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The end of a long traveled road, the VW Microbus

VW Camping Vans
VW Camping Vans
Robert J Wiebel

Melbourne, FL – January 5, 2014 - A lot had transpired this past year in the outdoor recreation world that I could write about. News was happening in almost any outdoor recreation category from rock climbing, surfing, fishing, hunting, hiking, football, and baseball just to name a few. But the one new worthy happening that caught my eye that I had a personal relationship with was end of the VW classic Kombi, Microbus, Transporter, aka the VW camper van. The last continuous production of the VW van that started in the 1950s ended in Brazil on December 31, 2013.

My relationship with the VW microbus started back in 1960s when my father purchased one to haul our family of six kids around in. He also used it to transport corrugated boxes in it to his customers when they ran out. My dad was a corrugated box salesman for Gaylord Container Corporation a division of Crown Zellerbach at the Greenville, SC box plant.

Growing up my family were big outdoor campers. We used our VW bus to pull a big wooden trailer full of our camping gear. During the 1960s, my dad drove our VW bus all over the Atlantic seaboard from New York City to Key West, Florida. But we never got much further west than Panama City, Florida’s St. Andrews State Park. I remember one memorial 1960s camping trip in our VW bus to Myrtle Beach, SC. We drove right through U.S. Military Exercise Operation Swift Strike. Why I remember this is because my dad gave two soldiers who were walking along side the highway between Lake City and Conway, SC a ride on our camping trailer. As we drove along, I could see these two soldiers wave to the other soldiers who were also walking along both sides of the same road as we passed them. After we drove a few miles, we let them off and proceeded on out camping trip. We got a lot of use out our VW bus. My dad had the motor rebuild three times before he eventually traded it in on a newer station wagon.

My first VW microbus was purchased in 1972 when I was stationed at MacDill AFB in Tampa Florida. I got it from one of the airmen I worked with when I was assigned to the base Civil Engineering squadron. My wife Kathi and I used our VW bus to tent camp all over Florida from Panama City to Key West. This microbus had been converted by the guy I purchased it from to makeshift camper with a single bed that ran the length of the bus interior behind the driver’s seat. We kept it for a few years until I was reassigned. I sold it to a USAF lieutenant I worked with.

My second VW microbus was Westfalia Camper I purchased in 1983 when I was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany with the 4th Allied Tactical Air Force. This was a bright yellow Euro Camper. I purchased it from a Canadian airman I worked with. By this time my family had grown to four. Along with my wife Kathi and our son Thomas and daughter Becky, we toured Europe during the summer enjoying all the different types of European camp grounds. When we were transferred back to the San Bernardino, California in 1984, we brought the VW camper with us. We used our VW to camp all around southern California. We especially loved taking our camper on day trips to the beach. On a Saturday morning in 1986, while driving to a weekend college class, our camper caught fire and burned up. Unbeknownst to me the air-cooled boxer engine design mounted the fuel tank above the engine. On this Saturday morning the fuel lines ruptured causing gasoline to pour over the hot engine block causing the fire. Every time I extinguished the fire more gas would drop onto the hot engine reigniting the fire. The fire was finally extinguished by the fire department when the gas tank finally ran out of gas. That was the last time I owned a VW microbus.

Outdoor camping sure can be an amazing experience, as I can attest, when Volkswagen vans, Euro Campers and Weekenders are used. My family and I really enjoyed the camping convince the VW camper gave us.

Today, one can find VW campers in use all across the world. You can find them for sale in various stages of condition on many of the well know auto and RV web sites like www.Old Bug.com. While doing my research for this article, I can across three very interesting web sites that offer distinct types of VW camping experiences.

Pop Top Heaven located in Yucaipa, CA dismantles and reconditions VW Campers and Weekenders. They have a large inventory of 1995 – 2003 models. They start by purchasing well care for and regularly maintained campers and weekenders. After a complete bumper to bumper, they spend on average $4,500 dismantling and reconditioning each unit they swell. The amount of work that goes into each project depends on what they find during the inspection and dismantling process. You can read the description of the Pop Top Heaven reconditioning process. All of their vehicles are inspected, repaired, and detailed beyond what they feel any other dealer or private party would do. Their goal is to get them as close to factory condition as possible. The cost to ship by a common carrier company is in the range $2,521 to $4,411for shipping to Melbourne, Florida. Typically, the realistic costs would be in the middle of that range, say, $3,000. It would likely benefit a buyer to fly into Vegas and have them ship the vehicle there, where the buyer can pick it up at their hotel. Doing so would save the buyer the sales taxes on your purchase contract. The cost to ship to Vegas is usually between $300 and $400. The estimated price for a reconditioned VW camper is about $25,000 - $45,000. This price range varies widely because of the work that went into the recondition process and the vehicle’s mileage at the time Pop Top Heaven purchased it.

Another reconditioner of VW campers is Go Westy. They are located in Los Osos, California. Go Westy provides the same type of reconditioning service of the entire family of VW campers. The sales prices of previously sold vehicles currently on their web site range from about $40,000 - $80,000. They have sold 385 campers since 2002.

The Dub Box Camper is a fiberglass camping trailer based upon the VW microbus design. The green trailer showed in the slide show costs $22,500. It includes a cassette toilet, outdoor shower and kitchenette. The roof is lifted with 4 synchronized powered actuators. The freight depends on the location of the buyer. To ship one to Florida costs approximately $2800.Dub Box is located in Oregon City about 20 minutes from downtown Portland, Oregon. They have 22,000 sq feet of manufacturing facility. Their facility is equipped with a paint booth so they are able to do custom painting on site. They also manufacture Dub Box food carts, merchandise carts, and tailgate trailers for avid sports fans. Their food carts can be seen on corporate campuses like Google and Intel and on college campuses as far east as John Hopkins University. This may be a great option, if you love the VW bus design being that a used reconditioned camper can run up to $80,000.

The 2014 camping season is only a few months away. Trading in your tent for a reconditioned VW camper or a new Dub Box can most definitely expand you outdoor recreation horizon. If you are seriously considering a VW camper purchase, please do your homework. Purchasing a used VWE camper can either be a great experience or the experience from hell.

Even though the mass production of the VW microbus has stopped in Brazil, you will still be able to find VWs for sale for many years to come.

So until next time, be safe in the sun and have a great day in the great outdoors.