My VW California is great so why am I selling it?

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VW California

My purchase of the Cali was very spontaneous. A good friend in Prague was selling his and having heard many great stories of van trips, I decided to simply take the plunge. I had never seen the vehicle but trusted absolutely that all would be fine and as described.

The whole process was a good adventure. I flew to Prague and spent a few nights with my friend enjoying Czech beer, playing tennis and spending some time with his family. For my friend the export process had been slightly complicated, not least due to Czech bureaucracy, but now the car had all the necessary documentation and export plates required to get back to Switzerland.

The first thing I loved was the space. I did a big supermarket shop before leaving the country and there was a ton of room for the crates of Vincentka water that I have come to love in Czech Republic. In fact, looking back I should have bought more!

On the motorway the van is exactly like a normal car. It is quiet and the seats are just mega comfortable with the arm rests. The driving is really a pleasure. I also like being slightly elevated above the other road users 😊.

The import into Switzerland was fine. The documents were in order and the customs official reluctantly helped with completing one of the more difficult forms. The final part at the ‘Strassenverkehrsamt’ was just as painless. The official tester even allowed me into the garage area where he showed me the underneath of the car and then complemented me on the overall condition. Apparently, a lot of the ‘Beach’ models are also used for large and heavy load carrying which somewhat ruins the insides.

So being the proud owner of a California I obviously did lots of trips that summer. The van is small enough to really go anywhere and is only limited in its capability by not being 4wd. In the summer however this is not really a factor as Switzerland doesn’t have so many off road tracks which are legal for vehicles. And in the winter, as I like to travel to warmer climes, the van is anyway not used. The Corona virus then brought a summer of van office which I enjoyed immensely. I found some super inspiring places to work which offered lovely hikes or bike rides after work.

It soon becomes clear when you own one of these that they have been making them since 1989. So many features are so well thought out that this would be impossible in a first version. One of the most important to me is the 12v sockets. There is 2 in the back, one in the boot and one at the end of the bed in the roof. This makes arranging the vehicle a doddle and sometimes offers so many possibilities that it is hard to decide which one to choose. For example I have had the fridge either behind the driver’s seat, on the multiflexboard or below the multiflexboard. It is only the well thought out 12v socket locations that makes this possible. It is also much more flexible having the 12v sockets than simply USB ports which would for example not be able to take a laptop charger.

As this was a spontaneous purchase, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking as to whether the ‘Beach’ or the ‘Ocean’ would be more suitable. As it turns out, I think I made the right choice in the Beach due to the massive flexibility. As well as coping with week long camping trips, I have carried 5 mountain bikers along with their luggage and bikes to and from the start of out transalp tour. When I do want to cook, then I’d rather use the stove outside to protect the inside of the car from steam and food smells. My small gas stove then stows away neatly in a box. The fridge simply plugs into the 12v socket and is usually positioned behind the drivers seat. This doubles up as an extra seat or a foot rest.The table, which is otherwise neatly stowed as part of the door, hooks into a rail on the underside of the side window behind the drivers seat. By extending 2 of the legs this can then be used inside as well as outside. This is perfect for home office on colder days. Otherwise the lack of inbuilt storage and a water tank hasn’t bothered me. The storage is so small anyway, that I just instead use the grey ‘euro boxes’ in the rear. I tend to put in these items which permanently stay in the van such as cooking stuff, crockery, via ferratta sets, oicknick blankets etc. My clothes I usually have in a bag. Finally the outdoor seats which are neatly stowed in the rear door are of high quality and extremely comfortable.

So this begs the question as to why I am selling it….

Well as with all things in life the Cali is a compromise. I would describe it as the perfect vehicle for someone who needs a car to do normal things, such as driving into 2m underground garages, yet likes to get out on camping trips at weekends or take their 3 children to school. Due to its flexibility it can do any of these things really well, but wouldn’t be perfect for any of them. For purely a 7 seater car it would be too expensive. Likewise for being just a runaround. If the use is purely for camping trips then it is too small. Well not necessarily too small, but its compact size leads to compromises that a larger vehicle would not have. If you watch anyone with a Cali in a campsite, you see they are continually rearranging things, moving items to get to other things, unpacking and repacking and generally spending a lot of time to keep the necessary order. Then when it is time to sleep, they have to push up the roof, dig out their sleeping bags from somewhere and push them through the small entry hole to the bed. If they have children sleeping in the van too, then the rearranging continues until the space has been cleared for the rear seats to be folded down and converted into a bed. Oh and then you have to find more sleeping bags from somewhere…

Personally living 2 mins walk from a railway station in Switzerland, cycling to the shops and to work, I really don’t need a car. So whenever I have used the van it has been to go off on a camping trip. Although it is a fabulous vehicle, due to its sole use as a camper, it has many disadvantages over a larger more purpose built campervan. Hence the California has to move on to another loving owner….

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