The Westfalia Story

Pictures for this story are unfortunately lost.

The WESTFALIA company was founded in 1844 by Johann Knobel, and originally concentrated on the manufacture of tools for the agricultural industry. As part of this they became involved in building a lot of horse drawn carts & carriages. Some of these were for passengers & needed to be of high quality so they set up their own paint and upholstery section to allow the complete works to be done on site without having to involve other companies.

Camping & caravanning started to become popular in the 1920’s. Early Caravans & trailers were very bulky & expensive (and of course needed large expensive vehicles to tow them with!). The Factory was virtually wiped out by bombing during the second world war but they recovered sufficiently to exhibit a caravan (made of steel plate) at the 1947 Hanover Fair.

That might have been the end of the story had the VW Transporter not come into existence in 1950. With their large space and easy mechanics they were an instant hit with the general public. In those days private transport was very much a luxury and many people used their vehicles to earn a living during the week.

At weekends the addition of extra seating in the form of benches transformed their vans to take the family on outings. This soon led to people adding extras to their vehicles so they could also use them for sleeping and cooking instead of having to rely on hotels or guest houses (or having to drag caravans & camping equipment around!)

The WESTFALIA Company spotted what was happening. In addition to producing their camping trailers and caravans they started to manufacture easy to assemble fittings, which could be installed in vehicles for camping purposes but could also be quickly removed again so that the van could be converted back into its week day Work Mode. This was a very affordable alternative to the existing trailer caravans.

The real breakthrough came in 1951 when an American army officer asked Westfalia to build him a motorcaravan similar to the trailer caravans they were already producing. This quickly resulted in an order for a further 50!

So in 1952 Westfalia started producing its first VW Transporter CAMPING BOXES.  These vehicles had a cabinet installed behind the front bench seat, which contained cooking equipment, and washing facilities with fold down worktops. In the rear the bench seat converted into a Sleeping Platform

During 1954/55 the engine size increased with a corresponding decrease in the engine compartment height. This gave much more interior space and gave scope to improve and add to the sleeping facilities inside the vehicle.

Two Camping Box models were produced these were called STANDARD & EXPORT

The standard self-assembly kits came with several variations;

SO42– Had a small bed, larger side cupboard with a lift up folding table.  Many of these vehicles were fitted with Dormobile roofs.  Over 11,000 SO42’s were produced

SO44 had a large bed and a swivel table located behind the driving compartment bulkhead. It had a cooking and washing unit. It also had a folding roof instead of the concertina/ventilator type fitted to previous models. This vehicle cost 2540DM more than the SO42.

In 1955, in addition to the standard (designated SO22), production started on an Export Model.

Westfalia delivered vehicles through dealerships to individual customers. In Germany a complete camper would cost around 9000DM (about the same as a Mercedes 190!) For this reason a large amount were exported.

This resulted in the CAMPINGWAGEN DELUXE (designated SO23) becoming available for 1956. The Deluxe had considerably more inside it than the previous model. In addition to more cupboards, a 90-litre water tank. It had curtains, high quality carpets, roof ventilation & fixing points for awnings, plus insulation & cladding on most internal surfaces. Roof rack and awning were also available.

However in stark contrast to the “Box Model” it had NO interior cooking facility The reason for this being that in the USA (the main export market) laws prevented use of gas cookers within vehicles.

The 1000th Westfalia Deluxe Camper was produced in 1959.

1960 saw the end of the Self Assembly kit programme and the introduction of the MOSAIK programme. This involved Westfalia furniture being available as individual items rather than complete kits so the DIY installer had a lot more flexibility in what he wanted to do. Westfalia would still build interiors to individual customer’s specification.

