Eddie the Eagle travelled in VW camper
Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards officially opens the Motorhome and Caravan Show 2017 at Birmingham’s NEC on 17 October. Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards, who represented Great Britain in ski jumping during the 1988 Winter Olympics should feel at home: while no skiing is expected, the UK’s largest leisure vehicle show includes a display of iconic VW campervans. A VW camper conversion, bought for him by his father, was Eddie’s transport and bed for thousands of miles across Europe during his ski-jumping career.
“I’m really looking forward to opening the show,” says Eddie. “I travelled over 50,000 miles in my beige VW caravanette. It wasn’t super-fast, but I got there. It had an extendable roof and boiling my kettle on the stove helped me keep warm in the mountains at minus 20 degrees!”
The VW campervan line-up includes three decades of models from the 1950s onwards, including T1 ‘split screens’, T2 ‘bays’, T3s (commonly known as T25s in the UK) and also a rare example of a right hand-drive T4 Westfalia. The classic campervans contrast with over 700 current leisure vehicles on display at October’s six-day event. Manufacturers and dealers launch their new motorhomes, caravans, campervans and holiday park homes for the 2018 season.
The T1 with its split-screen windscreen, loved for its friendly ‘van with a face’ image, was manufactured from 1950 to 1967, with its air-cooled engine outputting just 25bhp: around half the power of a 50cc moped. In the 1950s camper conversions were designated as commercial vehicles with a speed restriction of 30mph; this was successfully challenged in court in 1956 and campers were reclassified as private vehicles.
The T1 ‘bus’ was introduced in a right hand-drive version in the UK in 1954. One of the first campervan converters, Devon Conversions, launched its Caravette in 1956, selling 56 in 1957. Costing £897.10 shillings, even a full crockery and cutlery set was included. By 1958 Westfalia had produced 1,000 campers and by 1973 was turning out 30,000 units a year. The first toilets were introduced as an option by Westfalia in 1958: a galvanised bucket with wooden seat and lid.
By 1963 a 1,500cc engine was available and in 1968 the T2 went into production with its single piece ‘bay’ windscreen. In 1979 the ‘bay’ made way for the T3 (T25) model until the front-engined, water-cooled T4 model arrived in 1980.
Though often stereotyped as ‘hippy buses’, VW campers sold in the sixties were often owned by families wanting cheap holidays. The first psychedelic-painted bus was a work of art bringing together astral and ancient symbols and snapped in a 1969 photo at Woodstock, New York.
More recent owners of classic campers include Martin Clunes, Jamie Oliver, Vic Reeves and Jensen Button, with an original T1 campervan conversion potentially worth upwards of £30,000 today. This year, a restored T2 VW camper sold at auction in the USA for $302,500.
The versatile body of the VW ‘bus’ always lent itself to modifications from ambulances to ice-cream vans as well as the much-loved camper, with companies such as Westfalia, Danbury and Hillside Leisure still converting VW camper vans today.