I caught The Bus today. Not in the usual fashion as you would expect. I didn’t have to stand on the street waiting for it to arrive, worry about exact change, or even concern myself with finding a seat once it came. Nope I just rushed home and threw on the Documentary Channel after work. You see, The Bus I’m referring to is a movie and not public transportation.
“The Bus”, by Damon Ristua, is all about the Volkswagen Vans (Station Wagons) and Campers from the 50’s to the 90’s and the various owners that love them. Along with the obligatory hippies and surfers, you also get some explorers and people who use there van as a work horse.
It was an entertaining and honest movie showing the benefits of being able to fix and maintain the thing with a hammer and adjustable wrench, while showing the pitfalls of horrendous front end safety in a crash (think tin foil in front of your legs and the car that just braked late), potential engine fires, and general lack of power.
As I sat, watching the movie, one question kept screaming in my head.
Can there be another campervan?
In the light of today’s safety, emission, and fuel efficiency regulations, can you make a camper that has the same persona as the original VW? More importantly, Can it be done affordably?
The first thing I’m going to throw out the window is the ability to work on it with basic hand tools. With computers, various vacuum hoses, multiple fuse boxes, relays and sensors everywhere, there is no way an average person can work on any modern vehicle without schematics and computer programs designed specifically for that vehicle. (And that’s not including hybrid or electric vehicles.)
The rest might work though. I would not use the VW Routan for a base vehicle. With a $27,000 M.S.R.P. starting price, that thing is way too expensive. Besides, the Routan is secretly a rebadged Dodge Grand Caravan! Dodge has a version that starts at roughly $21,000. But even with the fantastic stow and go seating, there still are some problems with the Dodge. The roof’s too low and it doesn’t seem to have the “personality” that the old bus has. Is there one that does?
How about the Ford Transit Connect?
The Transit Connect has a high roofline to make moving around easier than a standard minivan. In fact, the dimensions are fairly comparable.
- Height: VW 78” Ford 79”
- Width: VW 71.2” Ford 77” (83.2” counting the mirrors)
- Length: VW 172.4” Ford 180.6”
Ford has made it possible the most factory customizable vehicle out there. You can choose how many windows you want. There’s seating for two or five. And there are various factory and supplier options available.
You can start with a two seat, XL van for as low as $22,265 or move up to the five seat, XLT Premium Wagon for $24,040. That’s roughly $3,000 to $5,000 less than the Routan.
Now we need a pop top to sleep in. The VW campervan had theirs built in and while recreating that would cost a good amount of money, we can create a similar place by adding a specialized camping tent to the roof. Multiple companies make them and they sell anywhere from $900 to $1,500 depending on make and model. The $996 ( + 145 shipping in the lower 48) poly-cotton 2 person tent by Cartop Campers comes with a 2.75 inch foam mattress, and ladder. While it doesn’t give the headroom of the original “pop top” VW, it is larger and just as comfortable.
Next we need a good fridge. I’d go with an ARB fridge. Made to withstand the rigors of off road use while out in the elements, this fridge is compact and sturdy. Perfect for the job at hand.
But what about storage? The VW camper van had built in cabinets as well as a sink and stove. How do you get that? I’d go with one of Ford’s listed affiliate companies, Sortimo.
Sortimo makes all sorts of wonderful shelves, drawers, boxes, and other items that can be switched out and interchanged with each other.
Their Globelyst M. system has metal framework that secures the plastic accessories to make the cabinets system you want.
You could easily fit a propane stove in the shelf system and create your own pump sink system for water. (I’d also wager that if enough people asked for it, they would make one to meet demand.) A table is easy to toss in too.
About the hardest part would be the lay out. VW put the passenger seats in the way back, over the engine. This created an open floor plan to maximize efficiency. The Ford Transit Connect has the dilemma of placing the passenger seats in the middle as well as having two sliding doors. If you only want the front seats, there’s no problem for the passenger row, but I’d like to see an aftermarket company create a proper mounting kit that would let you relocate some if not all of those passenger seats to the very back of the van. As for the problem of the second sliding door; just pick one not to use and place some Sortimo items in front of it.
All in all, when finished the new Camper Van should cost between $28,000 to $30,000. Not cheap by any standards, but comparable with the starting price of a Ford E-Series Wagon or Super Duty Pickup. Definitely do-able.
The VW camper was a great way to get generations of people off the couch and into the world around them. The Ford Transit Sport could do the same. Love beads not included.