VW Heritage T25/T3 Buying Guide

As Splitty values go stratospheric and Bays continue their upward spiral, inevitably there’s been a knock on effect on its successor the T25. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still buy one of these iconic ‘breeze blocks’ for not too much money – and the brilliant thing is they are generally more practical you can still buy virtually all the parts. Here’s all you need to know in our VW T25 Buying Guide.

As a spiritual successor to the Bay, the Type 25 Bus (or often called T3) marked quite a departure visually, being wider and longer with a bigger glass area and considerably more boxy. While the tried and tested torsion bars at the front were replaced with double wishbones, with the rear now featuring semi-trailing arms, other VW traditions such as the air-cooled engine and its position in the back lived on – and it’s this thread of continuity that makes the T25 so appealing to the stalwarts. Even the early two-tone colourschemes mimicked those of the Bay, albeit it more garish yellows, greens and reds…

Early air-cooled T25s have a charm of their own and chrome bumper models are particularly sought after.
Early air-cooled T25s have a charm of their own and chrome bumper models are particularly sought after.

Sadly, another thing the T25 inherited from its predecessor however was its ability to rust – and those panel seams provide a constant source of anxiety for owners, as do some of the later water-cooled engines. More on that later, but before we get on to what to look for when buying it’s worth going on a whistle-stop tour of some of the T25 milestones to enable you to pick a van from the right era…

The first ones from 1980 were available with either a 1.6 (50bhp) or 2.0-litre (70bhp) air cooled engine and you can instantly identify these by the absence of a second grille just above the front bumper. The 50bhp 1.6 diesel unit from the Golf was fitted from early 1981 and by the end of that year there was a switch to water – with a 60bhp and 78bhp versions being offered. Air-cooled units ceased the following year. New engines from 1985 included a 70bhp turbodiesel and a 2.1-litre fuel-injected petrol unit which produced either 95 or 112bhp. At this time a four-wheel drive Syncro model, made by Steyr/Daimler/Puch with the 78bhp engine also breaks cover for the first time. An upmarket ‘Cavavelle Carat’ hits the market in September 1985 with rectangular headlamps, body spoiler, swivel chairs, cold box and other goodies inside. The Westfalia ‘Joker’ camper is renamed the ‘California’ in 1988 before the last T3 (the 3 bit indicating the use of rectangular, not round headlamps) left the Hannover factory in September 1990. The very last T3, however, was the Syncro – the last one of which left the Graz factory in Austrian in 1992. Body offerings throughout production included a  pickup, double cab pickup, Transporter, hi top delivery van, Kombi with windows, Kombi hi-top, Caravelle with minibus interior, Multivan and Syncro – but not all were available here in the UK.

Type 25 Bodywork
The condition of a bus’s body should be the major deciding factor when buying because sorting rust isn’t particularly easy or cheap. The T25’s seams are particularly prone to rust – the flexible sealant applied at the factory dries and cracks with age and begins to hold water which then rots the surrounding metal. Repairs are tricky, and you often see vans being sold where the gap’s missing altogether where it’s been welded!

T25 seams are notoriously bad for attracting rust and bodgers actually weld them up altogether.
T25 seams are notoriously bad for attracting rust and bodgers actually weld them up altogether.

Gutters, window surrounds, front wheel arches (a notorious mud trap) and cab step also rust. Rear wheel arches can also rot out, and being double seamed they’re a swine to repair properly. We supply everything from a simple arch repair sections to a complete arch panels, as well as arch liners. Another difficult to repair rust spot is the flat section of metal above the bumper – water sits on top of the seam between two sections of panel and rust is inevitable unless it’s been waxoyled.

Thankfully a wide selection of repair panels are available for the T25.
Thankfully a wide selection of repair panels are available for the T25.

The top of the fuel tank has a big dent in it by design allowing water to sit and this can also rust badly, so climb underneath and inspect carefully. We sell replacement T25 fuel tanks, so it’s no biggie although fitting all the pipework can be a fiddle on later models. Don’t forget to eyeball the bottom of the sliding door, and also watch for worn door runner bearings which will make operation less than smooth.

