Just Cool Cars: ’61 VW Westfalia camper is a marvel – USA TODAY

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USA TODAY’s Chris Woodyard searches talks to John Tanner of Valencia, Calif., about his 1961 Volkswagon Westfalia camper. Video by Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

VALENCIA, Calif. — John Tanner has the answer to combining a love of the outdoors with an appreciation for nostalgia.

It’s his 1961 Volkswagen SO-23 Westfalia, a beautifully designed camper bus. In the Westy, the cabinetry is real wood. And there are inventive touches, like the ability to turn the front seat into bunk beds. (The seat is one bed, the seatback raises to become the second).

There’s plenty of closet and cargo space, a pair of facing seats with a big dining table and a roof hatch for access to the topside luggage rack.

Tanner lives in Valencia, Calif., north of Los Angeles, where we found him at a recent car show here. He says he has had a thing for VW buses since he was 16. The Westfalia takes the bus notion to the max as the sort of vehicle meant to get away from it all.

But he won’t get away very fast. Even with a new, larger VW engine, he can’t get enough power to go any faster than 52 miles per hour. He’s still rebuilding his Westy and plans to not only install a more powerful engine, but such modern safety equipment as disk brakes.

When it’s done, it’s sure to be the talk of the campground.

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