Engine & Drive

The petrol engines:


There were the following water-cooled petrol engines ex works (air-cooled = Lbx) inside the T3:


1.6L / 50PS (Lbx), 1.9L/60PS, 2.0L/70PS(Lbx), 1.9L/78PS, 1.9L/80PS, 1.9L/83PS, 1.9L/86PS, 1.9L/88PS, 1.9L/90PS, 2.1L/92PS, 2.1L/95PS, 2.1L/112PS


and the most customary tuning power plants based on the wbx-power plants:


Zöllner 2.0/ 98PS (Lbx) Schick 2.1L/150PS , Oettinger 2.5L /118PS, 2.5L/125PS, 3.2L/140PS, 3.2L160PS, 3.2L/170PS ,3.2L/175PS, 3.7L /180PS


The diesel engines:


1.6L /50PS, 1,7L/57PS, 1.6L /69PS


and rare tuning power plants based on the serial diesel power plants:


Oettinger 1.8L/58PS, 1.6L/90PS


Lets start with the popular issues like climate protection, pollution badge and the difficulties with the ecological zones, and historical registration numbers.


The situation for most of the 92/95 PS fuel-injection engines (identification code = MV) is quite good, as those can easily be converted into “Euro 2-vehicles”, which get the green badge; (costs for installation and AU approx. 400€). But take care: You have to check in advance if the respective vehicle type can be converted and therefore gets the emission code 25. Not all T3 models are included in the Euro 2-certificate. Problems might occur with the models: MV engines with the code 03 ex works, Syncro T3, and T3s with automatic transmission gear, as the certificate only deals with the rear wheel driven models, those with gearboxes, and those with code 01.


More good news: The carburetor version “DG” with 57 kw/ 78 PS and also the “DJ” with 82 kw/ 112 PS can be converted to code 77 by means of a retrofit catalyst, which corresponds to Euro 1; (refers to the tax rate of 2013). Moreover, those cars also get the green badge. It is uncertain how long there will still be supply of the exhaust systems, especially for the carburetor versions.


What is hardly mentioned: Those retrofit assemblies are always based on the exhaust system of the 82 kw/ 112 PS bus. This means for all “DG” (57 kw/ 78 PS) engines until 1987, that in case of retrofitting, the complete exhaust system from the cylinder head to the end pipe, including all holders and fixing material must also be exchanged. The “DG” engines from 1983 to 1987 had an exhaust system with two pipes. Before you order a retrofit kit, you have to check which exhaust system currently is under the bus.

For all other petrol engine versions, you need an entry which you get by filing for an exclusive license with the local inspection authorities (TÜV, DEKRA, GTÜ, KÜS etc.).


As for the serial diesel engines, a small miracle has happened.

ALL serial diesel types of all years of manufacture in the T3 2WD and 4WD can be converted by a particulate filter so that they get the green badge. There are individual cases, however, to which that does not apply. For the conversion, the repair shop should have precise and comprehensive background and information to know which prerequisites a vehicle must have. The actual curb weight of the respective bus plays an essential role; the more the better. Therefore, the heavy-weight campers have better premises that the “empty” transporters. The same goes for various 1.9L TD and TDI modifications. It is always important to inquire about the possibilities of retrofitting for that special bus you are intending to buy instead of believing the mostly exuberant promises of the seller. The entry “low emission E2” in the registration documents of most diesel T3 busses does NOT mean Euro 2 (!); it rather was a customary addition in the 80s which does not lower the current tax rate. In advertisements, sellers like to point out that according to the papers, the bus is already “low emission E2”. The seller does not make a false statement; but the buyer who believes that the bus is classified in Euro 2-taxation, is totally wrong.


