California Here We Come - Volkswagen's Camper Celebrates 25 Years

It's probably fair to say that camping is an acquired taste.

The tent route gets back-to-basics, but unless you're loaded with special kit the appeal of sleeping on a slightly rocky floor with the wind howling around you is limited. Then there's the matter of... ablutions.

Alternatively, you can go caravanning. Just let that thought roll around your head for a second and consider the image that conjures. White tin box with a twelve mile tailback and upholstery that a dodgy curry house would turn their noses up at? No thanks.

Thankfully, there's a third option: The Volkswagen camper van. And it's an option that in official California trim is celebrating its 25th Anniversary and over 100,000 vehicles sold.

VW California castle

Volkswagen's vans have been used as campers for far longer than 25 years of course, and the term "camper van" is often synonymous with the Type 2 vans of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Think free love, the hippy movement and the hills of San Francisco.

That's at least some of the image VW has tried to tap into by naming its dedicated camping vans "California" for the last quarter-century - and it imbues them with instant cool.

It started with the 1980s Transporter, variously known as the T25, Caravelle and Vanagon, among others. Rear engined like the original vans but boxier and less likely to spontaneously combust, it make a great basis for a home from home. Not as glitzy as some camper conversions, the California nevertheless offered the obligatory pop-top roof for extra room, and a host of features to make life on the road just a little more comfortable.

VW California castle rear

Subsequently both the following front-wheel drive T4 Transporter and modern T5 have been offered as California models.

They're no longer as affordable as those 1980s models, the latest California stinging your wallet for a full 44,360 on the road. However, for 35,360 you can grab the more affordable California Beach, which VW says sleeps four and still offers a pop-up roof, some chairs and a folding table.

And it isn't a true California, but the Caddy Maxi Camper offers the same outdoors appeal for a more old-school price, at 23,397.

VW California beach


We can only speak for ourselves here, but the appeal of taking off for a weekend in a California with all the bells and whistles is pretty easy to see. Whether it's for a big festival like Glasto or Leeds, or whether you're just wanting to make your yearly trip through France a little more comfortable, the California covers the bases.

It's just a pity it doesn't look a bit cooler, like those hippy vans of the 1960s. Now if Volkswagen can combine funky looks, utility and a more affordable pricetag, then camping could really take off...

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