Ok so we know we have lots to say about Vw Camper restoration, ownership and buying your first Vw Camper van but sometimes it’s best to hear it straight form the horses mouth. Here’s a customer write up about their experience with Morecambe and Wize Classic Vw Camper Sales Ltd that featured in Volks Worlds VW Camper & Bus Magazine.
The Grand Tour
I have a crystalline childhood memory in which I am standing in glorious sunshine, molding snowballs to throw at my grandfather. Perhaps it was the peculiar contrast between sun and ice which made this lasting impression or maybe the overwhelming beauty of the Swiss Alps. I was 6 at the time; my parents had decided to follow my grandfather into Italy over the Swiss Alps.
My grandfather, a retired grammar school teacher, had invested his retirement lump sum in an orange VW camper van. Stories of his European tours sparked my imagination and sense of adventure; my grandparents traveled throughout France, Spain, Portugal and Italy even daring trip into the former Yugoslavia before its borders opened to embrace tourism. Images of these exotic sounding places were conjured up through my grandfather’s watercolours and sketches beautifully evoking Mediterranean skies.
His VW bus remained covered with tarpaulins over winter re-emerging with the advent of spring ready for new journeys. I was intrigued by the van with its pop up roof, hammocks and cooking equipment but most importantly by the endless possibilities for adventure. When my grandparents passed away I was studying at University and lacked the finances to buy their orange bus. Sadly I watched it disappear, sold as part of the general assets of the estate.
Fast forward to 2010.
By this point Alison and I had become avid continental campers, spending 4-5 weeks in Italy each summer with our boys Miles 14, Joshua 12 and Gabriel 9. As the boys continued to grow (Miles is nearing 6` 1` ) we recognised that our Korean RV was just too small, so started looking for alternatives. Soaring prices and depreciating returns made our hearts sink as we reached an impasse. What to do next?
It was Alison who began searching websites for VW campers both new and second hand. We found a van we liked on line and started the wheels in motion; big mistake! It very quickly transpired that we were on the verge of being robbed by a confidence trickster. They had requested that we forward money to a bogus shipping company forwarding what appeared to be plausible documentation. It was when we discovered exactly the same van with identical pictures on numerous websites that we got cold feet. We contacted the seller again and slowly tumbled the scammer. To our absolute horror neither the Trading Standards Department nor the Police were able to do anything despite the wealth of evidence we had collated. Until we actually parted with our cash no crime was committed and no action could take place! Buyers beware…
We gave up on the idea for a while until we hit upon a website called ‘Morecambe and Wize’. We live in the beautiful North Yorkshire village of Giggleswick so decided to contact Mark Ritson as he was within striking distance. We arranged to travel to the workshop and talk about our project. The experience of on line searching had made us more than a little wary but Mark was an absolute gent who really knew his stuff. Our primary needs included comfortable safe seating for the kids, reliability and the ability to cruise at around 65 for our long haul to Italy. The van was also to become a regular run around.
Wheels were set in motion and after a couple of months Tex was discovered by one of Mark’s buyers in the U.S. A 1971 early bay Tex had been abandoned on an airfield in Texas and was in need of attention.
As the months rolled by we waited eagerly for his arrival. Eventually, we travelled over to Morecambe to say hello and welcome him into the family. We were able to watch and record Tex’s restoration throughout whilst constantly communicating changes and new ideas to the ever patient Mark.
Finally he was complete, beautifully and sympathetically restored to his original condition. We had a 1600 reconditioned engine fitted with Twin Weber carburettors to provide extra torque and cruising speed. The hammocks were replaced with a twin roof bed; a full width rock and roll bed was added for comfort and a front hammock for our youngest.
Everywhere we went people were immediately enamored by Tex, all who saw him couldn’t believe he was a 40 year old vehicle. He looked as though he had rolled off the assembly line at Wolfsburg and we were told again and again that he was one of the best restorations they had ever seen.
The road to Italy
The next test was to discover how he would fair on our grand tour. Having travelled this route as a child following I had no doubts as to whether it could be done. I never recalled hearing my grandfather complain about mechanical failure or unreliability and at the close of every summer his orange bus returned safely to its wintering station. Why should Tex be any different?
