Travel and Camping in VW Camper--my most unlikely car and only Volkswagen I've ever owned

Interior of camper
Interior of camper
VW interior creative commons attribution 2.0
VW interior creative commons attribution 2.0

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Alice's retaurant. Now closed.mpicture used with creative commons Share Alike license 3.0
Alice's retaurant. Now closed.mpicture used with creative commons Share Alike license 3.0

Volkswagan Camping

Everyone seemed to be driving the Volkswagen bug in the 1960’s. I resisted the trend, partly because I don’t like to be a follower and I didn’t consider it practical. At the time I was in college and delivering a newspaper motor route. My Volkswagen driving friends tried to convince me that it would be ideal for what I did. It would yield better gas mileage and was good at getting through the snow, of which we seemed to have plenty of in those years.

However, I also felt it was too small to hold the many bundles of newspapers I had to carry, especially on Sundays. They also lacked heaters.

I was always amazed at the people who bought these cars. There were some folks who were very big people and so large I couldn’t figure out how they got in the thing. Later they became symbolic of the Hippies who admired the “simple life.” They were a fad all around. Still I did not join the trend.

Many years later, when I moved to Illinois to work at the arsenal in Rock Island (a federal government Installation) I got the notion that the family might enjoy going on camping trips. My wife, Rose, and my son, 16, and daughter, 12, seemed to approve the idea. I searched the newspaper ads to find a camping trailer for a few hundred dollars. In the process I noticed a 1970 Volkswagen camper for about $800.

Out of curiosity we went out to look at it. After I test-drove it, I decided it was about what I would pay for a trailer anyhow and it was self contained and could be driven as an extra car. It was pretty basic since there was no stove, refrigerator, or bathroom/shower. But you could sleep in it.

The family seemed to be in agreement that I should buy it. I also bought a tent at a neighbor’s garage sale, since we would not be able to all sleep in the VW. However there was something wrong with the tent or my knowledge but I was never able to make the tent stay up. It didn’t really matter because the kids never wanted to go with us camping anyhow. Why did they want me to buy it? I still don’t know.

Maybe because of Arlo Guthrie and the movie “Alice’s Restaurant” the VW micro bus seemed to become a hippie symbol. It seemed to be hard to escape the image, although we didn’t have any peace symbols or flowers painted on it; we did have a tendency to follow folk festivals and probably fit right in.

For the next ten years or so my wife and I did take it on some camping trips. The first time we went to the Fox Valley Folk Festival at Island Park in Geneva, Illinois we stopped to talk to the local police to inform them we would be camping there since it was advertised that camping space would be available. The police seemed less than friendly and sort of made me feel like one of the hippies. It turned out that there was camping space in a field, which was overgrown with weeds.

Since we always traveled with our dog, one thing I do admire about that car is that it stayed cool on hot days and we were able to safely leave our dog in it.

The longest trip we took was to Denver. At the time I was hoping to find a job with the government printing office, which is in that area.

The trip was somewhat complicated by the fact that my wife could not drive a car without an automatic transmission and due to eye problems I found it impossible to drive at night. This was due to having a cataract removed and not being able to get an adequate correction for that eye. The problem was only resolved about four years ago with an extended wear contact lens.

We traveled from Illinois to the Minnesota-South Dakota border. To visit some friends. We traveled through the Black Hills and stopped to view Mt Rushmore, which Rose had not seen before. Fortunately out west there are a lot of free campgrounds and some even have good facilities.

By the time we got to Cheyenne, Wyoming we thought we got to the big city. After Cheyenne there seemed to be nothing until Colorado Springs.

I’ll have to admit to a bit of vertigo when we got into the Rockies. I drove there when I was younger with an ordinary sedan and my eyesight was normal. However, the VW had no hood and there was the illusion of looking straight down the mountainside. The van has the same 4-cyl engine as the VW bug. It was impressive how well it did keep up with the driving demand, until we got to Pikes Peak. Try as it might I reached the limits of acceleration and downshifting. Fortunately we were near the Estes park campgrounds and decided to stay the night there.

We eventually gave up on camping with the van and sold it. I would still like to get a more modern version of it with automatic transmission and other facilities. Unfortunately they are hard to find.


Did you ever own a Volkswagen Camper?

