You don’t have to be a petrol head to fall in love with a Volkswagen Campervan. No other motor symbolises freedom and spirit in quite the way they do, especially not one developed from a square delivery vehicle designed as a workhorse. Whilst other motoring icons have obtained their fame through racing excellence or voluptuous designs the Camper obtained its iconic status through masterful engineering and simplicity. Famously inspired by the VW beetles the transporter became a vital vehicle in post war Europe with its reliability and utility helping small businesses get back on track before becoming a cult hero common at rock festivals and the surf beaches of California or Australia. So ever since I was a boy seeing old pictures of campers and reading about them in books, I fell in love. I always dreamt of having my own and exploring the world in it, a dream that I have started to make reality.
Going from little replica toys built up to t-shirts, piggy banks and egg cups and by the time I started saving money, working in the school holidays and selling eggs from my chickens (another odd hobby) I was checking eBay for campers. During a bored summers day as a teenager scouring the Internet I stumbled upon a 1979 VW camper complete with the hippy paint job and well serviced engine just the other side of the city I live in. Fortunately, I get my impulsiveness from my Dad who agreed to go and check it out. Even though the camper was slightly over my budget I knew if I could get him to see it he would help out, so after a quick test drive and negotiations, the van was ours. Advice was shed from the previous owner along with the history, and one final rule- “you can’t change the name”. What’s the name you ask? Fanny. As a fifteen year old I found it hilarious, and suitably quirky, so it’s remained to prevent any bad luck that would apparently come with a name change. Through her rejuvenation, red paint job and break downs you can imagine the innuendos, another source of fun from the van. When we got her home a more thorough check was completed and that’s when the flaws became more clear. Although the engine was sound the body work was more rust and robust and the interior was quite atrocious, and so the renovations began.
From the pictures, you can see it’s a whole new beast, being transformed from a hippie rust bucket finished with a quirky paint job to a more typical surf wagon, painted in Volkswagen red and an off white with the tyre cover to match. This process didn’t happen overnight, starting in the summer of 2013 and being completed in spring 2016. The first stage was a complete stripping of the interior, removing all the decrepit seating, cupboards and kitchen units followed by a deep clean off both the outside and inside. The rust left behind was pretty severe, for example the seat belts could be pulled off their mounts. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to find replacements for such an iconic vehicle and the refurbishment began. The next step was to order new panels for the outdated sections and she was sent off to the wielding shop for a rather large facelift. After months in the wielding garage it was time to make her look pretty again so we moved onto the paint job. After many arguments with family and friends about what scheme to choose, with ideas ranging from the original “Jesus loves you” job to a blacked out “Batvan”, I eventually got my way and the red and white was made final.
The interior was designed to match, gaining inspiration from retro American diners boasting a chequered floor and a booth-like back seat. A kitchen comprised of two gas cookers, a small fridge and a sink fits neatly in the end of the storage space with the rock and roll bed completing the other end next to the wardrobe.
After the cosmetics were completed the serious stuff required taking care of. The 2.0 litre engine in Fanny is thankfully more sturdy than the notoriously unreliable 1.6 litre model and was running well when we purchased it. However, it only took a few months for problems to arise, with a new carburettor being the first replacement needed alongside a new distributor and coil. Besides that, the engine ran smoothly and I quickly adapted to the lack of power steering, heating and acceleration (she hits 60mph in a rapid 33 seconds in perfect conditions). A brand new T2 2.0 litre engine produced 72bhp, the same power which a Skoda Fabia produces, so considering it was constructed in the 70’s it’s not too shabby, but doesn’t offer the best power to weight ratio.
Spring 2016 came and after two and a half years of work and a battle for insurance I was finally behind the wheel. I don’t think many eighteen year olds have driven a bay window campervan as their main method of transportation and I certainly haven’t bumped into any, and by the surprised looks of other drivers looking in as they speed by neither have they. Then again, I didn’t consider myself your normal eighteen-year-old and so for practice Fanny was my way of getting to school and back and running to the shops or over to my mate’s houses. Now she gets me to work every day, not the greatest of vans when it is -5c in the mornings with no heater or when I oversleep and need a bit more pace to race through town. But that’s all part of the fun and joy of driving a vintage van like that, you must laugh through the cold mornings and break downs because they are what make the mornings waking up with views of mountains or seas so special.