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Engines
None of the engines were brilliant, the early air-cooled ones and the non-turbo diesels being very slow and later water-cooled units suffering all manner of problems.

The early 50bhp air-cooled units were derived from the Beetle engine but with hydraulic tappets, conventional oil filter and a cooling fan on the end of the crank. Here it’s a case of looking for cracked cylinder heads and overheating due to stuck thermostats. Despite being quite thirsty, the 2.0-litre 70bhp CU engine was the better of the two air-cooled offerings and was based on the Type 4 unit as well as the later Bay. Its twin Solex carbs are troublesome and prone to air leaks, making replacement the best remedy. Oil leaks from the pushrod tubes is common, but relatively easy to sort while rusty heat exchangers should be viewed with caution because they are pricey to replace. Otherwise it’s simply a case of looking out for blue smoke on the overrun which points to worn valve guides, or nasty knocks from the crank bearings. It’s not as easy to check for end float because there’s a mesh guard over the fan.

As for the ‘wasserboxers’, unfortunately they suffered a bit of design fault in respect of the fact that the cylinder head bolts pass through a water jacket and can corrode if the anti-freeze (containing rust inhibitors) hasn’t been changed regularly. Some owners swear by the use of pink phosphorous free antifreeze (G12), but basically it’s a case of ensuring it’s been changed every two years, otherwise you may encounter problems with the rubber head gasket. If the bolts go and the gasket starts leaking coolant, then a replacement engine is the only option. We sell complete water-cooled engines on an exchange basis, with prices starting at £2,095.96.

Anti-freeze needs changing every two years on water-cooled engines to prevent cylinder head bolts corroding.
Anti-freeze needs changing every two years on water-cooled engines to prevent cylinder head bolts corroding.

The DF 1.9 feels underpowered, making the 78bhp DG waterboxer engine the much better option – although beware any with leaky exhausts as it’s a complex system and tricky to fit.

The fuel injected MV 2.1 from 1985-on was even better and produced a healthy 95bhp and even more if you (legally in the UK) remove the catalytic converter. The pick of the bunch, if you can find one, is the 2.1 carrying the DJ engine code which produces an eye-watering 112bhp. Again, being fuel injected any running problems are likely to be a result of faulty sensors, so make sure it idles nicely and doesn’t cut out when warm.

As for the diesels, people like them because they suit the nature of the T25 and most were derived from the Golf, tilted over to fit the lower engine bay. A word of warning, though, the early 50bhp CS 1.6 is dangerously slow and many diesels will have endured a hard life as it was the obvious choice for commercial use. The 1.7-litre KY engine (57bhp) was slightly better, but parts are scarce, which makes the JX codenamed 70bhp 1.6 the one to go for with performance about on par with the air-cooled petrol but with far better economy. However, cylinder heads crack and the turbos can fail, so beware misfires and worryingly sluggish performance.

Running gear
If the body’s solid and you’ve an engine that’s in rude health, pretty much anything else is a bonus. Regarding the suspension, at the front check for broken anti-roll bar link arms, worn upper wishbone inner bushes and worn upper balljoints. At the rear, its simply a case of inspecting the rear trailing arm to make sure it’s in one piece, not rusted through.

Brakes from the Bay were used until mid-’86, so it’s all the usual stuff like corroded bleed nipples, leaky pistons and shot flexible hoses. Later stoppers are stronger but bear in mind the brake disc carries the wheel bearing so if you replace the front discs, you’ll need to buy a wheel bearing kit at the same time. At the rear, automatic adjusters sometimes seize and the adjuster bars wear but there’s easy ways to remedy this.

You can check whether the van you’re looking at has got power steering by looking for the reservoir at the back of the engine bay.

Electrics shouldn’t be a problem, but make sure the charging system on campers works as it should and that the leisure battery is in good health.

Make sure the electrical system works properly on campers.
Make sure the electrical system works properly on campers.

