Costa Rica T2a/b Westfalia camper

13 02 2021

A longtime without blog entries. Difficult times everywhere, with the COVID19 pandemic. Hope you and your loved ones are all well. Here in Berlin in Germany, we are in a relatively relaxed lockdown since mid-December. Now the infections numbers are finally coming down. But schools and day-care are still closed and will be, at least for a couple more weeks. So balancing working and family life with home schooling is tough for the parents, and the kids (now 9 and 5) dearly miss playing with their friends.

So I was very happy about a mail from by old friend and kombi correspondent Siggi who is, once again, travelling Costa Rica. He spotted this beautiful Westfalia Camper in Quebrada Ganado, Costa Rica, and met the very friendly owner who allowed us to look into his van: It is a Volkswagen T2 bay window bus, but right from the period in 1971/1972 where they changed from the early T2a bay window to the late T2b bay window model. Today this would probably be called a major face lift. At the time, they bridged this transition with an in-between model that still had the lower front indicators and the more round bumper bars of the T2a, but already the more square and less crescent shaped rear air intakes and the larger rear lights of the T2b. In Germany, this is called a “Zwitter”, a mix between the two, in English probably a T2a/b hybrid.

The large reflectors on the sides are US spec (never produced like this for the German market), but this Westfalia campervan conversion bus was indeed manufactured in Germany, in 1971, at the Westfalia works in the town of Rheda-Wiedenbrück, as the brown little plate above the right front wheel proudly announces. The green plate below indicates this bus was once registered in California in the US. The current owner is a Costa Rican who kindly allowed us to have a look into his beautiful van. Many thanks and greetings from a cold snowy Berlin to you guys in sunny Costa Rica!

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The Berlin VW Bus Festival 2020

14 09 2020

Three weeks ago we made it to the 14. Berlin VW Bus Festival! A very big thank you to the organization team to make this happen despite the COVID19 pandemic. It seems most other German VW Bus festivals had been cancelled this year, so everyone was even more excited that this one was happening. The number of participants was limited to 500 and the big Saturday night party had to be dropped, but it was fantastic to have a long camping weekend with so many friendly and relaxed people and their beautiful busses. For us it was the second Berlin Bus festival with our little QEK caravan Henrietta. And we are now a well-practiced team, with our two kids (5 and almost 9) and one of their friends sleeping in the kombi and us parents having their own space in the little camper.

Taiga Lily and our little camper Henrietta, ready for the Berlin Bus Festival!

Below are some photos of the amazing bunch of buses at this meeting, with the usual bias towards the air-cooled ones. Ten years ago this meeting was almost exclusively T3. But this year I noticed it has clearly shifted to T4 buses. My selection below is, again, biased towards the air cooled T2s and the one T1, but it is cool to see the different generations of VW buses mix and mingle.

Big thank you again to the organizers that they made this fbestival possible in difficult times! And now on to the photos!

Very cool early bay window T2a Westfalia camper imported from the US last year, which we also saw at last year’s Berlin Bus festival. This year it has received four layers of clear varnish to preserve the beautiful patina burnt into the white paint job by 50 years of Californian sun:

 

 

The next one is a T2a early bay window in great shape and with some unusual rebuilds: The engine has been swapped to a water-cooled VW 4-cylinder engine from a 1970ies Golf (perhaps a GTI, approx. 1.9 L). To enable the water cooling, the engine bay has additional air vents in the rear right corner for a first water cooler, and in addition a second water cooler installed under the car. The cool looking orange seats are from a SMART:

And the only T1 split-window bus visiting this year, a 1962 model with the (in Germany quite rare) Dormobile roof from the UK which folds sideways.

With the air-cooled fraction sorted, now to a number of beautiful T3 and T4 buses:

 

 

 

Here is a T3 with another one of the East german QEK Junior mini caravans, like our Henrietta:

The next one is a T3 Vanagon with an unusual story: This beige 1985 window bus was originally sold to the father of the current owner, in 1985, in East Germany. Being able to buy a West German car in East German when the Iron Curtain was still down must have been extremely rare. But apparently a series of T3 busses was officially imported by East Germany and sold this way, often to tradesmen as work vans. This bus was officially meant to become such a tradie van, but instead was from the start only used for holidays, always parked in a garage, and already in the last years of the DDR self-converted into a campervan (except for the pop-up roof which was added only a few years ago). As was custom in East Germany where cars had to last very long, the first owner properly sealed all cavities and the under floor area so that the car now, 35 years later, is still in very good condition. The front grill with the double front lights is a later addition. A reminder of the East-West-German past is the cover plate on the dashboard in front of the passenger seat. It is from an old Trabbi and covers the place where in 1985 the original East German-sized radio had been built in.