If you buy a T3 bus with any engine which is already 30 years old (day of the initial registration is decisive), you can get a historical registration number (e.g. MX-AB 1234H) under certain conditions. Prerequisite is a positive expert testimony according to the regulations of the §21c STVZO. The inspection can be done by various inspection authorities and experts. If a T3 bus does get a historical number or not, is decided by virtue of the criteria of a special schedule of requirements. In case the T3 obtains the H-certificate, the registration can be changed to a historical number. For many registration offices, it is sufficient if the bus has reached the 30th year, it does not have to be the exact date of the initial registration 30 years ago. This means that a T3 which according to the initial registration would turn 30 in December, could already get the historical number 11 months earlier, in January of the same year. In Germany, a historical number allows you to drive within all ecological zones, similar to the green badge. Besides, the bus owner enjoys a really cheap insurance rate with specialized insurance companies; e.g. it is possible to effect a casualty insurance plus a fully comprehensive insurance for 100€ per year. The car taxes are fixed; in 2012 those were 191€ per year, disregarding the parameters: type of engine, cubic capacity, and total weight, - which usually affect the tax rate.


As for the insurance, the good news is that the staff of a big blue insurance company have focused on the T3. They offer special conditions for owners of all series of VW busses. Each type of the T1, T2, and T3 as car, van, camper, or special purpose vehicle can get a classic-car insurance. In proper style, the company staff is on their nationwide way in a blue T1 to attend to their customers.


In general, you can say that the whole range of T3 engines was solid, if the bus was regularly serviced and if the former owner has not misused it as a racing car. With a cruising speed between 100 and 120 km/h, a well-tended bus can reach an operational performance of 25000 km and more, before an extensive reconditioning becomes necessary. So you should ask the seller about the way he used the bus and about the consumption of the vehicle; that is an indication for his style of driving. The T3 was presented in 1979 with the air cooled engines from the previous model T2b. The small engine with 1600 ccm had a performance of 50PS with a carburetor; the big engine with 2000 ccm had a power of 70 PS with a double carburetor system. Both engines have proved themselves a million times, but when they get old, they are prone to thermal problems, oil leaks, defective exhaust systems and heat exchangers, as well as to worn out carburetors and therefore to a high fuel consumption. While the 70 PS engine is still suitable to be driven in today’s traffic, the 50 PS engine is only a nostalgic collector’s piece. Especially when driving up ascents or with a trailer, risky situations might occur on the highway. If you need spare parts, you can get them in many cases from dealers who belong to the air-cooled VW scene. Short engines or replacement engines are available e.g. on demand at VW Classic Parts; alternatively, you can ask independent dealers or have the engine repaired by a mechanic. As for the fuel consumption, you can calculate from 10 to 13 liters/100 km; an oil consumption up to 1 liter/1000 km can be considered normal, but in most cases that is a precursor for abrasion or a defect.


In the scope of the appearance of the Japanese diesel-driven competition and the nagging of the customers about the highly consumptive Luftboxer in the city traffic, in 1981 VW issued the Bulli with a 50 PS aspirating Diesel engine, which had been modified especially for the T3 from the VW passenger car line. That was connected with the second radiator grille, which differentiated the water-cooled from the air-cooled Bullis. In 1984, a turbocharged diesel engine with 70 PS came out, and in 1986, VW issued another aspirating diesel engine with 57 PS which had an extended capacity; that one is only found with business customers, especially as agency cars. While those engines were nearly flawless and really durable in passenger cars, they soon reached their limits in busses. Constant full throttle, trailers, and a frequent use to full capacity with company cars, hardly allowed an operational performance higher than 100000 km. So a commercially used diesel-Bulli with the original engine will be hard to find. But for the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned, that the diesel engines can run far more than 200000 km without noteworthy complications, if they are properly serviced and appropriately driven, which is the case especially with campers with full service history. There are extreme cases in which careless journeymen totaled the engines of their hopelessly overcharged double cabin once a year or every 25000 km, while diligent owners of campers kept driving to their holiday destinations with the same engine for 25 years and 400000 km.


