Many, however, still find a lot to love in these vans. Although they were once road-tripping workhorses, VW Microbuses have become quite costly, particularly the first-generation "split-window" models, which can sell for upwards of $50,000 in rare twenty-one- or twenty-three-window form. But the object of our interest is the more-affordable, more-usable, and more-common second-generation "bay-window" Microbus, which debuted for the 1968 model year with a one-piece windshield, a sliding side door (instead of double swing-out doors), larger dimensions, and slightly more power. This design continued until 1980, when the same basic van was revamped as the sharper-edged Vanagon.
Dan Canalos of Huron, Ohio, has owned the 1971 Westfalia-built Campmobile you see here since 1992, and he still camps with it regularly, often attending large conventions of fifty buses or more. Canalos's VW is almost entirely stock and includes hard-to-find original features such as a matching removable stool, window curtains, and an A-to-B-pillar hammock, as well as more typical amenities like a sink, a built-in cooler, a bed over the engine compartment, and a very slick pop-up sleeping loft (where Canalos prefers to sleep).
Canalos's VW is particularly desirable because it combines the same venerable 1.6-liter four-cylinder air-cooled engine used in many Beetles (larger-displacement engines came later; third-generation vans eventually got water cooling) with front disc brakes. Unlike Cumberford's 50-mph VW, this '71 bus reportedly tops out at a whopping 70 mph.
We can't vouch for that. We had only enough space to coax the Campmobile to about 55 mph before a gentle Lake Erie breeze smacked the van out of its lane like a tiger playing with a field mouse. Despite the lack of high-speed props, however, driving a Microbus is unforgettable. After you've climbed over the front wheel, you'll marvel at the comfortable, sitting-at-the-dinner-table driving position; in fact, holding the huge, nearly horizontal steering wheel is akin to grabbing your fork and knife. Even though your feet straddle the steering shaft and you can see daylight around the clutch pedal, it's easy to imagine yourself patiently piloting the Campmobile for thousands of miles. The light and slightly vague four-speed gearbox takes some getting used to, but the trickiest part about shifting is knowing when to do it: there's no tachometer, and the quiet sputtering of the engine - about seven feet behind you and buried beneath cushions and camping equipment - is difficult to hear from the driver's seat.
The driving experience certainly isn't invigorating, but that's not the point. You don't need to find a racetrack or a lonely stretch of highway to enjoy a Microbus. Just mosey your way to some parking lot or campground filled with kindred spirits, and enjoy a classic car at a slower pace.