“My house – my car – my kombi”

The next one is not a Volkswagen bus, but still a very unusual and impressive campertruck that started its live as an East German army truck: The unit in the back is called LAK for “Leicht absetzbarer Koffer” (German for “easily removable unit”). Apparently this unit was, when taken from the truck, a self-sufficient and fully sealed base (with its own electricity generator and heating unit) that was “ready” to survive in nuclear, chemical and biological warfare. Or so they hoped. Here it is mounted on an IFA L60 truck which according to Wikipedia was introduced only in 1987 and so was built just in the last three years of the DDR, from 1987 to 1990.

Next to it was one of its smaller East-German brothers, a Robur truck. The Robur was originally introduced in 1961, while this model here, judging from the Wikipedia article, looks like a Robur LO 2002 A, an all-wheel-drive variant from the 1980ies:

Let’s end this beautiful camping weekend with a few overview pictures – thanks for popping in and having a look around!





Clamps of Berlin

23 05 2020

In the last few years, wheel clamps (German: Autokralle) have really taken off here in Berlin. Modern VW buses have been in the top-ten of cars most stolen in Germany for many years. But recently, also the older VW bus generations have become the objects of car theft, and the owners have geared up accordingly. Now many buses feature wheel clamps, and often additionally steering wheel locks. So here is a little collection of wheel clamps of Berlin!

T3 Joker with pop-up roof and Nemesis clamp

Nemesis clamp from FullStop Security

A high roof T3 Joker, also with a Nemesis clamp

T4 high-roof camper with a different clamp…

… and a serious-looking steering wheel lock (“Disklok”).

Similar yellow clamp on a T5 panel van camper.

T4 window bus with a Nemesis clamp.

T5 California Camper with a smaller clamp.

 





The Beetle Clinic is no more

21 05 2020

My favorite Berlin VW workshop ceased to exist. The Beetle Clinic is no more. And it left already some long time ago. The end came quietly, at least for me. In May 2016, they still helped us bringing Taiga Lily through the TUEV, the German bi-annual roadworthy certificate. In 2017 we did not need a pit stop all year. With only short-distance camping weekends around Berlin and at the coast and the occasional shopping, we nowadays drive Taiga Lily not more than 3500 km per year. So only when 2018 came and she needed the next roadworthy certificate, I noticed that the Beetle Clinic had closed shop, probably already at the end of 2016.
The Beetle Clinic was situated on a mostly empty industry space in Wilhelmstrasse in the Western suburb of Berlin-Spandau. As with so many places in Berlin, this area has an interesting history. It was the site of the former Spandau Prison where in Nazi Germany Hitler locked up critical journalists and opponents, and where after the end of World War II and the Nuremberg trials, a number of Nazi top brass were imprisoned by the British, American, French and Russian forces. In my childhood in the 1970s and 1980s the bizarre situation was that it was kept in action only for one last prisoner, Rudloph Hess. When he passed away in 1987, it was demolished.
Sometime later the Beetle Clinic must have started out. I met them first in 2000. I had just arrived in Berlin and was happy and releaved to have found a workhop with knowledge, love and enthusiasm for air-cooled Volkswagens. They knew the cars, and they knew where to get the parts. And over the years they did some good work for me. The Old Lady received an egine overhaul  and a catalytic converter in 2002. In 2007, they took out the partition wall behind the front seats and installed two pilot seats. When Taiga Lily entered our family in 2010 and the front axle body was rusted through in 2014, they installed a new front axle body (here and here), and in 2016 a beautiful tow bar. They understood these old cars, and they did good work. And each time I dropped one of our buses off, it was exciting to look around what other cars and buses were around, like this T1, this early bay window brewery van or the beauties below. It is a sad this place with all its expertise is gone. All the best to Georg and Micha for their next adventures!

Taiga Lily with a Wulle Brewery van, 2014.

Karmann Ghia convertible, 2016.

 

Georg’s 1985 Karmann Gipsy T3 Campervan, waiting for its “H registration”

Volkswagen Type 3 notchback, photo taken 2015 at Beetle Clinic Berlin

 

Pre-1956 23-window barndoor Samba Bus under restoration. Photo taken in 2016 at Beetle Clinic, Berlin.

 





The Berlin VW Bus Festival 2019

14 10 2019

In mid-August we rigged-up Taiga Lily, our 1976 Volkswagen bay window camper, with the bike rack in the back, an extended roofrack on top, and Henrietta, our 1981 QEK Junior mini camper on the tow bar, and started the 70-km-ride to Jueterbog, south of Berlin, to the Berlin VW Festival 2019. Henrietta has now been upgraded with a nice little awning and we bought a foldable outside kitchen block.

