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Happy campers - Volkswagen owners share their love of classic motors as iconic van turns 70

PUBLISHED: 22:47 07 March 2020 | UPDATED: 22:47 07 March 2020

Tony Bown's beloved VW, Buttercup

Tony Bown's beloved VW, Buttercup

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70 years ago, on March 8, 1950,the first Volkswagen van rolled off the assembly line in the German city of Wolfsburg. Nick Richards leads the celebrations of all things VW with some of the brand’s biggest East Anglian fans

Ash Mowton's VW CamperAsh Mowton's VW Camper

Loud, iconic and still, so, so cool. Happy birthday to the Volkswagen van, otherwise known as the Type 2 or Microbus which was first made on March 8, 1950.

By the time Volkswagen turned their attention to producing this vehicle - known more to VW fans as a camper or Transporter they had already shifted millions of the Type 1 vehicle - the Beetle which was famously designed by Ferdinand Porsche.

Few car brands have towed the line between functionality, cheap motoring and pop culture celebration. From the Beetle on The Beatles' Abbey Road to the one Diane Keaton owned in Annie Hall to the counter culture hippy vans seen at Woodstock to the video of Men At Work's Down Under with it's 'fired-up Kombi' to the Beastie Boys-inspired craze of nicking badges in the 1980s. We certainly love these iconic vehicles that still retain massive retro kudos.

Among East Anglian's army of camper fans is Tony Bown from Loddon who credits one of his vehicles, affectionately known as Buttercup, for saving his life after going through a divorce. He has documented his story in the book, appropriately titled Buttercup Saved My Life.

Tony said: "My relationship with the Type 2 VW camper van began when I was 23, exactly 30 years ago. I courted, and quickly married, a beautiful woman who had bought a camper from her former employers in Bavaria.

I would describe her colour as "battered orange" (the bus, not the beautiful woman) and she was a left hand drive Westfalia model. The woman, Caroline, had driven her home to Oxfordshire, via one or two mishaps, where she introduced me to what would become a lifestyle. As my relationship with Caroline grew and blossomed, my relationship with the bus did too. Little did I know that my VW relationship would outlast my long and happy marriage.

"On paper, it is challenging to justify what is so wonderful about owning a VW bus. They have the aerodynamics of a brick and the fuel economy of a racing car (with the speed of a lethargic arthritis-riddled tortoise). The first model had drum brakes all around, which means that braking has to be planned a fortnight in advance of when you actually want to stop. Reliability was not a strength, and we were asked to leave the AA after we had called them out 16 times in one year.

"However, despite the trials and tribulations, there is an immediate feeling of joy as soon as you sit in the driver's seat, start the engine, and hear the reassuring throb of the 1.6L air cooled engine. Life is transformed. Driving at speeds up to 50mph, high up in the seat with a view over the hedgerows and into the countryside, life seems somehow relaxed.

Marcus Johnson's VW BeetleMarcus Johnson's VW Beetle

"Chugging along with a smile, enjoying this so-much-more-natural pace of life we occasionally see a fellow VW bus driver and exchange that special wave. Safe in the knowledge that you can not respond to zany crazy drivers who want to engage in aggressive antics, life becomes simple. Even when we broke down on the M25 life was lovely. We simply sat in the back of the bus (an act that has since become discouraged, but was perfectly reasonable at the time), put the kettle on, got the board games out and ate our prepared "just in case of breakdown" picnic.

"The inside of a bus is another layer of complication. On the whole, VW did not design their own interiors but other companies did. The most famous of these is 'Westfalia', and many people love the idea of owning a 'Westie'.

"Other conversions include Devon and Danbury. However, the reality is that every bus seems to be unique. When I have been to festivals and events a big chunk of time is always given to meeting other owners and chatting / looking / comparing their bus with mine. I do not think I have ever seen two interiors exactly the same, so it becomes churlish to insist on a particular conversion when you are seeking your dream bus. In reality, they are versatile, beautiful and adaptable.

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"Buttercup is a 1973 Danbury original conversion. She is the colour of golden optimism and she saved my life. She has given me the time, energy and space to write, to reflect and to rebuild, and I will always be grateful. She is my seventh bay window VW camper van, and she makes me happy. She spreads love, happiness and joy unconditionally, and for that I am grateful."

Ash Smowton from the Bungay area is a fellow fan. He said: "My first road legal vehicle was a superb VW Type 2 bay window that had been standing in a field for a number of years. The photo, right. was taken once we had pulled it out of the undergrowth.

"I was at sixth form college at the time. My dad very kindly did the honours of 'rubbing back' the oil rig rust coat and it got transformed by paint brush and Hammerite!

"It was originally a 'Devon' conversion 'Pop top'. It had two hammocks and the back seating converted to a bed. The only form of heat in this van was courtesy of the two ring gas cooker! There were no window blowers or demisters. Even the screen wash bottle had to be pressurised via a hand pump.

Margaret Morphew pictured in 1963 with her VW BeetleMargaret Morphew pictured in 1963 with her VW Beetle

"We jump started the ol' girl where she stood and she started pretty quickly. The first attempt at an MOT was a bit disheartening, but not as bad as it would be under today's testing. A few welds here and there and new seat belts were fitted because the original pair had frayed and hey presto.

"She was ready for the road as soon as I passed my test. And so it was, that on the November 17, 1994 that I took my test at the Earlham test centre. I passed first time (probably helped by my test being late in the day and the school rush was on).

"Then I was off, chomping at the bit to get in the van. Misfortune soon struck me. Being new to the world of saving motoring relics I didn't think to replace any of the rubber hoses or belts before hitting the road seriously and being an air cooled vehicle it had no temperature gauge. One day the fan belt snapped and the first I knew of it was when I spotted a big cloud in my wing mirror, thus it was almost too late. I had pretty much cooked the engine.

"I was gutted but I managed to nurse the ol'girl along for about four months then she went to a classic auction and reinvested the money at the Tuesday night bargain auction with a three door Mk1 Golf.

"I later I started to pine for my old T2 I couldn't justify having a MK1 and a T2 standing side by side and neither did I have the space. So to compromise I bought a T5 as my daily ride, I'm now on my second T5 and loving the scene still. I'm a middle age, middle class hippy and it suits me a treat."

Margaret Morphew, 89, from Shotley said she has owned VWs since 1957 and her favourite is her present Beetle, mainly because of the lovely colour. In total she has had an impressive eight different Volkswagens, including two Polos, a Golf and a handful of Beetles.

Marcus Johnson of Tydd St Giles said: "I purchased our first VW Beetle in 2013, it was several shade of white. I have owned classic cars for many years but had not owned a VW. My daughter had never shown any interest in old cars until I got the Beetle, she became obsessed with it, so we decided to restore it from a usable car to one she could take to shows, which is what we did, and she has been lucky enough to win a couple of prizes.

"She then decided she would like one to use more regularly so then purchased another which is almost ready to go, then a camper came along which is receiving our attention as we speak." As our EA Heaven readers had proved, there is so much love out there for old Volkswagens and in particular that iconic VW Type 2 van.

Tony Bown's book Butterup Saved My Life, published by Arena Books is out now

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