We packed Tex up to the gills and utilized our old roof box, fixing it to the built in roof rack to provide security. Having travelled to Italy many times our route was familiar: over to the East Coast to catch the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam, then through Holland, Germany, Switzerland and the Gottard Tunnel before hitting Northern Italy. We would then travel to our regular stomping ground the beautiful Lago Trasimeno in Umbria. One thing was different about the trip; we had been invited to stay with friends on Corsica. The ferry prices meant we couldn’t take our trailer so we had to pack everything into the van.
Cynics and detractors raised their eyes wide with disbelief when we first formulated our plan. How will you get 5 people in a camper van, do you know how small they are? You’re not seriously considering travelling to Italy in 40 year old camper?
What was amazing us was just how much comfort the van afforded all of us; cramming 5 people plus camping equipment into our previous vehicle had become ridiculous, even with a trailer. But in the van the boys had the luxury of being able to stretch their legs, play board games on the table and enjoy the changing landscape. We had Tex fully serviced and overhauled ready for the trip.
North Sea Ferries
As we travelled across to Hull we attracted the usual VW waves and parps of approval from admiring motorists.
Upon approaching the docks Tex was ushered into the bowels of the Pride of Hull and we were instructed to park next to the glitterati of the motoring world. We found ourselves in the company of a Lotus, a Porsche, an Audi R8 and various sparkling new Range Rovers. We took the overnight bag to our cabin and had a fantastic evening of food, entertainment and wine.
Upon disembarkation the following morning we bumped into a cheerful naval officer who was overseeing the disembarkation process. Alison quickly established that he, like her, was Hull born and bred and they traded stories of schools, childhood and common acquaintances. As he saw us unlock Tex he recounted a fantastic story. The previous night as all the ‘punters’ left the car decks the crew gathered around to admire the polished preening feats of mechanical engineering on show. They had walked past the Audi, the Porsche, even the Lotus to gaze enviously at Tex. “Now that’s a real car”, said one of the crew. Enough said!
We travelled effortlessly through Holland, sustaining a regular 60 MPH. The feeling of cruising with an air cooled engine is more like being in charge of a small boat with an outboard than a car. The reduced speed meant that our journey time was longer than on previous occasions but the feeling was much more relaxing. We found ourselves turning off the stereo preferring instead to listen to the constant rhythmical beating heart of Tex’s engine. This became seductive and hypnotic throughout the whole tour. We noticed the changing landscape, the shifting skies and passing vehicles, in short the journey suddenly became as important as the destination.
We reached Remscheid, a city in Germany close to Cologne in 4 and half hours where we stayed with friends. At a reunion dinner Tex quickly became the focus of the conversations as our German friends recounted memories of travels and holidays in campers. Sadly, they had to admit that in order to find campers for motor museums German authorities had had to import from the USA; sad that they haven’t cherished their heritage.
We left early, the next day ready to conquer the Swiss Alps. Jokes about having to get the kids to push the van up the Alps and doubts about whether we would actually get back to Germany were ringing in my ears as we set off. My confidence in Tex was a little shaken but I hung onto the memory of my intrepid grandfather.
Tex sailed through Germany, relishing the freedom of the autobahn, because of his US heritage Tex is a left hand drive. This perceived disadvantage became the complete opposite on the Continent. We decided to take regular stops every 3-4 hours to check the engine for oil and give Tex a chance to cool down. We were greeted like old friends as we travelled through Germany. People waved, took video footage as they overtook us and stopped to admire disbelievingly at service stations. Feeling like minor celebrities we travelled through the heart of Germany to a campsite in Staufen close to Freiburg in the Black Forest. Tex had been remarkable, travelling for 7 hours without skipping a beat.
