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VW Transporter: Evolution of the Legend
I bought my left hand drive, 1968 VW camper for £100. When we picked it up, the vendor gave us a nod and a wink while he showed us the dodgy MOT. “Make sure you pump the brakes, lads,” he said brightly with a wave as we roared off down the road, happy as a couple of hippies on their way to Woodstock.
He wasn’t lying. In fact, what you had to do to stop the thing was to pump the brakes three times. On the third pump, the offside front drum brake locked up violently, causing the steering wheel to tug violently to the left (mercifuly, away from the oncoming English traffic.
Still, we didn’t mind. We initially bought the thing to transport our KX 250 motocrosser to and from the Thames-side wasteground we would ruin on summer nights and sunday mornings – but pretty soon we had sprayed the rusted blue coachwork with ridiculous colourful flowers, had patched up the gaping holes in floorpan and the sills and our group of friends were using it for weekend long jaunts in the discos that littered the Essex coast, where wave-your-hands-in-the air dancefloor debauchery would be followed by hilarious rides home down the A13, where we would try to judge the dual carriageway traffic signals at the constant thrum of fifty (the bus had a stopping distance roughly approximate to that of a supertanker fully loaded with Brent Crude.)
It was desperately dangerous and highly illegal, but that van’s personality remains burned into the consciousness of all of us that experienced the hard yards we accomplished in it.
And that’s why the VW van remains such an iconic steed. A vehicle originally desinged with European family utopia in mind has been re-imagined by three or four generations of road-happy riders – from card carrying hippies to Observer-reading families, taking in extreme sportsers, AA engineers, medics, rangers and rapscallions along the way.
It might be that the Split Screen classics will always be the most sought after, but the new generation of California campers and Sportline crewcabs are some of the most practical, reliable and desirable multi-use vehicles ever to be designed.
But the abiding memory of that old rust bucket remains its rock solid reliability. After one particularly rancid, snowbound winter back in the day, when the old warhorse had spent three months entombed in snow drifts and ice, I thought I’d step out to see if she would start. That beautiful March morning, just one turn of the key was enough to send the air-cooled engined coughing and wheezing into life. It sent a feeling of possibility shivering through me. And that’s why you love the VW Transporter.
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