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Next morning, we joined a convoy of 31 buses and a beetle through the nearby villages. Pretty exciting to ride with so many buses, with six motor bike guards driving in front and behind us to block all crossings, so that we could pass through in one group. All completed with a final group photo, back at the festival side, in front of one of the big old hangars of this ex-German and ex-Russian military airport site.

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Notice the prominent position our Taiga Lily who was kindly manouvered into the front row. As always, there were loads and loads of T3 and T4 buses at this meeing. But with my excitement for the aircooled earlier generations, I will start with a completely biased selection of almost all of the T1 split window busses and T2 bay window busses that were also around. So here they come!

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T1 split window single cab

The T1 Samba Bus below, from between 1964 and 1967 later on became the winner of this years show and shine competition!

Here comes a 1978 late bay Westaflia camper in Taiga Lily’s sage green (Taiga grün L63H):

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Here comes a beautiful 1975 late bay camper which is, for once, not a Westfalia:

And an impressive semi-rat look 1970 early bay window (T2a) Westfalia camper, at some point re-imported from the US, with the weathered original paint job conserved with a layer of Owatrol:

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On we move to the T3 vanagon buses of the 1980s and early 1990s. As a start a cool family group shot: On the right a 1978 air-cooled T2b, in the middle a 1980 T3 pick up truck which is also still air-cooled (in German: a “Lufti”), and on the right a later and water-cooled T3 syncro all-wheel drive camper:

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And some photos of the many T3 campervans and the many impressive four-wheel-drive T3 Syncro buses:

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Again a very nice summer weekend. And like last year, the goodies-bag for every participant contained this very cool VW bus biscuits pack – the organizers apparently had asked the cookies company Leibniz and they kindly produced another batch of these bisquits explicitely for this bus gathering – how very cool is this!





Meet Henrietta, our new 1981 QEK Junior caravan!

31 08 2019

In late May 2019, we had registered our new caravan in Berlin, got the number plates  and went back to Frankfurt (Oder) to pick her up. In the meantime, she has also been christianed, so the new family member is now called Henrietta! She is a 1981 East German mini camper trailer with a fiber glas hull mounted onto a metal frame. She was produced by the Qualitäts- und  Edelstahl Kombinat (German for “Quality and Stainless Steel factory”).  According to Wikipedia, the QEK Junior model was manufactured in three different factories, in Schmiedefeld in Thuringa, in Staßfurt and in Leipzig. Her paper work lists Henrietta as made by Schmiedefeld ISOKO, so she comes from the Thuringa factory.

The rear of the QEK houses a central table and two long benches, which cover the wheel houses and some storage space in the back. The table can be unhinged (two hinges below the rear window) and lowered to bench-level so that, with two additional boards, a very large bed area is generated (about 1.90 m in width and about 2  m in length). The previous owner has bought new matress cussions, new cussion covers and matching. The curtains will go, but nice to know that this is all fresh and new.

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The kitchen block along the front of the caravan is as minimalistic as it can be: There is a mini sink on the right, but no water tab (and no opening for one in the bench top). The sink empties via a hose directly to the outside, onto the ground. The cupboard under the sink has a holder for a gas bottle, and there are openings for a gas tube to run from this cupboard to the platform on the bench, on the left, where originally a removable gas cooker had its home. Unfortunately that was already lost when we bought this QEK. On the outside, in the front of the caravan, there is an additional storage unit with holders for two gas bottles. There is some storage space under and above the kitchen bench and there is a wardrobe on the left.

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The floor in front of the kitchen bench is lowered by about 10 cm and there is a little pop-up roof above the kitchen gallery which can be lifted by about 5 cm, using four unusual, QEK specific screwing appliances. They seem to be made from stainless steel – together with the stainless-steel main door hinges, they are the only obvious stainless steel features that hint towards the “quality- and stainless steel” mother factory:

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One of the previous owners had started to pretty her up and to update her a little: The four extractable feet, in each corner of the caravan, look like solid new versions. The electricity has received a modest overhaul, with a modern exterior wall socket to plug it into camp site electricity, which connects to two new wall sockets on the inside. The connector to the pulling vehicle is already the new 16-pin version and the front wheel looks more modern than 1981. The two tires are from 2016. And as mentioned above, the eight matrass pieces feature very new cushion cores and new covers, with new matching curtains.

