Baywindow Bus Buying Guide

by Richard Atwell
(c) Copyright 2004-2011

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Chuck's Camper

I think a perfect 68-79 bus is worth $6,000-7,000 in today's market. That's a lot less than the last Vanagon issued (especially if it's a Synchro Westfalia) and a lot less than a fully restored split window ($40,000!!!) but those are the breaks when you are the awkward middle child.

Every year there are fewer busses on the road and as cars reach collector age the prices tend to rise. But who is complaining! Volkswagens were an affordable, dependable "people's car" and purely based on the prices of the other generations, the 2nd generation bay window bus is still a true embodiment of that philosophy. Now is a great time to restore or recondition a baywindow and enjoy it: quality German parts are still available and affordable.

Used prices can be are higher if the buyer is on the East Coast where everything is rusted or simply unavailable. Higher again if the bus is a Westfalia with all the accessories. Ideal condition is hard to define because so much feeling is involved in a purchase but lets say this is a bus that has been well cared for, driven regularly perhaps infrequently and has had a some of the original equipment replaced that relates to wear. A history of receipts is very useful to look at so be sure to ask the seller about them.

Some busses go for $250 while some are advertised on eBay for $16K. The latter is of course ridiculous because you could restore that same $250 bus for much less than $16K unless you get ripped off or go crazy with bodywork resurrecting the dead. Any bus in absolutely original condition means that over time rubber items have perished, plastics become brittle or cracked, greases have gone hard etc. You can't expect to buy a bus like this and drive it like a similarly well cared for bus that didn't cost as much but was well maintained. Your intentions with regard to this time machine should be purchasing a museum piece unless of course the model is rare. For example, a 12K mile garaged double cab with original paint that was never sold in the US.

Any smart buyer with an infinite amount of patience will price the necessary repairs against the prospective bus, drop the price accordingly, make an offer or just keep looking. Of course sellers have their minimum price in mind and may just wait for the next prospective buyer. For most of us that are eager about bus ownership, it requires a little give and take because looking for a good bus is no where near as fun as driving one. At least in your head, consider the cost of the replacement parts to give you an idea of what you are really paying for. These vehicles are 30 years old and you want to be safe on the road while driving one for your sake and for others.

If I was the prospective bus savvy buyer I would make a list and grill you on the following categories below checking each item as I consider the implications of buying your bus. Anyone buying a bus solely based on color is only human but if you stay objective it will pay off in the long run unless you really enjoy restoration work and have time, the space and the money to perform it.

These gems are all largely the same with regard to features despite the original purchase price (1968 camper was $2,765, 1979 camper was $7,295). Some prefer the earlier busses with the familiar but underpowered 1600cc engine, others the later models with the Type 4 engine, fuel injection and more modern camper interiors.

In general, the 1971 and 1978 models are the most desirable but I'd take a favorable bus from another year because parts can be swapped and upgraded. Chances are the engine and transmission have been rebuilt and/or isn't original. You really have to know your busses to figure out what's not original sometimes. If you have to smog test your bus then you might want to consider a model year that is exempt from testing. Likewise you may want to avoid a model that has been converted to carbs and unable to pass a visual inspection test.

All of the prices below assume that you will be doing the repair work yourself and buying NEW parts. While used parts are available, buying some news parts is unavoidable. Engine and transmission work is expensive and I've estimated the labor cost of each in the price. If you are comfortable with engine and transmission replacement then you are fortunate and have more options available to you. For other items the price range reflects the severity of the problem. I can't list every possible part that can go wrong so they are only estimates that cover common categories. For strictly labor items I've indicated this also.

Also review my engine inspection article before you make your purchase so you don't end up buying a dud.


I've provided some annotations to the list below:

Engine:

Description Depreciation
25,000 miles or less with good oil pressure $1000-2500
High compression, vacuum and normal leak down $500-1000
Engine compartment seal missing (not a good sign) $25
EGR system intact (smog state requirements) $200
Fuel injection intact (smog state requirements) $500
Catalytic converter (smog state requirements) $100
FI pump is quiet $150
FI starts easily and idles $250
Recent tune-up w/ parts $50
Free of oil leaks $50-$200
Hydraulic lifter noise $100

Fuel, Exhaust and Heating:

Description Depreciation
Fuel hoses replaced $50
Accordion tubes and hoses in place $50
Muffler intact $150
Heater boxes rust-free (each) $200
Heat control boxes in place (each) $100
Heat cables and controls $50

Transmission & Clutch:

Description Depreciation
Transmission noise free and shifts well $750-$1500
Transmission leak free [labor intensive] $50
Shift rod firm [labor intensive] $25
Clutch action firm and noise free [labor intensive] $150

