- This will be perhaps the shortest list of ‘buyer Beware’ tips that we have ever run, and the most important of these is to realise how quickly the cost of optional extras can add up. With so many to choose from, it is easy to get carried away and spend far more than you intended!
- One optional extra that we would heartily recommend though is the underseal treatment.This is standard on the Classic and SE, but a £399 cost option on the Picnicker.
- Do not buy one of these campers if you are a shrinking violet as you must be prepared for people to accost you every time you park up. Most will be amazed that you have ‘restored’ a classic camper so well; others will may recognise it as a new vehicle, but will be interested in investigating it at close quarters.
- You can play on the classic image by specifying a dummy wheel cover that fits on the nose and hides the ugly radiator intake there. But then it will look odd if you also specify the spare wheel bracket on the tail, so instead the spare will have to go inside the van and take up valuable space in the nearside rear corner.
- It is possible to buy one of the campervans that Danbury have ready and waiting on a take-it-orleave- it basis, but if you want to create your own specification, then be aware that it can take up to three months from placing your initial order to taking delivery of your dream machine.
As VW Campers go, it feels modern yet classic at same time
It’s brand new so can be used everyday. Acts as MPV, too!
Comes with full warranty so few worries. Golf engine sturdy
A new classic gives best of both worlds – except character?
Difficult to say… but not dear when you consider resto costs
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If you hanker for a classic VW camper with none of the usual hassles, why not consider a brand new one? Simon Goldsworthy investigates the art of turning back time
When Volkswagen retired its venerable T2 van in 1979, there was many a tear shed among the camping fraternity. The squarer T3 that replaced it may have been slightly bigger and arguably better, but it was the rounded profile of the earlier design that had almost single-handedly created the modern motorhome industry and come to represent freedom and travel to generations of happy campers. Fortunately, the tears proved to be more than a little premature. By the 1970s, VW had quite a far-flung empire, with a particularly strong presence in Central and South America. Not all of these markets were either ready or willing to embrace the latest designs and the accompanying investment they needed. So the faithful VW T2 continued in production at the Volkswagen plant in Mexico with the traditional old air-cooled flat four engine until 1991, then switching to a water-cooled 1.4-litre Golf engine until 1996. By 1997, production had shifted to Brazil, where T2s were built with air-cooled engines for the domestic market and water-cooled units for export to Mexico. Tightening emissions laws finally caught up with the old boxer units in Brazil by the end of 2005, since when the 1.4-litre in-line Golf unit has been the only option.This all has some relevance to us in the UK today because Beetles UK in Bristol imports these brand new T2 vehicles from Brazil. Also available as vans and minibuses, most of them are converted into campervans by the British company Danbury MotorCaravans. So wipe away that tear, because far than being dead and buried, the classic Volkswagen camper is in rude health. Here’s what you need to know.
Which model to buy?
There are no engine options with these brand new campers, as all vehicles are powered by Volkswagen’s 1.4-litre, water-cooled, in-line four engine. In fact, your mechanical options are reasonably limited, with the biggest decision being whether to have the steering wheel on the left or the right. The vehicles obviously come as left hookers, which may well suit those people who plan to tour extensively on the continent. Moving the driver’s seat over to the right will add a grand to the bill, but will also make UK driving more comfortable. It is a completely different story when it comes to the rest of the specification, as it is a veritable smorgasbord of options. There are two model lines, the Rio and the Diamond. The two have slightly different internal layouts; the Rio has a two-seat bench in the back and cupboards along the whole of the nearside, while the Diamond’s cupboards finish earlier so you get a full-width three-seater bench and a full king-size double bed. Each line also comes in three packages – the entry level Picnicker from £20,688, the betterequipped Classic and the fully loaded and luxurious SE that can push the price tag up to £32,354. Few owners will stop there though, as the whole point of buying a brand new van is that you can have pretty much exactly what you want. The roof rack, which helps give the vehicle in our pictures so much period charm for example, adds £450 to the bill, while an extra (removable) bench seat increases versatility at a cost of some £800. You pays your money…
Behind the wheel?
The remarkable thing is how classic it still feels
The remarkable thing about getting behind the wheel of a brand new camper is just how classic the bus feels. The cab is spacious but austere, a small selection of old-style knobs and levers sprinkled across a rather plain black dash. The steering wheel is still big and bus-like, and although the single dial has a little more padding around it than I remember from my 1970s camper, it hasn’t changed all that much. Nor have the pedals, which still sprout through rubber matting (and yes, if you look carefully you can still see daylight where they pushthrough the floor!) The seats are more comfortable than they used to be though, now being based on Golf chairs. Fuel injection and engine management means that the engine fires instantly to life whatever the weather. The water-cooled unit Golf-derived doesn’t sound particularly out of place either – with the engine hung so far back, the characteristic air-cooled note was always more noticeable on the outside than it was from thedriver’s seat in any case. Having just 1.4-litres to propel a campervan as large as this does not sound much, but even the largest of the old boxer units (the 2.0 litre) peaked around 70bhp while the modern motor manages 8bhp more from 400 fewer ccs. As a result, the overall driving experience is remarkably similar to the original – you are never in any danger of getting whiplash from the acceleration, but once up to speed you can cruise comfortably at the legal limit so long as headwinds and hills don’t get too severe. The brakes are very competent, the presence of a servo and discs on the front meaning you have to make little allowance for the age of the overall design. The gearbox has a narrow gate and the lever is tilted further towards the right than we expected, but foolproof changes are a cinch once you get used to a slightly rubbery feel. In a vehicle this tall you’d expect some buffeting from sidewinds and body roll through the corners, but the steering is nicely weighted and overall the handling is easy to relax with. If you do want more, then Danbury offers a lowered suspension (nothing too radical mind) which is said to improve the handling.
