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Review of 'Nell' the nearly new Brazilian VW camper van

She's young, she's beautiful, she's Brazilian, and she's a quite a head turner in her cream and orange paintwork. But she doesn't have ABS, power steering, central locking or a fifth gear. This is a condensed version of my review of 'Nell', the Brazilian-made VW camper van, kindly provided by Snail Trail VW Camper Van Hire www.snailtrail.co.uk.

'Nell' is a VW van is a bay camper of mid-60s design, newly manufactured in Brazil. When you get into her first, it's like sitting in something that's travelled in a time machine.

This example cost 23,000 second hand. New they used to cost 30,000. Campers of this spec are are no longer available to buy new.

You get a shock when you first start to drive the van. The steering has a lot of play, you have to push the brake pedal right down before the brakes start to work, but after a while you grow accustomed to these features, and begin to like them.

This van really is a combination of 1960's VW technology with some newer additions:

Standard features:

Post 1967 VW bus shape
Large 'bay' windscreen
12-volt electrics
sliding door
large steering wheel
sliding "rock'n'roll" bench seat
1600cc air-cooled engine
Four-speed gearbox

More modern features

fuel injection
runs on unleaded fuel
heater drawing petrol from the tank
alternator 55 amps
front servo disc brakes
rear fog lamp
heated front and rear windows
engine immobilser (optional extra)
modern style driver and passenger seats
inertia reel seat belts
main and auxiliary 12v batteries

Camper conversion specs

12V coolbox
pop-up roof with double hinged sliding board
electrically powered water pump
gas-powered hob with electric ignition
Rear bench seat turns into bed
single legged table l
Lots of storage space
cable for power hookup

Other modern features are conspicuous by their absence:

No power steering
No fifth gear
No airbags
No central locking
No modern-style smooth suspension
Traditional-style compact interior space
Not possible to use 240v adaptor for laptop computer

So why would you want to pay 30 grand for a piece of yesterday's automotive technology?

Precisely that, because it's a piece of yesterday's automotive technology, but newly manufactured, and with all mod cons.

Though nearly new she takes a bit of getting used do. But the further you go, the more you become accustomed to the driving position and feel of the van, and eventually you become hooked - at least, I did!

The lack of 'idiot-proof' warning lights and beeps becomes a virtue, the characteristics of an older vehicle mean you have to work a little harder, e.g. doing a 3 point turn, but soon they become a pleasure.

It's true, you can't career down the motorway at 80 or 90 mph, but if you like driving the van, why shorten the journey? 'Nell' cruises nicely at 60 and there is enough power to overtake when necessary. Fuel consumption is not much under 40 miles per gallon.

On the A and B roads, the van comes into her own, sailing round the bends - that's as long as you keep your speed down! I love the way the suspension bobs happily up and down. And she has a smaller turning circle than you'd think.

But not everyone takes to the classic bay van. Some people have bought them new, and found they just couldn't take to this type of vehicle. That's why vans like these do appear on the second hand market from time to time, but not at a cheap price. Expect to pay around 25,000.

Wherever you go there are admiring looks for Nell, though not from everyone. It's not as much of a head-turner as the split screen van. But VW fans will come up to you and express their admiration.

During our week in Nell, we went to the Hay Festival, the Lake District, North Wales as well as Manchester and Liverpool city centres - The van is great in the city as well.

After seven days it was time to drive 'Nell' back to Snail Trail in Hertfordshire. The night drive over the A57 Snake Pass was pure pleasure, the closest thing on the road to driving a train. And I was very impressed with the headlamps which seemed to be much brighter than a family car.

The verdict: A fantastic vehicle, though I probably wouldn't buy one as I'd prefer to do a restoration job on an older vehicle. But this new type of van is perfect for rental purposes.

She is fun to drive, compact, reliable, not very fast, but quite economical and you can have a great time in her.

Visit Snail Trail to find out how you can try out one of these beauties for yourself.

This was a concise version of the article. Full length version in preparation.

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-06-22

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