Finally, the a four and five-speed manual transmission was available and both will benefit from regular oil changes, so enquire as to if and when this was last done. Otherwise, beware of noisy diff bearings, loss of synchro and oil leaks in the bellhousing from the pinion oil seal.

Verdict
The key to bagging the best T25 will be to buy on condition and avoid ones with bodged or rusty seams and serious rust. That said, if you’re handy with a welding torch all the necessary repair panels are available. As for engine choice, well, there’s no one clear winner but the 1.6TD or 2.1 make good choices. The air-cooled buses have a charm of their own, but are slow and pretty thirsty. Remember, if you do opt for a water-cooled petrol model look for tell-tale moisture around the rubber head gasket seal which could be a sign of imminent problems with corroded cylinder head bolts.

Cabins are roomier than Bay and swivelling captain's chairs up front are a sought after option.
Cabins are roomier than Bay and swivelling captain’s chairs up front are a sought after option.

There’s some important extra stuff to consider regarding campers. Westfalia was the factory option, but UK businesses such as Danbury, Holdsworth and Autosleeper all carried out conversions. With Westies, the Atlantic is a higher spec than the California, but bear in mind the fact that being ‘double glazed’ you can’t open the sliding side windows. An extra ‘buddy’ seat adds value to a bus, and most Westies already have a fitting on the floor. As for whether to go for a fixed hi-top or elevating roof, much is down to personal preference. Lift up roofs always get my vote because there’s still carparks you can’t get into with a hi-top and there’s also the extra drag to consider.

Posh grey Westfalia cabin one of the nicest around...
Posh grey Westfalia cabin one of the nicest around…

Otherwise it’s a case of making sure all the little extras work as they should, such as whether the camping fridge ignites on gas – can you see the pilot light? Also, make sure the cooker and mains hookup works as it should, and that the auxiliary water tank for the sink isn’t leaking. Check all the original decals are in place because this will tell you whether the van’s been sprayed and make sure the indicator lights work on the camping control panel.

This one was mine! I went for an elevating roof over a hi-top for better access to carparks and reduced drag!
This one was mine! I went for an elevating roof over a hi-top for better access to carparks and reduced drag!

Prices
Ah, here’s the tricky bit. Realistically, you’ll be hard pushed to find any kind of project for under a grand, and even the scruffiest looking early air-cooled panel vans with an MoT will make £2,000. Campers from this era start at £2,500, but really nice, original air-cooled Westfalia Jokers may reach up to £8,000. Later water cooled campers usually kick off at between £4,000-£6,000 depending on condition, with reasonably nice ones easily making £8k-£9k. The very best Westfalia Californias with replacement 1.6TD or 2.1 petrol engines being sold with a warranty with rectangular headlamps and no rust might be as much as £12,000. Indeed, the most we’ve seen so far for a T3 is a 1990 Vanagon which was selling for £15,500. So if you want a T25/T3 you’d better move fast before they all start fetching this kind of money.

Ian

The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage

 

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65 responses to: VW Heritage T25/T3 Buying Guide


  1. Hi Ian, great article. That Westfalia California of yours is still going strong. I have been the proud owner for about 4 years now … Was shocked,and pleased to see it in your article

    Steve

    1. Hi steve, so pleased that it’s still going strong – I absolutely loved that van and miss seeing it parked in Worthing! Have a great summer in it…

      Ian

  2. Hi Ian, great article. That Westfalia California of yours is still going strong. I have been the proud owner for about 4 years now … Was shocked,and pleased to see it in your article

    Steve

    1. Hi steve, so pleased that it’s still going strong – I absolutely loved that van and miss seeing it parked in Worthing! Have a great summer in it…

      Ian

  3. Hi Ian,
    Since you seems to know a lot about T3, I’m hoping you can help me. I have a 1986 T3 California Westfalia Hightop (Highroof). Manufactured in Germany for the European market. Everything about her says she’s a true California Westfalia, but how can this be when Californias were not manufactured until 1989? Going to VW did not help as the archiever could not tell us anything more than what information he has based on the VIN number we gave him (which makes her a 1986). Is she a fake California (we bought her used about 5 months ago and we are about the 5th owner, previous owner knows nothing more than we do)? Her color, decals, interiors…everything indicates that she’s a true California model, but the year. HELP!

