Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Epic Battle -

When you own and drive a camper van, life be­comes about en­joy­ing driv­ing it and the jour­ney: how quickly you’ll ar­rive at your des­ti­na­tion is less im­por­tant. When you’re guid­ing the big steer­ing wheel of a Volk­swa­gen camper or a Bed­ford CA Dor­mo­bile you feel like King of the Road, sur­vey­ing your king­dom from your lofty van­tage point and ex­chang­ing waves with fel­low own­ers.

Boy rac­ers will want to get by as soon as pos­si­ble. Let them go – you have no op­tion but to go at your own pace. Ac­cel­er­a­tion on both mod­els is grad­ual (‘glacial’ is maybe a lit­tle un­kind) but once you ob­tain and main­tain cruis­ing speed, you get a sense of well-be­ing that no other ve­hi­cle can of­fer.

There’s an art to driv­ing ei­ther of these, which is mas­tered only through prac­tice. Steer­ing, chang­ing gears, brak­ing and manouevring with a long, tall van call for wholly dif­fer­ent tech­niques than in more mod­ern cars. Find your­self a quiet piece of road and keep driv­ing up and down it, re­vers­ing, do­ing three-point turns and thor­oughly get­ting to know the quirks of these char­ac­ter ve­hi­cles be­fore you set off on your first big ad­ven­ture. If an­other road user gets im­pa­tient, pull over and let them pass.

An un­avoid­able, me­chan­i­cal fact is that the Volk­swa­gen’s en­gine is at the back and so there’s a lengthy link­age to en­able you to change gears. The tra­di­tional gear­stick on a VW camper is gen­er­ally vague and takes some mas­ter­ing – find­ing re­verse is par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing. On our test camper, that big old stick has been re­placed by a gear shifter with a shorter, more pos­i­tive throw that re­sults in smoother op­er­a­tion. Gear ra­tios are gen­er­ous, so there’s no rush to change up.

The 1965 Bed­ford CA Dor­mo­bile is fit­ted with just three gears that are se­lected us­ing a ‘three on the tree’ gear­lever that pro­trudes from the left­hand side of the driv­ing wheel. Again, there’s a real knack to us­ing this: start­ing in first, you have to de­velop a ‘magic flick’ to change up and down the gears. Not long af­ter you’re on the move, flick the lever and up to sec­ond. Then, when all’s go­ing well, up to third and that’s your lot! Third is the gear of choice for driv­ing through town, down coun­try lanes and on the mo­tor­way. Some of the later mod­els did of­fer a fourth-gear op­tion.

In the Bed­ford the en­gine is at the front, which not only gives it a dis­tinc­tive lay­out and look, but also a very dif­fer­ent driv­ing style - and sound! In the VW, with the en­gine at the back it can get whippy to drive on a windy day.

Both seat­ing for­mats are quite com­fort­able and up­right, but the VW T2 has an ap­pre­cia­bly big­ger bay-win­dow-style screen that gives a panoramic view of the road ahead.

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