What Price the Surf?

Our Sheffield scribe is Transported.

Image: volkswagen-vans.co.uk

British localities often have words unknown to their neighbours; breadcake, tea cake and bap(1) can be all the same thing – or not depending where one lives. But taken collectively, it is always the bottom line that receives the most emphasis – how much? With travel restrictions now lifted, thoughts turn to holidays; dreams of the coast, sandy shores, alfresco dining and catching a crest with your board should you be imbued with good balance.

By observations around my locality, many people have similar feelings. The VW Transporter numbers twenty six within a short radius. The rust on older models suggests hours by the briny. The majority are newer, shinier, two-tone in colour or actually not even Transporter by name. For Wolfsburg by the Sea (but made in the sunny port of Hanover) have seen the desire to head out further – to California, no less.

All named of that region, add 6.1 (sadly, not the engine size) followed by the entry level Beach, and Beach Camper. Next comes Beach Tour. Now to get wet; leaving the sand behind, we enter either Coast or Ocean.(2) Configurable in as many ways as locations can be found, the next part may require a form of ear protection. For that South Yorkshire lament(3), heard from post office to car dealership cries aloud on seeing the prices. The Beach begins at a not inconsiderable £54,655; the Ocean riding the waves from, £66,500 with change enough for a beach ball, or maybe a towel.

VW California. Image: insidehook

From the archetypal original free-love hero with split screen to the T6 which debuted in 2016, over twelve million Transporters have been made in its now 71-year history. Of course not all these have made the annual coastal pilgrimage as most end up carrying parcels or produce other than sand, ice-cream, screaming kiddies and sun tan lotion.

Based on the previous 2009-15 T5 version, these front engined, front wheel drive vans, sorry, campers are all two litre diesel powered generating 150bhp mated to VW’s seven speed DSG gearbox. The one exception being the range topping Ocean which can he had with 204bhp and four wheel drive should those dunes resemble a stage from the Dakar, as opposed to Dawlish seafront. The WLTP figures offer around 36 to the gallon and just over 200 grams of nasties but all Euro 6 compliant should you wish to believe such officious black and white.

As with many of VW’s own wares, the T6’s are steered electrically whilst sharing car-like control systems. Externally, a new grille, headlamps and wing mirrors differentiate from older models. Colour changes induce a £700 hike. Opt for those two-toned effects involves paying for another holiday itself – £2,880. Latest variants now enjoy beefed up internal cupboards and storage areas from previously rather weedy tambour doors. Beach types require physical effort in order to raise the aluminium roof; difficult when wet, a macerated digit is all that’s necessary for Ocean dwellers.

The raison d’etre of these vehicles being a home from home: one has to drive to the best surf so why not eat and sleep there? Luckily, the Ocean provides both. Sleeping room accommodates four, two (presumably the kids but whoever will only get a standard cover – the comfort cover being an optional extra) on the now drop-converted seats with the parents above in the rarefied loft space. Clever springing with reasonable wriggle room. The canopy also has a removable panel to see the stars, or observe who’s lobbing beer cans over the promenade.

Night-time snacking, (unless pre-ordained or provided by local delivery) could prove tricky. Otherwise the campers come equipped with a kitchen whilst, if not up to three course meal range, at least offers the chance of a bacon sandwich or hot soup after a waxhead session. Whoever then lands on the washing up rota is also catered for. Everything stows away conveniently including the camping chairs and table for those moments you need to get outside, away from the confines. Or a place to drip-dry your wetsuit.

Transporter T6.1, California Beach. Image: rvdaily.com.au

To this land lubber, VW seem most at pains informing us of the ease of keeping the occupants informed with the campers’ digital connections, intelligent graphics and next generation infotainment systems. Should I wish to invest my downtime portraying the antics of those best done by those younger and slimmer on Bondai Beach, the last thing on my mind would be the latest share price, the weather back home or anything social media orientated. And this is where my beef lies with such vehicles.

By all means, should you find these van based homes to your liking and can do them justice, fine, please do carry on. May the waves be forever ready, the sun kiss you gently. This tourist prefers water that flows from taps at temperatures I desire in a prefabricated building containing home comforts like a toaster, large fridge, a bed not moved for months, if not years and better still, a view.

