Thursday, April 24, 2008

VW Camper Guide

I am a romantic woman. Living on the road is not for everyone, but if you have ever wanted to abandon your life and move into a VW bus and live on the road I say do it. It is an incredible way of life. The beautiful thing about having a VW camper is that you don't have to stop at a campsite to camp. With a camper you can simply pull over and park, put up the privacy curtains and then you are good to go for the night. If you have traveling companions and you need to pop the top, then you need to find someplace where you won't be hassled by the police. That is one of the risks owning a vehicle with a "hippy" connotation. Police don't like hippies. Nobody does anymore. Poor hippies.

Okay. You've decided you want to take the plunge and purchase a VW camper. You have had your head examined and your doctor releases herself from all responsibility for your decision and you are ready to go. What do you need to do first? Find a mechanic. Yes. You need to have a mechanic first especially if you are buying a VW bus that was built before 1990. After you have a good mechanic, then you need to join AAA. Get the deluxe package. It's only about $20 more a year and includes unlimited towing. You will need it. I became great friends with my tow truck drivers in and around the Seattle area.

There are three generations of VW buses. The first is considered the only choice from VW gear heads the type II air cooled engine. The pictures below are the second generation type II buses from the 1960's. The pop-top and nickname "Westy" comes from the camper manufacturer that VW collaborated with to create the ultimate RV. Westfalia created the pop-top design and interiors. The center pop-top was one of the first designs and then it went to the angled pop-top. Here is an excellent example of a 1960's bay window Westfalia pop-top camper.

And here are a few more pictures of the 1960's to 1979 varieties.

These are the first generations of VW Westfalia campers.

Disclaimer: People, I am not a mechanic. I am a novice. I may make a few mistakes here and there describing the engines and parts. I am not and never have been a gear head but I have slept with them. I know that the VW community is as full with nerds and geeks as intense as the software world. In fact, many of the software geeks of this world own VW bugs and buses, so please don't start spamming my email with all my mistakes. Okay?

The Malibu Stacey Funtime Camper was not of this generation, rather she was born in 1981. Picking a good bus is like buying a fine wine. Every year there are grapes does not mean that is a good year for wine. Same thing goes for buses. In 1980 VW changed the design and engines of their Westfalia Campers coming up with a bigger living space and these buses are called Vanagons. The advantage to the Vanagon is that there is larger living space, roomier and more creature comforts which is especially important to those of us over six feet tall. You get a few extra inches in the bed so you can really spread out...such a nice feature in the woods too. But be warned if you choose this type. 1980-1982 were the worst years for these engines. They are still air-cooled but some are oil-cooled with a little catheter on the side of the bus and oil cooled engines are really not a good idea, especially if you want to go into the desert. It's hot in the desert. Oil gets hot and likes to catch on fire. I learned that from watching Operation Desert Storm. What will happen is that your engine will over heat crossing some mountain pass and you'll be on the side of the road for a long time waiting for it to cool down enough just to put it in neutral to coast down the side of a mountain. Be warned...only buy this engine if you are prepared to do a lot of work on it....wait. That is the same warning for all the buses, so forget it! If you love it, buy it!

This picture is a 1984 Vanagon. Very sexy, if you ask me. Malibu Stacey was sky blue, not this Tiffany blue, but very sexy just the same. Ooooohhh lalalala! This is the second generation and the birth of the Vanagon. These campers were made until the early 1990's and then they kept a similar design but put in a different engine like the Sciricco engine. The thought was that it could be faster than the Vanagon but I heard a lot of grumbling from the VW gear heads about this engine too, so I don't really know if it was a winner. I will say the interior designs of the Vanagon are my favorite. I've owned two buses: Stanley the Manly Westfalia was born in 1976 and he was sweet pickle green with a new engine but I let my 21 year old gear head put the engine in instead of using my awesome mechanic and it was never a good vehicle.

Malibu Stacey was a stubborn bus and fickle too. So when she wanted to stay in one place for a couple of days, she just wouldn't start-up. That's part of the fun too. That would mean that she wanted to stay wherever we were and there was more exploring for me to do. Once it meant sitting by a fire pit for two days in the back woods of Idaho writing poetry next to a stream. You do what god tells you to do when in a camper.

