Thursday, 12 July 2012

The course of true love...

Thinking of buying a VW camper van? Read this first.

As I write I am sitting in the passenger seat of my little red and white VW camper van on a campsite in western France. The seat, a recent addition that revolves so I can face the rear of the van, is a first class place to sit and relax or write or look out of the side door. The site we are on is set high on a ridge, enclosed by pine forest and overlooking the Arcachon Basin. It is adjacent to the Dune Du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe. If I glance up from my screen I can see the ocean to my right whilst cicadas chirp away in the trees and paragliders float silently by on their wings of cloth. The kids are doing their homework and Joanne is preparing tea. From time to time other campers stroll by, smiling at our van. I guess they don’t see so many classic vans in France these days.

It’s a blissful scene, especially now that the children have been hard at work doing their homework for a few minutes. Tonight’s tea is in the cooler, if it’s not in the sea as I fully intend to cast my line once I have written this post. Those who know me well (I count my family among them) will know that whatever is in the cooler will turn out to be tea. There will be no last minute change of plan after my fishing trip.

It’s a good life, this campervanning lark, and I’ve had about the best of it recently. We’ve also had a few heart-stopping moments. It’s why this post is about to take a turn for the worse for those of you who fancy having a go and think it’s all hearts and flowers, sunburn and sausages.
In a moment I am going to tell you a little about the reality of owning a classic camper van – and I’m not just talking about the cost, although that’s a big factor. Anyone who already owns a van will read on knowing full well that membership of the club comes at a price, whilst I hope that those of you who might be reading this because you are thinking about it will have your eyes opened.

Whilst there are moments of bliss like the one I am currently experiencing, and I love my van all the more for making it possible, there are moments of terror too. The reason we are here at this particular campsite is because we need to be near Biscarosse Plage to pick up and fit a new shock absorber. The new one is a replacement for one that was fitted new a few weeks ago, and has subsequently broken. We knew this because the van started banging very badly every time we hit a bump in the road. After an hour under the front wheel working out what had happened I found the broken shock, made a makeshift repair and got on the phone. Thankfully a new one has been delivered to a camper van hire company in Biscarosse, hence our current location. We are lucky.

This isn’t the only thing that has gone wrong recently. The day before we left, the lights failed on the way to our first overnight stop before getting on the ferry. We had a short circuit somewhere and fuses were blowing like fireworks. Bear in mind that we had just left our house for two months and couldn’t go back to our house even if we wanted to - as it has been rented out for the summer. All our possessions are stashed away in our loft. Until I could get hold of Ian at SW Classic VWs for a fix I was in quiet agony. I kept it from the kids but I was genuinely worried for our trip. What if we couldn’t get the electrics sorted? What would we do? Could we go in our car for two months? Could we camp without the van? How much is this going to cost this time? It’s the agony to today’s ecstasy.

It wasn’t an isolated incident. The van had just come back from an engine rebuild following our trip to Ireland in May. It had developed a funny noise on revving which Ian couldn’t locate. It had to come out and go back to the manufacturer. Thankfully it was under warranty (the last one blew up on the way back from Camper Jam a year ago) so the bill was picked up but it still wasn’t an easy wait with just two weeks to go until the trip of a lifetime. As usual, it came good at the eleventh hour, just as Ian found the short circuit, replaced a load of melted wiring, gave me a handful of fuses and wished me bon voyage just two hours before we were due to be at the ferry terminal.

I won’t go on, but this is the sort of thing that happens. At a sprightly 33 years old, my van is one of the young ’uns. It needs care and attention lavished on it. Service intervals are shorter, parts wear out, rust sets in, age takes its toll. Yet so many lovely campers are on the road today because they are good vehicles. They make people smile, are almost universally loved and are well enough built to have lasted through the years. But don’t expect it to be a walk in the park. Things can and will go wrong.

If you didn’t go through the pain you wouldn’t appreciate the precious moments so much though, would you? The smiles and waves wouldn’t bring the same pleasure. And tonight’s meal, cooked with love on that little two ringed stove, wouldn’t taste quite so delicious as I know it will - whether it’s fish or not. It’ll be sweet enough, but if I didn’t like the taste of it, I’d better get myself something newer.




9 comments:

  1. My nine year old van us away having new sills welded in, a true vw :-(

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  2. Our T25, called Rosie, sadly passed away a few months back. We'd had two joyful, exciting, nerve-wracking, expensive, infuriating yet heart warming years with it. It was our first van and our two boys (4 and 2) loved it.

    After much money and many hours over and under the engine, it kicked the bucket half way to work, reducing one of the boys to tears! Our bank balance couldn't take the hit of the required new engine so it was handed to a local VW Camper specialist.

    It isn't all sad though, as the speicalists fitted a new 1600 engine and it is now for sale for £6000. We eventually splashed out on a 9 year old T4 and are soon to head to Normandy!

    Enjoy the rest of your holiday! Let's hope nothing else goes wrong!!

    Neil.

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  3. My Nephew Matt Lawrence recently started working at a VW hire place in Biscarosse. Say hi if you see him.

    I have had something to fix after every trip so far. Bought her in October last year. Still love her though :-)

    Have a great holiday.

    Simon

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  4. My camper is a 23 year old Ford Transit convert. I am living in it during the week while working away. In the two years I have had it I have spent a couple of thousand on repairs but now she seems to be very solid. Every weekend I do at least six hundred miles in it. Originally it only cost me 1600 and so now it is paying for itself grandly since I am saving a fortune on hotel fees while working away. It doesn't have the charm of the VW, but it's great for what I need. Power steering would be nice though, lol.

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  5. Mine is a 1972 Bay window VW Kombi, Westfalia interior with a Dormobile pop-top. Currently being renovated and then I hope to hit the road. Thanks for your blog, it's an inspiration.

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  6. I've had my 1975 bus almost 5 years now and used it every day for 4 years, since then I seem to have renewed every part of it on the mechanical side of things but now I know every sound he makes and only start to worry if its a noise I haven't heard before lol

    I've been following your blog for a while now and its inspired me to start one of my little adventures in my bus http://arniethegreenmachine.blogspot.co.uk/

    I hope you can take a look some time
    safe journeys
    Jimmy

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  9. Your car is so cool! I would love to have my own camper van. My family and I have a 1972 Bay VW camper van, and fortunately we were able to get great car insurance in Revere, which is where I'm from, from a great local provider called Marchionne Insurance. I would definitely recommend having a comprehensive car insurance policy for your VW if you do not already have one. Just thought I'd leave some feedback... Keep the great posts coming!

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