This leads us to the ills of the diesel engines. With diesel engines, it might come to a total engine breakdown, if the changing intervals of the cam belt and the belt tensioner have not been kept. You have to ask the former owner for the respective certificate; if there is none, you absolutely should have the cam belt changed. More weak spots are worn out cylinder head gaskets, defective glow plugs and injection nozzles and pipes, leaking injection pumps, a faulty valve clearance, leaking/ruptured exhaust elbows, deficient compression by a high operational performance, worn out exhaust turbochargers and ruptured cylinder heads, which become noticeable by a non-viewable water consumption. The oil consumption of a diesel engine by any means should not be more than 1 liter per 1000 km, even if VW describes 1,5 liter/1000 km as normal. A good diesel engine does not consume water and only 0,125 liter oil per 1000 km, and it should start up at any outside temperature after a short pre-heating time and without mechanic side noises, with sufficient oil pressure, and without clouds of smoke. All the “bagatelles yet to be done” the seller tells you about, is an extremely positive paraphrase of what is expecting you.


As for the acceleration, we are amazed at the performance which we would not have assumed with 50 PS. The recommended cruising speed with a 50 PS diesel is about the truck speed of 90 km/h; with a 69 PS turbodiesel, you will level off at about 105 km/h, which allows a fuel consumption of 7 to 9 liters/100 km. At higher speed, talking or listening to the radio often is hardly possible in a diesel-Bulli. The reason for that is less the construction-induced sound volume of the engine than it is rather due to totally worn out engine covers which cause the complete bodywork to function as a soundbox for the engine. A change of the engine mounting will reduce the loudness considerably.


After an operational performance of 150000 km, the reconditioning of a diesel engine is economically questionable, because engine repairers offer complete short engines including warranty for 1400 – 1900 €, and you can calmly use your Bulli for the next 10 years on average. Besides the 4- and 5-gear systems, there actually was an automatic version of the diesel T3 ex works, as well. These were especially used as Berlin-Taxi in the former East Berlin. Today, such a rare T3 derivative can be marveled at in the inventory of the classic car department of the VW Nutzfahrzeuge (utility vehicles) in Hannover.


Finally, we come to the “King’s motorization”; that is the Wasserboxer (wbx) inside the Bulli. A persistent rumor has it that those engines consume endlessly. That is not true. Let’s first make an excursion to its history.


First, from 1982, the 60 PS and the 78 PS carburetor versions were available, which, – seen from today’s point of view – were the most reliable driving engines for the Bullis due to their simple mechanical components and by lack of electronics. The 60 PS model is hardly seen. The 78 PS model can be quite quickly on its way. The running smoothness of that engine is unexcelled; there is none that runs more softly. In 1983 and 84, injection engines with 83, 86, 88 and 90 PS came out, but those were built for a short period only, and they were mainly designed for export. So they only play a minor role here. Those engines also had a sufficient operational performance, and the 83 PS and 90 PS versions were supplied ex works with a regulated catalyst according to Euro 1, but they cannot be converted to Euro 2.


From 1984 to the end, the Bullis were available with a 2,1l/112 PS injection engine, which ensures a good performance and is really favorable in consumption. This engine stands for Bulli-driving at its best: a high cruising speed, a nice pulling-power off low engine speed, and a full sound. Many 112 PS Bullis were retrofitted with a regulated Euro 1 catalyst from the producers HJS or Oettinger; unfortunately, new retrofit catalysts from these producers are no longer available, so it is beneficial if the former owner already had the engine retrofitted. But there is a retrofit kit from an enterprise in Berlin.


In 1985, the first Wasserboxer (2,1l) with a regulated catalyst appeared on the German market; it had 95 PS; from 1989, because of changed sound- and emission-regulations, there also was a 92 PS injection engine with regulated catalyst available. So the 92 PS and 95 PS injection engines mostly complied with the Euro 1 code ex works and can now be converted to Euro 2 (code number 25) with a secondary air system as described above. Therefore, the 92 PS and the 95 PS injection engines combine a good operational performance and low maintenance costs, which at present results in higher selling prices because of all the discussions about ecological zones, as Euro 2 vehicles are allowed to drive within the ecological zones. A consumption of 9,5 liters is possible when keeping a constant cruising speed of 100 km/h. The Wasserboxers with automatic gears unfortunately are fuel-guzzling vehicles when burdened. City trips or trailers easily consume 16-20 liters or more; the average consumption is between 13 and 15 liters for 100 km. Apart from the 90 PS and 112 PS versions, all other Wasserboxers get along with gasoline 91 or today’s Super 95. An oil consumption up to ½ liter per 1000 km can be considered normal with high operational performances; with good care, the total performance can go up to 300000. The Wasserboxers’ higher consumption compared with the diesel is compensated by lower maintenance and service costs, (e.g.no changing of the cam belt necessary). Everybody has to decide for themselves which engine is the right one. Both concepts have their advantages and disadvantages.


