1988 VW LT35 Campervan (UK Spec)

I bought this thing to drive around Europe in the Summer of 2003, part of my world trip. I wanted a simple cheap van I could drive around the continent and sleep in. That was all. I didnt want something nice that would merit breaking in to, but I did want something that would last. This thing turned out to be the biggest disaster.

I drove it from Pamplona, Spain, over the Pyranees mountains into France. I had developed an overheating that didnt seem to serious. In fact, the seller warned me about it, so I figured it was ok. I might have pushed it a bit too hard though. I drove it down the western border of France, to the southern coast, then along the French Riveria to Italy. From there, I drove up in to Switzerland where it refused to drive anymore. I took it to a service station and the guy told me it was dead with a blown head gasket. It would cost me $1500 to dispose of it, as per the laws in Switzerland. Obviously, I wouldnt be able to find anyone to buy it given that circumstance. I decided to find a nice comfy spot to take off the plates and abandon it. Miraculously, the sympoms disappeared while looking for the spot, and I attempted to drive it to Italy. Not the smartest move, given its condition, but I was able to limp it there, and its free to dispose of a car in Italy.

I went for a second opinion, seeing as a car with a blown head gasket probably wouldnt have made it to Italy. Seems they had no idea what was wrong, but strange symptoms kept coming up, and kept getting worse. The van was from the UK and had a UK title. If I could make it there, I could sell it. Otherwise, I'd have to scrap it. Being a VW, there was a better chance of selling it for parts in Germany, so I headed north to the land of VWs.

I made it as far as Ausrtia. The steep and demanding alps proved too much for the little van. It barely made it there, and was in poor health when I arrived. Wehn I tried to start it 2 days later, it was finally dead. I couldn't sell it for parts or repair, and couldnt find anyone who could fix it without taking the engine out and apart to diagnose it. Estimates to begin work were $500, and could reach $3000. The MOT had run out so if I did repair it and make it back to England, I'd have to get it MOTed, which could run another $1000. It appeared to be a money-hole with no bottom, so I gave it away for free to a guy I met. I think he's living in it now, but I'm not sure.

Now, a few things about this vehicle and my driving it. First off, lets not forget that with the exception of the 2 times I stole trucks while in South America just a couple months prior (and those lasted all of: a 10 meter joyride and a 2 kilometer jaunt) I haven't driven any vehicle for all of about 8 months, then I start with this….

  • From the photos that I saw before buying this van, it looked like a regualar VW van. But no. This thing was huge. It really was a massive vehicle.
  • Add to that, it was from the UK, so the steering wheel is on the wrong side. This was just plain awkward for anyone who has never driven something like this, especially in Europe, where all the other cars are the same as in the US, and they drive on the same side as in the US. So, I was driving on the wrong side of the car for the roads I was on. This also creates rather poor visibility.
  • This puts the shifter (yes, it was a manual) on my left hand side, so I found when I was trying to shift, that I grabbed the door most times by accident.
  • The shift pattern was strange. Not the "standard-H" you'd find on most 5 speeds. So, I'd have to look down at the diagram to figure out what gear I was in, then figure out what gear I wanted to go to. It was quite a procedure. All this, while not being used to driving, or driving sitting on this side.
  • My speedometer was in MPH and the speed limit signs were in KPH, so I had to do math or look at the tiny numbers to figure out my speed.
  • The driver was positioned in front of the front wheels. If you have never driven a vehicle like this, you cant know how strange this it. In most cars or modern vans, the front wheels are by the motor, which is infront of the driver, but in some vans and trucks, the driver sits atop (and in front of) the front wheel. Therefore, when turning on to a street, you must go a few feet past the street, then turn the wheel.
  • This vehicle was about 35% longer than your average van
  • This vehilce was about 15% wider than your average van
  • The streets in Europe were about 25% more narrow than those in the US.

With all of these factors, it was truly amazing that I did not get in to a major accident within the first 5 minutes of being on the road.

In fact, in my first day of driving, it hit a total of 6 things (below, in order).

  • A gate as I was leaving the campground
  • A road marker (looks like a permanent traffic cone) in a roundabout
  • A fire truck (I just grazed it, and it wasn’t my fault! - I swear!)
  • A large curb
  • A dumpster
  • A wall
The wall was the kicker. I took off pretty much the entire rear fender with that one.

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