Words and images by Martin Bellamy
Spring 2011: I’m chatting with my friend and business partner whilst out on a cycle ride and he says, “Did you know that you can buy new VW campervans?” “Really?”, says I, “I thought they were all old ones, that break down all the time” “No”, he says, “I saw an advert in the paper yesterday – they’ve got an offer on with £500 discount*”
A month later and Mrs B and I are on our way to Yate, near Bristol, to visit the Danbury showroom. We’ve got an appointment for 2pm (you can’t just turn up) but we’re an hour early. The receptionist (sitting behind a desk made of a VW T2 body) isn’t sure there’ll be anyone to see us yet but she’ll ring upstairs to try and find someone. After a short while, Dan comes down and so starts the bewildering process of buying a new Brazilian made VW T2 Kombi.
I suppose driving down to “look” at a Kombi is a bit like going to “view” a litter of puppies. Apart from timewasters and those who can’t stretch themselves that far financially (and, believe me, it’s a stretch of gymnastic proportions) both outcomes are liable to produce a sure fire sale.
We’d thought about buying a classic 60s or 70s Campervan, but I don’t have the mechanical skills to keep one on the road. If it’s a pen you want pushing then I’m your man – but the thought of being stranded by the roadside with my limited skill set fills me with dread. What we wanted was something reliable that we could use at weekends and for summer holidays.
“Why not get a modern T5 then? They have power steering, modern interiors and much more powerful engines” That’s my head talking, of course, whilst meanwhile, my heart is doing cartwheels at the sight of the iconic T2 shape and suddenly I’m the hippie, free-spirit that I dreamed of being back in the 70s. In reality, I’m MD of a commercial insurance broker in Wigan but, hey, we can all have our dreams.
So, it had to be a T2, and we got down to the process of choosing the options available. I’m 6’5”, so sleeping room was essential and we opted for the full size double bed option. Ker-ching! This meant the spare wheel had to go on the back and we’d need the locking wheel cover, of course. Ker-ching! Do we want all leather on the seats? – you betcha, we do! Ker-ching! How about having her lowered? Oh, yes and BRM alloys please. Ker-ching!
What about colour? Now, we knew we wanted green over white, but weren’t’ prepared for the option of having ANY green we wanted. We’d expected a small choice like you have with modern cars but Danbury have swatches and swatches of colours. Eventually, we chose Spice Green (“Metallic?” “Yes, please” Ker-ching!)
With the addition of a retro wooden steering wheel and classic bowed roof rack we were done and the order was placed. As we drove away we looked at each other and thought, “What have we done?”
Collection was to be in August so we had 3 months to wait – time we spent worrying about the cost and thinking of where we could go in the new van. I found a Forum specifically aimed at the Brazilian Bay which proved to be a brilliant resource for information and which was so friendly we’ve made scores of new friends in the real world as well as cyberland.
We were so excited by delivery day and the train journey from Preston to Yate seemed to take forever. It was all worth it – our first sight of Absinthe (yes, of course, she’s got a name) was fantastic and we couldn’t wait to drive her home. Paperwork done, Mrs B took the wheel and we set off.
What was immediately obvious after years of driving modern automatic cars was that this one was going to need to be driven. The gearbox and gear stick seemed to have minds of their own and the steering was eccentric to say the least. That didn’t stop us from grinning from ear to ear though (what we now recognise as the permagrin of the VW enthusiast) and being thrilled by the waves from other VW owners.
It’s the last bit that has been the real thrill of ownership for us. The VW world is a small one with lots of interconnections and in the main we’ve been welcomed wherever we’ve gone. Sure, there are one or two die-hards who consider anything without an air-cooled engine as less than authentic but, in the main, Absinthe brings a smile to most peoples faces.
The recent ending of production in Brazil has brought the T2 into the limelight again and in 30 years time I’m sure the current incarnation will be as revered as the originals are now. For us Brazilian owners, the attraction is the freedom to use the van as often as we want.
Many of the Forum members use their vans as their everyday vehicles and many have now added power steering to make day to day use even easier. We use Absinthe almost every weekend from Spring until late Autumn and the pleasure we’ve had from her has been immense.
We’ve had 3 week runs through France and Spain and weekends away throughout the UK. We’ve done our first ever Festival (Larmer Tree in Dorset) and have used her as overspill family accommodation at our Static Caravan in the Dales. She’s shifted furniture and been to the tip. We’ve had afternoon teas overlooking the coast and icy mornings in the Cotswolds. She’s even part of our Xmas decorations over the holiday break.
Would we swap her? No! Are we glad we found Danbury? You bet we are.
* a bit like DFS, Danbury nearly always have a £500 offer running