Pre-1968 Westfalia Tents
SO-22 "Camping Box" Period (1952-58)

My sources say Westfalia produced "campbox" conversions beginning in 1952, and the Campbell article has a photo of a "1952 Westfalia Camper" with a flat, striped awning. I'm guessing that's the same item shown on this 1955 Popular Mechanics cover. Also, a brochure dated 1956, shown on page 108 of Terry Schuler's The Origin and Evolution of the VW Beetle, shows the roof section of the tent attached to a flip-hatch Westy and describes it as "a large, colorful side awning."

I know nothing but what I can guess about the frame or mounting of these tents and would feature your name here in BOLD CAPS if you sent me something to add.

Westy Roof Tent?From Jon Hathaway come some interesting photos of his grandfather Mac Hathaway Sr.'s VWs circa 1960. The Sundial camper has what Jon's been told is a Westy rooftop tent bought from the dealer with the bus.

"the pic was taken circa '63-'64 somewhere in Mexico/Central America where he lived 5-6 months of the year...The rear 'room' was something he had made to give his lady friend (pictured) on one of their trips south."

Beetle TentJon's website (gone?) contained a larger view of the campsite and of this dual-Beetle one-off tent custom made by Mr. Hathaway, who certainly seems to have led an interesting life.

"Privy" Tent for 1958-65

For detailed illustrations and setup instructions for these tents, click here.

The SO-23 "deluxe" camper conversion (cabinets in the rear, with oval doors) paralleled the introduction of what I've always called the "privy tent" -- although at least some models didn't have a privy (there's a photo of one _without_ a privy in the rear wall on page 52 of the January, 1995 Hot VWs).

According to the Crandalls, these tents are most commonly seen in a yellow/blue-grey stripe, but were also available in red/white, orange/blue, orange/white, and green/white. The first two listed are the more common, in my experience. I've often wondered if the colors could be more closely tied to years.
You've probably been wondering why I call this the "privy" tent (I've seen them called changing rooms and even toilet rooms in the literature). If you look at the photo, you'll see why: the rear sidewall has a little two-by-two room which sticks out toward the back and is held up by telescoping poles and guy ropes. A long zipper guarantees your privacy, while open grommets near the top take the place of the ol' exhaust fan.

westy roof bracketThese tents mounted to brackets on the roof and bumpers (the upper pic is a front bracket -- thanks to Michael Heron for the correction -- and the lower pic is a front bumper mount). Front bumper mount is basically a flat plate of steel bent into an open S or Z shape. Tent poles are steel, either black or grey, around 2cm in diameter. According to the instructions, you assemble half the frame on the car and then fit the tent to it (I always did it the other way, but then I never saw docs for these things until ten years after finding my first tent). It's basically a rectangular, peaked awning with support rods leading to the bumpers. Once you have the awning put up, you can add curtains to the three outer sides (with Tenax "lift the dot" fasteners) to achieve a snug and dry (if floor- and windowless) dwelling.

I picked up my foyer and privy tents from a fellow who was selling out about four garages worth of parts, and the tents were both heaped into one box. There were no instructions. Imagine sitting down in your basement with five odd pieces of canvas and twenty strange-looking poles, and no idea what the final product is supposed to look like! (Yes, it was fun.)

The tent is assembled from four large sections to form the top and three sides (the back is open to the camper). The poles are fairly heavy steel tubing about an inch in diameter. Mine were painted black, but others I've seen are gray. Fourteen pole sections screw together in pairs and then interlock to form the frame: a ridge pole, two eave poles, two end poles, and two stay poles.

Olivier sent me this image of the original tag from his privy tent. A rough translation:

  • Unubertroffen = Unsurpassed
  • Waschecht = Colorfast/washable
  • Lichtecht = "Lightfast" - UV resistant?
  • Wetterecht = Weather resistant

You begin by assembling the frame onto the top piece of canvas and hanging it on your bus. If you like, it can be left at that stage and makes a great awning about six feet deep and ten feet long. But the real treat is yet to come! A row of fasteners lines the outer edges of the top, and the other three pieces of canvas form the front, back, and side walls. Leather straps secure the walls to the stay poles, and stakes hold the bottom edges down as in the foyer tent.

There are no windows or doors, but the canvas pieces zip together to form a weather-tight seal. Add a tarp for the floor and cover the gap between your bus and the ground, and you've got a pretty bug-proof (if a little stuffy) extra room for your camper . The tent is big enough for two cots, cooking tables, or just sitting around.

One feature of these tents was long a mystery to me until alert reader Steve Fronczek sent some helpful info (Steve and Dawn Smyth have lots of camper & other related stuff at the PLF VW website). The lower edge of the side flap has a pocket and grommets, apparently for some arrangement for extending it out like the awnings on later tents, but I have no extra poles or guy ropes for this. The privy hardware can be used, but then your restroom is out of order! The Crandall article says you can remove the outer side pole from the top and slide it into the pocket on the outer flap, but that seems unstable.

