I stumbled upon the Brighton Breeze on a recent day out to Brighton. I cannot even claim to have been there because I knew of the event. I was intending to test the high ISO parameters of my new, used, Nikon Df at the Sea Life centre on Madeira drive.
Oddly, I did manage to achieve what I was trying to do, but the long lines of camper vans outside meant I got a little distracted and went for a wander among the massed throng. I have always hankered after owning a camper van, albeit a modern version owing to the perceived reliability of bodies, engines and other moving parts.
If you love your air-cooled engines or are plain old Super Cool, then Brighton Breeze is the place to be for campers, Beetles and other Volkswagen curiosities. Many of them, I am sure, were never considered when the original camper van was introduced. It all started before the war with the the air-cooled Beetle, the People’s Car. It survived the war, was famously dissed by Lord Rootes (who said the “it is quite unattractive to the average motorcar buyer, is too ugly and too noisy”), and went on to become a symbol Germany’s post-war Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) — not to mention the mainstay of the north-west Germany city of Wolfsburg.
The van version arose from request by a Dutch car dealer who drew the outline of a small van built on the Beetle’s chassis. In its day it was an innovative design, one that has spawned the modern day era of commercial vans that are built around the same principles that started back then — the main difference today being the different materials, upgraded technology and, naturally, the pure size of the van construction.
I remember in my childhood been driven around in the first family car, a bright red VW Beetle. It sounded like a tractor when fired up, and went everywhere with plenty of noise and pollution announcing its presence. But it was fun. I used to peer out of the rear windows, watching the world go by. It was funky, none of my friends’ parents had one, or, oddly as it seemed to me, ever wanted one. At least kids would ask me about the weird family car, and why their parents owned Datsun Sunny,s (remember them) and Vauxhall Chevettes (even Im showing my age here). Sadly the nutty Beetle got traded for a Morris Marina TC, another cult classic in todays world.
Anyway, having stumbled upon this event, I decided to take a good look around. I know my T2 Split Bay from my T2 Bay, or a T4, T5 or T6 – A few eagle eyed readers will have noticed I stepped over the T2s, or T3 (T25) depending on your view, I personally like the very clean T3. A point of note that Volkswagen did not produce their own camper van until 2005, when they introduced the California range of vans. The previous models were built under licence by Westfalia, and hence the number of vehicles that are still today tattooed with Westfalia logos.
if you are still with me, then you know what I am on about. The Split Bay “Splittie” harks back to the introduction of the camper van in the 1950s, a product of Volkswagen in the post-war West Germany and an expansion of the base van also known as the Panel Van, Microbus and Plattenwagen. These were all built by the Westfalia team. The unusual history of the vehicle, and the Westfalia involvement, means that the T1 is technically the Beetle, and the first vans are known as the T2 (T1), I prefer the Splittie as it is how it was introduced in to my life, and how I have always known it.
The T2 Bay followed on in the late 60s, The T25 or T3 appeared after that. The history goes on up to the current model which is known as the T6. The T6 comes in the shape of the California model if you insist on the Volkswagen-produced model, but there is a whole host of reputable manufacturers who will do their own conversion for you. At a cost of course.
For me, I would be happy with either a T5 or T6 conversion, and one that satisfies my wife, the most important element. If she is reading this, I know she wants certain things that have to be present in either the base van, or in the conversion to ensure she is happy to camp out in it, or live in it for a prolonged period while we tour. I have a few plans about where I want to go in one, and where I would try to wild camp to maximise the experience, and photographic opportunities. However, I will save those thoughts on the where and possible when for the day I have a van, and naturally to give future potential articles their maximum photographic splendour.
The Brighton Breeze itself is a complete camperfest that blocks the whole of Madeira Drive in Brighton for an entire day, this year being Saturday October 6. The vans either journey in on the day, or meet up the night before in Epsom before doing the run from Epsom to Madeira Drive. During the day, the vans are judged, although this year the public was asked to vote on the best vans. I walked the full length of Madeira Drive, inspecting all the vehicles, and I can say they covered all the many classes I’ve mentioned — or just about any other variation, come to that. The scope and variety is astounding.
After the awards ceremony is done, the vans then head off to Brighton racecourse for a night of fun and frolics, mostly beer-related frolicking, judging by the reports of the event. I opted to bail out mid-afternoon, when the weather closed in. On the way home, I passed a few vans whose owners had made the same decision. I assume the shocking conditions meant people had left long before the end and the announcements of the vote.
I have to say that the Nikon Df, and my stock 50mm, 1.8G lens held up well on the day, and presented me with ample opportunity to test out both the autofocus and a variety of different settings I am still working through.
If I ever get to owning a van, I suspect this maybe an event I attend just for the chance to get some photographs of the unique vehicles that some people have either concocted or have restored to their former glory. I honestly admire their endeavour and ingenuity in the achievements I saw in Brighton.