The following is a personal account written by Helen Merryfield, of buying, renovating & owning a VW Camper Van.
Well, where do I start? My obsession with the Volkswagen Camper van is a fairly recent thing however my husband, Rob, is a car fanatic and has always dreamed of owning one. We already own a Mk II VW Golf GTi and following several trips to VW enthusiast shows we decided that it would be a great joint project as well as an investment to try and buy one. Following many months of trawling the internet, magazines and more VW shows we discovered that owning one of these classic vehicles is a labour of love. We met many people who own these vans (or buses as some people refer to them) and they are often obsessive, passionate and very nearly broke!
We decided that it was worth the risk and started to make decisions about what kind of van we would look for and how much of a project we were prepared to take on. The cost can depend on whether it’s Left or Right hand drive, what model it is and of course how much work has been done already!
Following a few more months looking in magazines and on the auction website ebay we finally found a 1974 Bay Window with two weeks MOT, just as much tax and over 14 years of documented history by the previous owner. Thankfully he lived in Bristol and was prepared to accept a reasonable amount for what looked and sounded like a reliable van with a brand new engine. We found it on the Friday and cut out the middle man/website by driving down with the cash on the Saturday morning. (Two other people had already made bids by the Saturday morning without even going to see it - depending on the seller it can be a tough market!!) After a successful test-drive and a look at how much work was required we handed over the cash and drove the van back to Swindon.
Being an ex mechanic, Rob is capable of most things and I have the patience of a saint when it comes to cutting, measuring and sewing but neither of us could weld or paint a vehicle. With the amount required to get it through its next MOT, this had to be taken on by a professional. It took us a while to find someone willing to take on a specialist vehicle but we found a chap called Jim Griffiths in Faringdon who specialises in VW restoration. We agreed to strip the vehicle ourselves before he collected it in November 07 and took it to his workshop where it would stay over the winter to be welded and re-sprayed.
Due to the weather in this country, the bottom 6 inches is a common place to find rust on these vehicles but there was plenty more where that came from.
As the work moved along we found more rust and ended up having to order replacement rubber seals because the old ones had rotted away and panels such as a front end, cab doors and a new sliding door. Although many of the parts can be sourced from after-market companies, it seemed the recommendations were to find rust-free original parts so we tracked down a place in Oxford called Vanshack who had lots of rust-free panels imported from sunnier climes such as Australia, California and Mexico. When the welding was finished, we chose a colour and Jim started to prep it for painting. Seeing it painted made all the research, hard work, selling on e-bay and saving worth while. After treating it to a new (20 years old!) set of alloy wheels and four brand new tyres, we started to bolt on all the fixings and took it off for an MOT where it passed first time! It has even already been to its first show at the Haynes Museum in Yeovil.
Following two weeks leave from work we have now started working on the interior and in between the frequent bouts of bad weather we have been able to cover a new set of door cards with faux suede, make our own lined curtains, re-paint the floor with Hammerite and cover it with insulation, ply wood then lino.
Our next task is to re-make the interior and have it ready for Vanfest in September.