Westfalia – Company history

Mobile passion with history

1844: The beginning of the Westfalia company. On 1 October 1844, Johann Bernhard Knöbel started a forge, thus laying the foundation stone for a long-lasting history. He originally built heavy horse-drawn carts to transport goods arriving at the new train station.

1950s: The history of Westfalia conversions began in 1951 with one customer’s special wish. When Westfalia in Wiedenbrück created the so-called “Camping Box”, especially designed for an officer in the British Forces stationed in Germany, he had a simple request: equip a VW transit van as a home. This had to be neatly built into the vehicle and at the same time had to be suitable as a room for sleeping, living and working. So the people at Westfalia took a VW bus, installed a double door between the B and C columns and built in multi-purpose furniture and decoration behind the front seats.  For example pretty ruffled curtains which matched the checked pattern of the furniture. A real zeitgeist combination. A studio couch, folding table, seat bench, roll-front cabinet and sideboard completed the interior ensemble. The result was such a success that the Camping Box soon went into series production and the converted VW Bus became the dream car of the 50s, because it was multifunctional and could be used as a hotel on wheels.

1960s: In 1962 Westfalia built the first motorhome with furniture surfaces made of light plastic material, and gave its name to the VW bus-based Westfalia SO 34. The Westfalia SO 34 was shipped across the pond in large numbers, and was the first vehicle with camping furniture with white and grey plastic surfaces instead of wood veneer surfaces. The SO 42 was also very successful in the USA. This vehicle already had insulation but it didn’t yet have the folding roof which became typical for the Westfalia later on.  The equipment comprised interior panelling, roof storage compartment, cool box with water tank, manual pump and folding table on the side, wardrobe with mirror, storage compartment with upholstery and folding table. A little bit later the innovative folding roofs became standard, offering a lot of room in this jack of all trades’ “kitchen”, resulting in a comfortable standing height and more space to work in.  The vehicles converted by Westfalia created a feeling of freedom and independence that had been unthinkable until then. After all, you’re at home where you feel at home. 

1970s: In 1976 Westfalia created the first designs for a pioneering motorhome. It was going to be named after the 18th century’s greatest explorer, James Cook. One year later the moment finally arrived: the presentation of the first Mercedes-Benz “James Cook”. This combined safety and comfort and was furthermore equipped with a wet cell. The “James Cook” became a best seller and was very soon the symbol of comfortable travel. The “Sven Hedin”, also built in 1977, was the first motorhome with a shower, hot water system and a specially designed high roof on the basis of the new VW LT. These two successful models marked the beginning of Westfalia’s breakthrough. The Joker’s success story began in 1978. Many campers used this as a multifunctional vehicle, also to do their shopping or to drive to work. As a result, they no longer needed an additional passenger car, which made acquiring such a vehicle financially possible for many households for the first time. This vehicle lived up to its name:  70,000 were sold in one decade. This was Westfalia’s real trump card.

1980s: The success story of those years was clearly the Joker from Volkswagen, with various versions on the basis of the VW T3 – probably one of the most successful converted transit vans ever made. In 1981 the VW Joker was manufactured for the first time with an aerodynamic high plastic roof and a front panoramic window.  After winning the Ford Company as another partner in 1985, Westfalia now also offered the “Nugget”. This was a complete compact camping van which offered mobility and agility for your leisure time and which even qualified as a passenger car with its spirit stove for registration purposes. Still this cooperation with Ford was nothing new for Westfalia: as early as the 1970s converted transit vans with the Ford emblem on the radiator grille had been sold under the names “Chiemsee” and “Wannsee”.

1990s: Production of the VW California, Vito Marco Polo, Vito F, BMW Multi Trailer and the Columbus 2 caravan began in the years 1990-1998. This series of new vehicles guaranteed exciting holiday trips in the 1990s. In 1994 there was a reason for festivities: Westfalia celebrated its 150th anniversary. Westfalia offered the special edition Highway with added California-Coach equipment to its customers to celebrate the anniversary. This model was limited to 500 vehicles. In 1996 the first Marco Polo on a Mercedes base left the assembly line, followed by the first Vito F in 1997. Shortly before the turn of the millennium, Westfalia was split into three business areas: Westfalia Van Conversion remained responsible for manufacturing and distributing leisure time vehicles, and DaimerChrysler acquired 49 per cent of the new company. Westfalia Automotive would deal with towing attachments and the Westfalia Trailer Group would manufacture trailers for passenger cars and horse trailers.  The 1990s, however, were characterised by economic ups and downs caused by disputes among the company’s owners and difficult economic conditions.

2000 – until today: All is well with the leisure time vehicles and a new production record was set in 2001, when leisure vehicle number 500,000 left Westfalia’s assembly line. DaimlerChrysler AG massively increased its stake in Westfalia, and Westfalia Van Conversion became a 100 per cent subsidiary of the Stuttgart-based company. But Westfalia’s basic business policy still remains the same.  And there was another success story: Westfalia won Opel-Werke as a fourth partner for its Van Conversion activities. thus completing its range of well-known partners and so opening up new possibilities. In 2003 the “Marco Polo” series was extended with vehicles based on the Mercedes “Viano”.  Opening up the American market began in 2004 with the delivery of the first James Cook under the trade mark “Dodge Sprinter Westfalia” in the USA. Westfalia won the well-known manufacturer “Airstream” as a distribution partner. The first James Cook on the basis of the new Sprinter left the factory in Rheda-Wiedenbrück in 2006. In the same year Westfalia presented the first prototype of the Big Nugget with long wheelbase at the Caravan Salon. In 2007 the company was taken over by Aurelius AG and a new version of the Sven Hedin was produced on the basis of the Crafter. In 2008 Westfalia presented its first semi-integrated vehicle in more than 50 years, with the world premiere of the WestVan at the “Caravan Motor und Touristik” trade fair in Stuttgart. The base for the legendary Westfalia Sven Hedin switched to the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in 2009. The launch of the Opel Vivaro L2 started in the same year, offering more room for customers’ needs. As the leading transit van converter, Westfalia converted Fiat vehicles for the first time in 2009, when the Fiat Scudo-based Michelangelo was presented to the public. In 2010, Westfalia introduced the multi-mobile on the basis of the Fiat Scudo, thus expanding its model range even more. Finally Westfalia was acquired by the Rapido group in 2011.