Thursday December 19, 2019
Sixty-eight years ago, the German coachbuilder Westfalia noted how many Type 2 owners would use their VW as overnight accommodation for weekend trips, and so they introduced their “camping box”.
As the name suggests, it was a detachable compartment containing a folding bed, a two-burner cooker, a towel-rail, a “vanity mirror”, a washing up bowl and two drawers. The idea was that the holidaymaker would attach the box to the bulkhead on a Friday evening and remove it on Sunday afternoon.
The legend of the Volkswagen Camper had commenced. Five years later Westfalia offered the “De Luxe Camping Equipment” Type 2 with light oak fittings, a roof rack and a tent awning. Such was the demand for their conversions that in 1958 the firm installed a production line for VW campers.
Meanwhile, British factories were already devising campers, and in 1956 a Devonshire building contractor named Jack White used his own Volkswagen as the basis for a one-off motorhome named the ‘Caravette’.
As the story goes, White sent his VW to Lisburne Garage in Torquay for approval by HM Customs and Excise and by the Ministry of Transport as mobile ‘living accommodation” was exempt from Purchase Tax.
At that time, government regulations dictated that such a vehicle had to contain an array of permanent fittings; a stove, a dining area, water carrying facilities, wardrobe space and beds.
During the inspection process, the manager of the dealership suggested putting the Caravette in the showroom window, and it attracted such attention that White decided to build Type 2 campers on a regular basis.
By 1960 his “Devon” motor homes were produced at a factory in Sidmouth and few discerning customers would fail to be impressed by the Mk. II version with its “Osokool” food cabinet mounted under the front bench.
One rival to the Jack White campers was the Pitt Moto-Caravan, whose designer Peter Pitt also helped to change the law regarding the VW’s status in the UK. In the 1950s, a “commercial vehicle” was restricted to a top speed of 30 mph, but Mr. Pitt dared to take his Volkswagen to Windsor’s Royal Park, where such machinery was banned.
Sadly, history does not relate whether he was flagged down by a bell-clanging Wolseley 6/80.
The ensuing court case decreed that a motor-home could adhere to the same speed limits as a private car – and that campers were Purchase Tax exempt. 1960 saw Pitt offer a Volkswagen with a “Rising Sunshine Roof” – although it is believed there are no surviving Type 2s so-equipped – and his trademark fold-out cooker mounted on the nearside “barn door”.
These are just a few examples of how the many and various Type 2 conversion transformed holidaymaking across Europe. To look at pictures of a Danbury “Multicar” is to appreciate the sheer ingenuity of its layout, just as a Martin Walter “Dormobile” fitted with a “Desmo Restawhile” chair evokes images of a very 1961 trip to Lyme Regis. In the words of the Devon brochure, they really were ‘a holiday home for the open road’.