Ever fancied getting away from it all in something a little cooler than the family hatchback? Well, as family camping and road trip transport goes there’s surely not much more too-cool-for-school than these VW campervans, right? Now, these fully-camping-equipped, four berth V-Dubs don’t come cheap to buy, but fear not, these ones are rented, and from just £275 for a three night weekend. I recently tried two out – a classic and a modern-classic – for an extended back-to-back test drive review including plenty of motorway cruising and busy city miles.
First of all, let me introduce our VW vans; Olive in olive green and Bertie in rich black. Now, should you decide to rent these vans from Classic-Campervans.co.uk; the Hoxton London-based VW camper enthusiasts, then it’s just as easy to refer to the van you fancy by its name. The guys there will know exactly which van you’re talking about – the vans are part of the family!
Olive is a classic, 1973-built bay window VW campervan in gorgeous two-tone olive green and white paint, with all the period correct chrome bits and bobs; the real deal for those folks that take their campervans seriously. Bertie on the other hand is a bit of a young gun. Now, he may have the classic curves and shapes of Olive, but he was actually built just a few years ago in Brazil, then shipped to the UK where a professional camper fitting firm turned him into a fully fledged family campervan. He’s got the old school style but with more modern underpinnings like a water-cooled engine, compared to Olive’s air-cooled engine; the engine that all older VWs are famous for.
Both of our feature vans can take a family away in comfort with mum and dad on the double bed downstairs, which folds out from the rear seats, while the kids go up into the expanding roof area; the perfect little sleeping den. Inside the vans both have cookers, fridges, powerful leisure batteries, and external power hook ups to connect to campsite mains electricity supplies. Also supplied with both Olive and Bertie is the crockery, pans and cutlery you’ll need for your holiday; just pop the steaks and beers in the fridge, grab your sleeping bags and you’re all set!
On the road with Olive
Olive is our bona fide classic VW campervan and she’s picture-perfect from the early 70s. All the chrome is there, the two-tone paint job and even a pukka Westfalia interior of that era. But, on a modern tip, there’s an iPod connected four speaker stereo to keep the tunes coming.
Now, I love the way Olive looks – and so did the knowledgeable VW fans at the recent Big Bang VW Camper & Bus show at Santa Pod, especially the period correct kitchen and interior – but I have to say that I also fell in love with her 1700cc air-cooled, flat-4 cylinder engine. It’s a design that’s run for literally decades and is proven to just keep on truckin’, even without the more modern appendages of fuel injection and water cooling. This motor has a reassuring deep thrum to it on start up and you’ll soon realise as I did that Olive is a piece of cake to drive, thanks to that characterful, torquey and dependable engine.
On the road with Bertie
Bertie is only a few years old and although he shares that same classic VW campervan body style with Olive, if you look closely you’ll see some more modern touches. Inside, the interior is more modern, but the basics of kids upstairs and parents downstairs remain the same, although Bertie’s upper space is a little bigger than Olive’s. Bertie also gets an iPod stereo and the same modern camping electrics and big battery that Olive has.
Bertie’s liquid-cooled engine is straight from the modern era and he drives very similarly to Olive, which is basically smooth and plush on the suspension with a cruising speed of 60 to 70mph, with a higher driver’s seat position that affords a clear view of the road – and fun! – ahead.
Both vans are slim and traffic friendly, super-easy to drive, and always bring a smile whenever you climb inside. So-called stay-vacations are very popular at the moment and with Olive or Bertie bringing the retro wheels, a few days away from it all – but not too far from home – could be the perfect family treat. And you’ll look so cool doing it too.
By Dan Anslow
Pics by Nigel Case