The Volkswagen Type 25 was the third generation of the Volkswagen Transporter and was marketed under various nameplates worldwide – including as the Transporter or Caravelle in Europe, Microbus in South Africa and as the Vanagon in North and South America.
Larger and heavier than its predecessor, the T2 – and with a more squared and less rounded styling – the T3 was manufactured in Germany from 1979 until 1992. South African production of the T3 continued, for that market only, until 2002. The T3 was the last of the rear-engined Volkswagens.
Following the T2, the T3 (or Type 25) initially featured air-cooled and subsequently water-cooled engines. Versions produced in South Africa from 1990 until 2002 featured an Audi five-cylinder engine.
Volkswagen marketed the Westfalia camper variant throughout the T25's (T3's) production, with features including a pop up roof, refrigerator, sink, and stove.
Examples built between 1980 and 1985 featured round headlights and chrome-plated steel bumpers with plastic end-caps. Air-cooled models (1980 to mid-1983) lack the lower grill above the radiator of the water-cooled models, except on models with factory air conditioning. 1986 model year vehicles received revisions including a tachometer, more fabric choices, redesigned air conditioner, larger water-cooled engine with a more advanced engine management system, and redesigned transmissions including an optional syncro four-wheel drive. Exterior changes include rectangular headlights and different paint options. Alloy wheels, larger and squarer plastic bumpers with trim along the rocker panels were optional, and standard equipment on Wolfsburg Edition vans. For 1990 and 1991 model years, a "Carat" trim level was available which included all available options (except Westfalia conversion).
All 1980 and some 1981 models had eight welded-in metal slats covering the engine ventilation passages behind the rear windows. Later models had black plastic 16-slat covers that slotted in at the top and screwed down at the bottom.
During the 1980s, the U.S. Army and Air Force in Germany used T3's as administrative (non-tactical) vehicles. In military use, the vehicle's nomenclature was "Light Truck, Commercial".
Porsche has created a version called B32 in a limited edition. The van was equipped with 3.2 liter Carrera engine and was originally developed to support Porsche 959 involvement in Paris-Dakar race.
Oettinger has developed a six-cylinder version called WBX6. The engine is derived from the "Wasserboxer" engine and has many common parts with it. The development of the engine was originally contracted to Oettinger by VW. Oettinger bought the rights when VW decided not to use it.
With the internal combustion engine and transaxle mounted very low in the back, the T3 had much larger disc brakes in the front, and drums in the rear. Axle weight is very nearly equal upon both the front and back ends of the vehicle. Unlike the T2 before it, the T3 was available with amenities such as power steering, air conditioning, power door locks, electrically controlled and heated mirrors, lighted vanity mirrors, and a light above the glove box (most of which were essentially standard equipment in later models).
The automatic was a standard hydraulic three-speed unit, the same 090/010 unit as used in Audis of the era. These featured a cast aluminium alloy case for the transmission section, and a cast iron case for the final drive section.
The 091 manual transmission was a four-speed unit, featuring a lightweight aluminium alloy case.
The automatic features a 1.0 ratio top gear, while the manual features a 0.85 top gear.
The oil filler tube for the engine is located behind the flip-down license plate door. Most early vans had a twist-on/off gas cap right on the outside just under and behind the passenger side door. A locking cap was optional. The spare tyre lies in a tray under the very front of the van (as the engine is in the back), just below the radiator.
Because of the engine placement, a T3 has nearly equal 50/50 weight distribution fore and aft.
There were four general petrol engine variants between 1979 and 1991, with several sub-models. All were overhead-valve push-rod horizontally opposed four-cylinder engines. Available engine options differed between regions. Aftermarket VW specialist Oettinger also offered the WBX6, a six-cylinder version.