We had packed a two man pop up tent in the boot of Tex, we threw this open and within 20 minutes had the van emptied, electric hook up, pop-top up, hammock in place and beds made; so much easier than pitching a large tent for an overnight stop. As we prepared for a cosy night in Tex my thoughts turned to the Alps and the thought of pushing Tex up mountains…
We were up and away by 7.30 am the following morning and ready for Switzerland. We made rapid progress travelling over the border and through Basel in record time. As the landscape of the Alps unfolded before us we watched, wrapped in awe, mesmerised by the beauty of the snow capped hills. Tex coped brilliantly with the roads leading up to the Alps, the lorry drivers with whom we shared the motorway remained courteous as we overtook them.
With the Gottard Tunnel rapidly approaching I began to realise already just how well Tex had coped. Throughout our journey we had passed countless vehicles holed up at the side of the road quivering behind warning triangles, waiting for their rescuer. New Range Rovers, Mercedes, BMW’s and Toyotas all seemed to have fallen by the wayside, but Tex kept battling on.
Ironically the problem in The Alps was not going up but coming down! The lorry drivers were insistent on reducing their speed to below 50 mph as the motorway reduced to two lanes. This left me with one of two options: 1. to tuck in behind the lorries, which was unnerving and very pedestrian or 2. to overtake in the one fast lane available. The traffic in the fast lane was moving at an incredible speed in an attempt to get past the lorries, so moving back and forth between the crawler lane and Indianapolis was hairy to say the least. Through white knuckles, sharp intakes of breath and Alison trying to push her feet through the passenger well we eventually passed out of Switzerland and into Northern Italy.
The temperature by this point was soaring and fear of engine overheating became an issue. The design of the air cooled engine won outright once more; the only time the oil light flickered on was as we approached the pay booths on Italian motorway toll systems. As soon as we accelerated away the flickering stopped as the fan provided the essential cooling air.
Our detractors had also quipped that the travelling conditions would be unbearable without air conditioning. How wrong they were. With windows, quarter lights and rear Louvre window vents open we bathed in balmy cool air enjoying the experience of not having to have sealed windows to make the air con work effectively.
As we travelled through Italy and down past Bologna we took advantage of the fantastic Autogrill service stations. The Italians love their food and family so this is mirrored in the quality and price of their service stations. The children’s menu provided the boys with an adult portion of pasta with a sauce and parmesan, a side dish of salad, chips or vegetables, a drink of their choice a desert and a toy for 2.00 Euros; unbelievable! Suitably refreshed we headed off answering the call of the open road.
We pushed Tex hard during the day and reached our campsite Italgest on the shores of Lago Trasimeno by 8.30pm. We had been driving for 13 hours. Miles and I put up our drive-away awning whilst Alison went with the boys to book a table on the campsite restaurant for 10.00pm. After a frantic rush to get the awning pitched and the van ready for sleeping we made to the restaurant for Peroni and pizza. We slept soundly, waking to rays of glorious sunshine, smells of coffee and the chatter of Italian voices
The large Outwell awning was fantastic, allowing the boys to sleep outside whilst providing us with a living area much bigger than the tent we had previously used. Adorned with paper lanterns, outdoor lights, a hammock and a hired fridge freezer this was ‘glamping’ at its very best. Italgest became our base for the next 2 and a half weeks. We watched the sun set over the lake every night whilst eating amazing foods and drinking fantastic yet cheap wine. The campsite provided fantastic kids’ entertainment and we met up with friends old and new from England, Italy, Germany and Holland. During the day we would swim in the lake or the pool, play with boats or fish; truly idyllic. Trips out to Montalcino, Orvieto, Cortona, and Panicale were inspiring as we sailed through the beauty of Umbria savouring gelato, wines and cheeses. The weather was perfect and the Italians wonderful.
The talking point for the campsite very rapidly became Tex and we felt a little like minor celebs. People would line up to have their pictures taken next to him day and night. Conversations ensued over alfresco breakfasts about how old he was, where we had got him from etc. Whether because of nostalgia for a forgotten youth, love of classic design or retro cool, Tex became a focal point for all.
