The Camping and Caravanning Club have kindly granted us permission to share their review of the new VW Grand California 600 that was published in the November 2018 edition of their magazine.
For VW Microbus enthusiasts, the 23 window Microbus is considered the Holy Grail. Today, we are sharing a very special unicorn: the world’s only 1965 Volkswagen Microbus stretch limousine, complete with 33 windows as well as a ragtop sunroof.
The one-of-a-kind Microbus was custom built by a VW-only restoration garage in Southern California (where else?) and took two years to complete. The result is stunning: the India Ivory-on-Tropical Turquoise bus features safari windows, front and rear; 14 side pop-out windows with large spoon latches; chrome front door frames; polished trim pieces on beltline and bumpers; and original 15-inch “crows foot” wheels in a white powdercoat.
Underneath the skin is a 2074cc VW engine that has been completely rebuilt. In fact, the engine, transmission, and gear reduction boxes have all been completely disassembled and rebuilt using only brand-new authentic components. Additional mechanical upgrades include front disc brakes, Gene Berg performance shifter, Vintage Speed exhaust system, and Blaze-Cut auto fire suppression system. The restored stretch Microbus also features LED headlights, custom LED taillights, as well as an LED third-brake light.
The cabin is undoubtedly the VW’s party piece. The Volkswagen Microbus stretch limo features two-tone brown benches with white piping and hidden pleats, which seat up to 12 passengers. The Microbus also boasts a custom wood floor, wood interior, and a high-end sound system featuring 6 JBL speakers, an Alpine amp, and Alpine head unit. RGBW LED light strips run across the entire length of the interior of the bus and can change to any color!
Following the extensive two-year restoration, the stretch Microbus finally arrived to Maui, Hawaii (where else?), to enjoy its new life as a special VIP limo for Endless Summer Limousine. Maui is long known as a popular wedding and tourism location with over 7,000 weddings booked every year.
Unfortunately, a sudden family emergency will require the owner and operator of Endless Summer Limousine to relocate, which means leaving the Microbus, the business, and the island behind. According to the eBay listing, the beautiful Microbus sold for $220,000. Despite the astronomical price, we’re sure it is money well spent for the right owner.
Who wants a princess bed when you can have an awesome VW camper van replica to lay your head down in?
Reddit user inexplorata, aka the world’s number one dad, built his daughter this incredible bed-cum-playhouse for her third birthday after he saw an ad on Craigslist for free VW Beetle parts – namely, a bumper, hubcaps, and some interior door pieces.
After picking up a $30 bunk bed, also on Craigslist, the enterprising dad set to work.
The construction, as detailed on his blog, took him four months.
He did have the occasional extra pair of hands.
The build cost him a total of $100, or £65 (much cheaper than those custom-made kids’ furniture places charge we’re guessing).
The camper bed has working headlights and a horn that makes driving sound effects.
It also has a colourful 60s style decor, as befits the iconic van’s hippy heritage.
As well as a hammock. Obviously.
And one careful owner.
Excellent work dad.
In fact, she said, people have been “open and kind and welcoming” everywhere
they’ve gone on this odyssey. “You hear bad things in the news, but overall
people are willing to help. They’ll drop everything they’re doing and invite you
Vought was quick to ascribe their cordial reception to the vehicle. “It’s the
bus,” he said. “People in all countries seem to love the VW bus. They’re already
kind of looking at you anyway, and when they see the bus, it’s like instant
smiles and instant friends.”
The bus at “Mano de Desierto,” a large sculpture of a hand in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
Dillon Vought and Tessa Ely didn’t know each other when they attended Service
High School at the same time. Big school, different classes, different crowds.
You know how it goes.
But they’re plenty familiar with each other now. For the past year, they have
traveled 26,000 miles throughout the Western Hemisphere in a Volkswagen
Westfalia pop-top camper bus.
“We just got the idea that we wanted to do some long-term travel,” said Vought.
“We did a few road trips around Alaska and it sort of evolved into this.”
The Alaska Dispatch News contacted the couple in Tierra del Fuego, the
southernmost part of South America. Ely said the place felt a little like
“There’s free camping everywhere,” she said. “It’s very safe. And everyone’s
Vought, 29, got a degree in marketing at a college in Reno, Nevada, before
moving back to Anchorage, where he has worked in logistical support for the oil
industry. Ely, 27, studied at UAA and became a special-education teacher with
the Anchorage School District. Of course, for the last 13 months they’ve been on
what can only be described as an extended leave of absence.
