Sympathetic upgrades to make an early Split more suited to modern day motoring is something lots of owners contemplate doing, and to an extent this recently auctioned 1959 bus provides an ideal blueprint…
The otherwise pretty stock looking ’59 camper was sold at Silverstone Auctions on 6 March, the hardly insignificant hammer price of £42,750 reflecting the seemingly relentless surge of interest in early VW buses at the moment. But what makes this one just a bit different is the fact that it’s been modernised, courtesy of various subtle upgrades and modifications. For starters, instead of the otherwise rather flaccid 1200cc unit out back there’s a John Maher breathed on 2110cc engine producing a much more practical 145bhp mated to a US-built performance gearbox for better motorway cruising.
But it doesn’t end there. At some point in its life it’s had independent rear suspension fitted, plus rack and pinion steering both courtesy of Creative Engineering in Dorset, who also fitted new side windows. It’s also got servo assisted disc brakes all round – and if you look closely, you’ll just be able to make out the fact that it’s running on Porsche 356 wheels. Meanwhile, the original fuel tank has been swapped for a Fairbanks & Craven alloy item.
The left-hooker 11-window bus started life as an eight-seater microbus but was kitted out as a camper having been imported from the States in 1974. But again, despite a distinctly period look it’s had a complete 12-volt rewire and has the benefit of a leisure battery with mains hook up, USB outlets and a modern Waeco CF35 fridge. Meanwhile, to keep the occupants occupied there’s a quality remote audio install with a Firetec suppression system fitted to dial out any interference.
It was sold with a folder full of receipts and invoices documenting its maintenance, conversion and various upgrades. The chassis itself was described as being in fine condition and free from rust and rot which is obviously a good sign because it would have been daft to do all this to a van that needed welding.
Striking the perfect balance between old and new, it will no doubt offer its new owner period charm by the spadeful combined with more grunt, uprated running gear, a plush new interior and the convenience of new electrics. But here’s the really interesting bit; despite being far from original – it still fetched strong money. That tells us a lot about the marketplace and the way straying from factory – but in the right way – doesn’t necessarily hurt values.
The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage