What sort of van do you want?
Bay window vans of almost any year make are great, usable VW's. Earlier vans are a little slower andDormobile drum brake models require a little more leg work to stop from speed. Depending on the engine size, bay vans will cruise comfortably at speeds from 60mph (1600cc) to 80mph (2000cc) a vast improvement over stock split screen vans!
Remember the heavier the van (ie more camping equipment) the slower it will be. If you choose a camper van, ask yourself what you need from it. Do you just need an over night van to crash in at shows, or are you planning on touring Europe. Could you live with just a bed and curtains or do you need a pop top, cooker, sink, awning and beds for 4 people.
The more comprehensive conversions like the Westfalia and Devon will command a slightly higher price but you might be able to afford a better van if you can live without the luxuries. Some people like to build their own interiors in which case a mini-bus or panel van might be a better option. Look around at what's available and think carefully about what you want from a van before you rush out and buy anything.
In recent years, the bay van has under gone a kind of revival. People's perceptions of the bay van has changed; it has developed from being a scruffy workhorse to a classic camper. This has also meant that prices have risen accordingly, so be very careful before you jump into any purchase.
Bay window vans were built in Germany between 1968 and 1980 so all vans are now over 20 years old. An alternative does exist however. New vans in this shape are still built abroad and although there are small differences they are essentially the same.
What to look for
Every buyers guide starts like this: look for rust! A bay van is a huge vehicle that is rarely cleaned properly and usually spends the winter months parked on the driveway unloved and the summer months parked in fields-hardly ideal conditions.
The underside in particular is where you should look carefully so take some old clothes or overalls with you (or better still a mechanic who knows his stuff) and have a good prod around the floor, chassis and suspension areas. Replacement panels are readily available for almost every part of the van but the less you have to fit, the better.
Thoroughly check the condition of the front beam, check the cab area under any carpets or rubber mats and the door step, door bottoms and front wheelarches for rust.
Have a look at the inside and outside of the windscreen corner areas as bay vans are prone to rusting out here. Behind the bumper (front valence)Sills and along the sills are also good places to look.
Stand back and look along the long flat sides. If you can see large ripples they are a sure sign of some kind of repair or previous accident damage.
The rear wheelarches will often have undergone some kind of repair. Like the split vans, the rear corners are often rusty, so have a good look inside the engine bay and underneath the vehicle to check.
If the van isn't a Kombi (ie it didn't have side windows cut from the factory) and has windows fitted, check around the edges for rust. Companies like Danbury started with panel vans as the basis of their camper conversions, so look carefully.
Bay window vans are as close to indestructible as VW ever got. That's not to say they don't go wrong-just not that often.
The biggest problem area is often the steering. Check for excessive play at the wheel and underneath to see if the steering swivel pin mounted on the beam has any play. New pins and bushes are available but can be tough to fit.
Brakes are often pretty good and cheap to repair if not. Look for scored discs on late models and vans that pull to one side. Servo brakes were fitted to some vans; check the servo for leaks as replacements will be pricey.
Gearboxes are rarely problematic , even the automatic variety. Just check the CV joints for clonks and wear.
Engines in most vans will have had a hard life. Lots of miles pushing a heavy van takes it's toll so look for oil leaks, smoke and excessive crankshaft movement. 1600cc motors are essentially the same as Beetle units and are cheap and easy to repair. Other variations include the 1700cc, 1800cc and 2000cc type 4 motors. These are more powerful but also more expensive to run. Look for worn carburettors, oil leaks around the pushrods and check for oil pressure.
Heater boxes and exhaust can be expensive to replace on the type 4. Listen for leaks.