Belfast Telegraph

End of the road for iconic camper van as rat race wins

By Mike Gilson

So the VW Camper Van is to be consigned to history. The last plant that makes the iconic '60s hippy wagon is to close down, a victim of 'elf and safety.

The Brazilian licence-holders have been told by their government that all new vehicles must have such fripperies as air bags and anti-lock braking systems fitted, making it impossible/too expensive to continue.

Air bags? Anti-locking brakes? A pox on such modern measures, say I. The very fun of a VW Camper Van is that you never know whether it will disintegrate at any moment, leaving you on the hard shoulder sitting on a seat holding a steering wheel and little else as the last of the wheels bounces into the undergrowth.

A bit like a scene from the Wacky Races. How do I know? I own one. A 1976 pop top Westfalia. Or, rather, it owns me.

I invested some money in it 10 years ago as a way of chilling from the rat race. I've been investing/wasting money on her (all VW Campers are her) ever since.

New engine? Check. Complete bodywork restoration? Check. AA premium membership after the organisation insisted I pay more because of the number of call-outs? Check.

And the truth is, I love Nessie profoundly. She got the name from the German number plate she wore when I bought her. She's a left-hand-drive import, which is a challenge when pulling across oncoming traffic, I can tell you. The VW Camper is the most eloquent two-fingers salute to the fast-paced modern world of sleek, anonymous design and comfort you could ever muster.

Apart from being beautiful, Nessie is temperamental. With her air-cooled engine, she will refuse to go on if the temperature outside reaches anywhere around 28 degrees.

She sulks in traffic jams, deliberately overheating. I was born for the open road, you can hear her protest, not the car park that is the M25.

She goes at her own pace, turning her nose up at the tailgating, BMW-driving arses in the fast lane. Not even worrying when the milk floats go past.

She's clever, too, once breaking down in the north of England so she had to be transported all the way home on the back of an AA pick-up lorry. No sweat.

In winter, you have to wear the sort of stuff Hillary did when climbing Everest when driving her, because she refuses to countenance such modern extravagances as in-car heating systems.

We are a pretty smug bunch, us VW owners. We wave and flash lights to each other when we pass, but woe betide if a more modern version, like the T25, goes past and tries to acknowledge us. We snobbishly turn our faces against such inauthenticity and they speed past crestfallen.

Even in the original camp there are factions. Some would say the split screens (splitties) are the real queens, but those of us in the bay window, Westfalia arm insist the former are for the posh boys, like Jamie Oliver, who wouldn't dream of sleeping in the thing like I have done many times. A night at The Merchant it ain't.

Above all, Nessie endows me with cool I would otherwise have no chance of attaining. My sons' friends love her and she flirts unashamedly with them.

A few years back, they insisted she take them to their school prom night and, sashaying between the lurid, 20ft-long limousines, she deposited eight bib and tuckered boys at the hotel entrance without so much of a hint of having a hissy fit. Funny that.

The truth is the VW Camper Van isn't being consigned to history. It already is. An uncomplicated, slow-paced, uber-cool paen to less frenzied times.

The real ones, not the Brazilian remakes, are out there constantly being upgraded, loved and fought over. So Nessie, there's really no need to worry. You and I are for all time.

Belfast Telegraph


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