- Air-cooled (1979–1982)
- 1.6 L (1,584 cc) (50 bhp/37 kW) (Serial # CT) air-cooled, single Solex 34 PICT-4 carburettor, available on non-USA models
- 2.0 L (1,970 cc) (70 bhp/51 kW) (Serial # CU or CV) air-cooled, twin Solex 34 PDSIT-2/3 carburettor or fuel injected (Bosch L-Jetronic, USA models) flat-four in the 1980 to 1983½ models
- Water-cooled (1983 onwards)
- 1.9 litre engines:
- 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (83 bhp) (Serial # DH) water-cooled (or "Wasserboxer") engine used for the 1983½ to 1985 models, which used a fuel injection system known as "Digijet" (Digital Jet-tronic)
- 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (59 bhp) (Serial # DF) 8.6:1 compression ratio, 34-PICT carburetor
- 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (76 bhp) (Serial # DG) 8.6:1 compression ratio, 2E3 or 2E4 carburetor
- 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (55 bhp) (Serial # EY) 7.5:1 compression ratio, 34-PICT carburetor
- 1.9 L (1,913 cc) (89 bhp) (Serial # GW) 8.6:1 compression ratio, Bosch Digijet electronic fuel injection
- 2.1 Litre engines:
- 2.1 L (2,109 cc) (95 bhp) (Serial # MV) Wasserboxer, used until the end of Vanagon importation into the US in 1991. This engine used a more advanced engine management system known as Bosch "Digifant I" which now digitally managed ignition timing as well as fuel delivery.
- 2.1 L (2,109 cc) (90 bhp) (Serial # SS) 9:1 compression ratio Wasserboxer
- 2.1 L (2,109 cc) (112 bhp) (Serial # DJ) 10:1 compression ratio, Digijet injection, only sold in European countries not requiring catalytic converter.
- 1.9 litre engines:
The Wasserboxer featured an aluminum case, cylinder heads, and pistons, and a forged steel crankshaft. The Wasserboxer, as with all VW boxer engines has a gear-driven valvetrain. It also featured Heron, or "bowl-in-piston" type combustion chambers where the combustion takes place within the piston area, and not in the cylinder head.
The switch to water-cooling for the boxer engines was made mid-year in 1983. The previous generation T2, currently produced in Brazil, has been switched to water-cooled engines since 2005.
- Oettinger WBX6 (aftermarket)
- 3.2 L (3,164 cc) (165 bhp) VW-Oettinger Wasserboxer, fuel injected.
- 3.7 L (3,664 cc) (180 bhp) VW-Oettinger Wasserboxer, fuel injected.
The six-cylinder engine as used in the VW Oettinger WBX6 was developed by VW in conjunction with Oettinger for use in the T3. When VW abandoned the project Oettinger took the design, refined it and put it on the market. As such the six-cylinder shares many parts with the four-cylinder Wasserboxer.
In contrast to the standard flat-four gasoline engines, all diesel engine options were of an inline configuration.
- 1.6 L (1,588 cc) (48 bhp) (Serial # CS) Naturally aspirated Diesel inline-four, available in the US on 1982 models only.
- 1.6 L (1,588 cc) (70 bhp) (Serial # JX) Turbocharged inline-four.
- 1.7 L (1,715 cc) (54 bhp) (Serial # KY) Natural aspirated inline-four.
US model variations
US Vanagon model variations included the Vanagon, featuring vinyl seats and a spartan interior; the Vanagon L with optional cloth seats, more upscale interior panels and an optional dashboard blower; the Vanagon GL with more equipment, and the Westfalia pop-top camper Vanagons, with integrated kitchen and bedding. Westfalia campers as either the standard model or as the 'Weekender,' which lacked the propane stove, sink, and domestic refrigerator of the full 'camper' versions. and offered an optional removable cabinet with a 12 volt cooler and self-contained sink
Wolfsburg Edition "Weekender" models featured two rear facing seats behind the front seats in place of a centre bench seat and a table that could fold up from the sidewall – or fold down when not in use. "Multivan" models featured Wolfsburg Edition trim and an interior with rear-facing seats. Wolfsburg Edition and camper van vehicles were outfitted for Volkswagen by the Westfalia factory.
Syncros models were manufactured in limited numbers from 1985 through 1992, with the four-wheel drive system added by Steyr-Daimler-Puch works in Graz, Austria. With a short wheelbase and 48/52 front/rear weight distribution.
Model years 1980 to 1985 had round sealed beam headlights. Subsequent models for North American and European markets had round sealed beam headlights or smaller square headlights, with the primary lights outboard and high beams inboard. Later models from South Africa returned to round headlight housings for both the primary headlights and high-beams.
The T3 was replaced by the T4 (Eurovan) in the US market in 1993 (1992 saw no Volkswagen bus imported into the U.S. market, save custom campers sold by companies other than VW). Top-of-the-line Wolfsburg Edition Westfalia Campers, which had all options, were at the top of the price range. In addition to the camper models, a Carat trim level was available for 1990 and 1991 model years. This model included all options available for the Transporter configuration. Some models had optional aluminum alloy wheels.