Situation with replacement parts
Until today, the VW bus T3 was one of the last dinosaurs of the 80s, for which almost any part was still available from VW. This was due to the fact that VW had to contractually assure the numerous agencies unlimited supply of replacement parts; the biggest part of their customers were the Federal Armed Forces. Meanwhile the T3 has disappeared from the everyday-life of the agencies, so VW has dropped many of the spare parts, respectively some of the parts are now distributed over the VW-internal Classicparts Center.
While the spare parts for busses from 1985 or later are easily available, the situation with parts for busses before 1985 looks rather poor; many items, like the cooling system, have already been omitted. Furthermore, there are hardly new parts for the interior, especially in the colors brown, beige or blue, and hardly external body add-on parts, e.g. garnish moldings and ornamental fittings and the like. Original metal plates are still available, but new right front doors, rear plates, and all of the sliding doors are not sold by VW as new parts any more.
Moreover, all T3 standard aluminum rims also aren’t deliverable by VW any more. New parts for the campers are obtainable in limited numbers only and almost exclusively from committed dealers or private collectors. Many commercial replacement part dealers have arisen around the VW bus. But I beware of recommending or criticizing one of them. To put it shortly; there is a spectrum from top service with high quality items at a good price to dealers which sell debased parts without service for lots of money. The same goes for used-part dealers; there is a spectrum from functionally tested parts with warranty to overpriced useless junk. By means of the search function of all VW forums, you can form your own opinion about the reliability of the dealers. But even the local accessory dealers or a nearby junkyard often are able to help with T3 parts. Other options to buy parts are the bulletin boards in the VW bus forums or in familiar online marketplaces.
My personal experience is, that in the long term, I did best with original VW replacement parts; and who is really crazy about his bus, won’t make compromises or experiments with the spare parts.
Which bus for which purpose?
The constructors who build their mobile home on their own, are well-served with a platform, a double cabin, or a box van. But except very few of them, those vehicles are hopelessly worn out, and you can be glad if they at least overcome the ways to the building center or if they survive until the completion of the mobile home. The T3 station cars and the Caravelle models are the epitome of ubiquitous application; here, you can quickly remove the middle bench seat, make bulk buyings in Swedish furniture stores, and in the evening, you can drive 8 persons.
The Multivan models are perpetual trendsetters ; they dispose of a sleeping bench and a table. They offer a sleeping berth for two persons, which makes this model particularly popular.
For a three-man family or athletes on sports vacation, the campers based on the T3 are highly recommended, as those offer enough comfort even for several days. A special case is the exclusive model Carat which appeared in 1984, which appeals to some collectors, but is not favored by the populace. Because of the “business equipment”, as it is called today, you cannot sleep in it, and the vehicle also isn’t really appropriate for transports. The re-discovery of this luxury bus is yet to come. No other bus drives as comfortably and quietly.
Where do I best buy a VW bus?
A first step, which is often forgotten these days, would be a glance into the daily newspaper or a local advertisement paper. There, sometimes T3s are offered, and it is advantageous that the way to see a vehicle is relatively short. A further possibility are the established online car markets, where cars from all over the country and from abroad are offered, what might cause an expensive journey in terms of time and money to view this car. And it happens quite frequently that this journey ends in a big disappointment. The situation in the online markets is comparable. The description and the actual condition of the vehicle often diverge considerably; a real bargain is hard to find; in most cases the seller’s intention is recycling, meaning that he tries to get as much as possible for a dilapidated Bulli.
As mentioned earlier, there is a chance to find a Bulli of your dreams on the bulletin boards of the VW bus forums. A problem which might often occur here is that the seller emotionally is so attached to his vehicle – after all the time and money he has put into it – that the idea of the value between seller and buyer is totally different.
Many dealers are specialized in Bullis, - but as described above, please do some research and form your opinion about the dealers you are intending to address.
The ability to differentiate a good T3 from a dazzler, can save you lots of grief, money, and sorrows. In the exuberant T3-hype, there is no limit to the impertinence of some commercial or private dealers. A corrosion-free exemplar with the original paint has meanwhile become a cult object with accordant prices.
After all, I can conclude from all my viewings, that the best busses were first-hand, had a complete documentation (which shows that money for repairs and service was available), and their owners were between 45 and 70 years old. But that is only my personal experience. That does not mean that you won’t find a good bus from a 25 year old seller, who is the third owner.
What does the future of the T3 look like?
To put it shortly: great !
Even during the years of construction, the T3 was already a very popular object. Now it is a cult object for a few years, as it was the last model with a rear engine. So the succeeding T4 probably won’t be as iconic, as it has a front engine.
