If any car needs no introduction, it’s the famous Volkswagen camper van. Based on Volkswagen’s commercial van, the camper - which has almost as many nicknames as models sold - is indelibly linked with expanding personal freedoms of the 1960s.
In fact the camper has incredibly humble origins. The concept for the VW van itself is attributed to a Dutch Volkswagen importer named Bernardus, or Ben, Pon. A trip to the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in 1946 introduced him to the “Plattenwagen”.
This was in essence a heavily modified version of the Type 1 Beetle, used by workers to ferry vehicle parts around the factory floor. Although the Plattenwagen’s cab was at the rear, over the engine, the concept gave him the idea of a Beetle-based commercial vehicle.
Pon’s sketch was the genesis of the original Type 2 van. Available in a number of different body styles, the Type 2 was a general purpose commercial vehicle. However Volkswagen also created a camper van variant, through another company called Westfalia-Werke - hence the “Westie” nickname for the camper.
The T2 generation of Type 2 was introduced in 1967. It’s around 20cm longer than the original T1, but perhaps the most obvious difference is the windscreen. T1s - or “splitties” - have a split windscreen, while T2s - or “bays” - have a single-piece “bay window” instead.
This “late bay” model is a 1975 car, first supplied in April of that year - well after Volkswagen had finished tinkering with the Type 2. In the 45-year stretch since, the camper has been through 15 further owners. That’s an average of three years with each one, though the current owner has had the VW since October 2014
In January 2015 the current owner had a reconditioned engine fitted to the camper. This matches the configuration of the original item - a 1.6-litre, air-cooled boxer - in a like-for-like swap. It’s travelled roughly 5,100 miles since then, of its 72,000 miles in total.
This Type 2 now qualifies as an Historic Vehicle, thanks to rules introduced in 2014. As it has crossed the magic 40-year mark, the camper is tax exempt and does not need an MOT each year. There is a new V5C document to reflect the Historic Vehicle status.
Campers often make for perpetual projects, and the current owner has a raft of documentation relating to major and minor work throughout their six year ownership. This varies from some decorative items, such as the wood steering wheel, through to significant components.
Most significant of all is that engine change, for which there is supporting documentation. Like most of the other purchases, this is a period-correct item. In addition, the camper underwent a bodywork restoration in 2016, with panels replaced and resprayed in the current turquoise colour.
There’s a slightly chequered MOT history, again reflecting the nature and age of a Type 2 camper. Prior to the current owner, corrosion had been a problem. The seller, although not obliged to do due to the vehicle's age, has indicated that this corrosion has caused an MOT failure during this auction. This corrosion can be seen in the pictures below.
One unusual item of paperwork is, due to a faulty fuel gauge, a record of all trips to the petrol station. This log keeps the camper from being overfilled or running out of fuel!
At least in the front, the Volkswagen is a pure product of the 1970s. Though the owner has fitted a wood-rimmed steering wheel, with sporty overtones, much of the business end is as it left the factory. It’s a spartan environment, bereft of the array of switchgear you’ll find in a modern vehicle - though it also contains a cigarette lighter, which you would struggle to find in a T6!
The two fabric front seats are more recent additions, and are in good condition with no rips, tears, or marking in the upholstery. At present, the two door window winders don’t function. There’s a modern Sony head unit in place, with removable fascia, and Sony Xplod speakers in the front doors.
Of course the raison d’etre of a camper is the camping part, and the space behind the cabin is easily as important. This features fitted wooden cabinets, with black laminate surfaces, a sink, a fridge, and a grill for the vital campsite bacon. There’s an inordinate number of cupboards and cubbies, with magnetic catches on some for convenience.
The rear shelf seat folds down into a bed with space for two, and there’s original hammocks if necessary too. All the upholstery is in good condition throughout, as is the check-pattern vinyl floor and the privacy-enabling curtains. The centre section of the camper’s roof pops up manually, for vital extra head room.
There is a loose trim piece, on the inside of the sliding door. However, this just appears to be missing a trim clip and could easily be rectified.
Thanks to that exterior refurbishment four years ago, the camper is still shining and almost new. The white over turquoise colour scheme certainly stands out.
Some areas could still benefit from a little attention however, with both front wheel arches showing signs of rust. There’s a small patch above the driver’s side arch visible from the outside, around two inches long, while the footwells on both sides show a little more corrosion.
The camper’s wheels all have surface patina, which could likely be rectified with a solid polish, though as they’re intact and otherwise undamaged could be left alone to add to the vehicle’s character.
Underneath, the VW is very clean, again only showing some surface rust on exposed components.
Like the Beetle, the Camper has that characteristic air-cooled flat four which makes such a distinctive noise. As noted above, this particular vehicle has a reconditioned unit with just over 5,100 miles since it was fitted in 2015, and there are no concerns with how it runs.
The owner informs us that the four-speed manual gearbox takes ‘a little getting used to’, with low revs needed to change down from third to second gear, but is an otherwise smooth affair.
Those used to modern cars might find the Type 2 a little sluggish. The 1.6-litre engine was just about good for 60hp and, with the van’s relatively high drag coefficient, that means much more than 60mph is optimistic. However, the current owner has often driven between the northwest and southwest UK at motorway speeds and notes it’s not a troublesome challenge.
On its own, the fact that the VW camper has existed for 70 years, with the brand continuing to make even its current T6-generation Transporter vans into campers, should speak volumes for the appeal of the machine. While it may have started life as a pallet truck on a factory floor, it became a counterculture icon of the 1960s, representing the freedom to go wherever you wished, with your own lodgings behind you.
Those days are far behind, but the ethos remains. The VW camper remains a style icon, and people will rent them not just to drive, but for camping holidays and even wedding vehicles - such is the enduring appeal of the Type 2.
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