When you think of Volkswagen campervans, chances are you have a rose-tinted 1970s image in mind. Danbury understands this more than most van convertors, and has made a reputation for itself with a range of retro campers built on Volkswagen Type 2 vans imported from Brazil. These T2 based campers tick all the nostalgia boxes, but Danbury offers conversions on other base vehicles too.
For those of us who like a little more comfort, a camper based on VW’s T5 van is really what you need, and Danbury is one of most prolific T5 converters in the country. The company is very keen to push its range of T5 based campers and I got to test its popular Surf conversion while on tour in Cornwall with my partner Malcolm.
Upon arriving at Danbury’s HQ near Bristol – where even the reception desk is made from a VW Type 2 body – I was delighted to discover that we’d been allocated a Surf in fetching orange and white.
Danbury has recently started offering conversions on used base vehicles, which helps drive down the price by £5,000 or more. Surfs are available in several specifications on new base vehicles, but the one I tested was a new conversion on a pre-owned, low-mileage ex-lease VW T5 van. They carefully select only the best pre-owned vans for conversion, or will convert a customer’s own van.
The T5 Transporter received a significant facelift at the end of 2009, which gave it a new front end and an improved range of cleaner engines, as well as the options of VW’s DSG double-clutch automated manual gearbox. Our particular Surf was a 2009 model from before the facelift, meaning that it would have been one of the last pre-facelift T5’s to roll off VW’s production line. Transporters come with numerous cab-seat configurations and ours had a nearside bench seat up front: it allows three to travel in the cab, but can’t be swivelled for lounge use. Thanks to the two belted seats in the rear, our Surf could carry an impressive total of five passengers, although it only sleeps two.
As we drove we discovered that it handled like a large car. The five speed gearbox was smooth and surprisingly for a commercial vehicle, forgave minor driver errors without stalling. With 17,180 miles on the clock, it was young at heart too. The engine was a 1.9 diesel TDI 84 PS; there are meatier versions available, but we found this engine wholly capable in all situations. It had enough welly to overtake slowcoaches on the hills, cruised comfortably at higher speeds and was smooth during low speed manoeuvres.
Being a pre-owned van, it had a little wear and tear in the cab: just some scuffs in the door pockets and grubbiness on the drivers seat. We couldn’t get the CD player to work, but Danbury assured us that this would be fixed before sale. The cosmetic blemishes didn’t bother us, since the habitation compartment was brand new and beautifully built.
As soon as you get in the back, even just for a roadside brew, it’s worth popping up the super flat raising roof to gain 2m headroom. Simply undo two luggage straps, and it pops up on its gas struts in seconds.
The layout is VW camper classic, with the kitchen unit sited behind the driver’s seat, against the driver’s sidewall and the rear bench seat turning into a rock n’ roll double bed. The 6’1” bed was fine for me, but awkward to Malcolm whose feet hung over the end.
As with most VW campers, there’s no washroom. Many people just buy a portable toilet, in order to camp on low – as well as full – facility campsites.
The kitchen has a glass-topped sink, a 50 litre fridge freezer, two gas rings, and a grill. LED lights provide surprisingly good illumination and save energy. The cupboards, wardrobe and under-seat storage in the front and back will take more than enough kit for a couple on tour.
The Surf is also available with other options (some of which depend on the specification of the base vehicle): a roof – mounted extra bed, automatic transmission, larger engines, electric windows, a swivelling single passenger seat, gas oven, under – floor 46 litre – waste water tank and wood effect or granite-effect worktops.
Practical motorhome says:
Consider buying this five seater campervan as your only vehicle or a family’s ‘second car’, as it can go anywhere. You’ll be the coolest parent on any school run! If the bed is sufficient for your needs and you don’t want a washroom, this van is a gem that should provide you with years of great tours.