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Comments 34 comments

greatAmerican profile image

greatAmerican 7 years ago

I loved em! Never owned one but it was only because I did

not have the $$ I did drive a VW van for an animal farm ,

delivered mice rats rabbits to some big pharma companies in the Chicago area as well as some hospitals.. They really did get good gas milage. Great pics, great memories,

GreatAmerican!! Thanks

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I*'m glad you liked it.I have looked into the Vanagon which is the modern version, I think. but they tell me it's not sold in the US.I heard VW had some issues about their diesel meeting epa standards.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

Sounds as though you and Rose had some fun experiences in your Volkswagon Camper. That trip up to Pikes Peak certainly would tax many a vehicle...not just the one you were driving. Talk about using gears!!! I remember.

You could write individual hubs about each of the places you visited in your camper. Just a suggestion. I think it would be interesting and am sure others would also find it to be of interest.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading.Our experiences were more frustrating than exciting. Mostly it was a way to save motel bills. That type of camper seems hard to find anymore, they used to be quite common. I think the modern one is called the "Vanagon" but for some reason, I've been told, they don't sell them in the US.I wouldn't want to drive a motorhome even if I could afford one.It seems you either have to pull a car with you, or buy a SUV to pull a trailer.I can't even find rentals within fifty miles of here.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

There are mini-motorhomes where one does not have to pull a car along. My parents had one after having had a large fifth-wheeler and also a large motorhome where they did have to pull a small car with them for greater mobility when parked somewhere. They really enjoyed the ease of traveling with that smaller one. Unfortunately my Dad died when he was in his 50's and that ended traveling that way for my mother as she was never comfortable driving those vehicles.

If one adds up the expense of purchasing a motorhome; the added gasoline use when driving them; renting spaces in parks for the night...renting a motel room is probably less expensive. It is simply the convenience of having everything with you...getting further out into nature...being able to take one's animals with one, etc. that makes them attractive. Their dogs LOVED going along on their trips!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I've always figured that to make a motorhome worthwhile one would have to spend an awful lot of time on the road. Most of them cost more than my house, not to mention operating expenses. About the only thing I would consider would be a camper/van. Even those seem a bit large to drive like a car. The VW is the size of an ordinary mini-van and would have that advantage that it could be used like a regular van.

Oddly enough I became aware of campers when I worked for a newspaper in Forest City, Iowa. The Winebago Company was just starting out then making toppers for pick-up trucks and such. My boss did the promotional work for the company and was a big believer, as well as a big believer for the town and for journalism.I was quite surprised some time later to find the town on the cover of "Time" magazine and learned that several millionaires had been made, including my old boss.

AL 6 years ago

We've been driving a 71 Bus for a year now, we picked it up from Lake Havasu and drove via the Grand Canyon back to Charlotte NC - I must say it was a trip of a lifetime to see America. We'd just pull up and camp wherever we wanted - this was the height of freedom for us as we have 2 young boys and so this was a vacation away from it all. Since then we've been camping all over the Smoky mountains in NC and enjoy the practicality of the Bus plus the kids love it. Quite reasonably priced too - but be prepared for some mechanical maintenance..

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

It had it's good points. Ours was pretty old when I ot it and the electrical system was messed up. I would like to get a newer one with a bit more comfort as age is taking its toll on us as well.Thanks for commenting.

lovelypaper profile image

lovelypaper 6 years ago from Virginia

Definitely a little cramped. Great hub.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the comment. It's not one to spend your time in. Good enough to sleep and move on.

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Wow, I remember when these came on the scene. It was a must buy - the whole concept of the VW, including the Beetle. Now I want one. I think of all the people I want to come visit me - and wouldn't it be nice to have one of these set up as extra space way out back. And how this can even be a writing space should I need it.

Interesting that you can leave your dog in it without fear. That says a lot about the quality of VW.

Great hub and great fun. Thanks a lot!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for you comments. I have never figured out why the van stayed cool enough for the dog to stay in it. It did have louvered windows, which I thought gave it cross ventilation. Then I figured it was because it was white and reflected the sun, but I recently had a white Plymouth van and I wouldn't be able to leave a dog in it in hot weather. It might be the insulation.

Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

Certainly was a vehicle that was different, yet oddly enough, I think anyone who owned them had a certain connection with them if you know what I mean. The inside of the one you depicted here reminds me of a narrow pop up camper. :)

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the comment. I would like to get an updated version With an automatic transmission, a bit more power and a heater. We are getting too old to rough it.

wilbury4 profile image

wilbury4 6 years ago from England I think?

There very hard to find!!

Those that you do find are very expensive, even run down ones requiring a full restoration.

Never had one myself, but I wouldn't mind one even now (still being a hippy?).