    1. HI Bea

      Difficult one without seeing photos of your van. It could be that it had the California transfers retro fitted. Are you certain it’s an ’86? Californias were made in just two colours – Pastel White (code L90D) or Marsala Red (LH3D) so you could check this too…
      Ian

  4. Hi Ian,
    Since you seems to know a lot about T3, I’m hoping you can help me. I have a 1986 T3 California Westfalia Hightop (Highroof). Manufactured in Germany for the European market. Everything about her says she’s a true California Westfalia, but how can this be when Californias were not manufactured until 1989? Going to VW did not help as the archiever could not tell us anything more than what information he has based on the VIN number we gave him (which makes her a 1986). Is she a fake California (we bought her used about 5 months ago and we are about the 5th owner, previous owner knows nothing more than we do)? Her color, decals, interiors…everything indicates that she’s a true California model, but the year. HELP!

    1. HI Bea

      Difficult one without seeing photos of your van. It could be that it had the California transfers retro fitted. Are you certain it’s an ’86? Californias were made in just two colours – Pastel White (code L90D) or Marsala Red (LH3D) so you could check this too…
      Ian

  5. Hi Ian,
    Well, we’re not sure she’s an ’86 but her VIN indicates that she is (confirmed by going to VW to double check). Actually, VW also told us that she’s down on their system as a yellow T2 (wierd, as T2s weren’t made in Germany after 1979). She’s a Pastel White and most definately a T3. It’s hard for me to believe that she’s retrofitted, she seems nearly a perfect California both externally and internally, but I guess that’s the only likely truth. file:///tmp/photo-1.JPG
    file:///tmp/photo-2.JPG Hoping the 2 pictures comes through so you can see.

  6. Hi Ian,
    Well, we’re not sure she’s an ’86 but her VIN indicates that she is (confirmed by going to VW to double check). Actually, VW also told us that she’s down on their system as a yellow T2 (wierd, as T2s weren’t made in Germany after 1979). She’s a Pastel White and most definately a T3. It’s hard for me to believe that she’s retrofitted, she seems nearly a perfect California both externally and internally, but I guess that’s the only likely truth. file:///tmp/photo-1.JPG
    file:///tmp/photo-2.JPG Hoping the 2 pictures comes through so you can see.

  7. Hi Ian
    Thanks, great article as I’m just looking at buying a T25 Holdsworth camper van, 1988 vintage with the 2.1 injected engine and auto box (for the missus) 🙂
    It all looks good but now I know exactly what to look out for when I go back for a second look today
    thanks again, keep up the good work
    Martin

  8. Hi Ian
    Thanks, great article as I’m just looking at buying a T25 Holdsworth camper van, 1988 vintage with the 2.1 injected engine and auto box (for the missus) 🙂
    It all looks good but now I know exactly what to look out for when I go back for a second look today
    thanks again, keep up the good work
    Martin

  9. seen a nice looking T25 devon moonraker camper for sale from pictures looks good and it has a professional fitted 1986 1.6td engine. Now read your article have a much better idea of what to look for.
    Cheers

    1. Be especially picky about the condition of the bodywork, all the mechanicals are pretty straightforward. If it’s had a new engine fitted all the better…

  10. seen a nice looking T25 devon moonraker camper for sale from pictures looks good and it has a professional fitted 1986 1.6td engine. Now read your article have a much better idea of what to look for.
    Cheers

    1. Be especially picky about the condition of the bodywork, all the mechanicals are pretty straightforward. If it’s had a new engine fitted all the better…

  11. Hello

    Need some advice. I have a 1600cc Air-cooled VW van (T25). I am looking for a replacement carburettor. The one I currently have is a SOLEX 34 PICT 4. Year of manufacture is 1981

    Is there any difference between a PICT 3 and a PICT 4???

