After a long absence there is once again a VW Westfalia inside the garage. And it’s a tight squeeze, as you can see in the photo.
This is my fourth Westfalia, which does not count the one I grew up in. In 1968, my parents bought a new tin-top camper. It had all the Westfalia camping gear, but without the canvas pop-top. The story goes that I spent the first two weeks of ownership sleeping inside the camper under the carport. My parents drove it for ten years, making almost annual trips up to Ohio, plus side trips to Washington DC and Niagara Falls.
I bought my first Westy, a ’72, in the late 1980s. A friend of a friend had it for sale. I was attending college at night at the time, and it wasn’t far from the campus. I caught a ride to school. After classes, I drove it for the first time, forty-five miles home in the dark.
It was old and it rattled. The lady in my life wasn’t all that excited about it. I don’t even recall how long I had it. My strongest “wander about” memory of driving it is stealth camping one night. I don’t even remember the details, other than parking one night next to a soda machine. Unplugging the machine, I plugged in my power cord for a comfortable night’s sleep using the large box fan I carried. When I jokingly told Sandy this story, long before our search for a camper began, she said “did you think about the poor person who bought a soda the next morning and it was warm?” I guess I won’t be repeating that one with Sandy in the camper!
My second Westfalia was a green ’78 low mileage camper from California. Western vehicles have always been more valued as they seemed to rust less in the drier climate. With a new girlfriend, I once again had dreams of wandering. There was room inside for two mountain bikes and a cooler. Add that to the all the cool VW Camper package, and it would become an “Adventure Van”. Well, almost. After a couple of trips, it was nothing more than an old VW van to her. But not to me! I drove this one more than 40,000 miles before ever taking it out of the state. I rambled from Key West to Tallahassee, crisscrossing Florida on the back roads. My favorite two stealth camping nights camping were along a rural stretch of US 441 in a used car lot (I didn’t pop the top, I just pulled next up to the car at the end of the row) and in a church parking lot, squeezed between two church buses. Nobody noticed the third bus.
While I owned this bus, I decided to sell my sailboat and use the money to build a garage in the back corner of my property. Never having done any concrete work, I subbed out the foundation to a gentleman who was a Reverend. He told me “Don’t worry John, when Reverend F does the job, the Lord is looking over his shoulder”. When he was done, I had a nice 24′ X 44′ non square concrete pad. I guess that neither the Lord, or Rev. F, was good at using a square.
With the help of a single friend, all four walls were up rather quickly. When it came time to put the garage door header in place, something didn’t look quite right. So I pulled up the camper to find that the door opening wasn’t high enough to allow the camper inside. Great! I just built this great big garage, but I can’t park my VW inside. This wouldn’t do. What could I do to make it work? Two ideas came to mind. The first was to let some of the air out of the tires. Secondly, I thought about stacking two more rows of two-by-fours around the perimeter of the building. A quick call to the lumber yard, and several feet of two-by-fours later, my VW camper would fit inside, with close to an inch to spare.
Here’s where the story gets even stranger. Let’s face it, VW campers have never been quite mainstream. Along with the VW, I also owned a Tipi. Yes, just like the ones in the old Western movies. The poles to set it up were between 22 and 24 feet long. Picture a big green and white VW camper van with a bundle of these giant tipi poles tied to the top and hanging way over both front and back. I’m surprised that I was never stopped by the police.
Again, with the person in my life not thrilled about a VW, I eventually sold it to one of my old scouting friends, who turned it into a surfer van.
My third VW camper was an ’87. My girlfriend didn’t know how to drive a manual transmission, and wasn’t interested in learning, so we found an automatic. Along with the automatic transmission, it came all the other bells and whistles – power everything – which made it a maintenance nightmare. The windows wouldn’t work, and doors either wouldn’t lock or unlock. The final blow was when it started having starter problems. Since it was an automatic, I couldn’t just push-start it and be off. Once, in my ’78 van, I had driven it round-trip from Central Florida to Key West without a functioning starter. I push-started it every time! So the ’87 had to go.
After I met Sandy, I told her a lot of stories about my old VW campers. While hiking on the Appalachian Trail last year, we met a fellow who was driving one as a support vehicle for people on the trail. It was Sandy’s first up-close look at one: beds, sink, stove, fridge and stand-up headroom. All in a neat, simple little package. She was hooked.
When our AT hike ended early, we even joked about looking for one to drive home. But common sense prevailed, and we rented a car. Seven miles after we left the rental place, we came across a VW camper at a small repair shop lot with a “For Sale” sign on it. The price was fair and the condition wasn’t bad. The problem came when we couldn’t easily cash a check, since there was no branch of the bank that we deal with at home up in Pennsylvania. So close!
As the months went by, we continued to talk about VW campers and even looked at a local camper for sale. But it needed too much work, and I had decided to wait until a nice one came along, even if we had to pay just a little more.
Had I not returned home to heal up from my Florida Trail hike, I would have never even known about this one. I’m sure that it would have been quickly scooped up by someone else looking for a very nice camper. As soon as I saw the ad, I sent an email and called. It was only twenty minutes from home! The next day we saw it, drove it, liked it and bought it. The owners were very nice VW bus enthusiasts with a fleet of split window vans in their own garage.
So here is my fourth Westfalia, and our first. Sandy has already said to someone, “compared to the tent we used on the AT, this is plenty of camping space!”
Off we go in a new direction of adventure…..road trips in an antique VW camper!