Despite of all praise, there are weak spots, as well. The biggest threat of all Wasserboxers is a wrong or too less coolant. That may cause damages of the cylinder head studs and the cylinder heads. Between the crankcase and the cylinder heads, there is a black rubber seal, called Wassermanteldichtung (cylinder head gasket), which in the course of years gets leaky and causes a loss of coolant. For experienced constructors, the change is no problem, but repair shops charge up to 600 €, and you even have to be glad that they accomplish the change at all without replacing the complete engine.


The Wasserboxers have a hydraulic valve clearance balance, which is effected by the oil-filled hydro tappet. Those are subject to abrasion, as well, so after a longer period of standing, the oil has drained and the engine sounds like a hammer mill. If that noise disappears after a short drive (max. 20-25 km), there is no need to worry. Otherwise the Wasserboxers have same defects as the diesel engines; those are: lack of service of the ignition system (spark plugs, ignition cables, distributor cap), worn out carburetors or a defective automatic choke with the carburetor models, defective or oxidized ground/ clamped joint connections with the injection engines, defective lambda sensors and catalysts, leak air in the intake area caused by porose seams and faulty exhaust systems, (which gets expensive!).


The electronic control units integrated in the injection models are said to be solid, and they are not more conspicuous than those of other cars of the same time.


To complete the history I would like to mention the refined models of the T3, e.g. those built by Porsche. They produced about a dozen T3s with 911-engines, (some claim there were 20), and with the respective technical modifications for their own use; those were denominated B 32. In 1981, the staff in Zuffenhausen started inserting a donor heart of a 911 SC (3,0 l/ 204 PS) into a yellow/white air cooled T3. They used it as an escort car for the long test drives with the 911, because it could keep up with the brisk pace of the engineers. With regards to power issues, the fitting of the 911-engine into the T3 is a logical thing to do; so they kept building more T3 busses with a 911-core for various reasons. Among others, the T3 Joker came into existence, which is still on the roads today. Meanwhile, the remaining B32 types mostly are either destroyed or with fanciers. One vehicle remained in Switzerland. Porsche had registered themselves as producer to legitimate the modifications and to simplify matters; this fact made the collectors treasure the busses even more. But you have to look twice if you want to buy and can afford such a B32. The construction was carried out from pragmatic aspects. The lateral plastic “refrigerator grill” as engine bay ventilation in the back side panel is only one example of the “Form Follows Function”-mentality. Mostly, the owners did not handle their vehicles very gently, because for them, a serially produced T3 anyway was too slow or had too less traction power. In the course of years, the combination of these facts abrades even the best technology from Zuffenhausen. After all, the B32 remains one of the rare and sought-after T3 models and is the only one which is not called Volkswagen.


One of the most rare Porsche T3 is a Caravelle from the manufactory of the legendary Yellow Bird(911CR)-creator Alois Ruf. The whereabouts of this T3 is only known to a few enthusiasts:-)) As former employee of the Ruf concern, Ruediger Claer made himself known by the professional reconstruction of T3 busses. Still today, the Claer-busses are world class in terms of power. Strong power plants which come from Porsche nearly always ensure great propulsion. Conversely to the B32, the Claer busses are also available with water cooled engines; and Ruediger Claer not only arranged for speedup, but also for adequate deceleration with Porsche Turbo break systems. Nearly every vehicle is a unique copy, as it emerged from the conception of owner and constructor.

