I first published the following article in 1997. It told the story of our short period of ownership of a classic split screen camper. A few years later I published an update and a few years after that, I received news about what had happened to the vehicle in the 10 years or so after I sold it. We will start with part 1. Parts 2 and 3 will be added shortly.
For years I had wanted to own a classic VW camper van. We arrived back in England in July 1996 after several years working in the Middle East. We immediately started looking for camper vans. Unfortunately, most of the vans for sale weren’t in very good condition.
Then I saw an advert for a 1963 split screen in Cornwall. In the photo, it looked superb. We set off for Cornwall that night.
This was our first glimpse of the Van the next morning. It was parked down a narrow lane, next to the house of the vendors.
We knew straight away that this was the vehicle we wanted. It seemed well maintained and the bodywork appeared to be in outstanding condition. We put in an immediate offer.
We returned to Cornwall a few days later and completed the purchase.
Our first excursion was to nearby Lizard Point, the most southerly place in mainland Britain
On our way back to Manchester, we stopped at Lichfield. The Van looked sensational and attracted lots of admiring looks wherever we went.
Parked on the drive of my sister’s house, it looked very impressive. But little did we know what was in store for us…
The sitting and sleeping area had been superbly restored and fitted out by the previous owners.
Everyone who sat in her was impressed by the quality and charm of the restoration.
The interior was all original and in very good condition. The previous owner had added manually operated reversing lights and a courtesy reading lamp.
Even the radio was an original Neckermann 6 volt model! The clock was original too and still worked.
The engine was a 1600cc 12 volt, powered from two 6 volt batteries connected in series. Everything ran on 12 volts, except the radio, windscreen wipers, interior light and indicators, which were connected to one of the 6-volt batteries.
The following week, we set off for the Continent, but on the way to Dover, Ann was called away to to the Philippines due to a bereavement.
The Van also had problems – a serious oil leak, and a faulty starter motor. Using the breakdown cover provided as part of my insurance (Heritage from Norton Insurance, Birmingham) I had her transported back home. I decided to have the engine reconditioned, and the starter motor repaired.
A small garage in Cheshire undertook the job, and after two weeks, she was ready.
I took the van to Wales with my friend Andy and his young son Tom. Here we can see the attractive pop-up roof.
The seats convert into a bed using a wooden panel which also doubles up as a camping table. The Van could sleep four.
She seemed to be running OK. The engine was running superbly but that starter motor still wasn’t quite right, and there was a smell of engine fumes coming from the heating vents.
Tom loved the van and wished he could drive it. This photo was taken in North Wales.
I took the van back to the garage for an oil change and a final check-up. They put in another starter motor.
The problem now seemed to be solved.
The next day, I met Ann at Heathrow and we set off on our holiday two weeks later than planned.
We drove through Belgium and Holland, where the brakes failed! The starter motor was also being troublesome.
Using my continental breakdown recovery, I had the van transported on the back of a truck to the local VAG garage, where they fixed the brakes (for £260). They weren’t able to fix the starter.
We continued into Germany, Denmark, back into Germany and on to Berlin.
The Van had plenty of admirers in Germany, where she was manufactured 33 years previously.
I found driving on the Autobahns often frustrating, due to the speed and acceleration limitations of the vehicle. Lorry drivers were often impatient. She was very slow on hills. I missed the power, safety and reliability of a modern vehicle.
On our return journey, we were washed out by torrential rain in Holland.
After an overnight stop, the starter motor finally packed in completely, and I had to push start her single-handedly in the pouring rain! It took three goes, and we made the ferry just in time!
Back home, we put the Van away in the garage.
Some weekends, we went on excursions. This photo was taken near the Trough of Bowland, Lancashire.
Generally, she performed well, but the starter was still temperamental. We also had a financial problem – I was studying full time, and needed money…
We had to face up to it – the Van would have to be sold. We decided to make the
most of it while we had it.
Due to the starter motor problem, we had to try and stop on a hill wherever possible, as here.
One inconvenience was the low level of the top of the windscreen. I often had to bend down to see the traffic lights.
I also pulled a muscle in my back reaching forward for the handbrake!
The general condition was extremely good. The previous owner was a VW mechanic and had done a very good restoration job on it.
The two-tone look, the split windscreen, like a plane, and the V shape on the front are full of a period charm lost in the post-1967 models.
There were mixed opinions about the two stars on either side of the VW insignia – they were put on by the previous owner.
About mid-October, I decided it was time to sell.
I made one last attempt to have the starter motor fixed. I took the vehicle to a VW garage in Stockport. After two or three start-ups, it was no different from before.
The ad appeared in November. There were only a couple of enquiries. The second caller, from Cornwall, but living in London, was already acquainted with the vehicle and had wanted to buy it in the summer, but had missed it.
She was overjoyed that the Van was for sale again, came to Manchester for a brief inspection visit, and made us an offer on the spot.
Yes, I had feelings of regret but on balance, I was glad. Though it had been fun to own her, I found the maintenance and reliability problems too much to cope with.
Still, we’d had a good run in it, and I’d realised my ambition to own a classic vehicle.
A few days later, we were on the A34 south, delivering the Van to her new owner in northwest London. Unfortunately, she never reached here, well, not under her own power: The clutch failed north of Oxford. The latter part of her last journey with us was spent on the back of another breakdown truck, provided by Heritage Classic Insurance.
The Van now resides in London, with its proud new owner, Paula, who plans to return home to Cornwall soon, so the Van will have come full circle!
Long may she continue to run!
TO BE CONTINUED