Destination Viaduc: restoring a classic Volkswagen campervan (Part One)

Simon Thompson restored this classic VW campervan to tour France

When VW enthusiast Simon Thompson sat down with his wife and planned a summer camping holiday in France, there was only one problem. He had just four months to transform the empty interior shell of a 1967 Volkswagen split screen into their dream camper. What followed was an epic journey in its own right as petrolhead Simon designed, cut and built a brand new interior from scratch. Over the next four weeks Caravan Times will relive his story. For more images take a look at his video diary

Words and pictures by Simon Thompson
Get Adobe Flash player
This isn’t the tale of how I came to own my precious 67′ split screen camper back in 95′. Neither is it the story of the years spent transforming the body and chassis into something solid that I’m proud of today.
It’s about planning a summer camping holiday abroad in early 2008 with my wife Louise. And being blasé about the fact that I would finish the interior in time for the big trip: a 2021 mile round trip camping in France for ten nights, which included an un-missable visit to the magnificent Viaduc de Millau.

Admittedly I made my grand plans when the interior didn’t actually exist. Everything was pulled out ahead of a complete re-build and spray job back in August 2003, and was never looked at again since! And so the challenge was set…

‘Destination Viaduc’: Setting the Goal

It was February 2008 when my wife and I agreed on taking the last week of August and the first week of September for a holiday abroad. That was the easy bit. We had recently watched a television programme about how the French built the Viaduc De Millau, commissioning our own Sir Norman Foster as the architect, and had to go and look at it for ourselves. Situated just north of Montpellier in the south of France, I wanted shots of our pride and joy next to something modern, magnificent, beautiful and many miles away.

And so the holiday was named ‘Destination Viaduc’ and the preparation began by booking the time off from our day jobs to put a stake in the ground and give us something to work towards. But boy did I have some work to do. This would be the first trip abroad since we have owned the vehicle…

The key word when designing the interior was “simple”. I wanted it to be clean, unique, and to have all the amenities of a modern caravan. This meant that I needed to build it myself. Thank goodness for the Internet, as this helped me research options throughout the project. It also came in handy for planning the route for our camping trip as Louise harnessed the power of Google to detail our proposed journey.

Fourteen hour days

So I bought all the tools I thought were needed – new saws, welder, safety specs, you name it. The list was long and cost over £500 in total. I knew that if I had any chance of success, preparation here would be crucial. I decided on keeping things as light as possible and bought a mix of aluminium tubing for the framework, various thickness wood ply sheets for everything else and started from the ground up. I had all the plans in my head and could see the end vision.

I took a week off work at the end of April and worked pretty much 14 hours days, every day. Making major inroads early on proved to be crucial in getting the ball rolling to meet our deadline, and I loved it! Work then continued throughout May before and after my day job; any spare hour regardless of time of day was spent building the interior.

By the end of May the bare bones of the interior were complete and I was ready to start installing all the electrics, heater, sink and cooking facilities, which was no small task in itself. It was in the middle of this whirlwind that we received the wonderful news that we were to have a baby, due in early January 09.

Time flew by and before I knew it we were in the middle of June, with only two months left. Urgent work started on a less
glamorous yet crucial part for the trip: the new roof lining. Alongside this we both started the upholstery. The process consisted of covering the bare wood with a leatherette vinyl, and then painting any other exposed surfaces for some additional protection.

Test runs

The maiden voyage of our VW splitscreen was our first weekend away with the refurbished vehicle – and a great excuse to go to Bug Jam 22 in July. With no curtains and lots of loose ends and unfinished bits, we still enjoyed a sunny weekend away, but best of all it gave us a chance to thrash it out and refine any points. The major test was ensuring that the split charger worked. In the end it coped with running a fridge all weekend and lots of LED lighting, and still managed to start the engine on Sunday! Relief hit us after the weekend went perfectly and was a major success.

Upon return I started the work of finishing and cosmetic upgrades. For the seating, I took on the work myself of cutting out all the foam to size. The rest was left in the hands of a local upholsterer (www.surreycarinteriors.co.uk) who covered the foam seating in real leather. Can you believe that two whole cow hides went into the seating and bedding area? Indeed it cost a fortune, but the end result was the icing on the cake. We bought the ready-made curtains from www.vwcurtains.com which finished off the project. Thankfully the curtains arrived on the Monday before we left for France, giving me just enough time to install them.

From the ribs of bare metal to the plush finish of the final restoration took the whole four months. Crucially however we made it in time for the trip. Join us next time as we set out from Guildford for our VW campervan’s ultimate test.

Simon Thompson.

You can click here to read Part Two of Simon’s journey as they head for France.

If you’re a fan or owner of VW campervans you can join our Volkswagen Enthusiasts group here.