Boss turns lockdown hobby into holiday rental firm after buying five VWs
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
The VW Campervan – loved by hippies, surfers and glampers. And now, with staycations on the rise, these classic character vehicles are in demand again.
Norfolk boss, Tom Hiller, who heads up an offshore firm in Acle, has turned his lockdown hobby of buying old VW Campervans into a new sideline business, hiring them out for holidays. He only started the business in July and can’t believe the interest.
Mr Hiller spent hours in lockdown watching an old VW Campervan being refurbished by a local garage. He was so enthralled that he actually bought the vehicle, a 1990 T25, and went on to buy four more – two more T25s, a T4 and a convertible Mk1 VW Golf.
The classic fleet even have names after some of Mr Hiller’s equally classic favourite songs from the 1970s – ‘Alice’ (from Smokey Robinson’s Living Next door to Alice), ‘Angie’ (Angie by the Rolling Stones) and ‘Annie’ (Annie’s Song by John Denver.)
The 1.9L red Clipper Karman Cabriolet VW Golf was the most recent purchase and was simply named ‘Alex’ and the T4, ‘Ant’.
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But what started as a hobby for Mr Hiller, a chartered engineer and physicist who runs the Thurn Group, has turned into a sideline business called ‘The Acle As.’
People started wanting to hire out the character vehicles, painstakingly repaired by Broadland Leisure Vehicles.
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The Campervans Alice, Angie and Annie, which hire from £135 a day, have features including seats which pull out into a bed and facilities including a basin and gas hob so you can boil a kettle.
Mr Hiller said: “It all started with me just watching Broadland Leisure doing up this classic T25 bit by bit and I bought it for £15,000. I then started renting it out and then I saw the garage had another two on the forecourt. To get three almost identical VWs was just something you wouldn’t get the chance to buy again so I bought all of them and then the ‘passion wagon’ the VW Golf.
“We’ve had a huge amount of interest because they’re ideal for staycations although we only started it in July so we missed out on the family vacations but what we’re finding is that a lot of grandparents are buying vouchers as Christmas presents giving their children and grandchildren the hire of a Campervan for a holiday.”
History of the Campervan
The history of the VW Campervan dates to 1950 after the Type 1 VW Beetle model in 1945. The Type 2 VW Transporter (also known as the VW Bus, Kombi or Microbus) was devised as an alternative to the VW Beetle which was not practical for ‘work’ use. It was used as a delivery van and even a milk float as well as becoming a favourite with campers.
Other models followed until Volkswagen began production of the T4 in 1990. This model had a water-cooled engine in the front and came with options including a standard or high-top roof, a sliding door on the passenger side or both as well as a short or long nose at the front (the longer nose allowing the installation of a V6 engine.) The production of the T4 lasted until 2003.
Over recent years, two more models have been released with changes including a new front bumper and grill design and changes to the light clusters as well 15pc more economical fuel consumption, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox option for higher-output models and a driving alert system which can detect whether the driver is tired. Volkswagen is set to make plug-in hybrid power an option in the next-generation T7 version launching in 2021.