Ital­ians help VW cam­pers get back their va-va-voom

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

How many en­thu­si­asts does it take to re­store a fleet of rust-rid­dled Volk­swa­gen camper vans? Ask the Ital­ians. At the back of a hanger 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 over 50 years old, but once they are patched up by Mauro Al­ta­more and his 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. From Fer­rari to Fiat, Italy is a car crazy coun­try, but Nucci firmly be­lieves there is noth­ing bet­ter than a VW camper. He's been spruc­ing up these clas­sic vans for col­lec­tors for over 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 cat­a­logues, he says point­ing to a row of shiny red, blue and cream coloured vans, as well as one with a slo­gan stamped on the side. Their dis­tinc­tive VW hood em­blems-which en­joyed a pe­riod of fame as rap­per pen­dants thanks to the Beastie Boys-glint as new.

A child­hood pas­sion

Cus­tomers can be picky: One purist wants the rust on the body­work kept, even down to craters that look like bul­let holes. An­other wants the orig­i­nal mo­tor re­placed with a Porsche en­gine. Al­ta­more, who came up with the idea for restor­ing the vans, says clients come not just from Italy but from all over Europe. In­side the com­pany's of­fice are dozens of ce­ramic mod­els of the "Peace and Love" cam­pers he has col­lected down the years. His 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.

Sym­bol of free­dom

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. But these ve­hi­cles, which re­main hugely pop­u­lar, can of­ten com­mand prices which are much higher, with a 1955 model go­ing un­der the ham­mer in Ger­many for around 200,000 eu­ros ($235,000) in Novem­ber 2014. 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 says with a grin. "The wind­shield open­ing says it all: it was like rid­ing a mo­tor­bike. You would set off, stop where you want, you could even sleep in­side. "I reckon more than a few chil­dren have been born in­side... and many have been con­ceived!"— AFP

Vin­tage Volk­swa­gen Kombi bus (van, trans­porter or camper) are parked in a garage af­ter be­ing com­pletely re­stored by me­chan­ics of the "T1 spe­cial­ist" com­pany. — AFP pho­tos

A me­chanic of the "T1 spe­cial­ist" team works on the restora­tion of a vin­tage Volk­swa­gen Kombi bus (van, trans­porter or camper).

A pic­ture shows the restora­tion of a vin­tage Volk­swa­gen Kombi bus (van, trans­porter or camper) and of a Fiat500 by the ‘T1 spe­cial­ist’ team at the garage Nucci in Florence.

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