Below is the Eurovan...considererd a piece of shit from all true VW affeciandos. Oh sure it's great if you want to go over 55 MPH or have AC and be able to travel on a schedule. If you want to have some kind of dependiblity, I guess this would be a good choice, but be prepared to shell out about $25/K...even for this one below! Look at its dents and it doesn't even have a kitchen!
Let's review what you've done so far:
  • You have a mechanic
  • You have an awesome towing package from AAA
  • You have had your head examined
  • You have unlimited resources...oh didn't I mention that this was going to waste all your savings? Well it will so you better have a lot of cash stashed because this thing bleeds money not to mention the lousy gas mileage and unexpected mechanic bills while on the road...just be warned. You need a ton of cash.
  • You picked the van of your dreams and are in love. You should definitely make this an emotional choice and not a practical one since love will get the bus going when you are out at some rave in old growth forests and you are done praying. Love will be all you need.
  • You have a storage unit filled with back-up parts. I didn't mention that either? Well, time to get familiar with the temperature sensing unit that tells the thermometer what the engine temperature is because when you blow through one of those, trying to find one in Bumfuck Montana is a true test in patience. Especially when the mechanics won't believe you that you have an extra one ready to install.
Now it is time for the naming ceremony. All buses need a name. If you don't believe it, then you are not listening to your camper. It will tell you what his name is or her name. They are gender specific and respond to having their name called. Building a psychic personal relationship with your camper is half the fun. It gives you someone to talk to while you are on the side of the road.

Oh, I also recommend buying a lot of old panties or just saving those from your old girlfriends. I've recently discovered that many men have drawers of old girlfriends panties. If you happen upon a boyfriends drawer, clean it out and put it in the camper. I use the old panties to check the oil on the side of the road. It is a sure way to get a stranger to stop and help you. It works too! State troopers are much nicer if you are using old panties to keep your hands clean when you are reattaching the fuel-injection lines that popped off while flying down the mountain in neutral.

Here are a few things that you do not have to do if you decide to own a VW Bus:
  • You do not have to listen to the Grateful Dead. I've never been a dead head and really hated that people expected me to only have on that boring, monotonous music. It is totally uninspiring in my book so feel strong people. Walk away from the Jerry Garcia. It is okay!
  • You do not have to pick up hitchhikers. Unfortunately, all hitchhikers will expect you to stop for them, but you are not required to by law. Luckily, fewer and fewer people are hitchhiking because of crime so the obligation is less than it used to be. However, if you are traveling between towns in the backwoods of Colorado like between Gunnison and Crested Butte, there is only one place the stoner skiers are going and if you are inclined to pick-up a hitchhiker there, you'll be pretty safe.
  • You do not have to smoke pot to have a camper. Remember that everyone will assume that you are a pot smoker if you have a bus and will expect you to be holding out on some bud. Don't fall for the pressure kids. Drugs are bad, m'kay?
  • You can have a job and own a bus. It is just rare to find the two combinations together.
Thank you for reading. I must say it has helped me through my wilderness urge. I don't have enough money today...but boy, she was a lot of fun.

So much love,
All the way from over here,


ansapo said...

Ah. The Northwest brings VW Camper lust. One of the best times I ever had was our trip in the Malibu Stacy Funtime Camper. Good Times!

Linda S. Silberman said...

Yeah, you know why the Northwest does that...bring out the camper envy? Because it is so freaking cold here! I would rather be on my feather bed juicing at rest stops than be here in this cold, windy, rainy weather. Plus there are so many campers here, everywhere...taunting me! And I haven't been over to visit Mike Schmitt, my mechanic, because I'm without a vehicle...oh well. He won't mind.

We really did have a good trip in the Malibu Stacey Funtime Camper. I took you to visit the Anasazi Indians. One of my most favorite places in the US...yes, I'm longing for the open road. ~sigh~

lalala said...

OMG they are sooo cute, I always was a fan of those. I would've loved to ride in your VW Lindeezy.

ansapo said...

Hey! What happened to your newest post? I really liked it!