Suspension and Steering:

Description Depreciation
Steering in alignment (labor) $100
New tie-rods and drag link $75
Steering box tight and dry $250
New ball joints [labor intensive] $75-175
Firm shocks $125
Sagging rear end [labor intensive] $10 bushings
CV Joints $225

Wheels & Brakes:

Description Depreciation
Chrome hubcaps (each) $25
New tires mounted $300
New front wheel bearings $30
New rear wheel bearings [labor intensive] $100
New brake hoses $50
New front rotors $100
New rear break drums $125
New brake pads $50
New master cylinder $75
New calipers $200

Interior:

Description Depreciation
Headliner [labor intensive] $150
Crack-free steering wheel $25
No fabric rips within interior or cracks in dash $200
Seats comfortable and clean $200
No speaker holes in doors or wood paneling $100
All original fabric and interior parts varies

Body:

Description Depreciation
Side mirrors rusty or cloudy $50
Taillights in tact with sturdy housings $75
New body and window seals $500
Engine compartment rust free [labor intensive] $50
Rust under windshield [buyer beware] $500
Rusted battery trays [labor intensive] $200
Front beam rusted [buyer beware] $500
Rusty fuel tank [labor intensive] $500
Rocker panels, dog legs, frame, rest of body [buyer beware] varies
Nose damaged in collision (resale?) [buyer beware] varies
General body rust varies

Electrical Systems:

Description Depreciation
Working fuel gauge $50
Working speedo/odometer $50
Vacuum advance distributor $125
Starter $100
Alternator $75-175

Camper:

Description Depreciation
Poptop canvas intact $300
New poptop seals in place $100
Propane tank present $300
Working fridge (deluxe camper only) $150
Child's cot $50
Cushions $100
Tables (front, rear deluxe camper only) $100-150
Stool (deluxe camper only) $200

Upgrades:

Description Appreciation
Retractable seat belts $200
H4 headlights $100
Sway bars (front or front and rear) $100-$250
Electronic Ignition $60-300
Fresh air fans $100
BA6 gas heater $300
Air conditioning in working order $600
Headrests $50
Oil temp, oil pressure and other gauges $25-$125
Hitch $200
Spare tire mount $25
Spare tires (each) $50
Stereo varies

Notes:

I came up with these numbers based on the actual cost of restoring my bus and busses owned by other folks that have shared their experiences. Prices assume you are getting quality parts from online vendors like Bus Depot, Bus Boys, CIP1, etc.

The generally accepted cost to restore a camper runs $5000 in parts and small repairs. If you find the prospective bus needs everything and the cost exceeds that amount, my advice is to keep looking unless the majority of buses in your area are rusty and you've found a gem. With all the models so similar in design and because VW produced almost 2 million bay windows worldwide during 68-79 alone, good busses at good prices are plentiful in many states.

The condition of the paint makes up a large part of the value, at least as far as car insurance is concerned. Value is very subjective unless you have receipts and an auto insurance company that will accept them in the event of a major accident. They do not wish to repair a vehicle to a better condition than before the accident.

Unless you go to places like Maaco you are looking at $3000-up for paintwork and that doesn't include assembly, disassembly or materials. If the bus is in fantastic condition you might want to consider one that is also in mechanical state of rot but I certainly wouldn't buy a bus with a great engine and a trashed body unless I was buying two busses and swapping parts to make one good bus and one parts bus.

Original German (OG) paint is not as good as repainted in my opinion unless the paint job is an el-cheapo or the bus has been garage kept its entire life. The paint VW used that while good for the day has now oxidized heavily from sitting outside for 25-30 years and each waxing session leaves just a little less paint than before. Modern paints, like urethanes, have 30 years of technological advances incorporated in them and these finishes are retaining their color and shine for much longer. For example, red cars are not turning pink in the sun anymore. If the bus was repainted by a joker or Maaco this can reduce the value by several thousands because of the cost of repainting if that matters to you.

Beside looks, nice paint makes it easier to keep the bus clean and of course helps to keep the rust away. If the water beads off, it is less likely to promote rusting. If you are not in the market for new paintwork (and let me tell you it's a stressful process when you own a VW) you still need to care for the body much more closely. I love it when people say there's some rust but no cancer. Until you've stripped down the body, you really have no idea where rust has taken hold and how seriously.

Good luck with your searching...


References:

History:

01/10/04 - Created
11/21/04 - Added pre-inspection advice and CHT warning
09/06/11 - Fixed broken photos, added translate button, updated footer