“It’s more like two years,” Vought said. But during the first year of the
adventure, the bus didn’t go anywhere as they rebuilt it.
They bought the broken-down 1975 Westfalia for $500. “It was the only one for
sale two years ago,” he said. They found it slowly weathering away in Hope. It
took a year of busted knuckles and “a lot of duct tape” before the thing was
ready to roll. In the process they added insulation, an RV furnace and changed
the horrible orange paint to a classic green and white two-tone.
Most important, they replaced the old air-cooled engine, a 1960s design, with a
modern Subaru Boxer 2.2 water-cooled engine. The original could churn up 66
horsepower and was famously underpowered, particularly on hills. The Boxer
produces 100 horsepower or better and is more fuel efficient than the vintage
It was time well spent, Vought said. “It’s really a blessing that we rebuilt the
entire thing, because now we know what’s going on with it. We can do most of the
fixes ourselves. You don’t need to worry about finding a good mechanic.”
They had considered taking a year to drive around Asia, but decided South
America would be easier, more right-in-the-neighborhood. “Tessa knew some
Spanish,” Vought said. “It was a more reachable trip.”
The journey began with a long drive down the West Coast. “We were hoping to ski
quite a bit,” Vought said. “But it was a bad year for skiing all over. We didn’t
actually get out and do anything until we got to Vancouver Island. And then it
was surfing. In February.”
They did manage to find snow in Montana. Then they joined a couple of other VW
buses for a mini-caravan drive down the Baja Peninsula, where they spent a
month. From there, the couple ferried the bus to the mainland, headed down the
west coast of Mexico, cut over to the Yucatan and proceeded through Central
America, surfing and camping on beaches as they went.
The Panama Canal brought a gap in road travel. The bus was shipped to Colombia
and the travelers followed by sail. After another month in Colombia, they
continued into the Andes, traveling through Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
The southern terminus of the trip came at the end of the Pan American Highway,
just past Ushuaia, Argentina, latitude 54 degrees and change. It’s sometimes
referred to as “the end of the world.”
“We considered going further by boat to Antarctica,” Vought said. But “the
cheapest tour would still have been $5,000.”
Though the trip has been decidedly frugal, it hasn’t been free. The travelers
are already contemplating their return to home and jobs.
“We’ll cruise around Patagonia for a few months, then ship the bus to Florida
from Buenos Aires,” Ely said. While the bus is on the boat she’ll come back to
Alaska to work and Vought will backpack. They’ll reconnect with their trusty
transport in mid-June and drive through the U.S. and Canada “and see how long we
can make our money last,” she said.
The last logical leg will come after they return to Alaska, a run up the Dalton
Highway to Prudhoe Bay.
“I think we’re going to do a photo book,” Vought said. “But we probably won’t
actually complete it until we’re back in Anchorage.”
They’ll come home with a log-book of white-knuckle experiences. “Bolivia has the
worst roads,” Vought said. “We came out there with suspension issues. I’ve had
to replace the shocks and replace the clutch cable five times now.”
“And we’ve gotten a few bouts of stomach illness,” he continued. “Times when you
have to hole up in a hotel for a while and just pray you’re going to get
“I was getting pretty sick in El Salvador,” Ely said. “Dealing with hospitals
and the language barrier is something I don’t want to relive again.”
“The good part is that the local medical care people know how to treat the
common ailments in the area,” said Vought. “They can help you get well, even if
it seems like the most horrible thing.”
The payoff has been the people, Vought said. That goal was at the top of their
reasons for making the trip.
“We wanted to get more engulfed into the culture, go places that the tourists
don’t go, talk to the locals,” he said. “It’s been great. Every time we have a
question or a loss, you don’t hesitate to ask anyone because everyone is so
willing to help. You ask someone for directions and they ask you to stay at
One question they get asked a lot is whether they want to sell the bus. The
answer is always no. “It’s our baby!” said Ely.
“Besides, if we have kids, they’re going to see pictures of this trip and
pictures of the bus,” said Vought. “And if we don’t still have it, they’ll kill
BLOG Follow the travels of Dillon Vought, Tessa Ely and their 1975 VW camper bus
Apparently other vehicles are available, so this will be mainly applicable to those other, lesser brands.
Defining the term
They all do the same thing but have many names. Each person will have their own term but loosely we are talking about Camper Van, Van, Bus, Bulli, Kombi and others covering everything from the iconic Split Screen to the current T6 (at time of writing). For specifics on the VW variants, see also the definitions page.
