‘California here we come’ was the rallying cry for many as America expanded towards the West and the goldfields of California – and may well echo again as Volkswagen prepares to unveil the latest version of its California camper at the Caravan Salon trade fair in Dusseldorf later this month.

The Volkswagen Kombi became an icon of free-spirited youth in the mid-60s with hundreds of brightly painted versions converted to campers crisscrossing America and Europe as the hippie generation spread love, peace and happiness to the world.

The 'Pop-Top'

This spawned a variant popularily known as the ‘Pop-Top’ with a section of roof that unclipped to allow standing room inside the Kombi.

However, it was not until 1988 that Volkswagen itself produced a fully-fledged camper – the California, based on the T3 VW Bus. Now, 35 years and 260 000 vehicles later, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) is presenting the California CONCEPT.

Based on the long Multivan, the new California reinforces the dual concept of a van that is ideal for day-to-day use but also transforms into a camper van that will also offer the advantages of plug-in hybrid technology.

In its first year 5 000 units were soldand in the years that followed, the California evolved from a special model into its own model series, becoming increasingly popular and winning more than 22 000 camper van drivers in just three years.

Change to T4

The change from the T3 to the T4 in August 1990 was something of a technical revolution. After four decades of rear-wheel-drive Transporter vehicles with four- cylinder flat engines, the commercial vehicle specialists simply turned everything on its head: They moved the engine forwards and powered the front axle from there.

This changed everything: the design, the running gear, the engines and the space available. There was now significantly more space, especially in the rear. And the California T4 made perfect use of this extra room: providing more space to travel than any other camper van of that time.

The California based on the fifth generation of the Transporter introduced a new dimension of comfort with details such as the bed with slatted mattress base integrated into the pop-up roof, the camping chairs stowed in the tailgate or the camping table clicked into the sliding door gave the California its reputation as the Swiss army knife for campers.


In August 2019, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles presented the California 6.1 and one of its new features was a touchscreen in the roof console, which could be used to control all the main camper van settings and call up a wide range of information.

On board the California CONCEPT, this display will be transformed into a screen in tablet format and show a new smart side of this camper van.

Production of the new version will start early in 2024 and there is no indication yet as to whether it will be considered for the local market.

Colin Windell – proudly CHANGECARS