A relatively high number of pieces of T3 tuning busses are still produced today by the oldest German VW tuner Oettinger, who resides in Friedrichsdorf, Hessen. In the factory of the “old fox”, T3 busses in almost any imaginable version came into existence with an enormous material and financial effort. The line of the T3 diesel ranged from 1,8l-aspirating diesel engines to charge air cooled turbo diesel engines. With the fuel engines, first the 1,9 l Wasserboxers were expanded to 2,3 l and later the 2,1 l Wasserboxers to 2,5 l of cubic capacity. They also built the 4 cylinder-in-line engines of the VW Golf GTI into the T3. But the highlight were the 3,2 l / 6 cylinder engines, developed by Volkswagen and accomplished by Oettinger, called wbx-6. Various levels of power from 3.2 N with 140 PS up to 3.2 S with 175 PS were available for all bus models, from the double cabin to the Multivan, to the Caravelle, to the Westfalia and Dehler campers. Even the Syncro T3s were provided with wbx-6 engines and could be serviced all over the network of VW dealers. Oettinger themselves developed the highlight of the wbx-6 T3 engines qualified for serial construction: the 3700E; the T3 engine with the greatest cubic capacity with an enormous torque of more than 300 NM. Those who did not know the meaning of torque until then, could experience it in a quite lively way. 270 MN with slightly increased idle speed already make you feel how this engine drives the T3 bus. Unfortunately, not all owners understood the character of those busses, which are best comparable to a comfortable travelling limousine. Often misinterpreted as “racing Bulli”, many of the power plants deceased due to a constantly too high engine speed. But those who saw the wbx-6 as a pleasure cruiser, could enjoy it for a long time. A few T3 with Porsche G50-gearboxes were also produced by Oettinger, but mostly, they built in the automatic transmission gears, which were specially produced for the 3,2 and 3,7 l engines. After a revision, the technically most mature variants got dry sump lubrication and controlled catalysts. Oettinger also offered the complete program for the interior and the body design. Some T3 running gears and internally ventilated 4-disk brake systems for the 2- and 4 WD-models rounded off the complete T3 program. The Oettinger T3 were the only broad backfittings, which could be done without changing the body or heightening the engine bay. The customers’ propensity to buy was not limited in any way. The most expensive Caravelle I could drive, in 1988 had an original price of 188.000 DM. In comparison with Porsche, it was possible back then to buy 2 ½ Porsche 911 Carrera for that price.

If you buy one today, you have to be really careful. Without the advice of a designated expert, I cannot recommend to buy such a bus. The spare parts are rare and hard to get. Even consumables like brake disks or camshafts can only got hold of if you have connections with the scene. The market value of all tuning busses tends to rise, but each bus has an individual value which is hard to determine.


As described above, VW Tuner Oettinger pushed on the power of the Wasserboxer and even that of the six-cylinder Wasserboxer with 3,2 and 3,7 l cubic capacity. Most busses which were refined by Porsche are in the hand of fanciers, while there are good chances to get an original Oettinger bus, respectively even a Westfalia camper or an all-wheel Syncro with an Oettinger refinement. To say it in front: As those busses mostly are very well-kept collector’s pieces, they have a five-digit market value. The six-cylinder Oettinger bus originally was constructed by VW, but there was a vision of a front engine for the successor, the T4, so the construction was left to Oettinger. The 4- as well as the 6-cylinder models (114 – 180 PS) were solidly refined, and with regards to consumption and everyday suitability, they are on about the same level as the serially produced engines. With the Oettinger engines, there are already shortages of spare parts with Oettinger-specific components. Before you buy an Oettinger 6-cylinder Wasserboxer, by any means consult an expert or Oettinger themselves before!


Furthermore, there are many self-made conversions with Audi 5-cylinder, Ford V6, recent VW aspirating diesel and TDI engines. What matters here, is the quality of the backfitting, respectively the final rubberstamping of the inspection authority. Conversely, the backfitting from fuel- to diesel-engines is not possible without further ado, even not with serially produced versions; it takes several modificatory procedures, as even the bodies of diesel- and fuel-models differ in the area of the shift tunnel. For questions about these modifications, experts in the VW Bus-forums can give you advice. You always have to be careful with these conversions; many things are done without analytic expertise or with an “I don’t care”-attitude.