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

For myself I would just like something I can use for travel that is not cumbersome and can be used as a second car. Thanks for commenting.

Tamarajo profile image

Tamarajo 6 years ago from Southern Minnesota

love it. I would have bought it : ) hubby converts our mini van for sleeping when we go camping. I like the vw idea especially for mileage. I am amazed at all the stuff that fit in it.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the comment.It was still pretty primitive since we still had to cook on a campfire and couldn't refrigerate. Later madels had a bit more but they are hard to find.

Judicastro profile image

Judicastro 6 years ago from birmingham, Alabama

I so remember them!! I owned a vanagon for a while. We lived at the beach and when my daughter, dog and I would come home we would just hose the thing out! It was great! Thanks for the memory,

your new fan!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for stopping by and becoming a fan.

2009 Nissan Altima 6 years ago

I can remember my grandpa through this page. It reminds me of how much he loves his truck and my mom.

Sweet note.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I'm glad it brought back good memories for you. thanks for the comment.

2patricias profile image

2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Interesting Hub. Pat's husband always regarded VWs as 'hippie cars' probably because of the camper. Several of our friens had them, but we were never into camping.

VWs seem to have come on a lot since then. Pat's daughter bought a sedan-style VW earlier this year (its called a Polo). She lives in Scotland and has already had a lot of snow this winter. She says she is very happy with how well the car performs in winter weather.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

The VW Beatle was very popular in the early sixties before the hippies came along. I almost felt like the oddball for not having one. Thanks for commenting.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 6 years ago

Dahoglund , I had a beetle as a kid , but always wanted the van, we do a lot of camping and love it . Ive had fifth wheels , truck campers and now a pop up. Tent camper. I like this the most . Seems like your outdoor camping in a tent trailer.Nice memories.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the comment. It was fun but I would prefer something a bit more up to date.

Becky 5 years ago

I have a Chevy Astro conversion van with the extended height top. The mileage isn't that great(about 20mpg) but it has all the room and fold down bed in the back. The captains seats all fold down too and we have slept six people in there when we were going across country to a funeral. One night in it and when we woke up, we had another 2 hours to go. We just couldn't go any further without sleeping for a while. 24 hours of driving from central TN to Northern NV. 2 drivers.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Twenty mpg is not great by today's standards but it was not bad a few years back.The VW didn't do much better and you have a lot more room.If we had been planning we might have gotten something more like yours.Conversion vans were plentiful where we were living at the time.Thanks for reading this hub and commenting.

50 Caliber profile image

50 Caliber 5 years ago from Arizona

dahoglund, great essay on you VW experience. I remember a time when you couldn't give them away, now I want another if it's decent it's 20,000. Originally a 36 horse power air cooled engine, I remember my Dad looking at it as I puttered in the drive, shaking his head and looking at his feet. He said "Boy, ain't no doubt who's gonna be the first one to the crash", it's funny now but then I didn't think so. You mentioned your wiring was screwed up, they all were! you never saw such a rats nest of wires shoved in a hole in you life. I've owned more than 7 and less than 9. I have every specialty tool it takes to rebuild one stem to stern. I looked at the bug as the big kids go cart. They put out the 40 horse later and they would get a feller there just not fast in the rockies out west here. No heat and a rag for a defroster, ha! I have so much brain space filled with VW know how if I could erase it I wouldn't be forgetting all else. Super read! Easy to follow you done large sir! I enjoyed the flash back, peace, 50

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

50 caliber, How come I run across so many people with this knowledge of VW's but can't find a mechanic who knows zip about them.Whenever I went to an ordinary mechanic a few miles down the road I had "maintenance induced breakdowns."

Luckily where I lived there was a mechanic who specialized in VW's.I'm not much of a mechanic myself.

Thanks for reading about my adventures with the van. Thanks also for your interesting comment.

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

I would just love to have an old vintage VW camper. That would really be cool.This was an enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing, and I will share this as well. Voted up and interesting.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

rebeccamealey, actually, I would like a modern equivalent that is easier to drive. Glad you enjoyed the read. Thanks for reading it and commenting. Thanks too for the vote and share.

truthfornow profile image

truthfornow 3 years ago from New Orleans, LA

See like a fun mode of transport. I love the way all the old VWs looked. Old school style. Enjoyable read.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 3 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I don't know what happened to VW campers. I talked to a dealer awhile back about the newer ones and he told me that they were not making them for the American market. Something to do with the pollution standards. We are getting old and I think we need a bit more comfort and convenience now so I would not want my old one back, but it was kind of fun.

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