With that out of the way, let’s refer to the vehicle as a “van” for simplicity.
The physical size of the outside is often a determining factor. A friend purchased a perfect Mercedes Sprinter in 2018, completely unmarked exterior, excellent condition all over and a bargain price. He drove it home and his wife compared the physical size of the van to their house and it was promptly returned! Remember that if you are not away in the van, it will be sitting outside your house unless you are lucky enough to have additional storage.
If you want a shower, permanent toilet room, standing height with no requirement to lift a lid then you will be hard pressed to fit all of that into a van the size of a Split Screen!
For many reasons, you may decide that you want to stand up inside your van. If you do not need this, a “tin top” could be your ideal vehicle. A solid metal roof will not leak water! Another option is the “High top”, a lid usually made from plastic that does not move, giving additional height for the vehicle. A sunroof on a modern vehicle is likely to be watertight but this is not guaranteed, a sunroof on an older vehicle has a much higher chance of water ingress.
A lifting roof aka pop top comes in all shapes and sizes. these can hinge on the long side, the short side or only part of the overall roof. They are made by many companies and you can move a roof from one vehicle to another as long as it is the same model…you cannot put a Split Screen pop top onto a T6!
A pop top will add the ability to drive a small vehicle and make it larger when you arrive, but can leak through any openings and will add weight up high, reducing fuel efficiency and possibly impacting handling, especially around a corner.
If you want the world inside a van, you need to compromise. We find that small is beautiful and you are limited on space making you focus on the items that you really need with you. Two adults can easily have everything required to tour Europe for months, you just need to pack sensibly and use the space effectively.
External – it is made of metal
It may sound obvious but vans are generally made of metal and this metal will ultimately fall foul of the dreaded brown stuff. Rust. ALL vehicles are fixable but this comes with cost and time. If you have a tight budget or want no downtime to maximize usage, rust is something you want to avoid. This sounds illogical but paying more on a vehicle without rust is often more cost effective than a cheaper vehicle with rust unless you can weld. Then the sky is the limit – buy a rusty van!
If you want a perfect interior, many vans are already done but may not match your taste for layout, colour and style. Interiors can be swapped out easily but again this costs money. You can build your own interior for very little money or buy incredible units and pay for installation but this quickly runs into multiple thousand pounds.
An interior will have a second hand value – don’t just scrap it! Sell it and use the money towards the interior that you want in your van.
Fixtures and fittings
If you need it ready to go, what do you need? Bed, sink, fridge, TV for the evening?
Bed – our first van had a fantastic interior and the bed was 41 inches wide with the vertical sides of the sliding door and kitchen units. The foam from the seats made up the bed at an inch thick. We did not sleep much and it made a huge dent in the enjoyment of being away.
Our new interior (built at home for the cost of timber) gives us a 60 inch / 5 foot wide / 1.5 metre wide bed. It is long enough for an adult, wide enough comfortably for two adults and the “bedhead” is the solid back door, so you can read in bed with your head propped up. It makes so much difference that we actually say we prefer that bed to the one in the house. This is our key requirement, sleep!
Sink – washing up is a necessary evil when you eat in the van or have a cuppa. If you only ever eat out, never need to wash up or use site facilities to wash up, a sink may be optional.
Fridge – a cool bag will get you a long way to keeping food and drink cool and they are inexpensive. Some camp sites have a freezing service for ice packs for a few pounds allowing you to keep food cool for longer. Moving up to the next stage is a fridge, running on electricity (either 12 volt or 240 volt when at a camp site) or gas. These can be picked up used but get them serviced. Compressor fridges are not as efficient as an absorption fridges if you want efficiency. Be careful though, a good sized 12 volt fridge is over £500 new and they need to be thought about sensibly to avoid flattening the battery. See also our recent article on solar panels and split charge relay.
TV – If you absolutely must have the TV on in the evening, you either need a large additional battery or mains hook up on a camp site to power it. You will also need a decent sized aerial / dish to pick up the signal. Another option is a computer tablet that charges from USB which uses much less power and can have TV programs and movies downloaded to it before you leave.
Cooking – kitchen / stove / burner. These can be portable and sit in a cupboard or fitted permanently. Even if you just want a cuppa, you need one. These can be purchased reasonably inexpensively new and if you get a used one, anything with gas or electric on it should be serviced before use.
Think about other things that you cannot live without and would not get into a suitcase for a flight.
Heating – this one is contentious. Camping outside the key summer months means that you might be a little chilly. Bespoke heating is available and usually runs off either gas bottles, or your petrol or diesel tank. If you are careful, you can instead heat your van with the cooker as that is generating heat although it is not as efficient.
