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As we emerge blinking into the light after many months cooped up at home, thoughts inevitably turn to adventure.
Never before has the lure of escape been so strong, yet it comes tempered by an understandable fear of the unknown, which is why the security of a portable home-from-home holds such appeal.
This year the iconic VW ‘Bulli’ celebrates its 70th birthday, but it’s hard to link today’s water-cooled, front-engined sophisticate with the Beetle-based ‘Splittie’ Type 1 launched back in March 1950.
From the start, the Transporter was a vehicle beloved by those in search of a Bohemian lifestyle, with official builder Westfalia leading the way in conversions from 1951.
It wasn’t until 2003 that Volkswagen took production in-house by launching the California, initially based on the T5.
These days, however, Bohemia doesn’t come cheap. Our test California 6.1 – Type 6, first facelift – in posher ‘Ocean’ spec ranges from nearly £64k to a shade under £70k depending on options, and that figure soon ramps up if you pick tasty items such as two-tone paint, at a not inconsiderable £2880.
There is a cheaper ‘Coast’ version with a manual rather than electric top and a more spartan feel, but it’s still £55,339.
Quite apart from the fact that it looks fantastic, where the California scores above coachbuilt motorhomes –and even many van conversions – is that it’s a camper you can use everyday.
It’s remarkably car-like to drive, with a driving position commanding enough to make SUV owners green, and generously kitted out with all of the luxuries and conveniences demanded by even the most discerning modern motorist.
The venerable VW 2-litre turbodiesel rows it along at a decent lick even in 148bhp form (a 196bhp version is also available), aided by the super-smooth DSG automatic’ box, and the ride is remarkably supple and quiet for a van – helping to prevent those internal rattles that are traditionally the curse of the camper.
When the driving is done for the day, the fun begins.
I defy anyone under 18 not to vault up and explore the bunk in the pop-top roof, while more mature members of the party will be comfy enough on the large rock ’n’ roll bed downstairs.
Once they’ve finished playing with the California ’s superbly engineered ‘toys’, that is, which include a fabulously finished dolls-house kitchen with fridge, two-ring hob and sink.
In post-lockdown 2020, if you really want to make your neighbours jealous don’t bother with a supercar, just pop one of these on your drive.
Not a classic in the vein of its air-cooled ancestor, maybe, but a beautifully crafted jewel that will be cherished long after its hard-working box-van brethren have been consigned to scrap.
Images: John Bradshaw
- Engine 1968cc turbodiesel ‘four’; 148bhp @ 3250-3750rpm; 332lb ft @ 1500-3000rpm
- Transmission seven-speed auto, FWD
- 0-62mph 14.3 secs
- Top speed 113mph
- Mpg 30.4-33.2
- Price £63,817