30 years of the California at Techno-Classica: the camper van icon celebrates a big birthday
- 1988 California T3 gains official 'Classic' status
- 157,500 California campers sold over three decades
30 years ago, the first California came onto the market. It was the start of a unique success story. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is now celebrating the birthday of the icon among camper vans at Techno-Classica in Essen (21-25 March). Motto: "AT HOME ON THE ROAD". One highlight at the show will be the presentation of an original California in as-new condition - a 1988 T3.
The California is the most successful camper van of its class, an attitude towards life, a cry for freedom. Across four generations, 157,500 California campers have been sold to date. One important detail unites the models of today with the first-generation T3: the pop-up roof. A tent almost two metres high. For California travellers nothing more is needed to be able to say anywhere in the world: "Home is where we park our camper".
Looking back - The history of the California
The California story began back in 1988 with a special camper model based on the T3 van generation. Late that summer this first California was unveiled at the Caravan Show in Essen. It was the year that Whitney Houston accompanied globetrotters on their car radio with 'One Moment in Time' and Tom Cruise excelled alongside Dustin Hoffman in 'Rain Man'. In Germany Helmut Kohl was chancellor and in the USA Ronald Reagan president.
Customers were able to order the first California in one of two colours: 'Pastel White' or 'Marsala Red'. The interior designers showed an awareness for style with the white-and-grey, clearly laid out kitchen units. The price for the camper was 39,900 DM. The California's attractive price, clever features and indestructible engineering of the Bulli immediately made it a best seller with 5,000 units sold in the very first year. Thereafter the California developed from a special edition model into a range of its own, became ever more popular and in just three years won the custom of 22,000 camper van drivers.
The changeover from the T3 to the T4 in August 1990 was akin to a technical revolution. After four decades of rear-wheel drive using flat four engines, Volkswagen's commercial vehicle specialists simply turned things around: they put the engine in the front and from there drove the front axle. That changed everything: design, suspension, engines and space. In the back especially there was now much more room. Something that the California T4, launched in 1990, utilised more perfectly than any other camper of that time. The advertising slogan at the launch was "Hotel California. Quiet location, comfortable furnishings, panoramic view guaranteed." A play on the Eagles' song and the hotel it signs about in West Hollywood. Like 'Hotel California' the California T4 was also a hit, with sales of around 39,000 over the period to 2003.
Cult status - California T6, an interface to the future
What followed with the T5 was a new dimension in compact camper comfort. Yet this California too remained true to the innovative spatial concept of the original. By 2015 around 55,000 mobile motorists had opted for the California T5, which had long since become the most successful camper van of its class. Even before 2015 was out the California T6 followed. With its numerous driver assistance systems and maximum connectivity, it kicked open the door to the camper van future. This California too became a best seller and in 2017, with 15,155, broke the range's record for new registrations in one year.
It is true to say that the California campers of yore never became ordinary used vehicles. Rather they matured into classics of their age. In Germany the first California T3 has just received official 'Classic' status and with it the 'H' registration plate suffix. There is a good chance that the following generations will also be enrolled into the Hall of Fame of classic vehicles, as all California campers - whether from 1988 or 2018 - already have cult status. And that is timeless.
If, incidentally, looking into the on-board kitchen of the California T3 exhibited at Techno-Classica makes visitors feel a little peckish, they too will be in good hands on Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles' stand in hall 7.0. For being served there will be the legendary 'Volkswagen Genuine' currywurst. Also on the stand in Essen will be a 1963 'Becks Bulli', from which trade show visitors will be able to get the perfect drink to go with their 'Volkswagen Genuine'.