54, What’s so great about old Volkwagens?

Wandering around the Tatton Park VW Show on Sunday, I was musing on the nature and enormity of this whole VW thing. What is it that drives such a huge army of enthusiasts to work so hard, and to spend so much money, on old cars and vans? Where does all this passion come from?

Tatton Park is just around the corner from us and I can remember going to the VW show there long before I became interested in VWs, or even in cars in general. Joy and I had stumbled upon it whilst at a loose end one Sunday afternoon about ten years ago. We were both struck by the creativity and imagination on display, particularly at the wilder edges of the Beetle sections. The old Bays and Splits didn’t really grab our attention and all I remember about them was I wondered why a lot of them had been allowed to rust so badly. In fact the rust seemed to be almost a badge of honour. (I have since learned that ‘patina’ is quite a prized feature of old buses, pointing to the arduous and exotic previous life of the vehicle).

Imagination and Creativity. The guy selling this has owned it for 18 years. He claims that he has never been stopped by the police!

Maybe that day planted a seed because years later, when Joy first suggested getting a campervan I thought no further than a Volkswagen because I assumed they were cheap, plentiful, reliable and, to be honest, a bit subversive. A slap in the face to the culture that says it’s no good unless it is new, big and expensive. No surprise really, to see so many being driven around by ageing hippies?

Of course a lot of that is just rubbish, they’re not cheap and not always reliable but they are a lot of fun and a lot of that is down to the passion and enthusiasm that drives the whole scene. Most weekends during the summer you will find a VW show, like Tatton, somewhere in the UK. We have been to loads now, large and small, and apart from the love of the marque they all have something in common. Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is, but I’ve had a go –

1 The ‘VW scene’. This is not quite as crap as it sounds, and not all owners have to join, but a lot do. For example I went to Tatton through the ‘Trade and Display’ entrance because a guy on a forum I use went to the trouble of organising passes for anyone who wanted to park together as a group. Loads of people do this, normally driven by the particular type of VW you have, often coupled with the region you live in. There are lots of forums but I tend to stick to The Late Bay because it is the most active, the most helpful and the banter is funnier than anything you will see on telly.

The Late Bay bunch at Tatton. As usual the Flag Bus steals the show – drat!

People can be a bit sceptical about the VW scene, particularly the ‘scene tax’ whereby everything is a bit more expensive because it is VW – a bit like wedding cakes are more expensive than cakes. But what it means is that because there is a demand, there is an industry that supplies all the parts, spares and tools you will ever need to keep your VW alive and running. Crucially it also means that because most of the experts are in it for the love rather than the money, you get advice and support so that eventually you can take care of most things yourself. The shining example of this is the revered Techenders, but you can find help and advice anywhere in the ‘scene’.

This dub club were from Yorkshire. All VW owners like a bit of fun, even those from Yorkshire!

2 Buying and Selling   Ask Joy if I like shopping and she will tell you pretty emphatically that I do not. On a routine basis I buy a Guardian on a Saturday but apart from that and (sometimes), getting my round in, I don’t normally buy anything at all. At a show, I can’t wait to get round the  sales stalls and these range from well established and trusted companies like Just Kampers or Vanwurks in the corporate display area to individuals selling old bits laid out on the grass in the auto-jumble. I can spend hours browsing, just like Joy does as she ranges from John Lewis to the charity shops. I must admit, I tend to skip the ‘tat’ stalls, selling anything from cushions to bunting, but then so do most people. Not sure how they make any money but suppose they must do. When you see your mates the first question is ‘What have you bought?’ (Second question is How much?)  At Tatton I bought fuses, 10p each, a grinder attachment for bodging rust, £1.50, and some red tape. In my engine, every pipe is red apart from one which is blue. The tape is to turn the blue pipe into a red pipe. I still find it hard to believe that I would do such a thing, but I guess it’s a van thing.

The auto jumble may look like old junk but someone will find that find that elusive part here

3   Live music, beer and fun. Tatton is a single day event so there is less scope for evening activities than most shows which run over a weekend with one or two night’s camping. Even so there was an excellent band who drew an appreciative audience, loads of beer and food and a huge play area for the kiddies. With an entrance fee of just £7.50 it is hardly surprising that the event is packed year after year.

There’s always a band. This one was excellent

4  Other peoples’ imaginations. The biggest draw of any show is the pleasure you get from seeing how people have taken an old vehicle and turned it into something they cherish. These days cars you see every day on the road are incredibly boring. They are all silver or white and they all look the same. Some are big 4 WDs, some are sporty and some are ‘about town hatchbacks’. Unless you look at the badge you can’t tell them apart. I’m sure that’s why drivers get so stroppy with each other, because they’re so bored. When you see a historic car, or even a heavily customised car, you smile because at last you’ve found a bit of individuality in a grey world. At a show they all come together and you can stroll from one creation to the next. You may not like them all but you’ll never be able to say they all look the same, and you won’t be bored.

Low, slow and rusty but never boring
OK it’s not a VW but – similar quality

I went to Tatton in convoy with a guy who was showing his cousin’s newly restored van in the Show and Shine section. This is a beautiful van which spent many miserable years on the ‘Dead Ramp’, before emerging as one of the most attractive vans in the North West. That it didn’t win the show is testament to how many other superb vans are around and the Tatton Show and Shine is the place to see them. Also a must is the ‘Vans for Sale’ section. They might not be as pristine as the concourse beauties but they reflect their owners’ personalities just the same and it is always fascinating to compare their appearance with the price being asked. Then have a look round the club displays and if you still want to see more amazing old vehicles, go out to the car parks and have a nosy round the cars the punters came in. All great fun but you will never again find anything of interest in Tesco’s car park.

From the Dead Ramp to the Show and Shine. The most attractive van at Tatton.

There was a stall set up to sell tickets for next month’s Busfest, the largest VW show in Europe. As it is already sold out it seemed a bit pointless bu I already have my ticket so I wasn’t too concerned. The point is that most of the big shows sell out early and there is incredible demand for even the small events. I still find it hard to put my finger on exactly what drives the passion and enthusiasm for these rusty old money pits – but it shows no signs of abating.

Putting the ‘tat’ in Tatton. This little girl was interested but don’t think she bought anything


Boys’n Toys 1. These guys are revving the nuts off their buggies just to see who can make most noise. Brilliant!

Boys’n Toys 2. This was jumping like a rodeo steer. Brilliant!
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