By Sivan Goren with photos by Douglas Abbot

There are people who dream of jetting off to far-flung places and luxuriating in lavish, 5-star hotels or high-end lodges. That sounds great and all (and don’t get me wrong, I would never say no to any of that!) but I have a desire for something a little more adventurous and yet still… well, homey.


When I was a kid, my family would go camping in a caravan and I loved the fact that even though we would wake up in a different place every time, we were still in our own little space, surrounded by our stuff. A few days ago, in the midst of one of my fantasies of ditching my sensible job, flogging all my worldly belongings and living a simpler life, I was scrolling through images of tiny-yet-stylish container homes and quaint converted caravans on Pinterest when I came across a picture of the quintessential campervan: the VW Westfalia Camper.

If you haven’t heard of the ‘Westy’, as it is affectionately known, here’s a quick background. The Volkswagen Westfalia story begins with the humble VW Kombi that was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in late 1949, of course. But first let’s rewind another 100 or so years to 1844, when Johann Bernard Knöbel opened a blacksmith’s forge in Wiedenbrück, Germany, manufacturing horse-drawn carts to transport goods. Little did he know at the time that his humble little family business would eventually become the company that is known today as Westfalia-Automotive GmbH.


The company manufactured harnesses, coaches, hunting carriages, and sledges and the first open box trailers were built from 1927. After that trailer production began, and in the early ʼ30s Johann’s son Franz invented the ball-hitch towbar. (I reckon the idea came to him while having dinner, as it was apparently inspired by the workings of a socket joint of a chicken bone. But I digress.) This invention was so simple yet brilliant that it has remained in use to this day and over the years, Westfalia became well-known throughout Central Europe for the quality of its equipment.

Hold on a minute, I hear you say… this history stuff is all fascinating, but what has it got to do with our little campervan? Well, here’s how the two unlikely partners, Volkswagen and Westfalia, finally came together. It happened in 1951, when a British military officer based in Germany asked for a VW Kombi to be equipped as a home with a small workplace so that he could use it as a mobile field office. VW outsourced the conversion to Westfalia and a partnership between the two companies began. Production began and the orders rolled in. People went mad for these cute little campers – and really, what’s not to love?


If I say VW Westy, the picture in your mind would most likely be of the T2 pop-top, which became the vehicle of choice worldwide in the ’60s and ’70s for families who craved fun and adventure. The basics needed to live reasonably comfortably were all there. Standard equipment included seating that folded out to become a bed large enough for two adults, folding table, storage space, electrical hook-ups, ice box, sink, water storage and pump.

But what really made them brilliant was the innovative folding roof which provided a comfortable standing height, meaning you didn’t have to be the size of a Hobbit in order to manoeuvre around the kitchen. If you wanted to bring the kids along, optional extras included a clever little canvas ‘cot’ (resembling a stretcher) that could be fitted over the front seats. Other add-ons you could get for a bit extra were awnings and side tents, a chemical toilet and a small map table.


Never before had it been so easy to have a home away from home, and these campers became popular and loved worldwide. The VW Westfalia Camper evolved with the Volkswagen Kombi over the years and the final Westy was produced in 2003.

Camping may not be as popular these days as it once was, but I would wager that with the big changes in the world recently, many will long for a return to a life that is more simple, more innocent and carefree. Maybe in time we will see less glamping and more good old-fashioned family holidays – the kind where you can leave it all behind while still being able to take everything… including the kitchen sink.

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