Volkswagen Westfalia Camper Van   1967  -1-
Thumbnail: VW canper surrogate bus  CLICK to see the larger version

You're right: it's a bus, not a pop-top camper. I bought this model when it appeared on eBay as the only 1:43 scale model of a pre-68 veedub van I'd seen. It was inexpensive and has one of those pull-back friction motors. I don't know why I never took a picture of the actual van I had. Here are a couple pictures of another one - two.

I bought the off-white camper from Bill Atkinson. We agreed on the deal the day before Bruce McLaren ran over him at Riverside International Raceway. Bill was in a Riverside hospital and the van was parked inside the fence at the track. I went to the hospital and told someone there I needed his keys to get the camper and drive it home, as I was buying it. They said there were no keys in his belongings. I went back to the raceway and spent a bit of time scouring the site of the accident looking for the keys. No luck. A spectator who had come to look at the scene told me I was sick, trying to find pieces of McLaren's car for a souvenir. I explained and he apologized and helped search. Still no luck.

I found someone who could get in and start the van without a key, and someone else to drive it home. I visited Bill a couple of times at the hospital, and when he seemed to have got to the point he could do some business, gave him money for the van and asked where he kept the spare key. No spare, he said. Just the one here on my keychain. I guess hospital staff deny and deflect as a matter of policy and practice. Works for them.

Over the next several weeks I drove the van to Visit Bill in the hospital in Riverside three or four times a week. We had some good talks, and I heard from him about all the thoughtful, generous attention and gifts he received. I had written to everyone I could think of, describing his accident and circumstances, and every one I wrote to responded to him. Least they could do, my view.

One of the first things I did to the bus was install an 8-track. Butch Englebrecht tried to talk me into making it a cassette player, but I had read the stereo magazines and it seemed to me (and them) the tape width and speed of the 8-track should yield higher fidelity. It did, but it didn't get much better and the cassette technology did. I bought a Cream tape (Disraeli Gears) and a Bill Cosby tape and a Gordon Lightfoot tape, and a couple others I can't remember, maybe Clarence Creedwater, and a Bob Dylan tape. I played them over and over and over, on the ninety minutes going and ninety or more minutes coming home trips. Three or four times a week. For months. The return trips were usually longer, dark and foggy.

I installed a special header and muffler, and then a better one, and a special intake manifold and carburetor (32NDIX? From memory, remember). There was significant improvement in performance, judging by the old faithful hill up 395 from Mission Valley. It went faster, seemed more flexible with the new equipment. Oddly enough it got 19 MPG no matter what I did: before and after the modifications, foot to the floor or babying it, around town or on the freeway. Nineteen MPG.

It even got 19 MPG the time we drove it to Banning from El Centro in a quartering gale that had me cranking in 90 degrees steering lock. Tacking into the wind like that the louvered windows in the side of the van whistled one tune and the vent window nearest me whistled another. When they switched tunes I knew the wind had changed and I should steer away from it for a second or two before the tunes swapped and I needed to steer back again. We maintained a smooth, steady course, flat out at 65 or 70 MPH, air speed about 80, I suppose..

The place we went was the home of a friend of Sandy's. I seem to remember they had an English Bulldog and an owl in the house. The place we were coming from was a demonstration slalom at NAS El Centro. The flight line fire crews there volunteered manpower and equipment for our races at Holtville. When they had open house there (it was the winter home of the Blue Angels) they invited us to put on a demonstration slalom and give rides to the Angels and other Naval personnel and dependents. It was fun. I got to drive the VW camper van around the slalom course. It wasn't that bad, since I had put big tires and rims on it (Dick Cepec rims; the big Pirelli tires from the Dart). Took a lot of steering turns to make the slalom turns, though.

Someone among the slalomers had a new baby and was looking for a place to nurse it. One more bit of evidence of the versatility of the van.

That was the time I drove Butch's 289 Cobra. He kept telling me to go faster. I was afraid it would get away. On reflection, I think his urging had more to do with keeping the revs up so the valve train didn't beat the cam to death.

I was able to drive the van pretty fast, I thought. Then I drove it to Holtville via Rancho del Campo. SCCA and I asked the Juvenile Court to let a crew or two of juvenile delinquent boys go to the Holtville airport and do some work. Since it was a county facility, it was OK, and both counties would get credit for the labor hours they put in. Big Bob Kreger piled the boys in the camp bus and headed for I-8, which was still Highway 80 at the time, I think. I could barely keep up with him, zooming those curves. It was a demonstration that either I was slow or he was insane.

The work we did was dig trenches to build Fort Holtville. There were a lot of donated telephone poles cut to length, and we made the holes and stood the poles side-by-side as protective barriers for turn workers. I was pleased and proud of the boys. They worked hard and long and didn't hurt each other or anyone else. During the lunch break I was playing my 8-tracks and a few of the kids sat in the van and listened. There were several packs of cigarettes on the under-dash shelf and they didn't steal any!

Two weeks later the same boys came back as guests at one of the days of the Nationals races and for a barbecue. No significant problems that I know of.

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