What many people aren’t aware of is the fact that today (in the year 2013), the T3 turns 34 years old and is changing its status from a used car to a classic car. Really good exemplars often are in the hands of collectors, or they are only offered in inveterate scenes. That means that most of today’s T3 owners mind the quality of care and service. Vehicles that are good for spare parts only and rickety cars which scratch along on the road will disappear from the everyday traffic; and replacement parts for the T3 will more and more appear on classic car markets.
The Multivans and campers will remain popular; the price for well-kept exemplars can only rise. Like with the T2, the prospective true T3-rarities will be original, neat platforms, double cabins, transporters, and box vans, especially if they are air cooled or if they are early Wasserboxers. Those models were simply disposed of or shipped to the third world after a hard working life; so all future collectors should soon give a few thoughts to these kinds of bodyworks. The Oettinger T3s already are sought-after collector’s pieces. There is still the possibility to be lucky and to find one of the mentioned models in good condition.
The price status of the T3
A few words on the market prices of the T3:
According to my researches, the prices currently range from 499 € for a bus “in running condition” (according to the seller) up to 70.000 € for a rare T3 model.
It can generally be said that a really good, nearly corrosion-free and demonstrably serviced T3 is no longer gettable for less than 10.000 €. Put in numbers, that means that according to the equipment, an original top exemplar without a bunch of upcoming repairs and without rust starts with 5000 € for platforms, station cars, transporters, double cabins; respectively 6000 € for Multivan or Caravelle; respectively 8000 € for Westfalia campers. There is no limit to the prices; they are determined by the individual history, the amount of equipment, and the overall condition.
No subject regarding the T3 is as fiercely and unobjectively discussed as the pricing. Only very few experts are able to estimate the market value of a special model without considering the emotional view. Sometimes it is impossible to make it clear to a layman why two T3 busses which seem identical at first glance have to be classified completely different: one as “shouldn’t be bought; value 3000 € at maximum and for spare parts only”, and the other as “extreme top exemplar with hard to find history, collectible, a good purchase even for up to 20.000 €”. To see the difference, needs much experience and knowledge about the original equipment of the various T3 models and lines of construction.
So this buying guide can be an assistance; but before you make a really expensive purchase, you absolutely should consider a second expert, as there is only a thin line between good and bad, and the number of sellers who advertise their vehicle a few grades better than it actually is, is constantly increasing.
Collector’s vehicles, respectively top vehicles meanwhile achieve 20.000 – 30.000 €, as the worldwide request for good T3s is growing, particularly in the USA, Canada and England. The price for Syncro models is 1000 – 3000 € higher than for the two wheel driven vehicles.
Extras which stimulate the sale and justify a higher price are original condition with first paint, a traceable history, first-hand, operational performances less than 100.000 km, emission control according to Euro 2 or 3 (prohibition of driving in the city center/ ecological zones), repairs with original VW parts, original VW replacement engine with document, cavity sealing, metallic paint/ two color paint, central locking, color glass, sliding windows, electrical mirror, sliding door on the left, big steel sliding roof in working condition, power steering, neat & complete interior equipment………..just to name a few things; everybody has his own ideas, priorities, and quality standards for the sale.
According to my observations of bus sales, a reduction of price is caused by new paint in another color, especially if the paint was rollered, seam rust, worn out or incomplete interior equipment, defective exhaust (as a new one would have been too expensive), operational performances far exceeding 200.000 km, no service documents, any kind of due repairs that are time- and money-consuming, e.g. welding works at the body. Accordingly, - as mentioned in the beginning – the body should always be in better condition than the technical components, if the costs for the repairs are not supposed to excel the current value of the bus. Everyone who had once paid an expert for rust removing or for a complete painting, knows that a defective cylinder head gasket or Wassermanteldichtung in contrast are only peanuts in price. With Bullis in the price range of 1000 – 5000 €, you may reckon that many repairs are pending and you have to invest the same amount as the purchase price once more for the repairs to reach a reasonable result. Bullis for less than 1000 – 2000 € mostly are just cars for spare parts only or of limited suitability to drive with a short remaining TÜV period.
Now you have gained insight into the T3 and got a lot of advice what to consider, before you sign a sale contract. I wish you a successful search for your dream Bulli and a good start with maybe your first T3. I put lots of effort in this guide, but nonetheless I might have forgotten something or a mistake hides somewhere……….nobody is perfect.
Basically, I am willing to support you with advices and hints; you find my e-mail-address down right on every site. But please refrain from sending me links from online markets, as I also cannot give you a serious estimation of a vehicle only on the basis of pictures.
Speaking of pictures; - you find various photos which illustrate the text of the buying guide in the German version.