Well, here's what Steve had to say:

polesI have information to confirm their use. All tent front wall pieces were made with the bottom pocket and leather grommets. We have seen several tents from different years of manufacture and they all exhibited the pocket and grommets. The Crandall article is wrong in saying " can remove the outer [connecting tube] from the top and slide it into the pocket on the [front wall]...". It would and does make the tent unstable. Also, you do not use the privy hardware. Apparently the poles and tie downs were an accessory package you could add to the already expensive Privy Tent. The accessory poles included: two sliding poles, two guy ropes, assorted stakes, & one special connecting tube that came in three parts. The connecting tube is the same diameter as the upper sliding secting of the sliding pole, and is machine crimped at one end and machine tapered at the other. The center portion is aluminium (not steel like the end pieces) and accepts the tapered ends of the end tubes.

tent with awning extendedThe connecting tube is slid through the bottom pocket of the front tent wall. Then the two sliding poles are inserted through the ends of the connecting tube and the leather grommet in the tent. The guy ropes loop over the sliding pole spikes and are anchored with hooks. The enclosed photos (a European only orange and cream tent) show you how much extra room you have for those extra sunny days.

It is very easy to setup and is quite stable in light winds. I wouldn't recommend using this feature when it rains. It would all drain back into the main tent area. I hope this information clears up the mystery of the Privy Tent Awning debate. It does Exist! :-) Dawn & Steve

The "Foyer" Tent (1958? - 1965)

For detailed illustrations and setup instructions for these tents, click here.

I originally thought this was the earliest style of Westy tent, mainly because of this photo, which appeared in the FYI section of the September, 1986 issue of Hot VWs (p.26) in a short article about the "oldest and best" Westfalia being sought at the time by the Henry Ford Museum. I've since learned that it was available at the same time as the privy tent but was a separate option. Apparently (as suggested by the Crandalls) more of the privy style were bought, making this one rarer. Mine is the only one of its kind I've seen in person. It's yellow/grey, just like the common privy color (the Crandalls also report seeing these in red/white).

The Foyer tent is a one-piece affair made of heavy canvas, with a strip of vinyl along the bottom acting as a reinforcement and splash guard. It fits over the side-door opening (it has a little gap for the leg of the roof rack) as a sort of foyer or vestibule. It's big enough for two adults to stand inside, but little else, and was probably intended as a means of getting in and out of the camper in cold or wet weather.

(As you can see, the purpose of the hatch on early Westies was to provide a smoking porch.) The fabric (on mine) has yellow-orange and blue-gray vertical stripes, each about four inches wide. The tent itself is about four feet wide by three feet deep, and inside headroom is well over six feet. A long white zipper runs up the middle of the front, while the back is open and contoured to fit the bus.

The frame consists of four metal poles which fit into pockets inside the top of the tent and lock together to form a square. Legs on two of the poles fit into brackets which were bolted to the camper's roof. Two additional poles dogleg into the top frame and have small chain-hooks to hold the doors open. The lower ends of these poles fit into holes in the jack supports. Rubber grommets help protect the paint on the doors and the jack points. (Thanx to Steve Mighetto for correcting me on this setup and supplying these excellent photos.)

The lower edge of the tent is secured to the ground with about a dozen metal stakes. Each stake is about six inches long and is formed from hardened 1/4" rods with a loop at one end. On mine, two storage bags made of grey and blue canvas with leather straps are supplied for the tent and poles. ("Beach Blanket Bulli" dealer lit image ripped off from Olivier. I always did think it looked like a cabana.)

Check out the article on Ross Harmon's beautiful '67 Westfalia in the February 1987 issue of Hot VWs (p. 52) for some great photos of this beauty. It's the largest and most colorful of the Westfalia side tents, hence the name I've given it. Although it still has no floor, it does have screened windows, which I'm sure make it a much more comfortable tent on humid nights.

The Big Top probably came along at the same time as the "caboose" poptop. The Crandalls say 1966, while I have a note from Jim Rolston saying 1965 (from his personal experience with a one-owner '65 westy).

The style continued up until the second-generation Type IIs were introduced. There's a great improvement in this model over earlier ones: the tent is free-standing, allowing you to leave your campsite relatively undisturbed while you take the Campmobile into town for groceries or sightseeing.

Like the earlier tent, it has an internal frame and large, zippered flaps. A boot fastens between the vehicle and tent for a weatherproof, bugproof connection. The gigantic screen windows have flaps on both the inside and outside, and the whole tent is constructed of canvas in bright colors. The top is deep blue, while the sides are yellow and the front flap has red, yellow, and blue stripes. You can't help looking like a happy camper in this one!

Here are some more detailed shots from 1998's Bulli Brigade and Dade City Bug Jam (two excellent events, BTW).

The reinforced beaded edge of this flap normally slides into a metal strip on the bus to effect a weathertight seal. Here the flap has been pushed back over the tent to get it out of the way.
You can easily see the zippered door that closes when the bus is away from the campsite, as well as the connecting flap shown above.
Interior shot shows how the zippered door can be rolled up and tied off when the bus is docked. Note the internal frame; the next design will hang from an exterior frame.
Here are two variations on the straps used to hold up the front door when it's rolled up -- ties vs. fasteners. One may be a kludge, or they're probably year variations. Collect the full set!

These tent pages are originally © Joe Clark, 1994-2000.