    Thank you

    1. Hi Joseph, sadly we cannot source the 34 PICT4 carburettor as originally fitted to the T25.
      We aren’t 100% sure on retro fitting the 34PICT3 to your engine, from what we are aware the choke set up is different.
      We would suggest looking to rebuild your existing carburettor, or trying to source a good used one if yours is beyond repair, or missing.
      Hope that helps a little.
      Andy

  12. Hello

    Need some advice. I have a 1600cc Air-cooled VW van (T25). I am looking for a replacement carburettor. The one I currently have is a SOLEX 34 PICT 4. Year of manufacture is 1981

    Is there any difference between a PICT 3 and a PICT 4???

    Thank you

    1. Hi Joseph, sadly we cannot source the 34 PICT4 carburettor as originally fitted to the T25.
      We aren’t 100% sure on retro fitting the 34PICT3 to your engine, from what we are aware the choke set up is different.
      We would suggest looking to rebuild your existing carburettor, or trying to source a good used one if yours is beyond repair, or missing.
      Hope that helps a little.
      Andy

  13. Hi Ian as ever a great appraisal of the t25
    And your old California is still alive and well
    She’s in with me at Dougs VW werks for an overhaul with a minor amount of bodywork and a repaint booked for later in 2016
    And Steve is still the proud owner

  14. Hi Ian as ever a great appraisal of the t25
    And your old California is still alive and well
    She’s in with me at Dougs VW werks for an overhaul with a minor amount of bodywork and a repaint booked for later in 2016
    And Steve is still the proud owner

  15. Hi thank you for this – really interesting – I just got a T25 high top E reg in excellent condition for age – my first camper and I am clueless but in love ! His new name is Hamish and I am so looking forward to the adventures. Can u recommend anywhere I can ask really stupid questions as I get to grips with things ? I already had to ask a lorry driver where my engine was as I stopped for fuel driving him home for first time …. 😊

  16. hi found this very helpfull im still not 100% sure which one i have just bought i think its a 1981 T 25 devon high top i needed a new petral tank n new bearings an new brakes THE FRIDGE is not going and i think the heater exchanger is done hmmm

    1. Good stuff. You’ve got the winter to sort it out! You can buy all the parts relatively cheaply – and that includes a better, more modern fridge if yours is beyound repair.

  17. Hi Guys we’ve just bought a 1983 left hand drive westfalia joker it’s brown with cream high top it needs a full strip out and rust sorted. My hubby is a mk1 golf fanatic also a joiner so is capable of doing all of the work. My question is should we revamp the interior i.e. change curtains seat covering etc or should we try to put it back together as close to original as possible.

    the carpets on the wall and ceiling will all have to be stripped out so all that will have to be changed.

    Thanks for your help in advance.

    1. Hi Angela

      Great news about the T25. I love that colour combination, really classic. With the interior, the most important thing is that it works for you. If you intend to keep it and want to add a personal touch, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have the curtains and seats retrimmed in a material of your own choice. Alternatively, there are firms that will be able to supply the original fabrics. Personally, I think it’s nice to keep things ‘period’ looking so that’s the way I would go.

      Have fun!

  18. Hi Ian, great article, I’m going to look at a 1980 T25 pop-top later today, 2l petrol, aircooled. I’ll concentrate on the bodywork first. Cheers, Nigel

    1. Hi Nigel, good luck with the viewing. That’s an early one – good that it’s got the 2.0-litre in it. I reckon those early air-cooled T25s could become collectible very soon! Let us know how you get on…

      1. Thanks for the good luck wishes, anything specific I should look for? I think it’s a straight ‘van, but just a bit nervous that when I phoned they said the garage was just replacing the plugs today – hope it’s them being kind and not trying to hide a fueling/oil issue!

        Cheers, Nigel

  19. Just check it runs okay on a test drive. Bodywork condition is the main thing, really. Check all those seams, the metal seam on the horizontal panel immediately behind the front bumper, the door steps and wheelarches of course.

