Wednesday, 28 January 2015

That’s not a camper van! And other rubbish vehicles to sleep in.

Our last T25 before we bought the Bay. Happy campers.

Some vehicles make good campers. Some vehicles make bad campers. That’s life.

The VW transporter is one of those that has lent itself perfectly to living, eating and sleeping in for many years. Its first three incarnations with the rear engine provided a ready-made sleeping platform and plenty of living space. It was a design that offered campers a huge amount of versatility. You only have to look at the range of conversions – From Westfalia to Devon, Autosleeper and beyond – to see that.

The problem with classic VWs – and newer models for that matter – is that they aren’t cheap. So many of us have had to ‘make do’ with other, 'less desirable', vehicles in their quest for campervan nirvana. I’m one of those too. Before I got the red and white T2 I had a series of 3 T25s. Two of them were aircooled and the other was a water cooled petrol model. This was the time when they were deeply unfashionable, came in a range of pink and brown velour interiors and were generally considered to be the runt of the VW litter by purists. Could you get a wave off a split? Could you hell. How things have changed. Needless to say we loved all 3 with all our hearts.

My first T25, a lovely Devon Moonraker with full length pop top, zig unit and all the bits and pieces, cost me £3000 and had just 30K on the clock. It seems unbelievable now but at the time it was a pretty penny. I could have gone for something cheaper like a transit but somehow it wasn’t on the radar. Transits were for rock bands and sex pests. Anyway, my price range in the early days would have got me such a shed that no self respecting rock band or sex pest would have been seen dead in it.

Instead, when I was a poor student and then a penniless Soho runner, I slept in a series of massively inappropriate cars that weren’t campers at all. I had to make sharper compromises than driving a T25. Before the days of velour and zig units, porta potties and pop tops, there were other vehicles.  And let me tell you they weren’t nearly as salubrious as the five star luxury of a 1980 Devon Moonraker.

Not a happy camper! 4 weeks in a Bedford Midi and a surfing accident at Mundaka.

The first car I spent any amount of time in was a Ford Fiesta van, as owned by my friend Spout. He slept in the back and I slept across the front seats, mostly in the car park of the Sun Inn at Llanengan near Abersoch. The sun roof leaked so most mornings I’d wake up with a hangover and a pool of rainwater on my sleeping bag. Not to mention the handbrake up my backside and a crick in my neck. It’s a wonder I could surf at all. At the end of every cold and wet Welsh weekend I’d head back to a freezing cold student house in Fallowfied. It was miserable but brilliant fun all the same. One morning we woke in the usual discomfort to find that a mini had parked up overnight next to us. When the occupants finally got out there were four of them. The fiesta never felt quite so bad again after that.

Four in a Beetle. Bit of a squeeze. Pic: Guy Hearn

Another vehicle I had the misfortune to sleep in was a VW Beetle. My first car was a 1976 1300 Beetle. I did go camping in it but I never actually slept in it. However, I did have a friend who also had a Beetle, which he converted into the smallest camper van in the world. He removed the back seat and passenger seat to create a sleeping platform. Where the passenger seat was he built a buddy box with a cooker in it so he could feed himself. To do this he’d sit in the back. Come bed time he’d re arrange a few pieces of custom foam to make a triangular bed, which enabled him to stretch out. He seemed to like it. It was pretty good but it really wasn’t much of a camper van. If you were trying to sell it today you might call it a “surf pod”. Add a little bit of cedar cladding and you could stretch it to an “eco surf pod” and charge twice the price. It was fine for one but no good for two. Unless you were very good friends.

Needless to say he soon graduated to a tin top Type 2. We went on a surfing road trip to Croyde in it and I don’t think I have ever been so cold in a vehicle. You actually felt warmer outside.

Great camping trip. Rubbish car. Awful mess.

The next car I had was a Citroen 2CV. I have enjoyed a love hate relationship with these awful jalopies over many years that began when my Dad bought one for me and my sister to learn to drive in. I passed my test in it, which was a pivotal moment in my life. But it soon went downhill from there.

