The Kemperlink Story

Pictures are unfortunately missing from this story.

The Family firm of Kemperink was founded in the 1890’s in Harbrinkoek near Almelo in Holland.

It was involved in various different trades including coach trimming. In 1931 it became specialist coach building firm, which also converted and built heavy goods wagons.

The original idea for the VW Transporter came from Dutchman Ben Pon and from the very beginning of the 1950’s these vehicles have proved to be extremely popular in Holland.

Volkswagen were already producing many different sorts of utility vehicle based on the VW transporter these included closed vans, pickups, ambulances, minibuses and fire engines. But soon traders were demanding a vehicle that offered more space.

It was Kemperink who came up with the first real solution. In 1954 they built the first LWB VW transporter. Basically a normal VW pickup chassis was lengthened by 90cm and a box van type section was then fitted.

This changed the wheelbase from 2400mm to 3300mm and produced a lightweight box van capable of carrying bulky goods, which could be loaded by pallet from the side or rear of the vehicle.

It offered a incredible 10 cubic metres of interior space instead of the standard 5 cubic metres. This was a lot better than almost every other 1 tonne van in production at the time. It was still powered by the 1192cc 40 hp engine and had an unloaded weight of 1200 – 1315kg.

The first van produced was delivered to a mattress manufacturer in Rotterdam. This was then followed by an order from a biscuit manufacturer called Bolletje who ordered several vehicles. This in turn led to orders from clothing company C & A, and a very lucrative order from the Dutch army.

Kemperink produced 2 basic models; The long and the tall (Lang und hoch)

Der Kastenwagen – Bestelwagen (a LWB high top)
Die Pritsche – (a lengthened pickup)

The Bestelwagen (unless a special order) was usually supplied without windows. The high top rear cabin consisted of a square section tubular steel frame with steel sides. The roof section is made of fibreglass and to compensate for lack of windows was usually left with a clear centre section to allow for natural lighting of the interior. Early split screen van versions had a flat roof profile with rounded edges. Later Bay window vehicles had bowed roof profile, which gives extra headroom inside. Being based on the pickup, all vehicles had separate cabs. Early vehicles had twin (or single) opening side doors and (usually) a very large rear door fitted with gas struts.

It is possible (but unconfirmed) that several Crew Cab versions of the “Die Pritsche” were produced. An example is EFX178T, previously owned by Just Kampers

During the 60’s and 70’s the Kemperink evolved from split screen to Bay window but little else changed to the basic vehicle.

The only major change during that period was the option of a sliding door instead of opening side doors or shutters. This vehicle was designated the `Bestelwagen Special’.

From this basic spec, hundreds of these vehicles would be converted into many other different types of utility vehicles ranging from basic vans to mobile shops. The Dutch army used them as radio rooms, supply vehicles and mobile kitchens. Many were also used for camper conversions.

They take a bit of getting use to when driving. Most were fitted with 1600cc (or less) engines. Visibility is very poor especially if no windows were fitted. Maneuvers and stopping have to be planned! . However driving a Kemp is fun as wherever you go it always attracts attention.

Weak spots?. Front axles and wiring (the wiring loom is chopped and rejoined with 90 cm section). Brakes could do with servo. The chop job bodywork was very poor. Lots of filler added and little body protection reapplied to new bits. Custom built cables required for brakes, clutch, heaters and throttle.

By the end of the 1970’s there was a lot of competition from VW themselves – after 20 years VW finally came up with their own LWB vehicle (the LT) and this proved to be the downfall of Kemperink.Shortly after Volkswagen introduced the T3 Transporter in 1979, production of Kemperinks came to an end.

Altogether about 2000 vehicles of all types were produced.

 

 

GOING DUTCH – KEMPERINKS IN THE UK
My information on the history of Kemperinks in the UK is fairly sketchy.

Many have been brought in the UK over the years as personal imports. However I do know that they have also been sold through official VW dealers.

During the early 1970’s Dovercourt of St Johns Wood sold 10 Kemperinks. Sales were stopped when several of them developed bodywork faults due to them being overloaded by owners expecting to carry a lot more than they were originally designed. The section beneath the sliding doors was being bent by heavy pallet loading. I know also of several cases of broken front axles.

Amazingly whilst searching through a heap of old VW/Mann press release video’s I found one that features a Kemperink plumbers van as part of the official VW/Mann commercial range.

Kemperinks biggest claim to fame in the UK was an appearance by at least 2 Kemperinks at the 1974 Earls Court Motor Show.

I believe this is the one and only official Kemperink camper produced by the firm for the UK market. It was in very good condition when I first saw it Unfortunately I had just bought the heap of rust that became my current van and was unable to take it on.

It was in a poor state the second time I met up with it.

The Camper had several owners. There are 8 years between the two above photo’s. (I nearly bought it myself twice!)

Its remains have ended up with Paul Venners (of “Botch Boys” Fame) who is probably now blatting it up and down Santa pod raceway.

This Bestelwagen Special – box van was bought by Leatherbarrows removals and was used to transport tea chests for 7 years . It then had three further owners before ending up as a building service, plumbing and repair van with Herman Hock around 1989 until 1994. I am not sure of its history after that.

“BIG SIX” at VW ACTION 1983

“Big Six” is probably the most famous UK Kemperink. The customised Splitty previously owned by Mac Attwood, Gerald and Lynne Mulford and later by Mike Williams (I’m not sure if he is still the current owner). It also spent a small part of its life on my drive.

Big Six and my Bay Kemperink spent lots of time together!

Originally a Dutch bakers van this vehicle was customised by Mac using all steel parts and given a very gruesome paint job, featuring three headed dogs, dragons, headless ladies etc. It was given a third `fake’ axle using trailer indespension units (hence the six wheels). The earliest mention and picture I have of it is at VW Action 1983. This vehicle is certainly the meanest looking one about. The extra wheels meant it was also a nightmare to reverse and lost drive going over speed humps. No problem with punctures though! The Big Six is still on the road (last seen in Newquay 2001)

Kemp in a korn field

This is my own Kemperink, which started life as a normal pickup and was then sent (as one of a pair of RHD pickups) from the UK to Holland for conversion in the late 1970’s by a firm of bakers in Southend on Sea called “The Bread Roll Company”. That company went bust in the mid 1980’s and my vehicle then passed to a grocery firm. (I believe that its sister van was then converted by Devon Conversions – no trace found).

Several windows were then added and a very ropy home made camper conversion added.

My Kemp as bought (with MOT!). Front wings were paper mache.

It was in very poor condition when I got it in 1989 and took nearly 2 years to get it back on the road and convert it into my dream camper. It has been featured in several books and has undergone several changes over the years as family size has increased (from 3 + dog to 6 + dog!). Its original 1600 engine has been replaced with a 2000 unit. It is now a walkthrough instead of separate cab. It is now well overdue for a further upgrade and restoration but will (hopefully) be seen on the road again later this year.

The long and the short of it.. Kemp and “Dolly Mixture” a shorty split.

Kemp plus trailer tent `extension’ which now goes with us on some trips.

I know of the existence of several other Bay Kemperinks.

In recent years several other Kemp imports including Splits have appeared, many are ex Dutch army vehicles and in very good condition.

In total there are still probably less than 15 roadworthy Kemperinks in the UK today; though I am fully expecting that a lot more will appear in the next few years as a Kemp is now definitely one of `the’ classic Type II’s to own.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.