Our newest project is a VW Vanagon named “Burt” that we plan to refurb into a cute little 'glamper.'
We found Burt on the first Saturday of the new year - January 2nd, 2016 – my husband and I stumbled upon a craigslist posting in Madison for a blue and white, 1983 Vanagon L. We had been browsing craigslist for a few months for a Vanagaon or Westfalia camper van, so this was love at first sight! There was a picture of a woman in the car with a shaggy white dog in the passenger seat, happy as can be. We’re dog owners, and something about that picture, the van cruising through some hilly terrain and how happy the pup in the window was, just seemed like a dream.
The Trip Home
I don’t drive much because living in Chicago I just don’t need to. I counted that it had probably about 16 months since I last manned the drivers seat of a car and 6 years since I drove on a regular basis. In addition to the basic driving jitters, Burt has a manual transmission and I’m the only one of us that knows how to drive stick, so was in charge of the test drive. We had the owner drive us to a parking lot to get started and after a few rounds I was able to slowly maneuver our way home (thank goodness Burt’s old solid engineering makes it nearly impossible to stall!).
We bought the vehicle and started to head on the 2.5 hour drive home. We only got about 500 feet down the road to the first stop sign and Burt started spinning out under me. I start wondering whether I should pump the brakes or keep my foot down, and how to manage the non-power-steering of the giant vehicle! It was a scary moment, but luckily Burt slid to a halt without hitting anything (phew!). Once I was back in first gear I was able to pull out and get on the main road. Driving on the highway home after that was a piece of cake after that!
Burt is a gem – all the charm of how driving used to be. There is no fancy electronic key, or remote entry, just straight turn the key and go. You have to jiggle the steering wheel to start the car. The stick shift has four gears and a reach of about 2-3 feet between 1st gear and 4th gear (my arms barely can make this stretch without putting my whole body into it). The radio still has the little vertical dial that moves across the horizontal frequencies. So many simple quirks that I really enjoy.
We are going to have quite a few to-dos on our list for Burt. He’s charming, on the exterior, but needs some love and care. The interior is a passenger van, so we will have to floor and reconfigure the interior. There are minor issues, i.e. the radio doesn’t work because there is no antenna, the are some leaks in the exhaust pipe and the rear view mirrors flop over in the wind when driving at highway speeds. In addition to the fact that it’s really easy to break into – so we bought a club and locked the pedals together as soon as we got home!
We're so excited to get started working on Burt and making him our new home on wheels!