California dream from VW for happy campers
TWENTY-FIVE years ago when Ronald Reagan was President, Sonny, of Sonny and Cher fame, was elected Mayor of Palm Springs and the Lib Dems were so named, Volkswagen was putting the final touches to its California camper van.
Since then, more 100,000 have rolled off the assembly line.
It was launched at a time when air travel was expensive and tents were not quite as light and easy as they are now. The purpose-built camper van was seen as an ideal way to travel. But the California was not the first such vehicle. For a long time Westfalia had been building a camper van named the Joker, which was a reworked/converted VW Transporter.
The basic layout of this custom camper van proved to be very practical over the years. A folding bench seat for two persons at the rear which could be laid flat for reclining, and a narrow kitchen counter along the left side of the interior with a refrigerator, gas stove and sink and storage space – a layout which left a large space for entry through a wide sliding door.
However, the Joker with its well-conceived detailed layout and many small extras had become unaffordable for the average customer which is where Volkswagen stepped in.
Its designers trimmed the features of the Joker down and put it on the market for 39,900 German marks – which translates to about £17,000. Unlike high-roof vehicle models and those with a long wheelbase, the California featured a pop-top roof that articulated at the rear – a design feature which it has retained.
The current California starts at about £35,000 and Volkswagen has added many modern conveniences not featured in the earlier versions.
There are two 21st century models available, the Beach and the SE, both featuring two double beds, integrated blinds and lighting, plus a portable table and two deckchairs.
The Beach offers seating for up to seven people, with front seats that swivel to face the rear to create a cosy seating area, while the SE is fully equipped with a wardrobe and kitchen complete with cooker, sink, fridge and onboard tanks for fresh and waste water. It carries a higher price tag of about £44,000.
Depending on the model selected there is a choice of engines – Volkswagen’s common rail 2.0-litre TDI, offering 140 PS, or a 114 PS BlueMotion Technology unit, with manual or DSG transmissions, and 4MOTION all-wheel drive.
HOLIDAY MODE: The VW California Beach camper van.