This story dates back to May 2015, nevertheless it has to be told. It is a story about how my car heart nearly got broken and how my ambivalent attitude towards old Volkswagen camper vans was born.
My girlfriend tried to order tickets for a Foo Fighters show in Hamburg. Of course they were sold out. Instead she found tickets for Slane Castle – the infamous one-day festival held in a castle courtyard in the small town of Slane, an hour north of Dublin. So we decided to fly to Ireland and to extent it into a little 6-days trip.
Choice of weapon
Taking my girlfriend’s Volvo Estate to Ireland didn’t seem to be a good idea, since the ferry was expensive and would take forever. Furthermore Ireland is known for its moody weather, so something more sheltered than a tent was desirable. Renting a proper RV for 5 nights looked a bit like an overkill, so we went for camper vans. We found a 90’s Volkswagen T4 Camper with a turbo-diesel and a decent camper package. The price was right but we hesitated for some reason. Finally we came to the point that the T4 was booked out. We browsed the web again, but there were only small delivery cars for a higher price. Frankly, the second best deal after the T4 was a T2 announced as a ‘Classic Camper’. We were skeptical but after a short contemplating we thought how romantic it would be driving around in a classic air-cooled VW camper. I always loved those cars but never got to drive one. We booked the plane, we booked the van, and off we went. I was thrilled.
The first encounter
The rental company had a little container on one of the airport parking lots. We did the paper work with the rental guy and he showed us how the kitchen works. I asked him if it’s the 2-liter air-cooled engine and he replied “Nah, they swapped in a Polo engine”. Well, I was a bit disappointed but instantly saw the upside of a modern, fuel-injected and water-cooled engine with an electronic ignition. The engine actually turned out to be very proper and reliable.
“Germans understand cars. The worst drivers are the Irish, actually.”
He insisted on a test-drive around the lot and assured me I would do fine. I told him about my military motorist training and he answered: “I’m not worried. Germans understand cars. The worst drivers are the Irish, actually.” After the introduction lap I felt quite confident, but as we rolled off the parking lot I realized how wrong I’ve been. Horribly wrong!
A rocky road ahead
After a few minutes on the road it was absolutely clear that this won’t be fun at all. First I came to terms that speed limits in Ireland are displayed in kph. Well, that’s not an issue at all, but the ill-fitting aftermarket instrument cluster showed speed in mph tough!
Next I learned about the brakes. I approached a roundabout and I can’t tell if the van slowed down because I pushed the brake pedal or just because I lifted my foot from the gas. I just had to go with the flow and to hope for the best.
As I tried to swing into the roundabout, I noticed that one has to be patient until the steering keeps up with the rotation of the wheel. Literally I could drive the van like kids play ‘driving car’ – turning the steering wheel from one side to the other without changing the direction at all.
However, the worst thing was the gear box. It was more a gear lottery than shifting. Later, I even accidentally put the car in reverse instead of the first gear when I shifted down from the second – something that happened three times!!! Frankly, the engine never died.
Our destination for the night was North Beach Caravan Park in a small town called Rush, just 30 minutes north of Dublin. For me it felt like an eternity. I was breathing only once a minute while my pulse was running at nothing less than 180 bpm.
When I climbed off the driver’s seat, I noticed how much I had cramped all the time – not mention the sweat stains on my shirt.
Stay tuned for next issue if I want to find out, if we finally swerved of the road or not.