine seems to cram the engine bay from base to top with air blowers, carbs and oil bath filters. Once you have become accustomed to the difference it is relatively easy to distinguish between the two.

    This a standard type 1 1600 engine and how it should look. Sometimes the air filter to the right is modified with chrome air filters which sit on top of the carb or carbs depending if the engine has been retrofitted with twin carbs. They can be bored and the top end changed to 1641cc and higher. This would not be a factory fit. It would be a aftermarket adaption.


    This is a type 4 pancake engine. The earlier ones came with a carbureted system and the later with a injected system. They ranged in sizes from 1700 up to 2000 and higher with adaption.

    The engine on your inspection vehicle should start at the first turn of the key, be reasonably clean and run smoothly. It should not misfire and smoke. If it does, you may have future issues.

    Although not strictly all engine issues. When test driving The gears should go in easily and when pulling away, should not judder and should feel quite smooth in acceleration. If any of those issues occur You may have further problems after purchase.

    Subaru conversion.

    A popular engine conversion is a water cooled Subaru engine. It is usually fitted via a adapter plate to the existing gearbox with a fabricated radiator hung between the chassis rails towards the middle rear of the chassis. If the job has been done professionally it is a very good upgrade. It can also provide a good cab heating system based on the matrix blown air method. Ask for receipts and any outstanding warranty the conversion company may have offered. The owner should have them and it will ease your mind as to the quality of the upgrade. A good Subaru upgrade, although not strictly for the purist, is a good usable upgrade, don't be put off by it.

    A good Subaru conversion.


    The engine is the powerhouse of your prospective purchase and as such should be well maintained, look clean and run smoothly. There have been many tales of people overlooking these details and breaking the engine on the way home from the purchasers home. Buyer beware, do the checks, if the oil is low- fill it. When you decide to drive it home, do not thrash it all the way in your excitement to show the family or friends. Take a chill pill, lift your foot off the gas, take a break on occasion and enjoy. If you look after the engine, it will last and do exactly what it says on the tin. A well cared for aircooled engine is a very reliable engine, a thrashed one isn't.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2023
  7. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Camper conversions.


    A camper conversion is the actual camping interior you will have in your bus. It is not how your bus left the factory, VW did not produce a camper from the factory.There were and still are specialist converter companies that since the early days of VW transporters purchased VW transporters and converted them to camping vehicles. Known as - campervans or motorhomes. The popular names and bigger converters were. Westfalia in Germany. Devon and Danbury in the UK . There were quite a few other converter companies in the UK, Europe and the US, It will pay you to research the practicalities of each of the more common conversions before you buy. You want full enjoyment from your camper so do the research, it may benefit you in the long run.

    In this short guide there are limitations as to how many conversion it can cover. I could go on and name all, but suffice to say, you are likely viewing one of the main three, so I will post up pictures of those only as a rough guide.

    Westaflia did three main Uk market conversion and one big selling European/US market conversion. The continental, the Malaga, and the Oxford for the UK market, the Berlin for Europe and the US. The poptop roof was hinged at the front on Westfalia's until August 73, after that they were rear hinged.

    A front hinged Westfalia continental


    A rear hinged.


    A continental interior



    A Berlin.


    A Berlin


    A link to more Westfalia facts
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2023
  8. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator


    A company from Sidmouth in Devon, began by J P White. They produced conversions from the late 50's until the mid 80's on the entire VW transporter range. They produced both microbus conversions and panel van conversions. The smaller recess in the window cut out usually shows a panel van conversion as apposed to the deeper recess of the microbus conversion.

    A Devon poptop


    A typical Devon interior


    Like Westfalia, Devon did a few conversions, from the poptop through to the moonraker pop top version Do the research on the conversions and choose according your needs.

    Link to Devon information.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2023
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  9. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator


    Another British company that have very close associations with VW SINCE 1964. The initial 1964 multicar was based on 1963 model type 2. By 1968 Danbury was given official vw status which they lost again in 1972 The earlier Danbury conversions based the interior on the removable Canterbury Pitt model and produced hand crafted conversions until today, albeit with a change of ownership.

    A 1971 Danbury. with poptop. they did do a none poptop day cab conversion too.


    A typical Danbury interior with removable units.


    A link to further Danbury facts.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2023
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  10. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Whatever you decide to buy and however much you intend to spend, the above principles will be the same. Obviously if you are a seasoned restorer or working on a limited budget. There are cheaper vans out there that you may feel capable of restoring. Price wise the finished price is likely to be the same with a van you have restored and finished to a van ready to go and in top condition. You have to ask yourself. Can I do it. Do I have the room and tools. Can I see it through. If the answer is yes. Good luck. if the answer is no, then save a little longer and get a good one.

    Remember to ask lots of questions before and during purchase. Best of luck whatever you decide to buy . M
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2015
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  11. Nice thread malc:thumbsup:
    hailfrank and Poptop2 like this.
  12. Great work!
    hailfrank and Poptop2 like this.
  13. Great work Malc,
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2015
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  14. Perfect - thanks. So useful for a novice like me!

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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  15. Dub and Dubber

    Dub and Dubber Supporter

    Took three years to get a thank you from your target audience though! :eek:
    ... so here's one from me :hattip:
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  16. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    Thank you. I just re opened it for replies.

    At the time of first posting I felt it was better closed as it is only a very rough overview not an absolutely methodical guide.
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2018
  17. Its a great work, well put together and very informative.
    Poptop2 likes this.
  18. Great article - Nice one.
    Poptop2 likes this.
  19. 77 Westy

    77 Westy Supporter

    First time I have seen this, I should have read it before I bought my bus from a friend of a friend without bothering to look at it, but I’d had it a few years before you wrote it.

    Just a comment about the type 4 engine, the largest fitted by VW was 2.0l (1971cc). 2100 was water cooled and fitted to the T25.
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  20. Poptop2

    Poptop2 Administrator

    I'd probably made most of the above errors in previous purchases before I wrote it too :oops:
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