from the shores of sunny California USA to the sunny shores of the UK, quite a journey…

A few of posts ago, I was thinking about trying to trace the last Californian owner detailed on the US title to find out some more of the history of my van. Well thought finally turned to action, and I put a post up on a big American VW forum called thesamba.com to see if anyone knew or could help me get in contact with the previous owner…

Well, I’m glad that we live in the days of the internet, as sure enough a very helpful forum member who lived pretty near the address location, and after a brief exchange of messages, I got in contact with someone out of the blue and sue enough, it turned out it was indeed their old bus! Happy days!

beach bus – at home by the sea in sunny California, Highway 1 (Circa 1995)

beach bus – at home by the sea in sunny California, Highway 1 (Circa 1995)

The bus was owned by Gary at Two Larry’s Racing for some twenty plus years, and he has been really helpful in sharing his memories of the bus, along with sharing various photos of the bus from the past. So a big thanks to Gary and the people at Two Larry’s Racing for looking after the bus for so long prior to it coming over here for its european adventure!

When Gary first saw the bus, he was in high school. A friend had purchased it from the original owner, an elderly lady in Diamond Springs, CA. To the best of his knowledge, it’s been in this area of California for it’s entire life since being imported! This would go a long way to explain the solid and dry condition of the bus underneath!

Gary’s friend immediately slammed the bus to the ground, so low that you couldn’t even get it into a driveway! This goes to explain the dents in the rear wheel arches from its initial time of being so low, I guess the hub caps must have pushed the arches out a little! So that’s one little mystery solved!

in the woods saying hello to a younger VW relative

in the woods saying hello to a younger VW relative

They only drove it a couple of months before they blew the engine (surprise!) and then it sat for a while. Then Gary (in his early 20’s) bought it from him for $250 (oh for a time machine!), raised it back up from the deck, and brought it back to life. It was then kitted out with a full length roof rack and traveled to a lot of VW shows, to help buy/sell parts at various swap meets. It’s probably been to in excess of 30 shows in four states!

sporting a full length roof rack for working various swap meet shows

sporting a full length roof rack for working various swap meet shows

Maybe if you saw it there, or have any old photos of it, you could get in contact with me, I’d love to hear any more stories or see old photos etc. of it from its time in the US…

woodland lifestyle

woodland lifestyle

After a while, the original transmission finally gave up somewhere in the early 2000’s, so a replacement gearbox was built for it!

catching some Californian sunshine

catching some Californian sunshine

Gary had plans for it at the time so added a Super Street bus transmission with a .388 ring and pinion and built a 1907cc engine to match. That must have been pretty fun! Unfortunately, the Two Larry Racing 1907cc engine was no longer with the bus by the time it got to me!

the Two Larry's Racing 1907cc engine that was originally in the bus

the Two Larry’s Racing 1907cc engine that was originally in the bus

The engine running in the bus sounded pretty sweet!

Eventually life takes it’s winding course, and Gary ended up parking the bus in 2008. However, after a while couldn’t stand to see it sitting any longer without a job, so late in 2013 Gary went to work on it again and brought it back to running condition before advertising it for sale…

simple changes can often be the most rewarding – vintage VW camper upgrades

I guess anytime you get a ‘new’ (or in this case older!) bus, there is always a period of time needed to acclimatise to its subtle little nuances (character) and also time needed to check over and adjust bits to your personal preferences so that you can feel fully ‘at home’ and comfortable in your new ride.

There are also practical issues to get used to, like the accuracy of the fuel gauge, the reliability of the electrics etc. Well so far so good with the fuel gauge, but after a week of inactivity, I found out a little more about the battery condition and reliability – not so good, pretty much dead to the world with not enough energy left to kick the engine over!

new Bosch S4 12v 70Ah starter battery

new Bosch S4 12v 70Ah starter battery

I guess it was a battery of unknown history or age to me, so to be honest, it really was not worth relying on! Much simpler to replace the old, small 40Ah battery with a brand new, higher capacity Bosch S4 Type 069/072 12v 70Ah (Cold Cranking Amp (CCA): 630cca) starter battery (with a 4 year warranty). This seemed to be pretty much the largest capacity and physical size starter battery that would realistically fit in the rear battery tray area of the split screen bus, with its dimensions of Length: 260mm x Width: 173mm x Height: 225mm.

refitted the original alloy Volkswagen tailgate script

refitted the original alloy Volkswagen tailgate script

It was also time to get some little bits an pieces sorted out on the bus, like get the original ‘Volkswagen’ alloy script fixed back on the tail gate.

replacement Hagus passenger side wing mirror

replacement Hagus passenger side wing mirror

I had also managed to source an original, good condition, used Hagus bus mirror for the missing passenger side, so it was about time to get that fixed in place! However, one of the simplest, but probably the most significant changes in terms of usability, was in getting a replacement Gene Berg bus shifter fitted!

