The first time I showed our Vanagon Westfalia Camper to a certain family friend, an avid Great Lakes sailor, he gazed around the tidy living space and nodded approvingly. “It’s like a nice sailboat,” he declared.
Indeed, the Westfalia’s well-designed interior layout boasts compact but roomy galley cabinets and clever storage, dining tables which easily swing aside between uses, a couple of comfortable bunks which quickly materialize from the rear bench seat and overhead, while the privacy curtains and interior lighting serve to create a homey and cozy place to put up one’s feet during the day and to lay one’s head at night.
The Westfalia is not just another micro-camper, it’s a comfortable home on wheels.
Compared to a large road-condo motor home, the Westy—the affectionate term applied by owners of Westfalia Campers—is far lower in initial purchase price, and is very economical to fuel, maintain, and insure. With the onboard electrical generators, satellite TV, and hot-and-cold running showers found on many large RV’s, one could easily spend more time fooling around with these great amenities than enjoying the great outdoors. The Westy is far simpler to operate.
Let’s have a look around!
Even when seen across an overgrown median strip at sixty miles per hour, you can always tell a Westfalia Camper from a simple Vanagon by the distinctive popup roof. Usually white fiberglass, the main section is hinged at the rear, allowing the front end to be raised to deploy the integrated canvas tent. The forward portion of the fiberglass roof above the cab is fixed and contains a shallow luggage bin suitable for bulky weatherproof camping gear like folding lawn chairs, etc..
Amidships on the driver’s side, the center window features a sliding section with built-in screen for kitchen ventilation. Just beneath this is a chrome-plated exhaust vent for the onboard propane-powered refrigerator, a set of three utility hookups, and further down below is a liquid-propane reservoir tank to supply the fridge and stove.
Around on the passenger side, the sliding door boasts a sliding window similar to the kitchen window. Step aboard and have a look around …
Kitchen, bedroom, and lounge all in one, the Westfalia interior is a quiet haven and a comfortable respite from the great outdoors. In fact, it can be said that this is what makes a Westy a Westy …
You’ll have to duck your head until you can release the forward lock latch mechanism and raise the popup roof; push upward on the crossbar until the support struts lock into the upright position. Note the spacious headroom and the upper bunk, which flips forward to its full size to accommodate two sleepers.
The front bucket seats for driver and passenger can be unlocked and swiveled to face one another; the passenger’s seat can even rotate 180 degrees to face rearward. Mounted to the right-rear corner of the driver’s seat base is a metal bracket to install the leg of the dinette table, over which driver and passenger can share lunch.
Inside each front seat base, and accessible by small panels located behind each seat, is a small storage compartment. On all Vanagons, the driver-side compartment is empty but can accept an optional auxiliary battery to power the fridge and kitchen lights, using special circuitry. On gasoline-fueled Vanagons, the passenger-side seat base houses the primary starting battery, while diesel-fueled Vanagons are empty here (their batteries are located back in the engine compartment, where they belong).
Sure, lounging in the captain’s chair with your feet up, enjoying a nightcap after a long day of roadtripping is nice; and sleeping in late on a rainy morn snug in your bed can often prove a pleasant pastime. But eventually you’re gonna want pancakes.
The self-contained kitchenette is one of the most notable and attractive features of the Westy Camper. Beneath the lid of the main forward kitchen cabinet is the compact sink with faucet and the two-burner propane stove. The front panel of the cabinet features the controls and indicators for the stove, battery, and onboard water tank.
A small drawer is great for silverware, and a larger cabinet door reveals a couple of shelves for pots, pans, and other kitchen appurtenances. The small refrigerator is efficient and can be powered by 12 volts while driving, and 120 volts or LP (liquid propane) when parked.
Running the length of the kitchen area, at eye-level, is a cornice or storage ‘trough’ suitable for small kitchen & camping items: butane lighters or matches, flashlights, etc.. Above the sink, on the underside of the cornice, a 12v work light illuminates the kitchen area.
Further back, the center cabinet supports the swivel dinette table, beneath which are two top-entry compartments suitable for groceries; the shallower rearmost bin conceals the onboard water storage tank, accessible beneath a metal cover. On the front of the center cabinet is another small cabinet door for miscellaneous camping gear, and a standard household 120-volt double electrical outlet, powered when the van is connected to an external power supply and protected by an adjacent circuit breaker.
Behind the center cabinet is a tall linen closet with door, a built-in rod for hanging clothes, and additional depth for shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, etc..
The rear bench serves triple duty as a seat, storage, and a bed: release the front latch and lift the seat bottom to access the ample storage compartment beneath, or pull the seat cushion forward to flatten it into a double bed.
Above this is an overhead cabinet; most contain some storage suitable for towels, curtains, etc., while others may have a factory air conditioner installed here.
Disembarking again and stepping to the rear hatch, one finds the rearmost cabinet, a good place for spare parts and maintenance supplies. Above is a small shelf unit suitable for the rear hatch screen and other small items. This screen snaps into the perimeter of the rear hatch to keep insects out while providing ventilation.
If your Vanagon has some but not all of the features outlined above, you may have a Weekender edition. At various times, these have included:
- popup roof
- jump seat
- full rear bench
- linen closet
- dinette table between jump seat and bench
Notably, the Weekender lacks the full Westfalia Campmobile kitchenette in favor of additional space, which may be useful for larger families or those who prefer to camp using traditional tents, campstoves, and coolers.
Either way, travelling by Westy is considered by many to be the best compromise between car-and-tent camping and an RV. I agree. Having been washed-out and blown-out of many a pup tent—once while motorcycle camping in gale-force winds on the shore of Lake Superior—I really value the snug, dry warmth of the Westy, the convenience of her full kitchenette, and the elegant ease of setting-up and breaking camp.
With its go-anywhere wheelbase, easy manueverability on pavement and dirt, and voluminous cargo capacity, the Westy is a true Sports Utility Vehicle!