SGMW members cars: Barry the Volkswagen T2 Westfalia Campmobile

While many of the Southern Group members specialise in new car reviews, news, and features, it won’t come as a surprise that a majority of our members are car enthusiasts. This is demonstrated by the wide array of cars owned by SGMW members, which includes a number of great drivers cars and much-loved classic cars of varying ages.

One of the most well-known is Barry, a Volkswagen T2 Westfalia Camper owned by longtime SGMW member Stu Bird. In addition to frequent appearances at group gatherings, this vintage VW was voted as the ‘Best Members Car’ at our 2023 Heritage Day, demonstrating its popularity among SGMW members.

Now, in Stu’s own words, here’s everything you need to know about Barry.

When did you get your car, and why did you choose it?

Way back in 2008 I picked up Barry during my finals at uni. I said I was going to fail and having put my council tax money aside (full-time education makes you exempt) I went out shopping. I looked at several, all in the wrong colours. I wanted green. I didn’t want yellow. 3 I looked at were yellow. None were green.

He was found at an importer near Milton Keynes. Being a California import, I stood a better chance at not having to learn welding when I should be learning nursing. He didn’t run well but was solid. A deal was done and the next week he rolled off the low-loader.   

Barry is a Westfalia Campmobile. In Europe that means Berlin. Because most Americans don’t know there are other countries outside of the US of A, the town of Germany was going to be lost. So instead the heavily Christian country was to call it Campmobile. 

The Berlin interior had almost everything. Good sized kitchen that is better than the current offerings from VW, and a pop-top. Upright cocktail mixing is so much better when one isn’t bent over, unless, well that’s a different story for a different publication.  Another reason for choosing a bus from the States was engine size. There was more chance of finding one with the bigger 2 litre type 4 engine from the Porsche 914 in it.

Happiest memory of driving your car, and where?

This has to be at the start of 2013 when, after a year of continual breakdowns in 2012, Barry didn’t break down. Intermittent faults are the worst to find and I could have quite easily pushed this thing off a cliff and denied all responsibility for doing it. That said, we got there. And back. 

What’s the best and worst things about owning your car?

The worst thing is the people you meet along the way. The stories they tell you about a trip they took etc are the exception. But you get these people at shows who go on and on about renting out your van. I’ll admit, these are expensive vehicles and out of reach to many pockets. In today’s market, I don’t think l would spend the £23k a good one commands. Anyway, I once made a couple make a hasty retreat. After being bored with their constant badgering about renting out my Bus I replied “I’ve entertained men on that bed!” I never did see them again.

The best thing about owning a classic VW are the friends you make. Through this I’ve met Dave who has become my best mate of 15 years. Through his outright straight masculinity, he manages to keep me a bit grounded. Whenever I’ve had a bad day, he’ll be the first I turn to. 

If you had to give your car a review rating, how many stars from five would you give it?

3 stars. These are old vehicles and expensive in every direction of ownership. As much as I’d like to say 5, the owning experience of driving, maintaining and running costs are not for the fainthearted who buy these on a whim of romance and scented summer nights. They are a pain in the arse that require pampering and mechanical knowhow.

Do agree with the Autocar verdict on the T2?

In Autocar’s Volkswagen T2 buying guide, they were less than kind about the T2 stating “So it struggles to get up to speed, and once you’re there, it struggles to come back down again. Is its redeeming feature its handling, then? Unfortunately not. It’s tall, and with this comes a high centre of gravity.”

Do I agree with this? No I do not. I’ve driven many T2’s and each one is different. However, a well sorted one will not leave you with this stereotypical impression. That’s just lazy journalism. 

Admittedly the 1600 is slow but you have to change your mindset no matter what VW Bus you drive. There is something quite lush about keeping the speed to 50-60 on the motorway. The gearing in my 2 litre does enable it to move off the line sharpish. Must to the aggression of other drivers.

I’ve never arrived at a destination frazzled. And the brakes are pretty good with or without a servo. As for its handling, I was once able to amaze new cars editor Alan Taylor-Jones from CAR with Barry’s handling ability. I think if CAR magazine wrote that, he’d correct that.  

What’s the best or worst thing someone has said about your car?

Someone in a Tesco got very animated about my Bus. They then asked what its name was. When I told them Barry they looked perplexed and said “Oh no. It should be a girls name” My Bus is all spotlights and spoilers. It’s far from a girly van. The bunting inside sets a scene, it must be said. So I replied “He’s not a Trans-It. He’s been called that for 13 years now. I’m hardly going to change it now!”

He also gets called orange. The colour is Chrome yellow. Code L20A. Something I had to educate head VW PR Mike Orford at a recent VW media event.