Noooooooo! No more VW Camper vans are being made!
Alright; they’ve not exactly been flavour of the month over the past God-knows how many years, and they may have only been made in Brazil these days, but the news that production in South America is to halt at the end of the year is another little bit of my childhood being scraped away.
I didn’t ever ride in one; my parents never owned one; but I did have a collection of them in my car collection that I had from the age of about three years old which me and my brother built up over the years to take over a complete toy box, evicting my younger sisters Barbie dolls on many a tearful occasion.
But now, due to new laws coming into place in Brazil that all new vehicles must have air bags and anti-lock braking systems from 2014, VW has decided that they could not change production values and systems to fit in with this and so output of the 60’s bus is to halt. This is why Volkswagen stopped making them in Europe back in 1979 too!
Thankfully, it is estimated that there are over 10 million VW Camper Vans made globally over the past 63 years so they will survive somehow amongst fans of both the retro look and the "back-to-basics" driving experience they offer compared with modern vans.
Damon Ristau, director of the documentary The Bus, which follows VW fanatics and their affections for the machine, said: "The van represents freedom. It has a magic and charm lacking in other vehicles. It's about the open road, about bringing smiles to people's faces when they see an old VW van rolling along."
It is amazing that a van with a propensity to break down at the most inopportune moment should sink itself so deep into a culture, but there is also a durability about it and a simplicity (especially when it comes to fixing the engine) that makes the VW Camper Van feel part of the family rather than just a van.
In the 60s, especially, it was iconic, appearing on record album covers by both Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys (If you don’t know what a record is, ask your parents. You’ve missed out on a hell of a lot!) and serving as homes to many of the hippies that owned them, especially Deadheads – followers of the Grateful Dead in America, and of course surfers across California due to their ability to help transport surfboards as every body went Surfin’ 'cross the USA..
Sadly, these days, it is more in use as a museum piece or, in South America, Latin America and Africa as a more functional vehicle, losing all the romance garnered back in the 60s.
In Brazil it is known as the "Kombi," an abbreviation for the German "Kombinationsfahrzeug" that loosely translates as ‘cargo-passenger van’, and is used by the postal service to deliver mailbags, by the army to transport soldiers, by funeral directors to carry bodies (I guess the soldiers do the same too!) and as a means for schoolchildren to get to school. It has also found use as a taxi and also as a van to deliver construction materials across country to building sites
One small bit of romance is left though, as some Brazilian street vendors use their VW Camper Van as market stalls to provide food for workers needing some lunchtime succour.
I can’t remember my brother and I using our toys for that very purpose, more as an army of vans to help Action Man fight off an army of small plastic soldiers; but if I haven’t got the vans anymore (sadly I don’t have the cars either; they’d be worth a fortune now!), at least I have some of my memories of them.