Before I bought the Sick Bay all those years ago I thought that people who owned old VWs did so because they were a cheap and reliable way to go away on holiday. The funny thing is that because the vans all looked so old and scruffy, I assumed that they had been owned by that person for a long, long time. Been in the family since they were new, probably passed on from generation to generation. That was why these people continued to use them – it was all they knew and it was the only way they ever got to go on holiday. In a way I felt a bit sorry for them. Sometimes I wonder how many other patronising and lazy misconceptions I have about people because I could not have been more wrong about VW owners and the whole VW scene.
I was quietly musing on this subject as I drove home from last week’s Techenders meet. (Driving an old VW encourages you to quietly muse because a) it is very slow and b) you tend to feel more relaxed, less adversarial, than when you are driving a normal modern car). Going over my various early misconceptions, I realised that, for a start, not many people have been lucky enough to have inherited their van. I know some people have, but I haven’t met them. Some owners have been in the VW scene for many years, often they started as teenagers with their Beetles, but I would say that at least half the Veedubbers I have met are newer to historic VWs than I am – and I date back only to October 2010.
So they are not the lumpen traditionalists I had originally taken them for. Far from it, most have taken a relatively recent decision that there is more to holidays than airlines that treat you like cattle and package hotels that could be anywhere from Benidorm to Dubai. For someone looking for a bit more out of life, a campervan offers the freedom to make your own adventures, on your terms and without sacrificing your individuality – which, let’s be honest, is the first thing to go when you sign up for a ‘package holiday’. But if you’re going to be adventurous and individualistic you need to be reasonably self sufficient – you need to be able to look after yourself and to be capable of coping when things go wrong. That’s where Techenders comes in.
Techenders is a twice yearly event where those who need technical assistance, or who want to learn how to work on their own engines, get advice and support from more experienced people. Freely given because that’s how it is and that’s how they learned in the first place. Back to my musings on the way home – I was going through who had been at TE and how those fifty or sixty people, (and their kids, and their dogs), so closely mirrored the type of people you find in today’s VW scene.
There are always complete ‘newbies’ who turn up not knowing what to expect, but with enough confidence to find out how things work, (both in their engines and at Techenders). Then you get those who have been a few times, like me, who have come to value the event both as a learning experience and as way of getting to know people with whom you share something quite special. Very occasionally I find I can help newbies with basic tasks, a bit like like the blind leading the blind but at least I feel that I am giving something back. Of course, without the old hands the whole edifice would crumble and they are the true bedrock – the people who give you the confidence to have a go because, even if you make a total town halls of the job, they will ensure that your van will get you home on Sunday.
Thinking about it, it wasn’t just me that had misconceptions about VW campervans. I remember shortly after acquiring the Sick Bay a female friend saying, ‘ I bet everyone you meet will be dead middle class’. I didn’t really know what to make of that comment at the time and to be honest hadn’t given it much thought until my recent musings coming back up the M6. However, on reflection, I would say that the VW scene is about as classless as it’s possible to be. Like a bunch of people naked on a beach. Class is just something that you don’t see and, anyway, doesn’t figure because the VW values override any notions of class. We all like to get value for money, which often means paying extra for original German quality over modern bling, but you will rarely see anyone buying anything just because it shows they’ve got money. That doesn’t impress anybody.
If there is a hierarchy then at the top would be those gurus who over the years have acquired expertise and wisdom. These people are respected not just because they can fix engines but because they understand how things work in general – from VW shows, to prices, to rip-offs, to Ebay, to suppliers, to fashions. They will have a considered view of everything that is happening now – and is going to happen in the future. If it was ancient Greece then these people would be the philosophers.
Also towards the top of the hierarchy would be those people who have not only been in the scene a long time but have also done a lot with their VW. Perhaps they have had a go at a major techie job, ( especially if done without previous knowledge/experience and done on their drive). Somebody who has completed a long and arduous restoration or maybe someone who has been particularly adventurous or imaginative in taking their van on a trip. If there is an underclass of any sort then I suppose it would be those newbies who buy into the scene on a whim, don’t want to learn or get their hands dirty, pay professionals to maintain their vans and then find that old bays are too unreliable, too small etc etc. Then they disappear and probably buy a motorhome. (To be honest I can’t think of anyone this applies to, although it must have happened sometime).
Once again, I really enjoyed Techenders and once again it was about more than just the vans. The people who drive the vans are every bit as important to VW ownership as the old vans themselves. When we sit round a fire, drinking and talking way into the night, agreeing and disagreeing, we know that we all share a common thread. In us all is a wish to preserve our own little piece of motoring heritage and we value the individuality of each and every vehicle. We recognise that owning something like that is often not that sensible; we are aware that a modern, reliable campervan would be more logical, and possibly more economical, than our forty year old rust heaps. But we have an emotional attachment that transcends logic and that’s when you hear the common refrain, ‘In that case you might as well buy a Bongo!’ But no-one does.