The restoration of this VW bus has taken years, but the open road for the family heirloom is just days ahead
When Ken Davison of London, Ontario, was 16, his father handed him the keys to the family’s 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia Van and said, “This is all yours.”
“It was just an old, rusty van to him,” joked Davison, 59, who has owned the vehicle ever since but took it off the road in 1988 after it last broke down.
“I parked it with a promise to rebuild it one day,” he said. “So it’s followed me all these years. So about nine years ago it was decided it was time to move on.”
Davison, who retired after closing his computer business last year, estimates he worked 5,000 hours on the van over 9½ years.
[The van] is called “The Lady” – time-consuming, expensive, you have to sneak away to be with her.-Ken Davison
“The best way to rebuild a vehicle in such bad, rusty condition is to actually put it on what’s called a rotisserie and turn it on its side or use a jack,” said Davison, who installed the van in a makeshift Carport has been stored next to his Old North home for years. “I didn’t have any of those options. So I spent many hours on my back sandblasting and painting.”
Davison rebuilt the VW’s air-cooled engine, installed brake lights, heated BMW seats, an Android-powered radio, a backup camera, a lane-departure warning system—the list goes on.
“My computer that I built for the engine also starts [the screen]so I can get all my engine info, temps and stuff like that,” he said.
If all goes according to plan – and the engine runs as it should – Davison hopes to take the Westfalia for a safety check this week.
Breakdowns were common
Davison has fond memories of spending time with his dad in the van as a kid.
“Probably the best memory was my dad and I going to Mosport Speedway and spending the weekends in the van to watch the auto races,” he recalled.
But the van broke down. A lot of.
When he and his wife Jacquie drove down the 401 from London on their honeymoon in the mid-1980s, they didn’t get very far.
“The engine blew out about 30 miles out of town,” laughed Davison. “We were stranded until my father-in-law got there and dragged us home.”
As a tour guide, Jacquie Davison often took the bus on trips in the 80s.
“So the last time it broke was the lead group,” said Ken Davison.
Jacquie also called the bus The Mistress, he said. “Time consuming, expensive, gotta sneak away to be with her,” Davison said with a smile.
“The Mistress and I have a complicated relationship,” Jacquie said. “My most memorable moments relating to ‘The Mistress’ are diametrically opposed – I’m stranded on my honeymoon watching the joy of my kids using it as a playhouse.
“She brings great joy to Ken and can be quite mischievous, too,” she said. “Simple tasks often take far longer than they should and have resulted in burns, cuts and scrapes,” and lots of swearing.
“We’re excited to be so close to completing it and getting into van life,” she said.
But Ken knows he has to prove the van is drivable before his wife gets in.
“She’s told me she wants to be convinced it’s reliable again,” he said. “Maybe I need to do some week-long trips or something to convince her.”