Towards the end of our stay in Umbria our thoughts drifted to the next leg of our journey; back north past Florence, off towards Pisa to the port of Livorno where we would catch a ferry to Corsica. With two days to go we started to pack up but not before visiting the beautiful city of Orvieto. As we set off I noticed that the gear box was a little stiff and it was difficult to engage 2nd gear. Tex was fine once we reached the motorway so I promised myself I would take a look underneath him once we’d got back. Orvieto is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The Duomo has to be seen to be comprehended. We had a fantastic time exploring the streets and markets, eating lunch and gelato.
The return journey was fine until we exited from the motorway and started using the gears again. Suddenly the gear stick began to float as though it had become completely disconnected from the gearbox, engaging any sort of gear was virtually impossible, so when I finally hit second I had to keep going. After finding a suitable lay-by I pulled over, stopped the engine and consulted my “How to keep your VW alive for the compleat idiot” bible. By this point the engine had stalled and was refusing to re start, over revving in 2nd had taken its toll and Tex was going nowhere.
Alison and the boys sat fearing the worst as I cussed and talked about gearboxes and clutches. I crawled under the van to discover that the shift rod had come uncoupled from the gear box at the business end of the vehicle. The bolt securing the coupling housing had dropped off, as had the rubber housing. I managed to wedge a tent peg into the rear shift rod barrel through the coupling which allowed me to get Tex back to the campsite 10 minutes drive away. We reached 3rd and cautiously made our way back, relying on clutch control, brakes and luck to get us across roundabouts and through traffic lights.
As we limped back to our pitch I began to consider our options. We had a ferry to Corsica to catch in 2 days and the following day was Ferragosto (a National Italian holiday) so there was little chance of finding a garage. We pushed and pulled Tex back onto our pitch, as we had no reverse gear. Within an instant a crowd gathered to help. One was a German who was travelling in a T3, an avid lover of all things VW he returned with his tool kit and a roll of wire. We laboured long and hard, trying to secure the shift rod to the gearbox with some success. He explained that the problem was easy to fix if only we had a nut and bolt. Exasperated I retired to a bottle of wine and phoned a mechanic in the UK. He confirmed that it was a simple bolt we required to get Tex back on the road. At this point nobody realised that we had lost the rubber housing from the gearshift coupling as well as the bolt. My own ignorance was such that I didn’t even know what I was looking for.
I woke in a positive frame of mind the following morning and phoned the recovery company. They were happy to tow us to a local garage for repairs but were not willing to try to repair Tex in situ. This was extremely frustrating as we knew what the problem was and how easy it would be to rectify. Worse still they could not get to us until after Ferragosto by which time we would have missed our very expensive Corsican ferry!!
We grudgingly arranged for recovery and contacted Corsican Ferries to try to rearrange the ferry for a later date. However I was not ready to give up just yet… Alison talked to Valentina, a friend and receptionist at the campsite about our problems. Her husband Davide appeared minutes later with a bolt and a tool kit. We stripped off the wire and tent peg from the previous night and set to fixing the bolt in place.
As we finished I climbed into Tex and tried to engage gear. The gear lever felt a little more positive and I could engage 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th BUT no reverse! I took Tex for a spin whilst Alison cancelled the recovery for the following morning and talked to Corsican Ferries. We had managed to gain some leeway with the ferry, leaving one day later early in the morning rather than the previous afternoon. Whilst I was uncomfortable about not having reverse I recognised that if we took Tex to a garage they would order the part and we would lose a king’s ransom in ferry payments. So the deal was done.
I drove Tex back to the pitch and we proceeded to try to push him back into position. At this juncture two Sardinians appeared, the elder being Angelo. My wife established through her Italian that he loved VW vans and had owned one for 12 years. Without warning he disappeared under the van and came back out covered in Waxoyl telling us to wait. He returned with his tool kit and then proceeded to wander round the site asking anyone he met if they had a washer. With a beaming face he returned victorious. He climbed back under the van where he remained for half an hour. With the help of washers, wire and half a baked bean can he proceeded to fix Tex. At one point he asked me to start the engine and try to engage reverse, when I did he instructed me to drive back and forth “piano piano (slowly slowly)” whilst he remained under the van.
He finally emerged smiling wiping his hands and informing us that it was fixed. By this point a crowd had appeared including his wife and teenage daughter. Angelo climbed into the van and took it for a test run.