On the negative side, some previous owner had used the wrong kind of paint to repaint the inner ceiling, which now comes off in large flakes and looks pretty shabby (see the roof hinge photo above). The original electric system (lights above the table and above the kitchen and a control board outside the wardrobe) does not work and may have been switched off by a previous owner. And the original gas cooker and the yawning were missing. But hey, she is also not meant to be a museum piece but a working camper. So in the last months we have further upgraded Henrietta a little bit and have started using her for this summer’s camping adventures. Soon more on this progress! And if you like, you can follow Henrietta on Instagramm (@henrietta.qek)!





A Caravan for Taiga Lily!

30 08 2019

Earlier this year, with our second daughter about to turn 4 and space getting a bit tight in our campervan without a fold-up roof, we decided to look seriously into buying a caravan. Our 1976 Volkswagen T2b bus  comes with the “large” 2L engine which still provides only a modest 70 horse power. The tow bar we installed three years ago allows us to pull 1.200 kg max. We have been looking around over the last couple of years and it seems that under these limitations the German air-cooled Volkswagen community favors either the West German Eriba caravans (e.g. the Eriba Puck, the Eriba Triton or the Eriba Touring or the East German QEK Junior. Original Eribas from the 1960s and 1970s in good condition have become serious collector’s pieces with price tags way above our means. So we started looking for a QEK instead. Berlin is surrounded by the former East Germany where the QEKS are still available in large numbers. So off we went at the end of April and found this little fellow at a caravan dealer in Frankfurt/Oder, close to the border to Poland:

It is a QEK Junior. I  have now learnt from Wikipedia that QEK stands for “Qualitäts- und  Edelstahl Kombinat” (Socialist German for “Quality and Stainless Steel Factory). Interesting discrepancy between the (West German) official papers which list its first year of registration as 1989, while the plates on the caravan itself give its production date as 1981. I assume 1981 will be the true date of manufacturing. The QEK Junior weighs only 600 kg, light enough to be pulled by the light weight Eats Germans Trabants (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trabant), and therefore hopefully no problem for our bus.

There are two variants of the QEK Junior, with and without brakes, and this one is the one with brakes, which allows a maximum speed of 100 km/h instead of 80 km/h. The overall condition looked ok.  The shell, made from GVK (Glasfaser-verstaerkter Kúnststoff – glass fiber reinforced plastic), looked undamaged and without any obvious water leaks. So we signed the papers and arranged that we can pick it up with a new road-worthy certificate three to four weeks later!





The 11th Berlin VW Bus Festival!

16 12 2018

Another kombi overload! On August 17 me and my two wonder daughters made it to this year’s Berlin VW Bus Festival! A beautiful camping weekend, wonderful sunshine and lots and lots of buses. As in the years before, the majority of buses were the VW T3 buses of the 1980s and early 1990s, with a growing share of T4, T5 and T6 buses. And my own selection of photos is again very much biased towards the two handfuls of T2 bay window buses. Hope you enjoy the photos!

It starts with our camp, our 1976 bay window bus Taiga Lily and additional space with a big bus tent. The box on the roof rack was the favorite spot of my two little daughters this year!

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There were lots of beautiful four-wheel-drive T3 syncro buses:

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Couple of interesting VW bus-caravan combinations:

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T3 Westfalia Joker campervan with an Eriba Puck caravan.

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T5 Campervan with a tear-drop caravan.caravan.

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T4 double cabin truck with the cabin of an East German QEK Aero caravan bolted to the flat-bed.

Also a couple of coach-built campervan conversions I do not see that often on German roads, based on T3 and T5 single- or double-cabin pick up trucks (the T5-based one is a Karmann Motorhome):

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A Westfalia “Sven Hedin” campervan, based on the Volkswagen LT, the big brother of the VW T3 bus:

And Luise, the longest T3 stretch-limo made an appearance again, after it won “best van of the festival” at this same festival 6 years ago:

Photos of all (or at least most) of the T2 bay window busses and the one split window bus at the festival:

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The festival takes place on the site of a old Russian army airfield. The runway is used each year for a fun race over the quarter mile:

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T3 double cabin racing a Schwalbe (East German scooter) on the quarter-mile race track.

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And it ends with a show and shine event on Saturday evening where everyone is invited to bring their buses on the stage, give a quick intro on its special history or conversion details, and the van of the year is then judged based by the intensity of the applause of the crowed. This year, the two yellow T3 buses below, which drove over from Poland and Russia, respectively, made the first and second place!

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Finally, the bag with goodies that you received at arrival contained something pretty cool: This VW-dedicated set of Leipniz bisquits, which covered the first five VW bus generations, see below.