My choice is to stay in and watch the raindrops on the window while folk cascade to their campervans. And this is no age thing – I am to camping what most middle aged humans are to surfboarding – hopeless, always have been. I loathe canvas.

Volkswagen T6 Ocean. Image: The Times

The majority of these vehicles that surround my environs hardly ever seem to move to the shops, never mind Cornwall or the Côte d’Azur or indeed a mountain range, for these vehicles have heating, too. Spending that kind of hard-earned on an irregularly used van purely for a weekend or that precious fortnight away from work, seems financially unrewarding.

You could enjoy many different types of vacation for the same sum. Or get a car with a bigger boot, fill it to the gunwales with books, shoes, whatever the missus needs, then drive to the hotel. Wrap up in hat, coat and gloves, enjoying an ice cream on a weather battered sea front – watching the frozen surfers from afar.

(1) In the end, it’s just bread.

(2) One can extend further to the Grand versions but these appear more like emergency vehicles and these eyes have seen none other than online.

(3) A landlocked county, at least sixty, motorway free miles from any coast.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

23 thoughts on “What Price the Surf?”

  1. Andrew – thanks for your observations and elucidation on this social phenomenon. Not so long ago the leisure and recreation variants of the Transporter were the province of those who were outdoorsy and a bit counter-cultural. Now they’re becoming an essential component of the paraphernalia of middle-class life, along with the XC90, complete set of Thule accessories, hybrid dog, and lots and lots of bicycles.

    Ultra-premium Californias also feature in the conspicuously displayed vehicle portfolios of those who – just possibly – didn’t make their money by honest toil. Their other current tick-box items are the more egregious products of Solihull and Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen and, if it’s been a particularly good year, a proper Italian supercar.

    1. For the price I can get a Stelvio, so why wouldn’t I?

      I don’t like the fiddly setting up a VW, by which time it’s got too dark or the rain clouds are threatening.

      And I prefer a hotel, where if a health energency arises, they’ll get it sorted for you.
      And they do the cooking, so we really do get a holiday.

      But how much is a 10-15 year-old Campervan, as I wouldn’t need any of the electronic gubbins?

  2. Good morning Andrew. The VW camper van may be a cultural icon, but its price now puts it completly out of reach of its traditional demographic, impecunious young people with a sense of adventure and love of the outdoors. I suppose its demographic is still those same youngsters, but now retired and financially secure.

    I would fall into that demographic, but living, even temporarily, in the back of a van holds absolutely no appeal for me. £66k would pay for a lot of very nicely appointed and comfortable hotel rooms!

    1. “The body work looks in solid condition”. They don’t seem entirely sure. I’d put chances of survival ahead of charm in my priorities.

      Also on offer is something called a “Carthago Chic E Line Yachting 50”. I’m sure if I was in a queue behind one on the A82 the most famous words of Cato the Elder would be very much in my thoughts.

    2. The number of owners and caveat about the solidity of its body doesn’t worry me a jot. As I said, I’ll be in my hotel room. 😁

  3. A friend is running one of these as a campmobile:

    Neither the car nor this kind of holiday are my kettle of fish…

  4. I have rented a T5 California twice for family holidays in the Isle of Wight, each for two week stints, sometimes in the foulest of summer weather. Admittedly, the kids were younger then, but the California was great in this context and proved a really desirable, well designed and well built piece of kit. Prices have spiralled over recent years (I did think of buying one back then and they were around £40k for one with the right spec), and so they have gone beyond what I’d ever dream of spending, but I still see them and smile and admire.

    1. How did the rental price compare with a hotel stay? I could imagine having a good holiday in one, but not at any price.

    2. It was a good few years ago now (7-8), but from memory it was £90-£100 per day – it wasn’t cheap.

  5. I am not tempted by a dreadful middle road between the misery of camping and the punishing costs of hotels. What would attract my attention is a small, handy van like the LM3000 from Mitsubishi. I have seen these with simple kitchen fittings. My neighbour has managed to make a tiny sitting room in a the back of Berlingo using their own limited woodwork skills (they admitted this). I prefer inexpensive hotels that don´t crash on roads and require no servicing. I am pretty sure the total annual cost of running a camper van is at least equal to that of going to and staying in mid-price or low-price hotels. For the sake of experiment I´d be open to renting a camper van, just to see but current circumstances militated against that. I think they cost quite a bit to rent for a week, as in a thousand plus euros. It´s not the same as a hotel, I agree as you can park in lots of places. I would be sceptical about it being an experience I wanted to repeat when the charms of Germany´s regional hotels beckon: e60 a night, breakfast included and a spacious shower and toilet to boot.

