Vanagon Sunset

Vanagon Sunset

Monday, August 14, 2017


There's a fair amount of hype over Vanagons these days, especially from the younger crowds.  For quite some time, it seemed like the Vanagon was the black sheep of the VW transporter line-up, and some might argue that it still is, but for some reason, they are finding their way into marketing ads, social media and the "wish lists" of folks across the world.

I see more and more people wanting to get into the "Vanlife" or specifically, the Westy life and Vanagon culture without any knowledge of the various models, history, reliability.  I think its great, but I usually warn folks that Vanagons are a commitment.  They aren't for everyone and require an immense amount of patience and money.  For me, it's a passion and a hobby.  I love working on my van, and I love what it provides me in return.

Adventure, Travel, family bonding and a simple, yet comfortable way of getting out of the city to camp on whim.  We keep Ferdinand stocked and ready to go so that we can jump in and go in a moments notice. Lately, my wife has been doing that more than me since as a merchant mariner and am out to sea for 5-6 weeks at a time. She used to be baffled by my obsession with Vanagons, but she now understands and endorses my sickness.

This whole #Vanlife movement, which is popular with the millennial and many of us "other" 30-60+ sumthin' folks is fueled by a simplistic lifestyle and adventure culture.  Folks want to give up their apartments and live on the road, seeing the sights, living simply.  But what is it about the Vanagon in particular that appeals to these crowds, despite their unreliable history and boxy demeanor?  After all, they are old, finicky, funky, fiscally draining and painstakingly time consuming with all their needs... but so damn cool in many ways.

I can't speak for everyone, but I can tap into my inner-self and elaborate on what they do for me, which from what I've gathered, hits home for other folks too.  Here's my bullet list (in no particular order) of reasons why I love Vanagons and how I came about to appreciate them so much.


The Vanagon is the Swiss army knife of vehicles, the quintessential jack-of-all trades on wheels and potpourri of adventure goodness. Yes, there are many other vehicles that do many things and I like them too, however, few of them offer the versatility, culture, following, history, support and funk-factor that the Vanagon does. It is many things in one and offers a variety of uses and not just a mini-van for moving people around.

Show me an RV that can easily be driven daily for running errands, dropping off kids at school, picking up bags of mulch from Home Depot and parked in the front row of your Piggly Wiggly for your daily grocery needs.  I hear people ask "what about a Sprinter van?"  They are cool, but I wouldn't want to drive it everyday and if I'm not, where does it sit and collect dust when not in use? Nuff Said.


Mom and our bus
The first car I ever rode in was an 1969 VW bay window bus as my parents drove me home from the hospital.  I don't remember the van much, but maybe subconsciously I do and it's now part of who I am.  I've been obsessed with VW Vans since I was in my late teens (48 now).  The first one I bought was a 21-window splitty and since then, have owned 3 Vanagon Westys, and loved all of them. Had a 64 Baja for a while, but the Vans have always had more to offer for me.  I loved my '67, but I wanted something that could get me up into the mountains a bit quicker for those weekend mountain biking trips.

All the VW models have a following, but it seems like the vans have this "thing" that is untouchable.  If you drive one, you feel like you're part of this larger-than-life cult, that is very supportive.  We all come from different walks of life, but we all share a common bond.  We have different stories about vans and why they appeal, but in the end, we love our vehicles.  VW Transporters have a long heritage and you need to understand it before buying one.  There should be a quiz prior to ownership.

Yes, RV's allow you to be more comfortable.  Slide outs, full sized beds, showers, generators, satellite TV, storage so that you can bring everything from home... but wait, why go camping if camping is like home?  hmm.    I like getting out of my comfort zone a little and giving up the creature comforts.  The Vanagon, provides a few creature comforts that still challenge you a little.  Just enough space to bring the bare essentials, but still feel like camping.  Just enough bed for cuddling and other things, and a little extra bed for the kiddos or extra friends.  The fridge is small and makes you really assess what is necessary... beer, cheese, lunchmeat, eggs, a few yogurts and some fruit?  The stove and sink give you just enough for cooking, food prep, washing your face and rinsing some spoons.  You can't do everything in a Vanagon, so you're forced to get outside quite a bit.  That's the whole purpose of camping right? GET OUTSIDE!

