For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to have a camper van. Driving the coast to explore surf breaks, wander the US National Parks, fly fish the many streams we have and just all around good times has been calling my name for years. In June of this year, I decided to make my dream come true. The first thing I had to do was sell my mint 2006 BMW M3 (Manual 6SP, Black Coupe) which felt like I was selling a child. I owned this iconic M3 for 5 years and it is only fitting that I replaced it with another icon, the 1991 Volkswagon Westfalia. I am a big fan of the final production year of great vehicles (I also own a 2002 Toyota 4Runner Sport).
I have a process before purchasing a vehicle and it involves a boatload of research. There is so much information online. In the Westfalia’s case, I found TheSamba and GoWesty the best resources for learning everything about Westfalias. I also found myself spending a ton of time on eBay and Craigslist so I can get a pulse on market prices and availability. Just because a person is selling an item for “X” price, that does not dictate the value. What someone will pay for the item is what the value is. So do not get dismayed by what a vehicle (or anything for that matter) is selling for.
I decided to target the years 1986-1991 on the Vanagon Westfalias. Mostly because those years speak to my soul. They also have the silver/light interior and the water cooled engines. I liked the Weekenders but my heart was set on a full camper. I also decided that I was going to find the lowest mileage I could and one with absolutely no rust (In hindsight, I wish I would have focused more on a good foundation instead of low miles–I could have saved money on the purchase, and put that money towards the restoration). Low miles are not as important because you are likely going to want to replace or rebuild the engine as well as many of the other components.
After many phone calls and emails, I decided on a beautiful 1991 Vanagon Westfalia that was living in Denver, Colorado. It had 79K original miles, white original paint and in great condition. It also had some nice upgrades (Rocky Mountain Westy Twin Peaks Front and Rear Bumpers, GoWesty Solar panels, Engel MT45 fridge/freezer, Inverter and some other nice additions (including a medium sized box with a bunch of new parts from GoWesty that they just did not have time to install). Two days before I was set to fly to Denver I was able to speak with the mechanic who worked on it for the past 7 years. When I asked him about the minor oil leak disclosed by the seller he replied, “All Volkswagon’s leak oil” in a raspy sailor voice. That comment gave me caution. Had the owner not been so trusting and authentic I probably would have bailed. Each time I spoke with the owner, he had regret in his voice that he was selling it (for a larger RV) and ensured me that he took very good care of it. I concluded that I would get to the bottom of the leak and moved forward with the trip to Denver.
My plan was to fly into Denver first thing in the morning, inspect the vehicle and the records, exchange the funds, etc. and leave Denver by noon. We planned on taking 5 days to drive it back to Seattle (You can read all about that trip here). We arrived in Denver and the owner picked us up at the airport. The whole experience was rather surreal. I love having a dream, formulating a plan to make it come true, executing and realizing it. It is a process that I continue to repeat in my life (personally & professionally) and it brings me much happiness and joy. My heart smiled as he drove up and picked us up. We proceeded to drive to the bank which was about 20 miles away from the airport. This gave me time to ask all of the questions I prepared prior to the trip (“What things would you address if you were to keep the vehicle for a year?” “What would you do to prepare the vehicle for a cross-country trip?”, etc.). By the time we got to the bank I started getting really excited. We spent about 30 minutes formalizing the transaction and soon I was shaking his hand he started to get choked up. “Send me back the plates when you get new plates, would you (I plan on it, I have them ready to send)? Send me some pictures and keep me posted ok?”
It was nearly noon as we headed out. First stop was the grocery store and then the gas station. We took 5 days to travel back to Seattle and had a wonderful trip! The van made it with one small issue (fuel line that was leaking, easy repair). The former owner kept in close contact with me via text to ensure we made it safely.
What I have learned in the past 45 days of owning a Westfalia? I am much less stressed driving this car than any other car. It is hard to get upset when your horn sounds like the Road Runner (meep-meep). I literally want to buy every part for my westy and I spend hours of my free time searching part pages and forums with an ultimate goal of completely restoring it (it is like having your first car as a teenager). I never knew how many cool ass Instagram pages there are about #vanlife #vanagon #westys #westfalia #wanderlust and it goes on and on. It is the coolest thing ever!