Already covered earlier but important enough to cover a second time. If you don’t know the specifics of the vehicle type that you are buying, you may not know where exactly to look for hidden rust that can be really expensive to fix. Find an expert to tell you where to look or take one with you to view the van.
Inside wheel arches, underneath in the hard to reach places, around the gearbox or engine area. These ones are key places where rust and rot are not seen although there may well be many, many more!
See it in the flesh taking an expert with you. Anything else means you will probably get a shock and it could be a shock to your wallet. Prod things, check everything, take a list with you of things to check. Do not be put off with cheap and shiny bits – trinkets like candles, blankets, curtains and other items make it look great but are cheap and possibly do not come with the vehicle. Focus on the metal shell of the vehicle, the engine, gearbox and other high cost items.
Does everything work and show signs of being maintained rather than cleaned last week after sitting unused for a decade? Is the pop top stiff with lack of use and with cracked canvas? Look for water leaks everywhere.
Do you have any service history, bills, documentation or other paperwork that adds confidence that this van has been loved?
Does the logbook match the vehicle for chassis number, engine number if applicable and the address of the viewing? Check the MOT if applicable, the address visited to the log book, check the mileage on all paperwork. Get a sense of regularity of use, regular use is better than sitting in a field.
Scene tax is a term used for buying a van at a show. It may not apply where you are purchasing. Buying privately is possibly cheaper than buying from a dealer unless it is a pig wearing lipstick (poor van made to look like a great van). A dealer will have a higher price for the same vehicle to cover profit, warranty and servicing. Insist on seeing the HPI paperwork from the dealer even if it is online. Again, check the details match! There are bargains and nightmares both privately and at a dealer.
Shop around online, look at as many as possible to understand the price ranges. Use other examples as a haggling tool. If it sounds too good to be true, be wary! Never use escrow, don’t pay in advance, don’t pay until the goods are in your hands. Buy from the property marked on the logbook not a McDonalds car park nearby. And don’t inspect a vehicle in the dark.
“You get what you pay for” is true! If you pay £2,600 for a Bay window van, it is going to need a lot of work. Trust me on this one, I am over 3 years into the metalwork restoration. If you pay £30,000 from a dealer for a one owner, low mileage, always garaged, T6 with full service history and a 12 month warranty, you are likely to have fewer problems than me.
Lots of people sell in the spring ready for the season, looking for wide eyed folks with wads of cash who want to live the dream. Best time to buy is really September when the dream wears off but even so, be careful of the reasons why people sell! Then you also get the winter to prepare for next season. Good luck!
The next edition of the club magazine has been finished by our Editors and looks fantastic. It should be arriving through your door soon!
Bringing us firmly up to date, the T5 finished production and the new T6 was launched in September 2015. The change in overall look is not as significant as previous model changes, which is why you will find the club rondel features 5 vehicles as from the front the T5 and T6 look incredibly similar.
Sleek, modern, powerful and with plenty of driver aides, the T6 is an incredible motorway muncher with everything from the frugal 84bhp diesel engine up to the 200bhp engines available as both petrol or diesel. Gearboxes are 5 to 7 speed as per the T5.
If this model interests you, here is a buying guide:
The Volkswagen Type 2 T5, the fifth generation of transporters went into production in April 2003 have been launched the previous October and continued until 2015.
If this twenty first century model tickles your fancy for its series of 2 litre to 3.2 litre petrol and diesel, front engine, water cooled engines with 5 to 7 speed gearboxes, modern refinement and equipment, this might be the one for you.
There is also a doubleback model that glides out an extra box from the back extending the length when parked to make a huge, spacious, luxury camper inside.
Here is a buying guide if you think this one is for you.
Even though it looks modern and seems to have only come out recently, even the VW T4 is now over 25 years old.
Here is a short video of a great restoration and conversion of a panel van to a camper.
For those of us in sunny (ish – I live in the UK, there are limits) countries, who like to go away in our vehicles and who use 12 volt electrical items, solar charging is now possible. In fact, it is quite easy with a small amount of reading and hopefully this article will help.
- You have a battery that I’m going to call the leisure battery but you can call it a second battery or camping battery. It powers your various camping related items but is not designed to run large appliances like heaters or disco units!
- You want to charge that up for free from the sun so that you are not tethered to an electrical socket on each camp site.