Click here to download the Gene Berg bus shifter fitting instructions

Gene Berg bus shifter with old skool retro style handle

Gene Berg bus shifter with old skool retro style handle

Big shout out to the fantastically helpful people at Gene Berg Enterprises who were really great in helping sort out a replacement shifter after my last one got destroyed in my bus fire earlier this year. Like a hand in glove, it was comforting to get my hands back on the newly fitted shifter, with its old skool, retro style handle and super precise shifting. It really is amazing just how much the Berg shifter totally transforms gear changes – happy days!

out for a run in the sun

out for a run in the sun

Time to add some vintage bling with the chrome VW hub caps and go for a run in the sun before getting on with some more jobs on the bus!

the buses authenticity, character and perfection lies in its imperfections

Despite the fact that I’m getting used to people’s look of surprise when they realise that this is a genuinely solid, running, driving bus, I’m happy that it does still have various little bits and pieces to do that keep me busy and allow me to indulge in my vintage VW passion!

To me the buses authenticity, character and perfection lies in its imperfections, that and of course its un-messed with originality! My intentions are to keep things pretty stock and help preserve and maintain the bus whilst making some minor changes that don’t detract from it’s character, but hopefully simply enhance what is already there!

Déjà vu – back to stock 15" steels with R15/195/80 white bands

Déjà vu – back to stock 15″ steels with R15/195/80 white bands

Whilst continuing to put some love into the lower half L53 (Sealing Wax Red) paint, I had a case of déjà vu with the wheels. As part of the deal in buying the bus, I also got a set of 4 original paint steel 15″ steel wheels. I then managed to source a matching 5th wheel (which needed blasting and painting, but was just going to be used as the spare), before a quick call to North Hants Tyres to get the closest to stock sized commercially rated 8P R15/195/80 white bands – gotta love the look of a vintage Volkswagen split screen camper rocking 15″ stock white bands! Now to get the chrome hub caps cleaned up and fitted!

patina perfection, revealing the original paint that was hidden under the surface

It’s great to be back on the road again with my ‘new’ vintage VW bus, and with spring slowly turning to summer, there are lots to look forward to in regards of getting stuck into working on my new bus! The two buses could not have been more different! My previous Canterbury Pitt camper was pretty much fully sorted with nothing really needing to be done, this bus however has lots of potential and scope to put my mark on it and make it my own.

One of the first things I wanted to look at was the exterior paint finish, especially on the lower half of the bus. Having cracked the code of the Volkswagen m-code plate, I knew the original paint combination was L472 (Beige Grey) over the bottom half of L53 (Sealing Wax Red). The top half L472 (Beige Grey) was in pretty good condition, however, for some reason, the lower half L53 (Sealing Wax Red) had been treated with a light over spray of red oxide primer?

before and after – removing the over coat of red oxide primer

before and after – removing the over coat of red oxide primer

To explore what was underneath the primer, I wanted to clean a test patch on the rear tailgate to see what was under this primer top coat. First impressions seemed promising, there was defiantly some paint underneath waiting to be revealed…

enlisted some family help to work on the bus

enlisted some family help to work on the bus

Luckily enough, I managed to recruit my youngest son and his girlfriend into giving me a helping hand using some Halfords Rubbing Compound with plenty of elbow grease to help remove the over coat of red oxide primer as we worked our way around the bus.

beautiful patina and VW factory panel gaps

beautiful patina and VW factory panel gaps

Apart from revealing some interesting patina and paint combinations underneath, it was a chance to get up close and personal to the original metalwork.

beauty is in the eye of the beholder – original VW factory panel gaps

beauty is in the eye of the beholder – original VW factory panel gaps

Nothing quite as satisfying as seeing the factory panel gaps, door shuts and original factory spot welds as we slowly worked our way around to remove the red oxide primer.

paint cleaning up coming along nicely…

paint cleaning up coming along nicely…

It’s a labour of love, but slowly and surely it’s revealing it’s own colour ‘character’ that it has developed over its lifetime. The buses honest patina tells a story of its life to this point. It has a kind of urban camouflage feel about it? However, understanding it’s story is another thing. I might try to trace the last Californian owner detailed on the US title to find out some more of its history?

