The Auto-Villa craze took off both here at home and globally, perhaps aided by the fuel crisis that saw caravan sales drop as buyers stopped buying the thirsty large-capacity cars needed to pull them. Whatever the case, ʼ74 was an exciting year with the delivery of the first Auto-Villas to clients. While companies had produced a number of Kombi-based campervans over the years, the Jurgens took its caravan-building expertise and applied them to cut-down Volkswagen T2 panel van rear section. The results saw the Auto-Villa outclass the others in terms of space – it had standing room, a kitchenette (with sink, gas fridge and two-plate stove), wall-to-wall carpets, beds (double or two single configurations) and even a sectioned-off area that could house a portable toilet or shower.
Before building any Auto-Villas, Jurgens were met with scepticism by Volkswagen technicians so the company took the plunge on its own, buying half a dozen VW Microbus panel vans at full-blown retail price from a dealership. These were taken apart, leaving only the engine, floorpan and cab section and then the rear caravan-type added, with careful attention put into chassis strengthening and the changing of shock absorbers to double-acting load-adjuster units also built here in SA. VW’s Type 2 Kombi was the chosen platform not only because of the natural tendency towards a camper but also because of the spares supply and dealership backing throughout the land, where these vehicles would be travelling. And in keeping it for the people, the aim laid out was to deliver a comfortable and luxurious vehicle that was nimble enough for town driving, didn’t need a heavy-duty licence and would cover the miles while being relatively light on fuel.
The first of the six purchased vehicles became the prototype shown to Volkswagen SA’s decision makers who passed on the report to Germany, who in turn agreed to make custom chassis for Jurgens’ requirements. VWSA then carried out a 20 000km test in South West Africa (Namibia) where after the official stamp of approval was given by Volkswagen.
Within a year the production units rolled out the Kempton factory and our favourite holiday home became a reality. Tests at the time concluded that the Auto-Villa was compact (only slightly longer than a VW Beetle) and easy to manoeuvre but did move around a bit in the wind (though not much more than a regular Kombi). Reports suggest fuel consumption on the open road measured in at just under 12 litres per 100km on the open road and that the 1795cc air-cooled engine would power the house to a top speed of 100km/h.