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50-Year Anniversary of the T2 Bay Window Bus!

2 09 2018

Ok, this blog post comes a year late, but the buses below are so beautiful that I rather post them late than never. So, last year the bay window bus or T2 turned 50. I joined the German T2 owner’s club, the Interessengemeinschaft T2 and at the end of August our little family took part in the annual club meeting in Hannover. In the Hannover Volkswagen factory the VW transporters have been built since 1956. I don’t get the exact numbers together anymore but we were told that of all of the six generations of buses that have been or are being built in this factory, the T2 was the bus generation that was built there in the highest numbers. And on the occasion of this club meeting, the T2 club had the privilege to drive, in a convoy, through the Volkswagen factory site. So on the second day of the meeting, about 80 VW buses started from the camp ground to the factory, gathered in front of the factory, drove in convoy thorough the factory and assembled again in front of it for official photos (which can be found e.g. here and here). But that’s enough background, here come the promised photos. Enjoy!

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Our home base with Taiga Lily

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So far nobody knows how old a VW can actually get…

 

 

 





The big rebuilt: Turning a campervan back into an 8-seater!

13 07 2018

With the Australian parents-in-law coming over and a trip to the Czech Republic ahead, we needed one more seat than Taiga Lily in her campervan deck-out could offer. So it was time to convert her back to the 8-seater people carrier that she originally had been when she left the factory in 1976. The operation started with getting out the toilet box and the rock-and-roll bench in the back. This is how Taiga Lily looked before (kitchen block already taken out last autumn):

While I was at it, I also added the roof rack and the bike carrier for the big trip. Now that the bed goes out, the spare tire can go into the back of the van. The spare tire holder on the roof rack had to be removed again to make space for the roof box.

 

Then the floor plate I had built in in 2012 was taken out again. Luckily there was no serious rust underneath. This operation brought to light the factory-built-in anchor points for the safety belts for the middle bench. And I also found anchor points for safety belts on both sides in the C columns, hiding behind the wall cover between the windows:

The little yellow arrows indicate the safety belt anchor points in a 1976 T2b VW window bus (L version). The blue arrows show the attahment points for the bolts holding the middle bench.

The anchor points on the floor were still covered with the original plastic screws which I had painted over in 2010 when I de-rusted the back section. I think I was not even aware what they were at the time.

In went two Volkswagen T2b back benches: The rear in black came with Taiga Lily when we bought her in 2010.  So this is the original black upolstery Taiga Lily came from the factory. It was installed for a short while when I attached the rear safety belts and before I built the rock and roll bench. The middle bench was an Ebay purchase from 2013, but had never been installed properly in the bus because the anchor points had not been accessible under the floor plate. At that time I had to take what was on offer. Which was a middle bench in Volkswagen basket weaven in gray, not black.

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The screws to bolt these two benches into the anchor points in the floor plate are different for the two benches: The ones for the rear bench come with a little nob that slots into a hole on the foot of the bench. I luckily found these two bolts still in the pile of things I got from the previous owner. The ones for the middle bench I purchased via Ebay in June this year. Based on the packaging they come originally from Brazil where the T2 bus was built till the end of 2013.

Although made for the T2b bus, these ones from Brazil did not quite fit to this 1976 bus: The thread stopped too early so that I could not tighten the top screw far enough to get the bench solidly fixed to the floor. The work-around was a set of 4 stainless steel washers (A4 10.5) form the local DIY store for every screw:

Another couple of hours went into installing two more seat belts for the new middle bench: I bought two 3-point-belts from JustKampers (JK part no. J10652), and both come with a red extension belt extender to make up for the long distance from the cabin floor to the bench. For the anchor point in the left C column I only had to cut away a bit of the lining on the wall and move my curtain holders some 10 cm higher. The two other points on the floor took some time because the plastic lids had been covered so thoroughly with paint: After lots of scratching the paint off and letting WD40 soak in, I could finally screw the lids out of the anchors points and screw the safety belts in.

The red extension (see photo below) is indeed needed so that the buckle reaches up to the bench. For the middle seat I used a 2-point hip belt (also from JustKampers) which had to be extended with one of the red extension pieces as well (borrowed from a second 3-point belt I had ordered from JustKampers). For the moment I did not install the second belt on the right seat on the middle bench: With one anchor point in the C column and the second point just behind the middle bench, a 3-point belt for this seat would block the way for anyone who wanted to enter the third row. Not good. Will order a second two-point hip belt to have at least some safty belt on that seat.

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So, for the first time Taiga Lily is now a real eight-seater, and six of these come with a safety belt! All is ready for the trip to Czech!

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