  20. Hi Ian, thanks for your help. It was a no go in the end. On the surface a good buy, but a long list of jobs coming up fast.

    A few rust holes in both front arches, nearside step going. Engine bay starting to go, worst around what looked like a battery tray, but the battery is at the front. Seams on panels starting to go. Oil light on during test drive, underside of engine soaked in oil.

    Thanks for your help. Cheers Nigel.

  21. Hi there, firstly thanks for the incredibly useful article – really helped when going to view a van yesterday. I wondered if you could offer any advice/suggest someone who can offer some further help. We went to see a 1985 high top conversion.

    On first look it sounded good, MOT until December, runs ok (with some gear selection issues), so ready to use immediately. However, when we went to see it, it does have some substantial rust: rear wheel arches, above front bumper, roof gutters and bottom of sliding door – MOT history says it has failed in previous years due to suspension component and mounting corrosion (also down as an advisory this year).

    Are these issues too serious? They are asking for £2000 which initially seemed very reasonable.

    Thanks!

    1. Rust is likely to be the biggest issue and if it’s too serious, and you’re not in a position to weld it yourself, then I’d be very cautious…

  22. Hello Ian,
    That is a very useful and informative article.
    I drive a T25 Westfalia Club Joker with a 1.6TD JX diesel engine first registered in May 1988.
    My question: Tappets or Hydraulic Lifters
    Have looked all over the web for an answer but cannot find one.
    It would be good to know before I take of the rocker cover as to whether I will need a box of shims.
    Many thanks
    Jim

    1. Hi Jim, VW made the switch from manual to hydraulic lifters in August ’85 for the ’86 model year so I would suggest your Bus has hydraulic lifters. Is there a rectangular red sticker on the top of the camshaft cover? It tells you not to worry about tappet clearances…
      Hope this helps,
      Ian

  23. Ian,
    many thanks for the info.
    No red sticker.
    The VW dealer in my home town were not sure and they checked the vehicle against the VIN !
    Will double check on the weekend, as they say “Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle ist besser”.
    Thanks again
    Jim

    1. A good service is the best answer… it could be a number of factors causing the emissions to be high.
      A decent VW mechanic should be able to assist.

  24. Great article! Bought a 1 owner van pop top autosleeper Trooper back in 2010 (first van I looked at!!) and paid what at the time was perhaps too much but it was in outstanding condition and had only done 65k. Since then have been on holiday all over England, south of France, Berlin and just back yesterday from Holland! Not bad when you live in northern Scotland. Also won best t25 at Whitenoise and Tatton Park. More importantly it has given our family some great memories and added to the life of our two boys as they have grown up with a t25. Always serviced and never, ever broken down! Paid too much?……I don’t think so!!

  25. An excellent article on the T25. I have had mine, a rather rare Devon Eurovette high top since 1997(it’s a 2.1injection)and it’s a gem. Lots of cupboards, powerful, easy to manoeuvre thanks to the turning circle and not expensive to maintain unlike the T4. Get a nice one and you’ll be well pleased.

  26. Hi Ian ,
    I’ve aquired an 1987 t25 carvelle bus in its original condition . Absolutely no rust and original diesel turbo 1.6 re conditioned.All the original interior is still there and has been brought back to new . Just wondering have you seen many more like this as I’ve been looking on the internet and can’t find any other buses .i was going to change to a camper van but have been told to keep it in its original state.
    Just wondering if you have any views in this.
    Regards
    Declan

  27. Hi Ian, great article. I have a 1981 Westfalia Joker with 1.6l air cooled engine. Owned it for more than 10 years and been all over the UK in it. Wondered if there is anyway to improve the vans performance? I yearn for a little bit more speed to get to places further away and quicker. Any thoughts? Thanks

  28. Hi guys, great thread and very helpful. I’m considering buying a t25 for the first time but before I do I’ wondering about the new MOT testing regime which is due to start next month. Does anyone have a view on how the diesel engines on these are likely to perform under the new tests?

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