One things for certain, it has loads of beautiful character and I think it looks amazing just as it is, so I will be making sure to protect and preserve this moving forward! You can paint a Volkswagen bus hundreds of times, but you can only get originality once!

great to be back behind the wheel of a vintage VW split screen bus again

Before collecting my new bus to drive home, I had agreed with the seller to get a few alterations carried out whilst he was getting a new MOT sorted for it. The previous owner in sunny California had slightly lowered the front and rear of the bus, but as everyone knows, stock rocks, so one of the first things I wanted to do was to give the bus some increased altitude and get the running gear put back to stock!

stock rocks, available in a range of colours…

stock rocks, available in a range of colours…

At the front, there was an adjustable front beam. I sourced a good solid stock beam (bare) to replace this with so that the usable components could be transferred over to it. In essence the beam and front suspension got a complete over haul! The beam leaves were fitted and packed with new grease. A new front anti roll bar kit was fitted, the swivel pin was a bit worn so this was removed, the housing freshly reamed before fitting a new swivel pin kit. The front brakes were also renewed with fresh brake fluid and bled.

The rear was in part lowered using notched spring plates. I had these removed and had original VW stock spring plates fitted and put back to standard stock height again, before getting the tracking reset.

With the recent bus fire in France still very much fresh in my memory, regardless of condition, I also had the existing fuel lines replaced with 100% Bio-fuel ‘Fit and Forget’ ethanol proof fuel hose bought from http://www.vwaircooledworks.co.uk. After chatting with Peter (the owner) I’m also seriously considering getting one of their Clean Gas Automatic Engine Bay Fire Suppression Systems along with one of their Fuel tank Cut-off solenoids for further peace of mind.

good to be back home again in my VW bus by the sea

good to be back home again in my VW bus by the sea

With the alterations all carried out, it was great to finally collect the bus and drive it back home at last! Forgot how nice it was to be back behind the wheel of a split screen again with a big grin on my face!

So now it’s home by the sea, time for the adventures and work to begin all over again…

back to basics as a new unwelded, original paint VW adventure begins…

Exciting times ahead as I ventured out on a grey, blustery and rainy day and headed off to the train station to get myself a one way ticket out to a small village in Kent. Not the most inspiring or auspicious start to a day, but this was the day I was finally going to collect and drive back my ‘new’ vintage VW camper!

Having spent a lot of time and effort getting my previous 1965 Canterbury Pitt camper set up the way I wanted it, now it is time to go back to basics all over again with this unwelded and mostly original paint ‘patina’ bus. You can paint a vintage VW bus hundreds of times, but you can only get originality once!

say hello to my ‘new’ 1964 VW original paint bus!

say hello to my ‘new’ 1964 VW original paint bus!

By unlocking the VW buses m-code plate I found out it was an early 1964 eight seater microbus, produced on October 11th 1963 (which makes it a 1964 model year as from 1957, the Volkswagen model years changed in August).

Colour upper part : L472 – Beige Grey
Color lower part : L53 – Sealing Wax Red

Interestingly the bus was originally picked up by first owner at the factory in Germany, and was meant for the US-market. Back in the day, Volkswagen had a Tourist Delivery Program where customers could buy a vehicle and pick it up direct from the factory. This often meant that US Army service personnel or tourists could make a small payment (in the 1960’s it was $10) that entitled them to have the VW they had bought shipped back to the United States at Volkswagens convenience on one of their factory transport ships!

great rust free, solid and unwelded structure underneath

great rust free, solid and unwelded structure underneath

Underneath the bus is exceptionally dry, rust free and in amazingly solid condition for something that has never in its life been welded! In the US it was previously owned by a VW mechanic for 23 years, so it’s been in good hands for a long period of time, and it shows, it really has been well looked after during it’s lifetime!

rust free, original paint L53 – Sealing Wax Red wheel arches

rust free, original paint L53 – Sealing Wax Red wheel arches

Dry and rust free, original paint L53 Sealing Wax Red front wheel arches…

original paint L53 – Sealing Wax Red wheel arches still with factory seam sealer!

original paint L53 – Sealing Wax Red wheel arches still with factory seam sealer!

