Posted on 15 July 2013.
There is nothing cooler than a VW T2 Camper Van and so we borrowed one from classic-campervans.co.uk who operate out of Classic Car Club London’s N1 base for the weekend to find out exactly how cool.
Ice cool, as it turns out, judging by the waves, positive feedback, adulation and general interest our 2007 Danbury converted camper generated. Whether it was the history of these iconic vehicles that incidentally celebrate 64 years of continuous production in 2013, more on which later, cool blue hue, lowered stance, smart interior or sexy alloys isn’t clear. Everyone, young and old wanted to chat, touch, look inside or simply know more. This really was the classic car equivalent of getting a puppy; a people magnet with a very strong pull.
That when you think about it is a little odd, given that the VW Type 2 (T2) was originally an attempt to re-use the VW Type 1 (T1 or Beetle) platform in a more practical way, the brainchild of Dutch car importer Ben Pon in 1946. Three years later in 1949 the first split windscreen T2’s appeared and eight years after that in 1967 the first ‘Bay’ front window vehicles started to be produced. Something that continued in Germany until 1979 when production swapped to the squarer looking T3, Mexico until 1994 and amazingly Brazil until the end of this year (2013). Danbury and others will be forced to convert second hand vans after all of the new stock has been consumed. Another interesting point, all camper vans were and continue to be today converted Type 2 buses, albeit originally offered as new in partnership with specialists such as Devon and Westfalia, the latter often referred to as ‘Westies’.
The question remained, how does a converted utilitarian commercial vehicle dating back to shortly after the second world war win over the hearts of so many people and for so long? Well, being frank judging by our two days experience it can’t be about practicality, the inside is cosy at best, or comfort whilst on the move, it is after all quite noisy to pilot, and it certainly isn’t about decent cross-country pace because 55-60mph is as fast as you dare without running the risk of blowing the engine up. Worse still travelling above 60mph tests not only your nerve, but also the ancient and heavy powerless and somewhat vague steering as well as rudimentary suspension to the extreme as the T2 bounces and weaves its way along the highway. There are alternatives on the market that tackle all of those points in a much better way, but then they’re not the reason you and so many others like you want a T2 so badly. Because just like getting that puppy, buying a converted VW Type 2 Bus is much more a lifestyle choice.
I dwelled on the why all the time we had our van and the word that kept coming back even with a contemporary conversion like this 2007 Danbury was ‘simplicity’. These vehicles are like life stripped right back down to the bone. There is no fat, or waste, just an honest attempt to transport up to four people around with luggage, feed everyone and then accommodate them overnight. The additional two needing to be children really as the extra sleeping spaces involve hammocks or relatively thin flooring that make use of the elevated roof space. For two adults that same space can be used for the luggage previously stored in the boot and forced to move in order to make way for the bed, an arrangement that works perfectly well. So much so I challenge anyone to find a more romantic way to spend a weekend than tootling around in a T2 stopping only when you want to, which on the glorious weekend we had was to watch the sun go down whilst enjoying that naturally chilled bottle of beer.
If you’re interested in some other minor Camper Van blah-blah then be aware that the later Brazilian built T2’s moved away from the infamous air-cooled flat four engine to a more modern Polo water cooled in-line four unit around 2005-2006. That those same sourced vehicles may require protecting to prevent them rusting away whilst removed from their far drier climate. All will need a heater adding, our Danbury had a Webasto unit retro-fitted, and all will have been converted from left hand drive and so the sliding door on the side is to the right and not kerbside in the UK at least on the left. Other than that the newer vehicles should have a tidier and possibly more practical interior with a cleaner layout that includes essentials like a small fridge. This as opposed to an original not so cool, ‘cool’ cupboard one owner showed us on their ’74 Devon for instance.
Choosing one of these vehicles carefully is particularly important because much like a puppy or in classic car terms say a Morgan 3 Wheeler (M3W) it might not be for you. Puppy’s take up a lot of time and energy and M3W’s are difficult to get in and out of, offer no weather protection and are extremely noisy to drive. Camper Vans offer similar challenges, being tight on space inside, slow and noisy to travel in (motorways being most tricky given that foreign registered trucks are not restricted to 55mph) very expensive to buy new, or requiring a lot of time and energy as a second hand proposition. If you are in the market and haven’t experienced one previously our plea is to try before you buy because after all much like puppy dogs Camper Vans are not just for Christmas, they’re for life.
How does this car make you feel?
In one word: Hippy
As a favourite meal: BBQ chicken washed down with a bottle of beer nicely chilled on the journey down
Anything Else: Such simplicity in the complex world we live in today is still very refreshing
Key Ingredients: Simple and modest design, cutesy looks, universal appeal, cosy but comfortable bed, air cooled flat four engine (missing on final Brazilian built vans)