VW California vs. Camper

Modern package builds on the charms of original, which is still going strong after 60 years

Volkswagen has a long history of producing models which capture the public imagination – just take the original Beetle or Golf GTI as examples. The legendary Camper is another, and while the original Type 2 commercial vehicles on which it’s based were first built in 1950, the famous machine is still made in Brazil today.  

Glamorous camping, or ‘glamping’, is the latest holiday craze in recession-hit Britain, so why not relive the swinging Sixties in a retro Type 2 from Bristol-based Danbury? The firm takes brand new models and converts them into fully functioning motorhomes with comfortable beds, fridges, ovens and everything else you’d need. The cars retain the original’s cult look, but with updated engines.

If camping in a classic isn’t your thing, another current Volkswagen may take your fancy. The California is the spiritual successor to the Type 2, and comes with the latest technology under the bonnet and inside.

The Danbury model looks the part on the outside. There’s not much to mark it out from the original, with two-tone paint and chrome trim. You’ll do a double-take when you spot the 2010 registration!

The California is almost as striking, especially in our test model’s Electric Blue finish.

Clean lines, rounded edges, tinted glass and neat detailing create a thoroughly modern silhouette, although it owes a lot to its Transporter van origins. The retro assault of the Danbury continues inside, where the driver is treated to a sparse and basic cabin that is dominated by the horizontal steering wheel and umbrella-style handbrake.

The pedals are oddly spaced either side of the steering column and hinged from the floor, while the wand-like gearlever sprouts up between the seats. Manual window winders sit next to the modern stereo’s speakers. Our example featured a heated windscreen, but it’s still a world away from its modern counterpart. Inside the California, owners of the latest Golf will feel right at home, with switchgear and instruments borrowed from the hatch.

While it doesn’t have the visual drama of the Type 2, the superb build and raft of kit make it a pleasant place in which to pass the miles.  

Both campers are powered by VW engines, but they couldn’t be more different – as the old-timer takes longer than 20 seconds to accelerate from 0-60mph. The Type 2’s 1.4-litre petrol unit is used in the Fox city car, and is outmuscled by the 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel in the California. The modern vehicle covers 0-60mph nearly twice as quickly. What’s more, the Type 2 feels its age.

The accelerator and brake pedals have long travels, while the short wheelbase and narrow track make it unstable at high cruising speeds.

In contrast, the California is impressively surefooted, and the 178bhp diesel combines brilliantly with our car’s £1,650 seven-speed DSG gearbox.

Trimmed in chocolate leather and light laminate, the Type 2’s living quarters feel bright, airy and relatively modern. It has a sink, fridge, oven, double hob and portable toilet. Plus, the manually extendable ceiling (£1,949) ensures even tall occupants can stand up comfortably. The bed folds like a household futon, and converts in seconds. If you want to socialise, a table slots into the middle of the floor, while Danbury offers a range of options to make your stay more pleasant, including extra beds and even televisions.

Switch to the California, and you’re greeted by contemporary veneers and fabrics, and much more plastic. Everything is really well thought-out, with a variety of sliding and swivelling chairs, integrated tables and blinds. The bench seat folds into a double bed, and there are another two berths in the electrically operated pop-up roof. The leisure battery means you can use the fridge, lights and auxillary heater without an electrical hook up. And if the weather is good, you can enjoy the great outdoors using the extendable awning (£360), camping chairs and table.

Both these vans will function perfectly as homes from home, but offer totally different driving experiences and images. While some buyers may crave the extra kit and ability of the more capable modern car, the Danbury Type 2 will command greater respect when you pitch up on site.

And prices start at £22,999.

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