Fans help cam­pers re­cover icon sta­tus

China Daily (USA) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Florence

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.

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