It is most important to check if any modification has been registered and admitted by the inspection authority. My experience was that owners of neatly and consistently converted vehicles also can provide a complete documentation of the modifications and their official admission. What is not registered in the papers, basically is not admitted. In case of doubt, include the statements and promises of the seller in the sale contract so that they become integral parts of the contract. Example: If the seller claims that the car can get the green badge, but the bus has none, then make this circumstance a requirement for the contract and note it down under additional agreements or miscellaneous. Or if the seller claims that the rims are suitable for the T3, but for lack of time are not registered yet, note down in the contract: “Rims admitted for car; seller bears the costs for documentation.”


Finally a few words on the idiosyncratic cooling system of the Bullis. As it is generally known, the radiator is in the front and the engine in the rear; therefore we have a flow pipe and a return pipe of 4m length each. Until the middle of the 80s, those pipes were made of steel and therefore very liable to rust; a Bulli with the original steel pipes is an absolute rarity, later they used synthetic pipes, but those had pressed-in steel sleeves at the ends, which tended to rust due to lacking antifreeze protection and made the pipe burst.


There were innumerable variants of the cooling system with the Bulli in the course of the years of construction and through the levels of motorization, so that not all spare parts are compatible and by far not available as new replacements parts. Meanwhile, the pipes are available of stainless steel. Both cooling water reservoirs back in the engine bay and the plastic thermostat housing are prone to crack formation and therefore to leaks. When opening the service lid behind the license plate, the refill container should at least be filled to the check mark; if the container is dry, this is a sign for lacking service and thereby for engine faults to be expected. With regards to the gearbox and the drive, there are many variants with the Bulli. During the whole production time, there was a multiplicity of 4- and 5-gear boxes, as well as automatic transmission gears. In general, we could say that the gearboxes were solidly construed, but it might come to damages caused by high operational performance, the use of trailers, or simply by dragging the gears. Due to the long gear shift linkage, the gear change mechanism of the Bulli never met the highest precision standards, not even in mint condition. The sockets of old gear shift linkages have too much bearing play, and then, you stir with the gear lever like in a butter tub, or the gears lock “under protest” only, which also leads to damages at the gearbox.


Further sources of faults of the gearbox are the following:


o Leaking shaft sealing rings and clutch save cylinder

o Too low oil level

o Damaged drive pinion cuffs


With the latter, the links of the drive pinions can be destroyed, which is noticeable by cracking noises when driving. Automatic gears are mostly found with exclusive equipment and agencies’ busses. Those are durable, as well, assumed that the oil level is sufficient and they are regularly serviced; but this is a 3-gear box, so it does not always find the ideal matching with the speed, and it costs you many PS and much fuel, due to this type of construction. Used replacement parts or the repair of the automatic gear are difficult issues.


After all, all gears of a well-kept Bulli should be easy to shift without a noise in the gearbox, otherwise skepticism is indicated, especially if during the drive, the gears jump out due to wearout. In price, the clutch of the manual gearboxes is on the level of the passenger cars and it can easily be changed. If a neat separation is not possible, the reason for that is not the clutch, but a worn out/leaking clutch save cylinder, which is on the top of the gearbox.


Concerning the drive, special attention should be directed to the all-wheel-driven bus, the Syncro, because used and new replacement parts are worth their weight in gold. Especially used drive spare parts should only be bought from reliable sources; otherwise you probably get more scrap than you already have. The Syncro distributes the power to all wheels by a gel-filled viscous coupling; thus, on the road, the bus only has rear drive, but if the wheel rotation changes from the rear to the front axle, the front wheels are also driven by the function of the viscous coupling. Optionally, differential locks were also available for the Syncro. A detailed description of the Syncro drive technics would now lead too far. A simple and reliable experiment on a test drive is to drive onto a wet lawn to check if all wheels are driven without conspicuous noises. Undefinable noises in the drive train or dismounted cardan shafts due to defects of the front end gearbox are a considerable (!!!) decrease in value. According to experience, the damage is always bigger than it was described. Usually, the viscous couplings have a life expectancy of 150000 – 200000 km. The often unrightfully scolded Syncro drive is used still today in a super sports car of a huge German multi trading concern.