Baywindow Bus Buying Guide
by Richard Atwell
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:
|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 hoses replaced||$50|
|Accordion tubes and hoses in place||$50|
|Heater boxes rust-free (each)||$200|
|Heat control boxes in place (each)||$100|
|Heat cables and controls||$50|
|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|
|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|
|Sagging rear end [labor intensive]||$10 bushings|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Working fuel gauge||$50|
|Vacuum advance distributor||$125|
|Poptop canvas intact||$300|
|New poptop seals in place||$100|
|Propane tank present||$300|
|Working fridge (deluxe camper only)||$150|
|Tables (front, rear deluxe camper only)||$100-150|
|Stool (deluxe camper only)||$200|
|Retractable seat belts||$200|
|Sway bars (front or front and rear)||$100-$250|
|Fresh air fans||$100|
|BA6 gas heater||$300|
|Air conditioning in working order||$600|
|Oil temp, oil pressure and other gauges||$25-$125|
|Spare tire mount||$25|
|Spare tires (each)||$50|
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...
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