After 10 minutes his wife jokingly suggested he had fallen in love with Tex and may not come back! I didn’t laugh!
Sure enough he returned smiling and I had reverse. I tried to give Angelo a bottle of wine for his pains which he reluctantly accepted whilst telling us the van would get us to England. The experience was a little overwhelming and reaffirmed our faith in human nature. In a foreign country, on a bank holiday, in hot sun a complete stranger took the time to help stranded travellers. The common bond was a love of life, adventure and the VW campervan.
We packed up Tex the following day and decided to travel through the night to reach Livorno in the early hours. If we were early we would camp on the dock side. We shipped out of Italgest at 10.30 pm. The journey was quiet and the lack of traffic made things a little easier for me. There was an uncanny comfort in the eerie openness of the Italian roads at night; I concentrated on the rhythmical pulse of Tex’s engine, as my family slowly drifted off to sleep. The gears were working reasonably well, apart from the fact that it was often a struggle to find first and impossible to shift down from 3rd to 2nd. With straight open roads ahead this didn’t really seem a problem and we arrived at the docks in Livorno in no time at all.
I was amazed by how many people were already on the dockside waiting for the morning ferry. Many were in campers old and new and others simply slept on the quayside in the open air. We bedded down for the night using the pop top, the hammock and the floor.
The journey on Corsican Ferries was beautiful. We slept on the deck bathed in glorious morning sunshine, bidding goodbye to Italy, eagerly scanning the horizon for the first sight of Corsica. The Med has never looked more enticing.
We were woken from our hazy slumber by a tannoy announcement heralding the arrival of the beautiful Isle of Corsica. We headed into the ferry’s bowels to prepare Tex. As we left the ferry and headed into Bastia I was cagey and worried, constantly scanning the road ahead for roundabouts, traffic lights and give way signs. As we passed through the City I saw the route we had to take for the first time and horror struck. In order to get to our friends in Patrimonio we had to scale one of the steepest inclines I had ever seen. This was the only road over the mountains and it resembled a mountain track more than a conventional road.
I was constantly cursing drivers in front of us, in order to navigate roundabouts I had to either shoot across in 3rd risking life and limb whilst riding the clutch or stop. Stopping became increasingly daunting as 1st was becoming more and more difficult to find. Impatient drivers would parp as I struggled to get away in 3rd.
As we started our ascent up the hill I got lodged behind a Sunday driver who forced me to lose my revs whilst trying to control Tex in 3rd using the clutch. Finally Tex refused to go any further stalling on a particularly steep section of hill. The handbrake would no longer hold the weight of the van on this incline so I was reliant on the footbrake. Every time I took my foot off the brake he rolled backwards. The state of the gear linkage was such that next to impossible to find 1st or 2nd so Tex would lurch forward in 3rd and stall. By this point a queue of impatient Corsicans was forming so Alison courageously jumped out of Tex and waved them forward. She tried valiantly to stop Tex rolling back as I struggled to engage 1st. Then as if by magic I was in gear Tex slowly pulled away as Alison ran to the passenger door and jumped in.
Once in 3rd the only way back to 2nd was to stop and thrash around in a vain attempt to find 1st. So here was my dilemma, do I run up the gears and hope that Tex can manage the mountain paths in 3rd? Or do I lug away in 2nd, over revving the engine and risking overheating in the rapidly rising heat of the Corsican hills? I opted for 3rd .Very quickly however I realised my error I found myself behind my pedestrian driving friend who seemed blissfully unaware of our problem. Once more Tex came to a grinding halt as I lost revs in 3rd. We repeated the whole palaver with Alison waving traffic on, holding Tex and frantically jumping into to cheers from the boys as we hit 1st. I learned very quickly from my mistakes, Tex was staying in 2nd.
With my knuckles clenched in a white knuckle grip on the wheel, my eye constantly on the oil light we over revved our way over the Corsican mountains. The roads were diabolical. By the time we left Corsica 5 days later we had lost two white walls. Eventually we reached our destination and collapsed stressed, hot but safe at our friends’ house situated in the middle of their vineyards. Henri and Anne are very successful wine makers who own Caves Orenga De Gaffory stocking Claridges and providing wine for state events for the Prince of Monaco.
