Fans help campers recover icon status
How many enthusiasts does it take to restore a fleet of rust-riddled Volkswagen campervans? Askthe Italians.
At the back of a hangar in the heart of Florence, two VW fans have dedicated their lives to restoring these iconic vans from the Swinging Sixties, importing them from South America before fixing them up and selling them on.
Some are more than 50 years old, but once they are patched up by Mauro Altamore and mechanic Giacomo Nucci, they are expected to chug on for another half a century at least.
“With good maintenance, these vans are indestructible. We have to overhaul a good part of the mechanics, but keep the original engines,” Nucci told AFP as he showed off a van that looked like it had rolled off an assembly line, despite its age.
FromFerrari to Fiat, Italy is a car-crazy country, butNucci firmly believes there is nothing better than a VWcamper.
He’s been sprucing up the classic vans for collectors for more than seven years and these days boasts an increasing number of businesses and advertising companies among his customers.
Fashion companies ask for “made to measure” vans for photo shoots or catalogs, he says, pointing to a row of shiny red, blue and cream colored vans, as well as one with a slogan stamped on the side.
Altamore’s passion started in childhood when he used to collect models of the iconic Volkswagen Beetle, whose rear engine and axles were later used in production of the camper vans.
When he was 18, he set his heart on buying one but his father refused to pay for it, denouncing the little car as a petrol guzzler.
So he got a camper instead and can now no longer remember how many of the old clappers he has bought and restored.
About a decade ago, while in Brazil working in the clothing import and export business, Altamore decided to switch his business focus to vans instead, fondly remembering his first client: “a famous biscuit manufacturer”.
He eventually dedicated himself full time to the van business with Nucci’s help.
Restoration takes around six months and costs between 10,000 to 50,000 euros ($10,600 to $53,000), largely because picking up parts, which are out of production, is not always easy.
Manufactured in Germany until 1979, and in Brazil until 2013, the classic campers continue to fascinate people well beyond the “free love” hippy generation and have become a symbol of freedom.
“You turn the key and off you go,” Altamore said with a grin.