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I’m sure we all agree that sometimes – just sometimes – bigger is indeed better. Such as on this late summers Friday…

There’s little doubt that spring and summertime wakes our hormones to life and leads us straight to the question: Are we going for a topless drive? But no; not today. Not on this Friday. Instead I’ll let myself inspire from our latest contributor here at ViaRETRO, Zack Stiling, who in his first article for us chose a customised Bedford van as his wish-I-could-take-it-home-car over multiple excellent roadsters and convertibles. A classic case of bigger is better, as with the added size comes a multitude of possibilities. Today is about a different way of enjoying your classic car and the nature around us. It’s less about the actual driving, but more about what happens when you reach your destination.

The good life with a classic.

Inspired by that customised Bedford van, I dug a little deeper and was rather thrilled with what I found: There’s a separate and thriving little parallel universe to our well known classic car scene, where size truly matters as enthusiasts make the most of the many possibilities on offer from these big and square vans. More specifically, they are of course camper vans. They are rarely aesthetically beautiful automobiles – at least not when compared to an elegantly sculpted GT, convertible or sports car. But instead they possess other virtues – among others, they all have a bed of sorts for you to sleep in.

Getting to our next destination…

Truth be told, you can do so much more than just sleep in them. You could actually live in them – even for longer periods of time, if you are so inclined. And some people clearly are and therefore do. This is a phenomenon which has been coined “Van Life”. Of course, this type of life equally exists in a modern plastic version, but that is naturally well beyond the boundaries of ViaRETROness. Instead, we will celebrate and salute the classic camper and its take on Van Life.

Van life is probably less about HOW we get there, and much more about WHAT we do when we arrive?

I’m entirely convinced that classic camper vans offer largely the same advantages and charms as do classic cars in general – but also the same compromises. For example, you’re unlikely to drive from Copenhagen to somewhere in Africa without doing a bit of spannering along the way. But as long as we agree that the actual journey is a major part of the adventure, then that should be alright too. Now add to that our usual lyrical praise of real wood being better than faux wood, mechanical components far better than microchips and a general appreciation of old world charms. However, the classic camper van falls short on several essential parameters which the typical classic car enthusiast will usually value: Performance, beauty, technical innovation and motorsport success. Goes without saying really.

In my personal opinion, we need to disregard our traditional understanding of beauty when considering the vehicles utilised for this particular way of life. But just look at those surroundings…

The classic camper van’s very biggest advantage only becomes apparent the moment you stop driving. You can then proceed to prepare a warm cup of coffee on your own freshly ground beans, a delicious dinner made from local produce, perhaps even a small goodnight cap, and then of course night accommodation for two in full comfort and with a unique atmosphere for every place you visit. There’s an almost magical allure to it, and I’m clearly not the only one to feel this way as Van Life has been growing in popularity in recent years.

It’s another way of enjoying classic vehicles. Perhaps more adventurous even as you can combine it with exploring the world. You might even find a blissful moment of change compared to blasting along in a high revving sports car which certainly won’t offer you any comfort or homely amenities.

Might you consider whether Van Life might be something for you?

 

5 Responses

  1. Zack Stiling

    What an excellent subject for an article, and your understanding of it is superb! I’ll take that custom-painted Econoline, please… The motorhome encapsulates the romance of road travel, a modern equivalent of the Romani living waggons of the 19th century but with the potential for travelling further and faster.

    I do there is real beauty to found in many of the 1960s conversions, which were far from elegant but still possessed all the things like gleaming brightwork and eye-catching colour schemes broken up with a flash of side trim. The early Bedford CA Dormobile Romany, with its somewhat over-the-top, razor-sharp fins, is a personal favourite. You don’t need loads of space to keep them, either – Austin A60, Bedford HA, Ford Escort and Morris Marina vans were all fair game for camper conversions.

    I may disgrace myself by saying that I think the highlight of vanning was the custom movement of the late ’70s, when airbrushed murals following some sort of fantasy theme and shag-pile interiors were in vogue, but that’s really just the continuation of the living-van tradition for artistic expression.

    Of course, and I know this is really a separate subject, but you can go to really ridiculous extremes with RVs. The other week I came across something called a Georgie Boy Encounter from 1976. Once you get over the creepy name, you’ve got a 34ftx10.5ft house that you can take on the road. Before I get too carried away, go and look up the International Harvester Jungle Yachts built for an African expedition in 1937.

    Yes, with all different sizes, shapes and customising opportunities, Van Life will never be boring.

    Reply
  2. Claus Ebberfeld

    @zack, I absolutely share your interest in the custom van movement of the seventies. But somehow – in the same way that you you can’t quite avoid looking at extremely obese people with some strange sort of fascination – why, how, wouldn’t do it myself…

    Reply

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