Getting away from it all, that’s what we all crave once in a while – which is why VW camper vans have such a huge following. As the ultimate lifestyle statement, nothing comes close to jumping in a Volkswagen Bus with a bunch of friends or family and heading out into the countryside…
Of course it’s a bit late in the European season to go camping now unless you’ve got a stationary heater, thermals and pack a hot water bottle. However, it’s a good time to get inspired and start planning for the new year ahead and luckily, here at VW Heritage, we have our very own camping expert, Andy Headings, to tell us about his own experiences and offer some expert tips along the way. With VW Heritage stocking a new camping range, Eva from Marketing joined up with Andy for their own camping adventure at Blacklands Farm in Sussex to find out about the camper van community, the parts and the vans and to get an insight into life with a T5 camper.
Having originated from Newquay in Cornwall and been into VWs since he was young, it’s only natural Andy’s developed a deep appreciation of cool Volkswagen campers. Nor does it come as any surprise that he currently works in the Customer Service department for one of the UK’s biggest specialist independent VW parts suppliers, a job he’s held since 2013.
Said Andy: “I’ve owned all sorts of VWs, including a Polo 6n, Golf Mk2, Type 25 Pick-Up but since learning to drive, I’d always wanted a camper.”
And it wasn’t long before he turned his dream into reality, purchasing a 2005 T5 T30 with the 1.9 TDi engine in 2010. But as VW didn’t do a T5 camper conversion at the time, he had to think outside the box and rope in the help of family and friends to transform it from a commercial workhorse into a fun, weekend plaything. As Andy explained to Eva: “It was a panel van, so I converted it myself, my wife, brother and family friends all getting involved in the transformation.”
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll
The first thing Andy did was install a ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ bed – a device that acts as a rear bench seat during the day then folds down into a double bed at night. Then, having used it in that format going to VW shows and enjoying the occasional weekend away, he decided to go the whole hog, fitting a pop-top elevating roof, windows, hob, sink and various other kitchen units inside.
Of course camping has always been a favourite pastime for families, so when Andy’s son, Lawrie, was born he was more than happy to make the necessary modifications. “We installed a double fold-down seat in the front with a swivel base, so we can all sit together, and now Lawrie sleeps up in the roof space. He loves it up there, and has plenty of room for all of his toys.”
Like all things, Andy’s learnt as he’s gone along and has also got inspiration and ideas from seeing other campers at shows. “There’s always something that catches your eye when browsing the internet or looking at other vans. The next thing I am planning on fitting is a shelf unit above the stove and 4G wi-fi so that we can connect our phones and tablets.” He’s also learnt a few important lessons along the way, and one thing in particular not to do in future. “I did my back in while trying to lift the rock ‘n’ roll bed out of the van on my own, so I won’t make that mistake again.”
As they enjoy the early autumn sun in this beautiful part of Sussex, Andy explains to Eva the importance of being organised when camping and tells her he often spends the week before a trip getting properly prepared. “I typically spend all week cleaning and loading the van with stuff we need to take with us, that way we’re ready to go as soon as I get back from work on the Friday evening.”
Once on site, and with everything unloaded, Andy likes to kick back and relax – and that means putting his car keys to one side and making the most of exploring a new area. “The idea is to get to the campsite on the Friday evening, and try not to move the van all weekend. Instead, we catch public transport or walk to places of interest. There’s nothing better than watching the world go by from a nice pub beer garden or National Trust tea shop.”
Sit back and relax
One of the best bits about camping Andy reveals to Eva is getting out and about and making new friends. “Lawrie is great at interacting with other children on campsites and everyone plays really nicely. It’s good for him, and also good for me and his mum because it gives us an opportunity to have a bit of time to relax together. When camping, enjoying the fresh air and getting out on day trips are great for making new memories.”
Do it yourself
Eva, suitably impressed by now, can certainly see the attraction of the campervan lifestyle. Who knows, maybe she’ll follow Andy’s lead and invest in a VW camper of her own one day. And if she does, Andy has plenty of useful advice to steer her in the right direction. “My recommendation would be not to buy a van on the first viewing. With prices of good Buses going up all the time, the Type 25 is a good option. However, if you want to travel around Europe and want miles and miles of hassle-free travel, then it would be better to go for a T4 or T5.”
Andy says high mileage shouldn’t put off prospective buyers (his T5 has covered 205,000 miles) but there needs to an accompanying service history to back it up, and anything that hasn’t been properly maintained should be viewed with caution. “If you are not sure about the vehicle, then just walk away,” he says.
After all, as Andy rightly says, a van is only as reliable as the person who has owned it previously. “My van was ex-fleet lease hire, so it had been serviced on schedule and anything that needed doing was done there and then.”
When it comes to tailoring a camper to meet your specific needs, Andy offers the following words of encouragement. “If you are up for a challenge and want to build a van to your design and specification, then buy a panel van and convert it yourself. I don’t necessarily mean doing all the work yourself, as you can always outsource some of the tasks such as cutting out windows and fitting the pop-top roof.”
As the sun begins to go down, while packing down the chairs and equipment, Eva and Andy reflect on their experience. There’s no doubt that a VW camper will open an exciting range of possibilities, whether that been a short weekend away locally or a proper two-week holiday further afield. The secret is to get the right van, go with the right camping equipment – and just try it.
VW Heritage’s Camping Expert: Andy
And if, having read this, you’re still not sure – or want to find out a bit more, you can always get in contact with AHeadings@vwheritage.com in person by emailing him.
The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of VW Heritage.