Here are some highlights of my career with 2CVs:

·         I got mine up (above) to 90mph on the M5. Its offical top speed was 72. We overtook everyone and blew the engine.
·         Once, in Newquay I caught a glimpse of good surf through the houses. I jammed the car into reverse to get a better look and the gearbox exploded.
·         I borrowed my sister’s 2CV Dolly when she was away in Hong Kong (without asking). It caught fire on the M5 and burnt to a crisp. I wasn’t insured. We have never spoken about cars since.
·         I used the rear seat of a 2CV as a sofa for many years until I could afford a proper one.
·         If you pull out the choke on a 2CV it will drive on its own. With the roof down you could sit on the roll bar and steer with your feet. This was my party trick.
·         You can get 8 people in a 2CV on a night out in Manchester. This is confirmed.
·         My 2CV broke in two. None of the doors fitted but it took ages to get a proper diagnosis.

Let me also tell you that 2CVs make really awful campervans. The seats don’t recline so there’s no chance of getting a good night’s kip in them. Even with the back seats removed it’s really difficult to get enough leg room to lie flat or even to get just a flat surface. There is a well in the boot for the spare tyre. And I should know. In my late teens I spent a summer in Devon and Cornwall sleeping in it. God it was awful. On the plus side it was great over rough roads and cost virtually nothing to run.  So for a skint student it was perfect, kind of. But it really wasn’t a camper van. Generally you were better off with a tent. But that’s another world of pain.
Hippie in a Renault 5 'Camper van'

My next car was a relative step up from the 2CV. A Renault 5 Extra van. Or, as my friend Pete called it, a sandwich van. I converted this van with some bits of ply and foam and built myself a half decent camper that could sleep 2 comfortably and fold away to a bench seat. It also went more than 60 mph, didn’t catch fire and had a proper heater. I think it also had a stereo that you could hear. Luxury!!! I took that van all over France and down to the coast on countless occasions. And, amazingly, no disasters.

But, eventually it had to go. I sold it to a florist and bought my first T25.

And I never looked back.

T25 number 2, a beautiful water cooled effort.

    

16 comments:

  1. This is brilliant! I had to laugh, I think I may have done this story the opposite way round! I started with a solid roof bay window camper (bought for £450 in 1997), then a pop top bay whose engine blew driving along Loch Ness. Those beautiful buses have since been replaced by a transit, then a high top transit camper: we need the space and transits were all we could afford!
    The last transit got scrapped and we are now looking at dismountable campers (off-road adventures!) I'd love to go back to the bays but they are just not roomy enough for our needs.

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  2. Great post, hadn't realised you were a T25 owner originally. Have a water cooled 1.9 petrol that's just turned 25k miles and love it. Wish I'd only spent £3k on it, if only...

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  3. Love this post, some great tales of the days when cars had proper character.
    I had a 1976 1600 super sports Beetle, orange, still my favourite-ever car.
    My first car was a mini clubman. 9 people and 2 standard poodles was the record, 4 in the front with 2 co-ordinating gear and clutch while I did the accelerator and brake and steering, the rest were in the back.
    Now have a T5...

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  4. VW LT - campers not crampers ;) http://vwlt.co.uk/2014/11/06/the-finished-vw-lt-campervan-conversion/

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  5. VW LT - campers not crampers ;) http://vwlt.co.uk/2014/11/06/the-finished-vw-lt-campervan-conversion/

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  6. Before we got our van we sometimes overnighted in a Citreon Picasso. The van is better.

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  7. We miss our T25 badly, had to sell it when we moved to Oz.....not have a Mazda E2000 pop top.....not a patch on the VW!!

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  8. Great article!! I really like the way how you described the advantages of a campervan. In Australia travelling in campervan has became an adventurous activity. I also want to experience this so I have been looking for some reliable campervan hire Australia services.

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  11. I'm fascinated by the class distinctions between T2 and T25 owners, and how these have changed over recent times. As a relative newcomer to this scene, and a proud owner of a T25, I'm increasingly amazed at the divergence I perceive between some with £20k+ to spend on a lifestyle accessory, and oiks like myself who merely want a functional work horse.
    Now I see prices for T25 ticking up too, £5k, £10k, and even more for top vans, so I wonder. Is it time for me to start looking down on T4 owners?

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    1. Never look down on a T4 owner. They are turning out to be the miracle among the flock. Late models especially. Plenty rate them as great workhorses, some above the T5s too... it could well be a T4 that comes to your rescue.

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  14. So much love for this post! My main reason for having an ebay account is to keep a constantly updated list of gorgeous VWs for sale one day
    Campervan Hire Australia

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