It’s the model of van that gets a more than fair share of page space in Advanture Magazine. And we finally bought one of our very own. Meet Snickers, our 1990 retro VW T3 Caravelle.
While curating the content for Advanture, I am very partial to the stories that revolve around the Volkswagen T3, the Vanagon in the USA or T25 as it is called in the UK. Not only does it look awesome in every combination you could have chosen from new back in the 80’s, but it is the last of the “true” VW campers.
Rear wheel drive, engine in the back, flat nose, and you can fix it with a basic tool kit while out on an adventure.
I wanted an older bus forever. But things got more serious about the T3 when my girlfriend and I were living in a van in Byron Bay Australia, back in 2013. The coolest couple in town pulled up beside us in a white T3 tin-top. Tanned bodies in shorts and bikini climbed up onto the roof to unstrap longboards and that metalic sound of the doors opening and closing rang out in the evening sun. We sat there admiring their style, both with the van and on their boards. From that moment on, the T3 became the model I desiered, placing it way up ahead of the older splitscreen and bay window offerings.
Since starting up Advanture, I think that all of us in this current/modern vanlife boom have become the custodians of the T3. Like the generations before us who could adopt the older buses, we are the ones that take on this new retro classic.
Details about this specific bus
In my opinion, we found a gem with this retro VW T3 Caravelle. It’s one of the last years produced in this series before the T4 platform rolled out, and left the production line at VW’s Hannover facility in early 1990. The name we have given it dirrives from the two-tone dark brown colour scheme, there really wasn’t a better name for this bus than Snickers.
We are the third owners from new. Initially, it was owned by SEAT in Barcelona and probably used as a VIP taxi to pick up managers for airport runs. Then it was sold in 2004 to the guy we bought it from. I think it was used lightly, as on the complete log book, he only put about 50,000 KM on it in 19 years of ownership. We got Snickers for a fantastic price and even though you pay slightly more for vehicles in Spain, they come rust free due to the dry climate.
It’s a stellar example of the T3, still sporting all of its original factory parts. Seriously, everything on this bus is el-originel. The body is totally straight, bar a few dents from doors opening onto it over 33-years of life. The Caravelle GL comes with the all-round bumper trim package, which wasn’t my favourite look before I owned it but has since grown on me. Ultimately, they are good protection against rocks flicking up from the mountain roads we like to drive on, further preserving the body of the van.
I absolutely love the rectangle headlights on the later busses. It really completes the look of a retro VW T3 Caravelle in my opinion. I’ll be adding some Hella fog lamps on the bumper when possible, as we get a lot of low visibilty days in the winter be that fog and heavy snow.
In the engine bay we have the standard 1.6 TD JX engine. It’s covered in muck and old oil, and has a few minor leaks that I am looking into. But it still runs sweet and has the power needed to get us around the mountain roads here in the Pyrenees.
With 250,000 KM on the clock I am expecting a few things to need sorting out over the time we have this bus. Even though the gears feel great, I do worry about both the clutch and gearbox, both original, having worked hard for this amount of time.
This is the area I was most excited about on this specific bus. The brown cord/leather trim throughout really takes you back in time. For me, it reminds me of the old cinema I went to as a kid. The seats, complete with the big arm rests, are super plus and it feels like you just melt back into them.
In the front you have the two captains chairs complete with arm rests, and in the rear is two rows of three seats. We’ve already removed the middle row, as the plan is to modify the fold down bench seat so it can be used as a downstairs bed.
The roof lining is 100% damage free and looks great, but lower down on the pillars, the trim is pretty grubby and torn in spots. So we’ll refinish those, probably with the same trim to keep it period correct.
And everything else from new is still in there and functioning. Everything from the vanity mirror light in the passenger sun visor to the numerous ask trays that fold out from the interior panneling. It really does feel like stepping back in time when you climb aboard.
What's the plan for this retro VW T3 Caravelle?
We’ve got big plans for Snickers. Firstly we saw this as a suitable way to build our personal assets. We don’t know if we’ll be in town for a week, a few months or even years … so buying a house isn’t in our vision right now. Secondly, I wanted something in the way of a show bus that we can use to advertise Advanture Magazine at shows, or just day-to-day. It’s hard to not notice a beautiful old bus driving down the road, so it makes the perfect advertisement for Advanture in my opinion.
See more photos of Snickers as we work on it over on my Instagram page.
Another vision we have is to have a bus that can be used for various photoshoots and video assignments, be that our own via Advanture or other produciton companies looking for an adventure style campervan for a project. The region we live in, La Cerdanya in the Spanish Pyrenees, is a prime location for media work so it all feels like it came together when we moved here in 2022.
And finally, we’re working with a few key sponsors to outfit this retro VW T3 Caravelle to offer out as an adventure campervan experience. Less normal rental/hire car, and more about giving other vanlifers the chance to fly down to the Pyrenees and then get to drive around the mountains in a true adventure campervan. More on that later on.
Words and photos by Alex Brown, editor of Advanture Magazine.