    1. I’m unsure as to the regulations that apply in mainland Europe, but in the UK you cannot simply pull off the road and settle down for the night, so you also need to factor in site parking fees as well. I’m with you Richard: a decent hotel every time!

    2. At least as far as German laws are concerned, you can only stay overnight with a motorhome (no matter what size) on designated campsites.
      In Germany, you are not allowed to place any camping furniture in front of the vehicle outside of designated camping sites. However, the German traffic regulations have a “loophole” for a one-off overnight stay at the side of the road or in public car parks: you only have to tell the police “I was too tired to drive on”, then they are not allowed to force you to drive on.

      And as far as I know, such regulations are similar in France and Italy, if not even more restrictive aka expensive.

      Years ago, we had the absurd dream of buying a motorhome when my wife retired and taking it to the beach bars of Europe.
      As is always the case when one become aware of something, from that moment on we saw a lot of motorhomes on the road that we hadn’t even noticed before. At some point, after the 100th motorhome, my wife looked at me and said “I don’t want to be one of those people”. With that statement, buying a motorhome was shelved….

      As I wrote elsewhere, the next one was to be a Buick Riviera Boattail. But after visiting a few US-car meetings, we realised we didn’t want to visit HardRock festivals and get tattoos, too…

      I agree with the previous writers, a good hotel is always a better alternative to a motorhome, no matter what price range.
      And if travelling after Corona becomes possible again – which I don’t think it will, because it looks like “after Corona is before Corona” – then the Alfasud Sprint will be packed. Its boot is big enough to store the whole wardrobe including the shoe cupboard, and then there are the back seats for the books and all the rest.

      And I especially agree with the author’s last paragraph.
      However, I would add “drinks; lots of drinks!” to the ice cream. It’s even better to laugh at the campers with a good drink….

  6. On the bright side, these campers cost less and are probably not as uncomfortable as the yachts I spend time on in my youth. In one of them was a brass plate that read: Segeln ist die teuerste Art unbequem zu Reisen. A very true statement which I won’t translate here.

    1. Good afternoon, Freerk. I have no such reservations:

      “Sailing is the most expensive and inconvenient way to travel”

      Yes, but isn’t sailing all about the journey, rather than the destination? While I abhor the idea of a cruise ship holiday in one of those ghastly floating casinos, one of my ‘must do before I die’ ambitions is to sail across the Atlantic in the Queen Mary 2, a proper ocean-going liner. I can only imagine the excitement of looking out for the first sighting of the New York skyline on the horizon, ideally in early morning. (Sadly, the liner docks at the unromantically named Brooklyn Cruise Terminal rather than Manhattan Island.)

    2. Without wanting to do nitpicking the precise translation is ‘sailing is the most expensive way to travel inconveniently’.
      I fully agree with the rest.

    3. That makes more sense, Dave. Google translate isn’t good for nuance!

    4. Yet I am always fascinated by the way watercraft try to make life afloat so attractive.
      I’ve looked around a huge variety, while contemplating a live-aboard life.
      Mrs Vic was under-impressed, so it got abandoned. But the banalities of mooring fees (easier in France), managing locks and hull maintenance etc are downsides too.
      Some are simply superb, the same price as a Midlands semi but twice as well designed.

  7. I’m with Richard here: I’d rather opt for an affordable hotel and, any time I want to go to more isolated and secluded beaches, drive a car that has high-profile tires, enough ground clearance for unpaved roads and paths that are semi-suitable for non-4WD cars, and enough room in the back for two beach umbrellas, a big cool box for snacks and water, and two or three folding beach chairs.

    1. In the past year I bought a small estate car, a collapsible kayak, a bike carrier and added to my camping gear. Wild camping on the island (and even better off the island) of Ireland has been a great consolation, especially because the official campsites are permanently booked out

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