When Kevin Cox, 48, from Kent, rang our office to talk about insuring his ’66 VW T2 camper, we were intrigued to find out that it had become something of a family heirloom over the years. Many of our customers have owned their campers for a number of years, but few have had them passed down from their father and already made plans to pass them on to their own son in years to come.
At HIC we have been involved in the VW campervan scene for decades, attending events and shows for long enough to know that when a family has owned a vehicle for as many years as the Cox family, there are sure to be some interesting stories to go with it.
To find out more about the Cox’s camper, we got in touch with Kevin to shed some light on over 40 years of holidays, travelling, breakdowns and memories.
Room For All The Family
With the birth of Kevin’s sister in 1971, the sixth member of the Cox family, his parents came to realise that the cramped Austin A35 they had been using was no longer big enough to meet the growing family’s needs.
As a travelling telephone engineer, Kevin’s dad would cover much of the South East of England, and one afternoon in 1973 passed a second hand dealership in Forest Hill where he set his eyes on a seven-year-old split screen T2 campervan.
Unfortunately, back in the 70s, people carriers hadn’t yet hit the nation’s roads, and the options available to Kevin’s father as a replacement were limited, making the T2 a perfect compromise between size and practicality.
Originally converted from a commercial van to a camper by Devon in Sidmouth, the VW was found to be in great condition and Kevin’s father drove it away that day for a reasonable £725.
The camper’s maiden journey home was a successful one, albeit with the help of an emergency oil change en route, and following the retrofitting of front seat belts the vehicle was primed and ready to take on its role as the family’s permanent daily runabout.
Sixteen Years Of Camping, Breakdowns And Memories
The Cox family took the plunge and went camping for the first time in the summer of 1973, embarking on a marathon two-week road trip from London to Scotland. Packed to the ceiling with tents, benches and all manner of camping equipment, not to mention two adults and their four sickbowl-clutching children, the camper made sure and steady progress northward.
Miles and miles of British roads passed them by as the Cox family enjoyed their first camping holiday together. The trip came grinding, quite literally, to an unfortunate halt however, as a slipped and burnt-out clutch on the Firth Of Forth bridge left the family with no choice but to limp into an Inverness garage. Holiday plans in tatters, the family at least realised that they had achieved their aims of driving the length of the country, no small feat in itself.
For the next 16 years the family, with the welcome addition of Spike the bull terrier, toured the nation during every spring and summer holiday, eventually earning the dubious distinction of having broken down in England, Wales and Scotland.
Winning First Prize At The Carnival
As the 1970s rolled by, the UK government began a programme of motorway building across the country, part of which was a planned M25-style ring road passing through the Cox family’s neighbourhood of Grove Park, London. The ring road, quite understandably, was met by fierce opposition in the local area, which led to the creation of the Grove Park Residents Association, of which Kevin’s father was a leading light.
Following the eventual defeat of the motorway plans, the group turned its attention to providing local amenities, working to deliver a community centre, park and children’s play area. All of these projects required funding, which was raised from fetes, fairs and parades, the first of which was held as part of the 1978 Grove Park Carnival.
The Cox campervan again came into use during the parades, with the first effort featuring a large moving Frankenstein model bolted to the roof rack earning Kevin’s dad first prize in the float competition.
A further first prize was secured the following year with a float themed on the “Incy Wincy Spider” nursery rhyme. Kevin’s sister took pride of place on the display, strapped to the top of the camper whilst dressed as a milkmaid, with an enormous model spider complete with bouncing legs finishing off the piece.
Moving Down The Generations
Kevin first got his hands on the campervan’s controls aged just 14, taking an impromptu driving lesson in a field with his dad whilst on holiday in Wales. As an enthusiastic but diminutive 14-year-old boy, Kevin understandably struggled with the clumsy controls and enormous steering wheel of the T2 and could barely reach the pedals. On his second spin around the field, Kevin decided camper driving wasn’t for him and bailed out mid-lesson, leaving his dad to give chase and narrowly avoid a costly collision with a nearby barn.
Perhaps understandably, Kevin wasn’t allowed back at the wheel of the campervan for many years, instead taking on a ’72 Beetle as his own. The camper finally found its way into his possession when his father was forced to hand in his driving licence in 2004, bringing to an end a period of daily use for the van that had spanned decades. After a few years of neglect in his father’s garden, providing time for Kevin to start a family of his own, the time was right for the keys to be handed over.
Surprisingly, given its age and sometimes-troublesome life, the camper was still in good shape, needing only a few minor repairs to pass its MOT and once again take to the road.
Kevin now proudly takes his place as the third custodian of “Grandad’s Van”, with his 14-year-old son Elliot eagerly awaiting his turn to take the wheel. The van still gets regular use, though perhaps its fuel economy isn’t quite what it once was, and the family still holiday in it around the country last year continuing tradition by breaking down just outside of Whitstable in Kent.
As Kevin puts it: “If you own a classic T2, an adventure begins every time you put the keys in the ignition.”