This is the 1988 Volkswagen Caravelle that was owned by Stephen Hawking and used by him for personal transportation for over 10 years. The van was modified to accommodate his wheelchair, and it was used as his wedding car for his 1995 nuptials with Elaine Mason.
Hawking bought the van in 1988 and it became a well-known sight on the streets of Cambridge where he was a professor at the university, the locals would often wave and smile as he went past.
Fast Facts – Stephen Hawking’s Volkswagen Caravelle
- There are few if any modern scientists with the widespread public name recognition of Stephen Hawking. His book “A Brief History Of The Universe” became a critically acclaimed best-seller and over 25 million copies have so far been sold.
- Hawking’s work on on gravitational singularity theorems in the framework of general relativity was critically important, and his theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation (now called Hawking Radiation) was revolutionary.
- I don’t know what any of the things in that second bulletpoint mean, but hopefully you do.
- Hawking bought this Volkswagen Caravelle in 1988, the same year that “A Brief History Of The Universe” was published. He kept it for a decade until the progression of his motor neurone disease required a new wheelchair for which this van wasn’t equipped.
The Volkswagen Caravelle
The Volkswagen Caravelle (T3) was the third generation of the iconic VW Van that had first been released back in 1949. It was given different names in different regions, in the USA it was called the Vanagon, in South Africa it was the Microbus, and in Europe it was the Caravelle.
Much like the earlier two generations of the VW Van, the T3 was originally fitted with air-cooled engines, these would be replaced with more modern liquid-cooled engines later in the model’s production run.
A wide variety of body styles would be offered including a pickup truck like utility version, cargo van versions, minibus versions, and even highly specialized campers built by Westfalia.
As with the earlier generations, the third generation was powered by a rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels. Both petrol and diesel engines were offered in sizes ranging from 1.6 liters to 2.6 liters, and buyers could choose from a 4 or 5-speed manual transmission or a 3-speed automatic.
A special version of the T3 was offered with four-wheel drive, it was called the Vanagon Syncro in the North American market. It was fitted with elevated suspension and a center differential to send power forward and back.
The Volkswagen T3 would remain in production from 1979 until 2002, with assembly taking place in Germany, Austria, and South Africa.
It’s now typically the most affordable of the “classic” VW Vans and as a result its found favor with a new generation, many of whom are converting them into campers and joining the vanlife movement.
Stephen Hawking’s Volkswagen Caravelle
Stephen Hawking had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) in 1963. It was a crushing blow to the athletic young Oxford University student and avid member of the college’s famous rowing team.
Doctors initially gave him just two years to live but he shocked them all, and eventually outlived most of them. By the 1960s he had been confined to a motorized chair but he soon became notorious for the wildness of his wheelchair driving, people quickly learned to leap out of the way when they saw him racing to various lecture halls.
In order to accommodate Hawking on his wheelchair specially modified vehicles were required and in 1988 he bought a new van – the blue Volkswagen Caravelle shown here. It was given the requisite modifications to allow his wheelchair to get in and out, and to be securely fastened to the floor for safety when underway.
This distinctive can became a common sight on the streets of Cambridge where he lived and lectured, as mentioned in the introduction the locals would often wave as he went past. In 1995 this van was his wedding car when he got married to his longtime nurse Elaine Mason.
Sadly due to the progression of his MND Hawking was eventually forced into a larger more complex wheelchair. His trusty VW wasn’t suitable for it and so a new van was bought. He kept this one and passed it onto his nephew who owned it for many years, and who is now offering it for sale directly from uninterrupted Hawking family ownership.
The van is due to cross the auction block with Silverstone Auctions on the 27th of August with no reserve set. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Silverstone Auctions
Ben has had his work featured on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with millions of readers around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.