Anne immediately offered to take me to a local garage to have Tex looked at. The young mechanic looked non-plussed as Anne translated my account of the mechanical problem into Corsican French. He explained that he knew nothing about the old VW but that his father would be in the following day to look at him. We left Tex at the garage and returned to Anne’s house.
We had a fantastic time in Corsica and lived like princes. We were loaned a Mercedes A class to use throughout our stay. We drank the best wines, ate fantastic food, went swimming in crystal clear waters, diving from our friends’ speed boat, saw Corsican bands in the citadel and relaxed. As we travelled around the Island we were amazed at how many campers we saw. Corsica was alive with splitties, T2s and wedges, a campervan haven. The climate, the beauty of the island and perhaps perversely the challenge of the extreme driving conditions seemed to attract VW lovers.
It was wonderful to be in a king size bed with clean linen but the open road began to call once more.
The mechanic’s father had given Tex the once over and his prognosis was simple. Did our journey home involve lots of Motorway travel? Yes. Would we be travelling through complicated city roads? No. Then the Sardinian Angelo had done a fantastic job and we would get back to the UK. He knew that it would be impossible to find the parts we needed in time and couldn’t do any more for Tex than had already been done.
On the morning of our departure we set off extra early to avoid traffic and run the gauntlet with the mountain track. This time I was determined to get things right for Tex’ sake so we stayed in 2nd gear and crawled our way up the mountains and back down to Bastia. As we pulled into the port travellers waved and asked us to stop so they could film Tex.
For the final leg of our journey we travelled to Figline Valdarno, staying at the fantastic Norcenni Girasole site opposite Sting’s 900 acre vineyard and Tuscan retreat. Here we were pitched in between a T25 and a T5. We traded stories and talked campers, admiring each other’s vans. After 2 days of sun we headed home.
Angelo and the Corsican mechanic were absolutely right. Tex did get us back to the UK. The engine started to back fire as we started our descent of the Alps and it was obvious he was in need of a service but the brave 40 year old van battled on. We travelled on the motorways and Autobahns effortlessly, fearing the worst but constantly being surprised by the reliability of German design.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was bizarrely the journey back from Bradford to Giggleswick. We noticed just how impatient some British drivers were. Instead of people pulling up to assist we were regularly parped or given Anglo Saxon gestures as we tried to negotiate 1st or pull away in 3rd. Our thoughts returned to the generosity of Angelo and all the people we had met on our travels.
Tex began to make a squealing noise when the clutch was engaged and I feared the worst. We had a rental within a few days of our return but I suspected this was not going to materialise. The strain on the clutch had meant that it had burnt out and Tex would have to go into the garage for a replacement. But we had done it, a 3600 mile round trip, despite all the odds, the cynics and detractors we had followed in the footsteps of my grandfather and completed the Grand Tour, the road trip of a life time and a real adventure. Would I change anything? No we did the best we could in the circumstances in which we found ourselves. Would I do it again? Absolutely! We are already planning our next trip into Italy but this time I’ll be taking a spare gear shift connector.
We cannot thank Mark Ritson at Morecambe and Wize enough for finding and restoring Tex for us. He is now a cherished member of the family and the envy of family and friends. We were so impressed by Mark’s services that Tex is franchised to Morecambe and Wize and available for rental. If you would like to explore the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District or Cumbria in a veteran traveller with stories to tell then come and see us in the idyllic village of Giggleswick. You’ll have the trip of a lifetime and take away with you memories and adventures
Gareth and Alison Warburton are both secondary school teachers. They live in the beautiful village of Giggleswick with their three children Miles, Joshua and Gabriel, their 2 West Highland terriers Lucy and Joe and Ella a British Blue. Gareth is the Director of Drama at Giggleswick School and Alison is a Modern languages Teacher at Ermysted’s Grammar School, Skipton. For more information on Vw Camper van hire please check out our ‘try before you buy’ page or our Vw Camper Sales page.