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Your car, your story – Part 4: The VW T3 - The last real Bulli

Is there a more loved camper van than the Volkswagen ‘Bulli’? Manufactured between 1950-1992 in three classic iterations (the T1, T2 and T3), this German vehicle has gained a cult following and has become a symbol of the 1960s counterculture. Despite being out of commission for almost 30 years, the popular ‘Bulli’ can still be regularly seen, exploring beaten tracks around the world, and bringing back nostalgic childhood memories of camping trips and holidays for many who encounter it. Join us in the fourth instalment of our blog series focussing on the classic vehicles our employees love.

The ‘last real Bulli’

For Livio Stella, Expert in Product Line Development Aftermarket EMEA at NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE GmbH, classic cars have played a significant role for as far back as he can remember. “I have been passionate about classic cars since my childhood. By the time I had become a teenager, I was already working on motorcycles and cars as a hobby mechanic,” he says.

This interest stayed with him as an adult. Not only did he gain employment in the automotive industry, he also began to own classic cars himself; eventually culminating in his purchasing of a Volkswagen T3. Built between 1979-1992, the T3 was the successor to the T1 and T2, a succession of much-loved vehicles which were manufactured between 1950-1979.

Nicknamed the ‘Bulli’ in Germany – the name being a portmanteau of the words ‘Bus’ and ‘Lieferwagen’ (delivery truck) – the T3 is considered by many German Volkswagen fans to be the ‘last real Bulli’. “This is because, just like the T1 and T2, the T3 had its engine at the rear of the vehicle. My T3, or ‘Abdully’ as I have christened it, (a joining of ‘Abdul’ and ‘Bulli’) was manufactured in 1988 and can carry nine passengers, so it certainly qualifies as a proper ‘Bulli’,” he says.

While the T1 and T2 have appreciated in value, fetching in and around €100,000, the T3 is a lot more affordable, although it too has seen an increase in value within the last ten years; something that can be explained by its ever-growing cult factor. “I bought mine in Germany. It had obviously come from Serbia because of the licence plates. I got a good deal for it, so I was very happy,” he says.

Rust never sleeps

With a variety of different models which include the ‘Caravelle’, the ‘Multivan’, the ‘Doka’, the ‘Club Joker’, the ‘Bluestar’, the ‘Carat’ etc., Bulli owners consider themselves members of an exclusive club and it is not uncommon to see drivers greet each other as they cross paths on the road, even if they are driving different models of the T3.

Owning a T3, however, is not the only thing members of this ‘Bulli club’ have in common. High levels of maintenance, regular repair costs and the continuous threat of rust are routine issues that all T3 owners have to tolerate.

Rust, in particular, is notorious among T3 owners. This is because, during production, the body of the vehicle was welded together with individual parts of sheet metal, creating fertile conditions for rust to form at the seams.

For many ‘Bulli’ owners, restoration and maintenance costs can even exceed the original cost of the vehicle. Livio, however, was one of the lucky ones. “Unlike many other T3s, the chassis and body of the vehicle I bought were in super condition. The engine and the interior, on the other hand, were in poor condition, and the painting was in a terrible state, so it required a lot of work when I first got it,” he informs.

A worthwhile hobby

Although it may seem strange to many, the regular maintenance aspects that come with owning a ‘Bulli’ are part of the allure for Livio and co. “Taking care of ‘Abdully’ takes up between three to ten hours a week. Luckily for me, my wife is very supportive of my hobby and my neighbours have a lot of patience! It is a very enjoyable hobby. I feel very fortunate that passions of mine like speed, racing and vintage cars play significant roles in both my professional and private life,” he tells.

On the topic of the ignition, it’s no surprise to hear what equipment he uses for his diesel vehicle. “I installed a Y-918J glow plug from NGK SPARK PLUG, the world’s leading ignition and sensor specialist. When it comes to generating the perfect ignition for each vehicle, no matter its age, no company comes close to the one that I work for in terms of quality and coverage,” he informs.

Livio is proud to tell that he carries out all ‘Abdully’-related maintenance tasks on his own, avoiding the help of any professionals. “This hobby is purely for me. Unlike many classic or vintage vehicles, my T3 is suitable for everyday use, 12 months a year, so I feel I am doing a pretty good job on my own,” he says.

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