MORE THAN JUST A VAN
"I grew up in these vans. We went all over Europe. If I wasn’t in school, in bed or eating or drinking at the kitchen table, I'd be in the van."
Jack’s Garage is tucked away in an obscure corner of Ladbroke Grove, in a couple of arches underneath the Hammersmith & City and Circle line. Safe in the knowledge that there were going to be some pretty awesome cars hanging about, we paid a visit.
We spent the day with Joseph, the owner of Jack’s Garage who owes his first childhood memories to the Type 2. Over a cup of Joseph's own Nutella and coconut coffee creation, we talked campers, hydrogen fuel cells and pissing off into the sunset.
What do you think is so special about VWs?
I think VW is the best thing that came out of [Germany in the 1930s]. It stood by people for generations. You don’t find this iconic sentimentality amongst any other vehicles as a community. The VW, it’s huge. It drowns any semblance of competition from any other classic car community. It’s a way of life, it’s an ideal and it’s a dream.
Back in the day, you would put your campervan on a container ship to Morocco. You’d drive north to the mountains, pick up a few kilos of weed, whatever you want. Then you’d drive down to the coast and surf to your heart’s content. Weeks, months, years. You’re there, you’re smoking and you’ve got your campervan. Everything you’d need. That’s where it all came from. People disappearing off into the unknown, having an adventure. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. You can break down, that’s an adventure all on its own!
So, where does your story start?
I have a love for these vehicles. When I was 6 months old, we emigrated from Southend-on-Sea down to Tripoli in Libya. My Dad was a surgeon, on his salary he couldn’t afford to fly us. Walking along the beach, he came across a VW camper van that was for sale. That was the one, he bought it for £1000 in 1980, got a full-length roof rack made up, put all of our worldly possessions on it. It went up about 1-2 meters. Then my Mum, my Dad, my Gran, my baby Sister and I emigrated to Tripoli, Libya.
We went all over Europe. We toured lots and lots. We replaced the engine 3 times in 10 years. I grew up in those vans. If I wasn’t in school, if I wasn’t in bed or eating or drinking at the kitchen table, if I wasn’t doing my homework - I’d be in that van.
When I was 11, the van was gone. I always wanted to drive it. It just didn’t happen. I was heartbroken, it broke me as a child. It was devastating.
So was owning the garage your way of returning to these cars?
I’ve had modern stuff, nothing air-cooled. I was just terrified, I could never afford it. But, I’ve always had a yearning to return. You know, we all want to get into a camper van and f*** off to the unknown with your girl, it’s just one of those things.
That red one outside [the Syncro 4x4] I went to the south of Morocco… my excuse was I was testing out a Hydrogen fuel cell and I was checking out a Golf diesel engine for work… It was an awesome adventure! I spent 6 weeks and 6000 miles, assessing a hydrogen fuel cell with a Golf engine, in the mountains of Morocco!
What makes the VW camper so good at being a roadtrip companion?
It’s got everything you need, it’s a Swiss army knife. It’s a mobile studio flat without a toilet and a shower. It’s got everything. It’s the whole package. You can add and take away.
So it’s not a finished product, but a platform?
Exactly. They sold them a batch at a time to coachworks, Westfalia, Danbury, Devon and a handful of others. The most popular are Westfalia, they’re the most ergonomic, the most comfortable. [With the Type-2] we can strip the whole interior out and do what you want! Tin-top, pop-top, any height - it’s what you want. It’s very customisable to one’s own preferences.
For me, I’ve never really been too interested in VWs of any specific age. However, hanging out around these campers, (particularly the yellow 4x4 Syncro with knobbly tyres) I can definitely see the allure of these machines. Certainly the charm of disappearing off into nowhere. Heck, they even look pretty fun to drive around in. Perhaps there might be a ‘mediumblau’ T25 4x4 pop-top out there with my name on it… Maybe...
Frank (Joseph's Beetle)