Having rolled out of the Hanover factory in 1965 as a Microbus, you could say this Camper was over 50 years in the making, as it took that long for it to be transformed into the Camper you see before you.
But, that’s not entirely correct, because it only took five months for the actual work to be done, the rest of the time, you could say it was just waiting for the transformation to happen.
The transformation from well-travelled people carrier to perfect Camper is down to the Bus’s current owners, Bob and Jenty Whitbread, with Bob saying: “The Bus was shipped over from California in 2005. The lady who imported it was a child minder and had originally planned to use it as a school bus, but due to problems with getting it insured for carrying children she decided to sell it on instead. So we bought it.
“At the time, we had a Westy Bay and a battered Split, but decided to sell both to have one, really nicely done Split Screen Camper. “When we bought it, it was a very tidy Microbus and we drove it around as it was for a bit, even sleeping in it by removing the middle seat and putting an air bed in the back, but the plan was always to turn it into a Camper.
” However, don’t think everything was always so rosy in the Whitbread garden. “We used to know the AA man by name,” Bob laughs. “Changing the engine made a world of difference to reliability.” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here and will come back to the mechanical aspects later.
The colours the Bus sports were the ones it was painted in 1965, they’ve just been freshened up. Well, that’s doing it a disservice, because the factory coats of Sea Blue and Cumulus White were completely stripped off to assess the metal work underneath. Bob says; “This was the scary part, as you never know what you’re going to find, even if you think the Bus is good to begin with.” That’s even the case with imports from so-called dry states, like California, because despite what you might think, it does rain there, too. Just not as much, which actually wreaks plenty of damage in its own way, because the rubber seals dry out, crack and split. When it does rain, the water gets in and finds the lowest point in the vehicle and sits there, munching away at the metal. Usually in the cab floors and cargo floor below the side windows.
Fortunately, the child minder had done good and bought herself a solid example. All Bob and Jenty discovered was that one of the doors had been repaired in the past with some lead loading. Not the usual California bondo sculpture UK restorers usually find themselves dealing with.
All of the bodywork was handled by a local company called Spray Tech. They massaged the 50 year old body back into shape and then laid on the fresh coats of blue and white prior to the big build up.
Suffice to say, you can’t refit tired trim and old rubbers to a freshly painted Bus, without it looking pony, so everything has been replaced with new.
A complete set of new rubbers for a Bus is hardly what we’d call cheap, but it’s the only thing to do if you want your Bus to survive another 50 years on the road.
It was at this point that Bob and Jenty decided to install some front Safari windscreens and convert all of the side windows to pop-outs.
The Safaris are painted steel versions, whilst the side windows are all polished stainless steel items.
Simply does it
Unusually in this day and age, Bob and Jenty resisted the urge to add even more bling and so didn’t add the oh-so-common Deluxe belt-line trim to the exterior. The reason being, Bob wanted the Bus to look as original as possible.
He says: “I’ve absolutely no interest in modifying it. I like how it looks and drives. I don’t want to lower it and it just wouldn’t look right if we fitted alloys to it at stock height. In fact, it did have some Empi 5 spoke wheels on it at one point, but they just didn’t work with the rest of the Bus, so we sourced a set of original 15-inch wide-five bolt pattern steels and hubcaps for it. They look so much more in-keeping. The tyres are 185/65 r15s.
“It’s still running on reduction boxes on the rear, although we have uprated the shocks all round from what it would have had.”
Remember we mentioned the temperamental engine earlier on in this feature? Well, that has now made way for a freshly built 1600 unit that was put together by Jim Gray at The Engine Shop. It’s running twin carbs and a Bluebird Customs stainless steel exhaust.
That, and the side-step are the only non-original looking elements of the otherwise stock-looking exterior, although there is another, very unoriginal piece this Bus wouldn’t have come with originally. The Turret-top roof.
Remember this ’65 left the factory as Microbus, so it would have been a tin-top? That’s how it was before Sam Jeffrey at VWorks got his hands on it.
Bob says: “I never wanted a pop-top. I much prefer the look of a steel roof, but Jenty really liked the idea of having space to stand up to get dressed and cook, so we decided to go for it. At this point it was a freshly painted Bus and I couldn’t bring myself to watch Sam cut into it with the angle grinder. Once he started though, there was no going back. I love it now and it makes the interior so much more usable.
“We’ve known Sam and his wife Laura for years and although I think Sam would have really liked to build us and interior, the plan from the outset was always to go for a Westfalia-style Bus.
“All of the cabinets are modern reproductions that came from Repro Westy. I drove out to Holland in a Transit and brought everything back and had Sam fit it. Then Laura did all the upholstery trimming and curtains.
“As soon as it was finished the Bus went to The VolksWorld Show at Sandown Park. We never built it to win trophies, but it was marked down on the score sheet for having leather, rather than cloth upholstery. We don’t mind, as that’s what we wanted. We built a Bus that we knew would suite our needs.
“Now it’s finished, the Bus is used all of the time. We’ve taken it to France and Belgium already, for the European Bug- In and we’re planning to drive it over to Spain later this year for a three week road trip.
We have two dogs at the moment, although we did have three at one point, and use the Camper to take them all out for walks.
“The Bus is always good to go as we keep clothes in the cupboards and wine and beer in the fridge, so we can come home on a Friday and jump in it and go. We always take the dogs with us so we don’t even have to come home if we don’t want to. It like a permanent holiday owns the ’65.”
Good to go
For us, this is what owning an old VW Camper is all about. As Bob succinctly puts it: “The only scary part of owning this Bus is how much it’s now worth, but the money is irrelevant. If you keep it vintage these things hold their value and it’s so much more enjoyable than having money in the bank. We use ours most weekends and have woken up in the snow. We’re both so attached to it that we’d be totally lost without it, so we’ll never sell it.”