The VW campervan has always been one of the most popular choices for drivers with a sense of adventure. The classic air-cooled Type 2, introduced in the sixties, has gained legendary status, and mint examples can now change hands for £20,000-plus.
Yet it’s still available ‘new’ – the Type 2 was still produced in Brazil until the end of 2013, and companies such as Danbury MotorCaravans will convert it to offer mod cons such as a kitchen with a fridge freezer and a CD stereo.
There’s no denying the vintage appeal of these models, but they cost £30,000-plus – and for similar money you can get your hands on a modern campervan, based on the dependable and much more up-to-date mechanicals of the Volkswagen T5 Transporter. The T5 has become a cult choice among fans of outdoor pursuits like surfing, just as the previous-generation T4 did before it, and as a result it will hold its value better than conversions based on the Mercedes Vito, Vauxhall Vivaro and Renault Trafic, and even the Ford Transit.
Visit your local Volkswagen van dealer, and you can get your hands on a California or California Beach. These factory conversions have everything you could possibly want, from neatly integrated kitchens with masses of storage to heaters and a bed in the lift-up roof. Plus, options include three-zone air-con, a 32-litre coolbox and Wi-Fi – although a basic California starts at over £45,000.
If you don’t have such a big budget, you can get an existing Transporter or Caravelle converted into a campervan at a fraction of the cost. Some drivers have even turned the smaller VW Caddy van into a camper, although this will have limited space. Yet whichever model you go for, there’s a legion of companies queuing up to do the work for you, and a variety of custom options.
Whether you want a full campervan, complete with a pop-up roof to make space for a bedroom, or simply a day van for short trips out with the family, the best starting point for a conversion is a long-wheelbase Caravelle or Shuttle, as it has the anchor points for rear seats, plus rear heating and soundproofing, that a Transporter van won’t.
Either way, a long wheelbase will obviously give you more room, while the 178bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel will provide more power when fully loaded than the 138bhp version. Convert an older, used van, and you could even go for a 2.5-litre diesel.
Once you’ve got your van as a starting point, you can decide exactly how you want to kit out your camper – something that’s obviously not an option with a factory conversion. And whether you get a company to do the work or do it yourself, the first step is to fit proper insulation. Swivel functions for the driver and front passenger seats are also essential, as is a Rock and Roll bed.
The latter incorporates seatbelts and crash protection, so can be used to seat passengers on a journey, before being converted into a double bed with ease. Even when folded out, the bed leaves space for a kitchen in most campervan conversions – many will comprise a two-burner stove, a sink and a Waeco fridge, as well as plenty of storage cupboards.
Need room for more than two people to sleep? A pop-up roof obviously adds to the cost, but it brings an extra bedroom up above. Also check out new innovations like the Danbury Doubleback, with its slide-out rear boosting space.
So there’s clearly a whole host of options for anyone considering a VW campervan conversion. But whether you want a factory-built model, prefer to go down the aftermarket route or are looking to carry out a DIY conversion, you’ll end up with one of the safest investments on the car market – as the Volkswagen campervan is always in demand.