…that will with a little effort clean up nicely to show off the aged beauty of the original paint and the regional factory finish seam sealer still in place!

rust free, original paint L53 – Sealing Wax Red engine bay

rust free, original paint L53 – Sealing Wax Red engine bay

Even the engine bay shows off its original paint with pride, a remarkable testimony to just how well this bus has survived the tests of time! Looks like there will be some new exciting adventures ahead once again!

the search is over and a new chapter of the vdubxs adventure begins…

Well, after a lot of looking around and soul-searching as to what I wanted to do next, it looks like a new chapter in the vdubxs adventure is about to begin! After trawling high and low all over the world on various forums, strangely enough, my dream bus happened to turn up pretty locally to me again, not in a dissimilar way I found my previous 1965 Canterbury Pitt camper. I must be some kind of VW bus magnet!

original early 1963 ‘ice pick’ style cab door handles

original early ‘ice pick’ style cab door handles

I was never going to be able to replace like for like with my old camper, so this is consciously a pretty different type of bus from my last couple of campers. So now the deposit has been paid and currently I’m waiting for a few little tweaks to be finished off before I go over to collect it – can’t wait to drive it home and be back on the road again!

some things can never be replaced, so maybe time for a new direction…

It’s been a very long and painful 6 weeks since the fire brought an abrupt end to my 2015 european road trip, and with spring now slowly turning to summer, I really do miss being out and about in my vintage VW camper!

Happier times on my road trip in France

Happier times on my road trip in France

Fortunately there has been slow progress in regards to some of the insurance on the camper. Unfortunately I found out to my dismay, that I was underinsured in terms of the contents of the van and all the updates I had carried out to the bus. A big lesson to be learnt right there! Although it’s not all fully resolved yet, at least I now have some funds to begin the search for a replacement bus once again.

the worst photo I have ever taken

the worst photo I have ever taken

With a vintage VW camper you can never really replace like for like, regardless of how much available money you might have. Most buses are all fairly unique and very personal, so it’s a surprisingly difficult thing to do to try to find a ‘new’ camper especially on a bit of a reduced budget – nothing like a bit of a challenge!

not much left in the engine bay

not much left in the engine bay

One of the many irreplaceable items from the bus was it’s Canterbury Pitt interior, my home away from home when on the road. I had spent ages getting the interior sorted and how I wanted it to be. The recent fitting the Canterbury Pitt table which I had recently refurbished was the icing on the cake, even my wife loved this aspect of the camper!

the Canterbury Pitt table finished and back home in the camper

the Canterbury Pitt table finished and back home in the camper

Unfortunately, the fire was no respecter of all the time and effort that had gone into getting the interior resolved and finished…

the burnt out remnants of my Canterbury Pitt interior

the burnt out remnants of my Canterbury Pitt interior

The re-trimmed cab area of the camper was a great space to be in as you were driving around…

The front seats had been recovered along with all door cards and side panels

The front seats had been recovered along with all door cards and side panels

…but the fire soon spread to the front and destroyed all of that as well, once it had taken hold, there was just no stopping it despite the contents of two or three fire extinguishers! It took the attention of the French fire brigade to finally put out the flames!

not much left of the cab area!

not much left of the cab area!

However, by the time the French Fire brigade had arrived and managed to put out the flames, my 1965 VW camper was barely recognisable from it’s former condition!

the fire ravaged remains of my camper

the fire ravaged remains of my camper

However, despite all the emotional turmoil and distress of having to watch as my camper and all my belongings in my home on the road went up in flames and got destroyed, it’s now time to move forward and focus on sorting out finding a suitable replacement vintage VW Camper – let the search commence…

get me to the church on time!

