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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Let there be curtains!

12 07 2018

What a difference a few curtains make! I bought this curtain set already in 2015, from an Ebay seller (Volksrent24) who (at the time) seemed to have specialized in sewing these sets on demand.  They cover all 8 windows of a late bay bus and were offered in green, yellow and orange. I bought the green set for Taiga Lily.

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It took me another year to get around ordering the REIMO curtain rail installation kit (product number: 56251). For each window in the back, two holders for the wire at the top and two curtain holders left and right of the window have to be fixed with screws to the side walls. The curtain for all three windows in the front cabin comes in one piece with a rubber band sewed in at the top and is then attached to the wall via 6 push buttons (which were also part of the REIMO set).

Image_11The REIMO set was delivered in November when Taiga Lily was already in her winter sleep. So when she came out into the sun in May, it finally happened. The curtain holders look a bit like cheap plastic on their own, but do their job very well. The wrapped up curtains are quickly folded behind them and stay in place. Also, I am very happy with the color, works better with the sage green of the car and the green plaid of the bench cushions then I had expected.

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Soundcheck: Taiga Lily goes to the movies!

20 05 2018

Or at least her engine roar will… Some three weeks ago a friend asked me whether I would be willing to help another friend who needed to record the engine sound of an old Volkwagen bus. Turned out he is a professional movie sound specialist and is currently working on a Brazilian road movie that stars an unusual looking campervan. It took them some time to figure out it was a Karmann Safari, a motorhome built on the base of a Volkswagen T2b pick-up truck. And here enters Taiga Lily, not a Karmann Safari, but at least a T2b with the authentic Volkswagen boxer engine sound.

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So this is what the original Karmann Safari campers looked like (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Rafael Ruivo., Kombi Safari, CC BY-SA 3.0). I learnt only recently that the German car maker Karmann built such motorhomes based on the T2b. Its successor, the T3/T25-based Karmann Gipsy, is more common on the road in Germany and I portrayed one of them here. According to this Wikipedia page, Karmann started making the T2b-based ones in 1974 and built only 1000 in total.

So a few days ago said friend of a friend, together with a sound assistant, arrived at our home and we spent 4 hours, first gearing Taiga Lily up with microphones, then practicing drive-bys at various speeds, starting and stopping the van, driving fast and slow on the autobahn (fast being 85 km/h, slow being 65 km/h…), then slow and fast stops, and finally banging the drivers doors. All was recorded from the distance by the assitant and additionally with five microphone in an don the bus: One on the back window, another on the tow bar, yet another in the engine bay itself, another directly next to the exhaust, and finally one on a tripod in the middle of the car, pointing to the driver’s cabin, to also record the sound in the front of the car. Gosh, that was a fun evening! Will keep you posted when the movie is finished. Hope it will make it to the movie theaters in Germany!

 

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