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Why I love classic air-cooled VW Beetles and camper vans

Childhood memories are a big thing with me. As a child I loved cars but unfortunately my parents didn't own one. Only on the annual family holiday to Ireland did I get a chance to ride in a car. A few stick in my mind: My uncle's Ford Consul, a Hillman Minx belonging to another relative. But there was one car that made the biggest impression on me of all...

Childhood memories are very important me. In fact they are the driving force in the photography and writing I do today. As a child I loved cars, and used to design them.

At the age of 10, I won a Kodak Instamatic camera for a 'Lock your car' poster I had painted with a luxury car of my own design. My parents didn't own a one, so I could only dream about them.

My father told me vivid stories about driving across Ireland in the late 20s in the Bull Nose Morris or Model T Ford, usually held together with rope.

When we visited Ireland on the annual family holiday it was a special treat to be picked up at the station or taken on sightseeing trips.

A few cars stick in my mind: my uncle's Ford Consul, and the Hillman Minx owned by another relative of ours. But there was one car that made the biggest impression of all...

That car was the pastel green Volkswagen Beetle that belonged to my mother's cousin, Bridgie O'Connell.

To this day in my mind's eye I can see the car parked on The Square, Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, with me inside pretending to drive it. I was fascinated by the rubbery smell of the interior, the curvy shape of the metallic dashboard, the shiny knobs and levers, the VW crest in the centre of the steering wheel and on the front of the bonnet, the bug-eyed headlamps and chrome indicator lights, the vents under the rear window, which I noticed was bigger and squarer than on older Beetles.

I imagined I was driving, and tried to reach the pedals and the button on the floor to dip the headlamps. I remember Bridgie coming out of the house, her grey hair as always tied back in a bun. She smiled at me and said: "Are you driving the car, Aidan? You're a big boy now!'. I would have been around 8 or 9 years old.

We went on many wonderful trips in that pastel green Beetle, including the Ring of Kerry, the seaside at Ballybunion and to Limerick.

At the time there seemed to be Beetles everywhere in Ireland. It was as if it was the national car. For me, the Beetle became inextricably associated with happy times spent on holiday in ireland.

Let's fast forward 9 or so years to another formative Beetle experience. It was June 1976 and I was doing my A Level German oral exam at my school, Xaverian College, Manchester. The examiner, a woman named Gisela, was so impressed with my German that we continued to chat after the exam had finished.

She offered me a lift in her new VW 1303 Beetle. I told her how I had recently passed my driving test and about my memories of the pastel green Beetle and how I'd loned to drive it. Astonishingly, she offered to let me test drive her new Beetle.

I still remember the strange feel of the pedals, the 'sit up and beg' driving position, and that rubbery smell again. I drove it a short distance along Denison Rd, and stopped as I didn't feel confident.

But the short drive in the Beetle left an indelible impression.

My university years were almost completely 'carless'. I travelled mostly on buses, boats, trains and planes. In summer 1978, with my university pal Kieran, I hitch hiked through Europe and had another formative experience.

Somewhere in the French Alps, we got stuck, and spent 8 hours standing on the road side trying to get a lift. We were about to give up when a van pulled up and we hopped in. The relief and exhilaration of finally getting away, and the van rounding the corkscrew bends, was overwhelming. The driver was German but this wasn't a VW. I decided there and then that when I had the money, I would travel through Europe in a camper van.

Fast forward again to 1985 in Manchester. A new job teaching German required a new car. It had to be a Beetle.

Purchased for 500 from a vendor in Middlewood, near Stockport in October 1985, my pearl white 1971 VW Beetle 1500 CPJ 966H, was my pride and joy for 5 years.

in 1987 I drove to southern France in it, again with Kieran. On the way back we got caught in fog and had to sleep overnight in it, crumpled up in the back seat, legs dangling over the front seat backs. If only we'd had more space.

In 1990, expensive repairs forced it off the road. In 1991 I went to teach in Saudi Arabia and hoped to restore it after a year from my savings. Unfortunately things didn't work out, and sadly the car ended up on the scrap heap.

Fast forward to 1996 after four years teaching in the Gulf. I was determined to treat myself to my dream vehicle and it had to be a VW split screen camper van.

Our 1963 split screen camper van was bought in Cornwall for 4750 and sold it on six months later to a buyer in London for 5250. In 1997 I published my account of our experiences. It was my very first web feature and is still online today, and heavily visited.

For me the love of the classic VW is something very personal and it's not difficult to see how it fits in with my other themes:

The Nostalgia thing - A classic vehicle allows you to recapture the spirit and style of times past

The Ireland Thing - The Beetle is associated for me with happy childhood memories of holidays in Ireland

The Design thing - For me, retro design is a big motivating factor whether architecture, buses, trains, fashion, or cars.

The Germany thing - As a student, later teacher of German and confirmed Germanophile, an interest in classic VWs is hardly surprising

The Travel Thing - I've done all kinds of travelling, but there's something special about driving, eating and sleeping in a retro design icon.

As time passes, the interest in classic VW Beetles and Camper Vans grows. I see fewer and fewer Beetles on the road, but just as many camper vans, if not more.

I intend to continue the classic VW journey and who knows where it will lead?

This site is number one on Google for the keyword 'VW Camper Van'.

My goal is now to use my writing, photographic and web expertise to fully develop this theme, providing a large amount of concise, useful, impartial and reliable information on the subject, with plenty of tips, links and recommendations, presented in a professional way, using high quality photos.

The journey continues... please keep on visiting and see how things develop!

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-04-02

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