I’m embarking on a new adventure, acquiring a vehicle that I’ve fantasized about for decades. A VW Westfalia camper. This has deep psychological implications, and I am indeed smiling away as I write about this. I have always loved the idea of having one, being able to take off on short notice to camp somewhere, anywhere really, without reservations or arrangements or permits. Something appeals deeply about being self-contained in a tidy mobile package.
In typical fashion, this has been a research project, which started a month ago. It all began when Jen and I got tickets to Burning Man this year, tickets which I may not be able to use because of a schedule conflict. However, we immediately started talking about how we could go there, how we would camp, and I mentioned my long-term love of Westfalias. It turns out to be a shared love, and we were off. I, being the geek that I am, immediately turned to the internet, and quickly flushed the two major sites for afficionados of the breed. There is a subculture of “westy” fans (born in the ’60’s), and just a few shops and websites that specialize in them. In case you don’t know, Westy’s have built in storage, sink, stove and refrigerator, with propane and water tanks, external power connectors, and a rear seat that folds down into a respectable bed. The top has a skylight, and pops up to create an upper sleeping area for two more people.
There are good years and not-so-good years for the Vanagon, upgrades available for engines, headlights, instruments, wheels, storage, electrical power, solar power, air conditioning…the list is endless, born of the passion that these people have embodied ever since the first 36-horsepower anemic air-cooled VW bus brought flower children across the country. We settled on a 1985-1991 Vanagon Westy, because it has good ground clearance, some personality (the newer Eurovans look like delivery vehicles) and functioning heating, refrigerator, and air conditioning. We both want one with a manual transmission, AC, a recent engine rebuild, and preferably white in color.
I found nice vans in Albuquerque, NM, Ketchem, ID, British Colombia, Dallas, TX, Half Moon Bay, CA, northern Washington, Georgia, right next door in Novato, and finally, the girl you see in the photo, who lives in Vancouver, WA. “Mz. Parker” has had a heart transplant, what is called a “Tiico conversion”, which installs a VW Jetta 4-cylinder motor instead of the somewhat flakey water-cooled boxer motor. Tiico is now defunct, but their work lives on, boosting power, reliability, durability and the mileage significantly. Her motor has 24K miles, her transmission was rebuilt 12K miles ago, there are upgrades to instruments, lighting, air conditioning and wheels. Plus she was repainted about 8 years ago, and is white with tinted windows. Plus a Yakima rack on top.
The CarFax report on her is interesting. She was titled in Indiana in 1988, then apparently ran into a train in Florida (!) a few months later. Obviously there wasn’t significant damage, as she has a clean title, but you’ve got to wonder what the story is behind that event. She came to Washington in 2003 with 150K miles on the odometer, changed owners in 2008, and is now about to land in our laps with 192K on the clock.
So we are off on an adventure, flying to Portland Saturday morning with sleeping bags, some tools, and a change of clothes. The plan is to visit my stepmom in Vancouver, and make it home by Sunday evening. I am excited and happy, both about the van and the adventure itself.
On a deeper level, this means a major change is happening in my vehicle collection. I will be selling Roy, my trusty Ford F150 work truck, for which I have been very grateful as he helped us build our house, then helped me move Nancy’s stuff out into the world. I also expect to sell Britt, my British Racing Green Mini Cooper. This will leave me with a BMW car, two BMW motorcycles, and Mz. Parker, all nice German technology, right where my heart is. I am, after all, an Engineer.