Nothing captures the romance of driving a classic camper van more than the split screen camper. Guaranteed to make grown men go soft and gooey and smile inanely, the splitty is the camper that we all want to own with it’s charismatic links to peace and love, music and the hippie movement of the swinging sixties.
There’s something about that classic shape up front, the squared off split screen, and the (strangely exciting) ability to be able to open your front windows. At slow speeds and especially in stop-start summer traffic it can still be a bit of a luxury.
The Type 2 was introduced by Volkswagen in 1950 and is still in production even now. If you didn’t see my article on owning a brand new camper van you can read it here.
During the split screen camper’s hey-day, the variety produced was pretty mind-boggling. These days you can still see versions of the flatbed pickup, Westfalia, the panel van or rather unfortunately my own favourite, the 23-window Samba. I say unfortunately because the Samba is one of the rarest VW campers you can buy, and the price reflects that with some examples easily going for £30,000. You can probably double that for an even rarer Barndoor Samba.
The Samba was unique in having the distinctive extra roof lights along each side of the van. It was produced by Volkswagen as a luxury microbus and could comfortably seat 8 people. The skylight windows in the roof were allegedly intended for being able to see up a little higher without straining against the glass, as the Samba was supposedly designed with touring the Alps in mind.
The Samba also had the Golde ragtop folding roof as standard. You certainly weren’t going to overheat or be lacking in light in a Samba.
Those front windows are surely the best window design for a camper van ever. Hinged at the top, and secured by tightening butterfly bolts at the desired degree of opening, Volkswagen christened them Safari Windows.
Sadly, the split screen became a thing of the past when the second generation of Type 2 was introduced. The Bay window camper windscreen may have given slightly better visibility, but the bus surely lost a tiny bit of it’s magic at this point. This second generation was built in Germany from 1967 to 1979. The camper van, like the Beetle, was unique in that VW constantly tried to improve and modernise the vehicle over its lifetime and generally they got it right. It’s only hindsight is our rose tinted spectacles that allow us to look over the mass of variants and versions available and cherry-pick our favourites.
Yes it is a fact too that we all have a tendency to remember our holidays and the past with increasingly strong – as the years roll by – rose tinted glasses, but I do have a fond memory of Cornwall in 2004. If anyone is familiar with Watergate Bay, you will know that there is essentially one small entrance onto the vast beach, via a slope down to a car park, where the beach bar and restaurant overlook the sea.
I fondly remember walking down the slope one stiflingly balmy evening as the sun was going down to see a split screen coming my way, both Safaris open, and three guys all smiling and waving as they drove past. As we enter the festival and holiday season again, I hope that’s a sight many of you will be able to experience too. Whichever side of the open windows you happen to be on.