- List all equipment that you have in your vehicle that needs powering from 12 volts
- Check on the equipment or in the manual (which is probably online too and you can magnify the text easier!) for the wattage or the amperage. Make a note of each one in a list.
- Think about how often you use each item in each day and be realistic.
- Think about when you camp.
Now, convert the amps to watts by multiplying by 12 if you only noted the amps.
Otherwise list each item like this:
- Fridge uses 60 watts and will be in use for 8 hours per day on average when in the UK. That makes 480 watt hours per day.
- Lights are 2 watts each and I use 4 of them making 8 watts. In use for 2 hours each. Total is 16 watt hours.
- I use 2 USB sockets that are 7.2 volts and 2 amp which is a maximum of 14.4 watts. Total of 3 hours per day. That is 44 watt hours.
Then add up all those little watt hours to get a total for the day. In this example I get 540 watt hours. It doesn’t really matter what that means, just get the number!
In the UK I think we can get 6 hours of sunshine per day in the summer and 4 hours in spring and autumn (fall). Your country may be different and your feeling might be different.
You then take the total watt hours, in this case 540 watt hours and divide that by the number of hours of sunshine (aka charging) to get the number of watts of input charge you need to counteract the discharge. 540 watt hours divided by 6 hours is 90 watts.
Therefore to replace the lost charge I need a solar panel that has an output of 90 watts. If you need more than 100 watts, consider more than one panel.
The solar panel itself
They come in 3 main flavours, choose the type you prefer!
- Briefcase – these pack away and get stored unused when travelling. They can plug into the cigarette lighter that connects to the correct battery.
- Solid frame free standing panel – these can either be inclined towards the sun and stood on the grass when you are pitched or could be mounted on the roof of your vehicle. They tend to be the least expensive.
- Flexible and semi-flexible – these tend to be the most expensive and will be the focus of the rest of this article. They can be permanently attached to your vehicle.
We purchased a 100 watt solar panel that is “semi flexible” meaning it is about 2mm thick and bends a little but bending too much will break it. We used a Biard panel but other manufacturers are available and the price was around the £130 mark for the supply only of just the panel but this was in 2015.
We then purchased a used roof rack and connected it at the back of our bay window to the roof gutters with a little modification as roof racks are generally lower and narrower than a Bay window needs! It did cost £4 ($6) though!
As an expedient, we laid the panel on the grass upside down, laid the roof rack on the panel also upside down and gaffer taped the two together. It was a plan for a couple of months before glueing the panel to the Dormobile roof and 3 years later it is still gaffer taped!
There are two cables coming out of the solar panel and remember they are live except in the dark so tape them up / ensure the ends are not able to create a short circuit
The clever box in the middle
You cannot just wire the solar panel to the leisure battery – bad things will happen. You need a box in the middle that will stop the leisure battery sending its charge out through the solar panel into the night. It stops the solar panel over charging the leisure battery so far that it explodes. You need to avoid that. This clever box is called a regulator or solar controller and comes in 2 main types – PWM (pulse width modulated) and MPPT (maximum power point tracking). The PWM is less efficient at getting power out of the panel into your battery but is generally a lot cheaper. MPPT would be recommended if you camp outside summer as it is more efficient in less than full sunny days or if you have more than one panel.
The clever box for us was a cheap PWM controller that was about £10 / $15 and has just 3 lights. Charging, discharging and battery health (green is good, flashing is full, red is bad).
We dropped the solar panel cables down the air vent at the back so that there are no new holes on the van and therefore no chances of a water leak! Then got the wires up next to the spare wheel inside the vehicle as the controller is easier to see and that engine bay can get quite warm.
The leisure battery has two new wires, leisure battery positive to the hole on the regulator for battery positive. And then battery negative to regulator battery negative.
Then the solar controller should give you a light on the box.
Next I connected the solar cables – positive first as it is always live in daylight – to the solar controller / regulator. Now my controller had a light saying it was charging.
Then I checked the voltage coming from the controller to the leisure battery – I was getting over 13 volts! It works! I used a dedicated wire directly to the battery rather than using the chassis as it seemed to keep the regulator a little happier with its lights, I don’t know why!
Erm, that’s it
Now I have a solar panel permanently on the roof, always charging from dawn until dusk even on the move. The regulator means that even with the engine running and the split charge working, we do not over charge the leisure battery and it works even under the car port in the winter keeping that battery going until spring time.
Total cost of solar system £160. Cost of replacing the leisure battery every year £120. Saving on electricity per night at a camp site is up to £10 per night. This system seriously pays for itself in no time.