I was just going through some of the saved photos that were fortunately backed up onto my iPhone before the fire destroyed my vintage VW Canterbury Pitt camper. It seemed odd that these pictures and memories were not going to make it into the digital domain, so I thought I should try to finish off a couple of old draft blog posts that I had started (but not finished) before my european road trip was abruptly cut short…


OK, so Tuesday 24th March is not a traditional holy day to my knowledge, but today I had a bad urge to get to church today. Not just any church, but one which I feel could equally be described as the 8th wonder of the world, Le Corbusier’s world-famous Notre Dame du Haut (La Ronchamp).

my old camper photo bombs La Ronchamp

my old camper photo bombs La Ronchamp

The site is high on a hill near Belfort in eastern France. There had been a pilgrimage chapel on the site dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but it was destroyed during the Second World War. After the war, it was decided to rebuild on the same site, in the hill of Bourlémont. The Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, a shrine for the Roman Catholic Church at Ronchamp, France was built for a reformist Church looking to continue its relevance.

life long ambition fulfilled seeing Le Corbusier's La Ronchamp (Notre Dame du Haut)

life long ambition fulfilled seeing Le Corbusier’s La Ronchamp (Notre Dame du Haut)

Warning against decadence, reformers within the Church at the time looked to renew its spirit by embracing modern art and architecture as representative concepts. Father Marie-Alain Couturier, who would also sponsor Le Corbusier for the La Tourette commission, steered the unorthodox project to completion in 1954.

The chapel at Ronchamp is singular in Corbusier’s oeuvre, in that it departs from his principles of standardisation and the machine aesthetic, giving in instead to a site-specific response. By Le Corbusier’s own admission, it was the site that provided an irresistible genius loci for the response, with the horizon visible on all four sides of the hill and its historical legacy for centuries as a place of worship.

Entrance to the main space of La Ronchamp is via a large pivoting main door that features a striking design painted in enamel by Le Corbusier.

enamel painting by Le Corbusier on the main entrance door

enamel painting by Le Corbusier on the main entrance door

The main interior space has a beautiful calmness and serenity about it. The space is punctuated by shafts of light through the main walls array of irregular shaped and coloured contemporary stained glass that adds dramatic coloured highlights to the largely monochromatic space.

wall of irregular shaped and coloured contemporary stained glass

wall of irregular shaped and coloured contemporary stained glass

The contemporary stained glass as well as adding warm coloured shafts of light to the main space of the church, sometimes also featured hand written text such as ‘etoile du matin’ (morning star) as part of the stained glass window detail.

etoile du matin (morning star) stained glass window detail

‘etoile du matin’ (morning star) stained glass window detail

Off the main central space of the church, were smaller chapels. Their simplicity and illumination were stunning. Above the small intimate spaces, towered large cathedral-like light towers that feed natural daylight into the space below…

the view up inside one of La Ronchamps light well towers

the view up inside one of La Ronchamps light well towers

The monumental grandeur above, was in stark contrast to the humble beauty of the intensely personal and contemplative space of the chapel below. Simply stunning!

small chapel within La Ronchamp

small chapel within La Ronchamp

If you ever get a chance, a visit to La Ronchamp is very highly recommended!

it’s about the journey… not the destination

After the recent fire curtailed my european road trip and destroyed my camper along with everything inside, it seems strange and slightly disconcerting to once again, be back at the starting point with my adventure with VW camper vans. I still feel there are many miles out there on the roads that are to be travelled, places I still really want to go to. Yes there are other modes of transport or ways of getting there, but none quite like a vintage Volkswagen split screen camper van!

it’s about the journey… not the destination T-shirt design, available in a range of colours…

it’s about the journey… not the destination T-shirt design, available in a range of colours…

Some will get this, others won’t. I can’t really explain it, as on oh so many practical levels, it really does not make any sense! I’ve gone through various highs and lows since the fire. I’ve questioned whether or not to even get another vintage camper.

I’ve had some time to reflect on the accident and loss of the camper. On some days you question yourself, have I ‘done’ the whole camper thing already, is it time to just move on from it all? Get a ‘sensible’ car, and take ‘proper’ planed out package holidays?

Would I simply be better off moving on and maybe getting a very practical, modern T4 Westfalia California TDi camper? I know my wife would think this is the ‘sensible’ thing to do, and I cannot fault her logic on that, as she is 100% right! However, maybe I’m just not at that point, or maybe I’m just not that grown up and sensible yet!

practicality and performance aren’t what capture the heart

practicality and performance aren’t what capture the heart

I guess it’s always been about the journey and not the destination for me. Not just in the physical sense of travelling in the camper, but in the actual journey of the ownership of the camper itself. There were bound to be high and low points in the journey, and this most definitely was a massive low point in the journey. However, it is just that, a small, yet painful point within the bigger context of the sense of journey, and the journey continues on…