The best part about camping in a Vanagon, is that you are forced to get close and cozy with your traveling companion.  It's intimate and very comforting when sharing the interior of a Vanagon on a rainy night with some candlelight and few iced cold beers.  I have fond memories sitting inside my van on a cold night, swapping stories with friends as we enjoy adult beverages and space to stretch out our legs on each other's laps while listening to the wind and rain howling outside.  I grew up on a sailboat and I like that small-space coziness that tight living quarters provides.

We were camping with some friends about 6 years ago, us in our Westy and them in their trailer/toyhauler.  It was there, that I discovered that there's something inviting about a Vanagon with it's sliding door wide open, that invites folks to stop and chat.  When was the last time you stopped by an RV or camp trailer and chatted with the folks on the inside through their screen door?  It just doesn't happen, and in most cases, you can't tell if someone is inside an RV or not, it's very un-approachable.  A Vanagon has an open-door policy and invites people to come say hi, especially since most of the time, you're outside around the van, chillaxin by the fire and fixing something.  Most people have a story about a VW van somewhere in their history and they love to share it with you.
Somewhere really cool
Quick roadside fix

I alluded to the fact that there's a strong amount of support for Vanagons, but it is more than strong, it's amazing.  I've seen vans stopped along the side of the road, helping each other out, and Facebook posts from stranded travelers, getting aid within minutes from other van folks nearby and driveways being offered up to provide safe camping for those passing through.  It's amazing in that sense and also amazing within the realm of products and services.  You can get just about anything for these vans within a few days and have multiple sources to choose from.

The Facebook Vanagon Owners Group (VOG) is huge (8620 members and growing) and there is an immense amount of information on there, and opinions, for Vanagon owners.  You can get quick answers to just about anything related to your van.  I really like the "search" option for looking up topics and solving mysteries.  I've learned a great deal through my fellow van owners and am constantly sharing what I know with others.  It's just a fun community and ton's of resources available for those just getting into them.

Granted, a Vanagon will drain your pocket book quickly, but there's a good chance it will retain a fair amount of your investment.  I like to say that the difference between a money pit and an investment, is your attitude. They aren't going down in price and only becoming more sought after each year.  I wouldn't say that they are "collectible"... yet, but highly appreciated and in demand.  How's the ROI on your savings account doing?  I'm willing to bet that your van is appreciating faster.  It's smart to keep it running good and don't let little things get away from you.  Nip those things in the bud before they become bigger issues, and learn how to fix them.  Vanagon aren't hard to fix, especially with all the support you can get online.  You can save a ton of money by DIY.   I've had my current van for over a year and have completely renovated the entire underside (Subaru conversion, transmission, brakes, fuel system, suspension, electrical, etc) and it hasn't been in the shop once. But then again, it's also my hobby.  I love to work on it, drive it, use it, look at it and sit in it and take pictures of it.  It provides so much more to me intrinsically than any other hobby.

If you can't relate to the passion for Vanagons, then it may not be the vehicle for you.  Think long and hard about it before committing to buying one if you haven't already.  It's more than a van, it's a lifestyle and you have to accept that there will be times that you'll be standing along side the road scratching your head.  Having said that, it will also provide you with some of the best memories and stories you've ever had.

Go, get out there and enjoy your van.

Ferdinand in his natural habitat. (Death Valley 2017)


  1. Excellent post. I would agree with everything you said. Vanagons are amazing vehicles. I've had mine 19 years and it has provide endless journeys and some remarkable stories to tell friends and family. Get out and explore!

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