Aircooled v Watercooled Brazilian VW Campervans

A high percentage of our hirers are people looking to buy a VW Campervan so we are often asked our opinion on which one to go for. At VW Camper Hire we have everything from a 50 year old Splitscreen, 79 T2, Brazilian T2s both aircooled and watercooled, converted T5 Campervans and the ubiquitous Volkswagen California. The only one we dont have is the T25 (T3) which we have never wanted on the fleet due to lack of appeal.


Its very common to hear a customer tell us that they love the look of the Classic T2 Bay Campervan but they don’t want the maintenance and bodywork issues of 1970s campervans 40 years on. So the answer to that conundrum is the Brazilian VW T2 (Kombi) as you have a 40 year headstart on the rust! Built in Brazil and converted by Danbury in Yate in the UK, these campervans come in two variants – aircooled and watercooled.

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First of all the 1970s T2 is a true classic and well maintained examples are stunning to look at and sound fantastic with that VW T2 aircooled engine noise but the maintenance can be very high – particularly bodywork  –  so as with any classic vehicle you need to be prepared for the bills that come with owning a period vehicle. So if you want an authentic sounding and looking Type 2 then the Brazilian air cooled is the one to go for. Essentially it is the same classic air cooled engine that has always been used in VW campervans which has been upgraded with fuel injection and electrics. This 1.6L engine is real workhorse and properly cared for will keep on going.  In essence they are very simple engines with a very well developed aftermarket for parts. However, the engines by their very nature require more maintenance particularly with adjustment of tappets, gasket replacement and oil changes which has been our experience as a hire company.


Aircooled production in Brazil came to an end in December 2005 when they changed over to the watercooled VW Fox 1.4L engine. To cater for this a radiator was fitted to the front to provide water cooling. Its all personal taste but the first change we do to an aqua when we buy one is rip out that radiator grill and replace it with a dummy spare wheel. The radiator grill  is a standard feature of the watercooled van but it is ugly as hell and you’ll get far less waves on the road with it on! This engine has been brilliant for us with less maintenance and a great starter every time. The drawback particularly for those who are sticklers for authenticity then the engine doesn’t sound as good – it has the whine of a modern VW rather than the tappy noise of a traditional aircooled and of course you can’t mount a spare wheel on the front and you have to therefore have to fit a dummy spare wheel to achieve that classic look.


All the other major parts of the bus are the same for both variants –  brakes, gearboxes suspension etc… In our time we have had to replace two gearboxes, one on an aircooled and one on a watercooled so same durability for us. The major difference is the fuel consumption where you should achieve 20 -25mpg on an aircooled and 30-35mph on a watercooled. The watercooled will sit more comfortably at higher speeds and as a result we advise hirers to stick to 50-55mph on the aircooled and around 60mph on the watercooled variant if on a motorway.

The gearboxes are not the greatest quality but if driven carefully they are fine. Gear selection over time becomes vague but this is usually improved with replacement of the gear shift rod bushes and adjustment of the gear shift plates. The watercooled pushes the gearbox a little harder and over time we expect the durability of the original gearbox will be better on the aircooled than the water cooled vans. The watercooled can be run on bioethanol but to date we never have and rarely hear of anyone else who does so both run on unleaded petrol. Kombi Final Edition

The only real difference we have learnt from regular use of both types is the aircooled has a frustrating habit of flooding if you try to restart the engine before properly warmed up. Typically if you start the engine (which starts absolutely fine from cold) and then turn the engine off after a few minutes say to visit a petrol station then often it wont restart for half an hour. Eventually we solved this by fitting an inline fuel pump switch to the dashboard so that if that happens now you just turn off the fuel pump, turn over the engine to clear the excess fuel and then turn the fuel pump back on and it starts straight away. Its just a quirk but that fuel pump switch will save embarrassing waits at the petrol station!

VW Campervan Bertie

For us as a hire company its watercooled all the way as our vans will do more miles than the average campervan in a year but if you want a more authentic classic in terms of engine noise then the air cooled is for you.  Budget is a major part of your decision and if we are honest the watercooled, as they are newer, command a significant premium over the aircooled so in terms of value for money it is hard to argue against the air cooled. We are really proud to be one of the largest UK hire companies for Brazilian T2s and we love hearing about our past hirers who have gone on to purchase their own van!

Put a gun to my head then as personal purchase and you have the money then the aqua just shades it for me!

Vanessa James
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Vanessa James

Vanessa loves alls things VW and has a passion for travelling around Europe in modern and retro campervans.

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