From 1961 there was a general slimming down of the interior installation but no reduction in price! For an extra 1400DM you could have a Dormobile roof. A Small sun awning that fitted between the twin doors was also an option.. Cooking was possible from the inside (but much easier from outside). The cooker assembly swung out over the engine bay. Models SO34 came with Formica tops & SO35 had solid wood interior fittings. The awning was only available as an extra. Sleeping accommodation was excellent, with a wide double bed for adults. The back rest of the front bench seat folded upwards to make bunk beds for two children.

In stark contrast to the beautiful artwork of the initial Westfalia brochures of the 1950’s their next effort for the 1960’s can only be described as Studious presentations, presumably done on a tight budget in the mist of winter.

This is another staged publicity shot.

This publicity shot is supposed to be showing a Westfalia meal being cooked.

An ingenious improvement to the 1962 model was a special device to allow the spare wheel to be used as a base for the table when it was required outside.

By the end of 1963 over 10000 Camping wagens had been produced. In total over 25000 split screen transporter Westfalia conversions were carried out.

With the arrival of the Bay window transporter Westfalia ceased making caravans & concentrated all its efforts on producing motorcaravans..

A new series of conversions, SO60 & SO62 were fitted at the factory whilst the SO61 option was still available as part of the Mosaik programme.

The roof choices remained the same. A long steel roof, small extending roof or larger roof with bunk bed. A wide range of additional equipment from awnings to chemical toilets, louvred, sliding or fixed windows were available

In 1968 several different models (all designated SO69) named after European cities were produced;

  • PARIS
  • ROME
  • AMSTERDAM
  • OSLO
  • STOCKHOLM

By the end of 1969 a total 50.000 Westfalia camper conversions of all types had been sold. 80% of these had been exported (mainly to the USA)

In Autumn 1970 the range (all designated SO72) was reduced to 3;

  • HELSINKI
  • MADRID
  • LUXEMBORG

The Wedge type Westfalia roof started to be developed around 1971 to replace the expensive Dormobile type. The early versions (August 72 – July 73) hinged at the front windscreen end of the van. This only had room for 2 small children. Westfalia then changed their supplier & a new model able to sleep 2 adults was produced. These later roofs hinged from the rear of the vehicle.

In 1972/73 production started on a series of conversions that established Westfalia as the leading converter of VW Transporters.

In 1973 three conversions were offered under the SO73 option;

  • DUSSELDORF
  • MALAGA
  • OFFENBACH

 

These were all fitted with the new Westfalia type roofs and several extras were available including heating & locking petrol cap!

Another staged publicity shot proving that even when this close to their vans the Germans still manage to get their towels on to the sun beds first!  Was the tide really turning? Is this why so many orange Westfalia’s are rust buckets?

Models made by Westfalia for VW & exported to UK were called CARAVANETTE and CONTINENTAL.  When new the recommended retail price for a VW Continental was £1950. That included the awning (but excluded seat belts!)

Probably the worst “Cut & paste” picture ever produced by Volkswagen as part of their UK brochure for The VW Carvavette & Volkswagen Continental that was sold in the UK

The export VW equivalent of these vehicles was called a CAMPMOBILE
(very popular in San Francisco!)

In 1974 came the new HELSINKI (SO73/7). This vehicle was fitted with very comfortable large seats.

In 1976 the Helsinki was replaced by the BERLIN (SO76/1). The Berlin had smaller seats but you could swivel on the front ones!

These vehicles had insulated roof & sidewalls & also came complete with a 3-way fridge,( a very high spec conversion for this size of van during the 70’s.)

The self-assembly Mosaik kits (SO72) continued to be available throughout this period. The only other major development during this time was the front spare wheel carrier, which became an option in 1975.

The specifications for Helsinki & Berlin remained virtually the same until introduction of the T25 in summer of 1979.

Westfalia continue to produce fine examples of motorcaravans to this day in what has become a very competitive market. They have succeeded by paying attention to what their customers say and want, continually carrying out technical improvements and fine attention to detail. This has resulted in a very healthy balance sheet and large export market. During some periods over 90% of production has been exported, mainly to the USA.

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