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Saturday, 21 April 2012

The allure of VW camper vans

The allure of VW camper vans
 “Volkswagen Campervans are undoubtedly the Marmite of the motor world” states Charnock (2011) suggesting that merely a glance can provoke a strong positive or negative reaction, but never ambivalence.  Bright colours, curves to swoon for and “cute little curtains” are highlighted as visually appealing attributes.  To those of a certain generation the recollection may include iconic seventies associations such as Dylan, Kerouac, Woodstock, Peace and marijuana.  Alternatively, it might provoke a grimace, distain of the garish colouration, dislike of the patterned curtains and distinctively spherical shapes.  Enduringly associated with hippie and surf culture (Camper Van Life, 2012) VW camper vans possess an unusual, yet iconic and popular status. 

Born as a multi-functional, utilitarian vehicle in post-war Germany “even the oldest vans are practical, but they need more care and servicing than a modern car. The air-cooled engines in Splitties and Bays sound charismatic, but they’re thirsty and slow. The cab can be drafty, the steering is heavy, and you don’t so much use the brakes as make appointments with them weeks in advance.”  (Handby, 2010) 

Camper Van Life (2012) notes that “VW campers have become popular culture icons throughout the world particularly in California, UK, Australia and South Africa.”   Wallace (2009) “There’s a hugely influential and incredibly popular scene surrounding ageing VWs in the UK and secondhand values in recent years for restored and solid buses has literally spiralled out of all control.”  There is some irony in noting that a mass market, functional, flexible vehicle, successful over decades because of its afforability, should be reapproriated in such a manner. 


You might wonder why this should matter ?  Why would a successful global brand like Volkswagen be interested in heritage clubs ? What commercial benefit can they derive from vehicles manufactured in the 1960's and 1970's ?  The youtube clip above shows a 2011 VW commercial advertising spot entitled "60 years of man and van" that heavily features a pristine split windscreen camper.  Nostalgia, reliability, iconic design, loyalty, durability, passion and beauty might be ideas these images are seeking to evoke.  Cynics might point to a hinted at but not confirmed relaunch of the model under its orginal German name 'Bulli'. 

justin.obrien@rhul.ac.uk is currently undertaking research into the allure of the VW camper van, to appreciate its attraction, its iconic cultural significance and to better understand 'the scene' from a conceptual perspecitve.  If you are interested in VW camper vans, have owned one or currently own one and wish to be part of this research, please get in touch.

4 comments:

  1. nice opinion.. thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. While the company will continue to offer commercial vehicles, it will no longer develop or produce them. Buy Vans

    ReplyDelete
  3. Classic campervans rock! :) Thank you for sharing your knowledge about Volkswagen campervans.

    ReplyDelete