VW T4 Transporters are one of the most sought after must-have lifestyle vehicles right now. But what makes them so cool, and what’s it like owning one? To find out we sent Eva and Phil from Marketing on a ‘Brighton cruise’ with VW Heritage sales executive, Mark Goldsmith, and his 2001 T4 to discover what all the fuss is about…
The fourth generation Transporter is up for just about anything. Weekend getaway? Fit a bed in the back and you’re off. Daily driver? Why not. The perfect vehicle to accommodate your hobby? You bet, because there’s bags of room inside, and with a rack on the back it’s ideal for those mad weekend mountain bike breaks with your mates.
And, with Eva and Phil on board, Mark reveals it was the T4’s versatility that made him want to buy one. “I wanted something I could sleep in, but not a full blown camper. More of a day bus, if you like, and the T4 fitted my criteria perfectly.”
And don’t think that Mark only uses his T4 for special occasions. “I use the van as a daily driver and for weekend trips away. It’s perfect for VW shows; it’s a place to crash after a boozy night out. It’s also useful for carting around my Wakeboard and the odd dump run,” he explains.
Mark got his 2001 2.5 TDi about a year and a half ago and, like many Transporters, it started life in a far less glamorous role as a builder’s van. “It was a red panel van to begin with then I had some windows cut in to the sides, and it was resprayed in Porsche 356 silver by JDI Autobody in Kent” he tells Eva and Phil as they cruise past Brighton’s famous West Pier. “It’s running on polished 18in TSW Holsten wheels” Mark says “and I’ve also fitted a de-badged front grille, tinted headlamps and indicator lenses, both with LED bulbs. It’s been remapped to give it a bit more power and I’ve fitted a performance stainless exhaust system, as well as lowering the suspension by 60mm, so it sits a bit better,” he explains.
But Mark doesn’t intend to stop there; side steps, a front splitter and more engine upgrades, including fitting a bigger turbo, are all on the cards in the not too distant future.
In reality, he tells Eva and Phil, it’s more of a rolling restoration – an ongoing project. “I am doing things on it all the time, and I am pleased to report you can make a T4 look nice, without having to spend too much money doing it.”
Having found a place to park up on the seafront for a few more photos, Eva had the chance to ask Mark about what he’s done to the interior. “I managed to fit swivel bases for the front seats and got hold of some Alfa Romeo 156 alcantara seats to go on them” he says, looking into the cab and pointing out the smart looking Mk5 Golf GTi steering wheel. Additional insulation has been added to increase the in-cab refinement too.
“Out back, it’s still very much a work in progress” Mark explains to Eva as he flings back the sliding side door. “So far, every panel, including the floor and roof have been sound deadened with STP bomb aero , but otherwise I’m yet to decide on the final layout. I keep changing my mind and coming up with new ideas, but the plan is to keep things simple with subtle LED lighting which I’ll run behind the roof lining so the wiring’s hidden.” Meanwhile, Mark plans to cover the rock ‘n’ roll bed (a rear bench seat that folds flat into a double bed) in the same material as the front seats and also fabricate some form of storage underneath to keep things nice and tidy. As for the floor, again, things are still up in the air. “I am torn between carpet and vinyl, and I am even toying with the idea of adding a raised floor at the rear for extra storage. There’s still lots to do!”
Sitting it out
It’s the flexibility of being able to do your own thing that really makes owning a VW T4 so much fun, explains Mark. “My last van had all the kitchen units down one side, which didn’t work for me, so I am looking to do something a bit different.” Mark’s advice when planning is to take your time and not rush things. “It’s worth being patient and thinking about what you are likely to use the van for before setting about creating your masterpiece. Also, it helps to get ideas from other people, go to shows, have a nose at what other people have done and adapt their ideas to suit your needs.”
Having learnt from his own mistakes along the way, Mark already has some practical advice if you plan on doing the work yourself. “Measure everything twice before cutting any material and make sure what you use is fit for purpose. Cheap isn’t always the best option. This might sound a bit obvious, but if you’re cutting Veltrim lining carpet, make sure the blade’s sharp otherwise it will tear; watch your fingers, and don’t rush it.”
Get into the scene
As Eva, Phil and Mark make their way back along Brighton’s famous seafront towards the VW Heritage HQ in Shoreham, Mark reveals another huge bonus of owning a T4. “If you drive one, you get instant access to a worldwide community of other enthusiasts. It opens up a whole new social circle, and not only will these people become good friends, but they’ll also prove useful if you need help and advice (usually passed on round a camp fire over a beer) and the great thing is, nobody is judgemental, people are just happy to chat to fellow owners.”
Mark is a keen VW showgoer, and says the regular Heretics meet on a Thursday evening at VW Heritage HQ in Shoreham is a good place to meet likeminded enthusiasts. He tells Eva he also likes getting out to local camps and often spends time with his local car club at weekends, as well as attending organised events such as Grill-n-Chill, Busfest, VanWest, Beach Buggin and Bus Stop.
Chatting to Mark, it’s easy for Eva and Phil to appreciate why VW Transporters from this era currently have such a strong following and, if you’re tempted to buy a T4 yourself, he’s got plenty of useful advice to help you avoid spending out on a lemon.
“Get as much info as possible on the good and bad points, have a budget – and stick to it. Don’t be swayed by cool looking surf buses because chances are they will be rusty wrecks underneath; most surfers just use them as somewhere to dry off and store wet suits, and all that salt water is not good.”
Service history is important, says Mark, and he recommends finding out when things like the cambelt were last replaced. As for engine choice, he favours the 2.5-litre over the 1.9 because it has a bit more grunt yet still remains reasonably fuel efficient, even when tweaked.
Regarding rust, Mark offers the following warning: “Rust is always going to be an issue on these vans, but there are still plenty of good, honest examples out there. Notorious rot spots include the sliding door steps, cab step, front wheel arches and front cross member. If you are paying top dollar, it would pay to have an independent inspection carried out.”
VW Heritage’s T4 Expert: Mark
The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage.