Upsurge in campervan sales boosted by factory-built VW California
While the entire precept of motoring-with-home-outback has long been anathema to Iain Robertson, even he admits that the ‘designer’ appeal of Volkswagen’s California campervans could be contemplated, were he to become ‘homeless’.
As a relatively small child, in the early-1960s, accompanying my parents on a drive to our holiday home at Looe, Cornwall, I can still remember my father’s incandescent rage, when encountering the snail-like and inconsiderate progress of a Minor 1000 towing a two-berth caravan along the county’s unforgivably narrow lanes. The tow vehicle could have been anything from a Bedford Dormobile, to a Standard 10, but the outcome was invariably identical: a frustrated father and mother and offspring afraid to say anything, let alone request an ice-lolly.
Unsurprisingly, I grew up with an avowed hatred of almost anything being towed, which even extends to HGV1s…although the concept of ‘motorhome’ offered a dark but distant potential, as I matured. Although he disposed of the bricks and mortar on the English Riviera, rather prematurely I felt, my father almost buckled to a whimsical desire to join the caravan/caravanette set during the 1970s. Traipsing with parents to various purveyors of camping machinery, my loathing of fibreglass esters, lashings of ornate ‘plastic’ wood and cut-moquette upholstery made me reach for the bucket that surely doubled as on-board ‘bathroom facilities’.
My parents never did acquire either towed, or self-powered mobile accommodation, which was no loss to me at all. The comfort of an hotel bedroom, a skilled chef and pleasant serving staff was always the preferred option and, when I was old enough to enjoy my ‘own’ bedroom, teenage pleasuring became an acquired artform…what the parents did not know should never trouble them.
Concluding my education in Canada revealed the true value of the motorhome. Naturally, with a choice of Winnebagos powered by thumping great V8 engines, or extensible trailers designed for a 5th-wheel connection to a pickup truck deck, I could see and did enjoy trips with friends to Waskesui Lake, for the taste of the ‘Great Outdoors’. These mobile palaces, complete with Chesterfields, TVs and shower cabinets, let alone decent WCs, were genuine homes-from-home and enduring barbecued meals at purpose-supported campsites became intrinsic to the holiday mood. However, with access to the available space, they do think BIGGER in the Americas.
Aware of the California beach and surf movement and its weed and ripple wine-fuelled culture, although I never experienced it first-hand (honestly), the idea of being a beach bum, with sun-bleached locks and all-over tan was understandable but not on my cards. Yet, as a Chevy pickup truck owner, grabbing the occasional snooze, even overnighter, across the expansive bench seat showed potential, even when a friendly RCMP truncheoned the window to check that I was not DIC.
Having returned to Blighty, on the solitary occasion that I was allowed to test an LDV campervan, apart from poor planning on my part, which meant a late evening dash to fill the water tank, my resultant test report was not exactly glowing. The incomplete jigsaw of velveteen cushions, a table centre-post falling through the floor, the two hours it took to boil a kettle and several desperate leg-crossing moments (because a hefty Honda power-unit occupied the ‘bathroom’ area), only served to emphasise that camping and me were never going to be happy bedfellows…but, several years later, I drove a Volkswagen California.
The latest Beach derivative, introduced to broaden the Campervan’s appeal to the more impecunious, highlights the major advances made in the mobile-home sector. Thanks to design precepts carried out by trendy young things employed at the Volkswagen factory, the already excellent Transporter van provided a car-like base that was ripe for conversion. The differences between this factory-produced vehicle and the carpentry, plastic and gluing skills of a bloke called ‘Bob’, with a soggy roll-up affixed to his lower left lip, located on a farmyard somewhere in the British countryside, created a Grand Canyon divide.
VW could afford to start with a blank sheet of paper. It had the framework; it simply needed to fill it thoughtfully. The leak-free lifting roof, de rigueur to the compact campervan scene, could be operated electro-hydraulically. The cooker and sink, while proprietary, could be designed into the vehicle by a better class of supplier. Rotating front seats and heaps of storage space supplemented the practicality and stopped the unceasing clatter of loosely piled crockery. The in-built fridge-freezer could cope with chilled drinks and ice-lolly demands. Window blinds factored-in additional privacy and security, while an electrically extendible awning provided sheltered space for the pair of pull-out campaign chairs built into the hatchback rear door skin. High-quality trim, carpeting and upholstery in subtle factory shades added the final appeal and, above all, there was no all-pervading, bronchial irritant in the form of glass-fibre gel coats. VeeDub had done a fantastic job in not only converting the Transporter and later the LT vans but also converting me.
The all-new Beach is available in two variants: Camper and Tour. VW’s intention is to make the California 6.1 line-up even more accessible for larger families and to those who need a more flexible MPV to accommodate their hobbies, weekend jaunts, or occasional rest stops. Hell! It’s so good, you could live in it. However, prices for the California 6.1 Beach Tour will start from £52,062. It features five seats as standard, with the option to increase capacity to six or seven, making it the only manufacturer-produced camper on the market that is flexible enough to seat this many people. It would also make an excellent support vehicle for businesses relying on outdoor exhibitions, or county shows.
Spend an extra £240 and you could own the California 6.1 Beach Camper (£52,302). It offers four seats as standard, with an option to increase to five, as well as a pull-out mini kitchen with a single gas hob, and the aforementioned exterior awning. With its nocturnal flexibility and all-seasons heating and ventilation, it does satisfy the (occasional) home-from-home remit and, as a means to avoid the ‘poll-tax’, nothing could be finer.
Conclusion: Naturally, most modern caravans/caravanettes are built in pleasant factory surroundings and, I am informed, many of them are eminently suitable for purpose. However, overcoming the ‘snail’ connotation remains extant.