Ease of Ownership?
Yes, you can use this classic VW ever y day
Really, how easy do you want it? This is a brand new vehicle, built in a Volkswagen factory to the very latest quality control standards. Each vehicle is also subjected to an SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) inspection when it is imported to satisfy the UK government that it meets current safety standards, too. And to top it all off, you get a three-year parts-andlabour warranty from the maker’s importers! So few warranty worries here it seems. Perhaps the biggest gripe is the insistence that you take it back to Danbury for any servicing. The first of these comes in after just one month and costs £235. Subsequent returns to the outfit will be required every six months/7500km, so you will be making regular trips back to either Bristol or Northumberland. At least Danbury will give you a loan car on the day so you can explore the local area…On the habitation side, the interior shows the benefits of Danbury’s long experience of building motorhomes. The elevating roof is easy to erect and take back down thanks to the use of gas struts to take most of the strain. The rear bench seat is a rock-androll affair that takes just one pull to convert into a bed, and the optional third row of seats is easy enough to install and remove when you need to switch between camper and people carrier.
The Daily Option?
Ah, the daily option question. The short answer is that yes, of course you could use your classic VW every day with confidence and ease. After all, the things are used as taxis in many parts of Central and South America and clock up colossal over-loaded miles. But not many people in the UK would buy this kind of leisure vehicle and run it as theironly car. So instead, I will take this question to mean: is it suitable for use all year round and in all situations? The answer here is a definite ‘Yes’. The Achille’s heel of the old air-cooled vans was a heating system that was rather theoretical, especially after several decades of decay had eaten into the heat exchangers. But the modern T2 has a proper heater plumbed into the engine’s water jacket. What’s more, heated screens both front and rear are standard on some models and optional on the rest, so de-fogging misted glass in winter is quick and efficient. Fuel-wise, you can expect to break through the 30mpg barrier on a regular basis. That’s obviously not the most frugal of choices available today, but neither is it too bad when spread between up to seven seats (and far better than the original could ever manage). The 200-mile range on a tankful could have you stopping to refuel more regularly than you are used to, though. There is no synchromesh on first gear, so it can take drivers of modern cars a few crunches before they remember to come to a complete stop to slide the gearstick into bottom gear. Visibility is generally good, with the exception of the rear corners. It is easy enough to place once you get into the habit of using your mirrors as much as the rear screen, but some drivers might prefer the option of a modern parking sensor when trying to manouver into tight spots! If regular visits to multi-story car parks and the like are on your daily agenda, then check that you will fit under the barriers. At 6ft 10in high with the elevating roof stowed shut, you should be fine in most centres, but some of the bars do seem to be creeping down these days. Remember too that the luggage rack will add a few inches to this overall height, a factor that may be important when it comes to fitting the van in your garage at home, too. As far as the camping side goes, these vans can be as hardy as you are willing to be. Danbury insulate the panels and a separate petrol-fired heater is on the options to keep the living quarters toasty when parked up. The water tank is on-board too, so having that freeze up shouldn’t be a problem.
The first prototype van is built using the Beetle’s chassis. This was not up to the job, and a unitary body was developed instead, leaving just the engine to come from the Beetle.
Production begins of the Van, Kombi and Bus versions which are latter known as ‘Splitties’. All have split front screens and 1131cc/25bhp Beetle engine. A rarely spotted pick-up version follows in 1952.
Engine has grown over the years to 1192cc and a meaty 30bhp. This year it is also joined by the lustier 1500 (1493cc), which managed 40bhp initially and a lot more pull (it’s the one to have).
Redesign sees split windscreen and sculpted nose replaced with a single bay window and smooth front. Same wheelbase but longer overhangs. Revised rear axle allows a lower floor. Engine is 1.6- litre, 47bhp unit from the Type 3.
1.7-litre engine taken from the VW 411 is offered as an option, giving 66bhp and much better packaging thanks to relocated cooling fan. For the 1974 model year, this engine is replaced by the 68bhp 1.8-litre unit.
Engine grows to 2-litres and 70bhp and now available with an automatic transmission option. Production of the T2 ends in Germany in ‘79, to be replaced by the angular T25 but continues at the VW factory in Mexico with old 1.6 air-cooled unit.
Mexican Type 2s finally ditch the air-cooled engine, but continue for a further five years using an adaptation of the Golf’s 1.4 water-cooled powerplant. When production ends in ’96 it carries on in Brazil
Brazil finally gives up on the air-cooled motor, and all T2s built from December onwards are powered by the Golf unit. This delivers 78bhp on petrol and 80bhp when run on ethanol fuel.
A lot of people are interested in a brand new VW because they have become fed up with repairing and restoring their old camper. Instead, they are seduced by a something that offers all the charm of a classic, with a few modern conveniences thrown in for good measure. This is not always a formula that works, but in this case they are unlikely to be disappointed – money really can buy you the best of both worlds. Shame about the (frontal) looks though…
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