The VW camper van is iconic. For some it symbolises the 1960s hippie ideal. It was the ticket to taking to the road. It was the very first camper van; all others have taken their cue from it. It remains remarkably popular, not only with the young, but with people of all ages.
The Start Of The VW Camper Van
Volkswagen didn’t set out to make a camper van at all. The basic unit was being used at the company plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, as a van to carry materials. That was its original job.
It wasn’t until the late 1940s that a Dutch importer named Ben Pon saw the van and came up with the idea that it would make a camper. He sketched out his ideas, talked to VW, and in 1950 the first camper rolled off the production line. The earliest models are still highly valued for their rarity, with split windscreens and cylindrical headlights.
As vehicles, the Combis, as they became known, weren’t the best on the road. They were heavy, slow, not particularly powerful on hills and with a penchant for failures in the electrical system. But they gave people a chance to travel in something that was completely self-contained, without towing a caravan.
The Golden Age
For many people the VW camper van is indelibly associated with the 1960s. At that time the older vehicles could be bought very cheaply and like most Volkswagens, they were easy to repair, so easy that people didn’t even need a mechanic.
It became associated with surfers – the roof was an ideal size for a surfboard – and those who took the hippie trail going East. These were people who weren’t in a hurry and for whom the slow speed of the VW was ideal.
The golden era of the VW camper van lasted well into the 1970s. By then other campers were being produced, ones that offered more luxury inside and much more powerful engines. Those looking for something new had greater choice and the VW was slowly edged out of its dominant position.
Vintage And Modern
Volkswagen has continued to manufacture and improve its camper van. With an established name it’s remained a major player in the market, and its modern vehicles are far more reliable than the older ones.
That said, it’s the vintage models that really attract people. Even the 1980s designs, which differed from the classics styles, have their fans. The ones people really desire, though, come from the 1950s and 1960s. There are still plenty on the road, although the prices have risen considerably. A rare split screen model can command £25,000, as much if not more than a brand new camper.
It’s mostly about the distinctive, classic design. The facilities inside the van might be somewhat Spartan, certainly when compared to modern vehicles, but everything still works well, and the VW remains easy to work on. It’s a form of classic car restoration, but with a twist – these are very much working vehicles and owners put thousands of miles on them each year. They speak of brighter times and also of a slower speed of life. That’s something guaranteed to appeal in these hectic, fast-paced times.