Cal­i­for­nia dream from VW for happy campers

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - Carmel Ste­wart

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.

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