The Dream and The Reality

From the outside looking in the Camper world looks lovely, but is it really?

If you drive a Camper, and because you are ready this I assume you do, then you will be only to familiar with the envious glances fired your way by lesser car owners.

It’s a subject Herr Peene touches upon on the back page of this very issue, and once again I find myself nodding in agreement with him.  The boy talks sense, sometimes.

 If you haven’t arrived at our back door yet, no matter.  Basically, our esteemed editor makes mention of how to the outside world, there seems to be no finer thing than life with a VW Campervan.  And, to some extent, this is indeed correct.  I know this from personal experience.  Being able to take off whenever you want, go wherever you want and sleep/eat wherever you want is the ultimate in freedom.  Little wonder the humble box on wheels is seen as the archetypal vehicle to tune in and drop out in. 

Record year

Cast your eye over the next three pages and you will see how the marketing bods went all out to sell the dream of VW ownership to the masses.  They did quite a job, I’m sure you’ll agree.  The brochures I have selected from my dusty archive for you predilection this month hail from 1972, the year sales of the Volkswagen Beetle exceeded those of the Ford Model T, when the 15,007,034th rolled off the Wolfsburg production line.  There were some sore heads the following day I can tell you.  But I digress; the ad spiel in one of my brochures makes a deal of noise about how the Type 2 was a jack of all trades that could fulfil every family’s needs.  Allow me, “Here’s a family car, made for the kind of adventuring that families love best.  It’s rugged, ready to go whenever – and wherever – the weather’s great, the fish are biting, the surf is up or the snow is powdery.  It takes you over the hills, across the desert that would stop a lot of campers in their tracks … Easy on the driver and on the gasoline.  Neither winter’s frigid slopes nor summer’s burning sands can stay your VW camper from its appointed path.”  Quite poetic wouldn’t you agree?

Especially the part about winter’s frigid slopes.  I like that. 

100 Metre Splash

The marketing genius charged with penning such flowery prose had clearly never had to wrestle with an awning blowing in a force nine gail, or wring the rain water out of their pillow when the pop top sprung a leak, or found themselves running pell-mell across a pitch black campsite in the dead of night because he’d had one stein too many before turning in for the evening.  What’s that they say about selling the dream, not the reality?  Far better to sweep that under the carpet when there’s a sale at stake don’t you know.  But try telling any of that to a wannabe Camper owner.  They won’t listen.  They’ll just think you’re trying to keep them out of an exclusive club or something.

So, let’s examine the above statement in more detail shall we? “Here’s a family car”, that will cause huge arguments about the amount of time and money you spend on it.  Never mind when it breaks down an hour into your family holiday … “It’s rugged, ready to go whenever – and wherever”, assuming you’ve looked after it and serviced it properly, because they do need a fair amount of looking after you know?

“It’s ready to go whenever – and wherever the weather’s great,” in the UK? Have you seen your weather? How often does that happen? “It takes you over the hills,” slowly!  And brace yourself for going down them with brake fade and clenched buttocks.  “It’s easy on the driver”, see my last point and “easy on the gasoline”, piffle!

You may be thinking that this month’s dose of Klapp has been provided by a hostile ghost writer, but I am merely telling the truth.  Old VWs are not for everyone, they require a certain person, the type who can lavish time (and money) on them and accept them (along with their foibles) for what they are – antiquated commercial vehicles that were never intended to be so long lived or see so much use. 

Driving a Split or Bay requires a certain mind-set.  You can’t hurry them – that leads to disaster and strained engines, crunched gears, boiled brakes and frayed nerves.  No, you have to learn to take life at a more leisurely pace, one dictated by the optimum travelling speed for vehicle and occupants alike – a steady 50-60mph – unless faced with a steep gradient of course, in which case, all bets are off and your velocity is anyone’s guess.

But then, you do get used to taking things slower.  You hunch over that thin dustbin lid sized steering wheel and peer over hedges and into gardens as you travel.  Life becomes more about the journey than the destination.

Your senses become more acute too.  They have to.  Your eyes scan further ahead of the road, looking for vehicles that may pull out in front of you (rather than get stuck behind you) and you brace for this with cat-like reflexes, ready to hit the brake, twirl the tiller and honk the horn at the first sign of danger.  And then there’s your hearing. Your ears become highly sensitive to the minutest change of engine note.  “What’s that noise” you ask your travelling companion.  “What noise” they ask, “It all sounds broken”. 

A way of life

Also, whilst some owners wouldn’t dream of getting their hands dirty, others know only too well the joy and sense of achievement of looking after their mechanicals themselves.  It’s not machismo talking here, but being able to fix a broken VW makes a man feel like a man.  The only way to learn these life skills is to get out there and experience having to do things yourself.

So you see, at the end of the day, for every ounce of pain they give, old VWs return an equal amount of pleasure.

They really are rather wonderful contraptions, but then you knew that already didn’t you?

Auf wiedersehen