21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

Dean Bunclark bought a ’1964 21-window Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall. He’s still making that journey, and in the same Split Bus, it’s just a little more enjoyable now.


Words: Ian Cushway

Photos: Si Gray


GETAWAY DRIVER

21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

A love of Buses came early to 47-year-old Dean Bunclark, owner of a renewable energy company from Rotherham. «I had a ’66 Bus when I was 18, but then life, marriage and buying houses happened and it was sold, along with the ’67 Beetle I owned at the time, too.

“But when I had a family, I thought it would be a great way to create memories, so on a family holiday to Cornwall with my then wife and young kids, we hired one to see if it would work.” Needless to say, it did, and so the quest began to buy one of their own. The search didn't take them far.

»A friend of mine, Simon, had this Samba sat in his garage nearby, so once a month I'd drop in to see if he'd agree to sell the Bus to me, which finally he did," remembers Dean. A deal was done and the Bus changed hands but, as a lasting memento we presume, Simon insisted on keeping hold of the unique 'Samba' registration.


21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

Dean: «He kept the plate and, believe it or not, put it on his Astra van! I dearly wanted it back on the van, though, so eventually managed to raise enough money to buy it off him, some eight years after I'd bought the Bus. That must have made it the world's most expensive Astra van ever!»

Samba plate or no Samba plate, every August, Dean and family would make a pilgrimage to Cornwall to enjoy family holidays in the Camper.

«I even learned to surf during one of these trips,” recalls Dean. “In fact, we all did, and it was always brilliant fun.”


21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

While we wholly approve of any VW being used for the purpose it was designed for, a consequence of that was that, after a decade or so, Dean's Samba was starting to show signs of decay. He initially approached Irv's Resto Shop in Barrow-in-Furness to enquire about a respray, but it soon became apparent that things weren’t quite as straightforward as that.

Paul Irving, the ‘Irv’ of Irv’s, explains: „Dean arrived with the Bus and, being a US import, it looked pretty good at first glance. However, when we got it up on the ramp and looked more closely, it was a whole different story.

“We uncovered numerous previous repairs, done before you could obtain complete panels, and lots of rot. So, once we’d shown Dean what really needed doing, and made a plan for how we were going to approach the job, we started cutting bits out and replacing it with new metal. “It pretty quickly went from a repaint to a full resto, an Irv’s Resto.“


21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

While all this was going on, Dean would regularly make the three-hour trip to check on progress, and it was during these visits that the temptation to take things to another level surreptitiously took hold.

»I saw what Irv was doing in the workshop and was in awe," admits Dean. «Irv and his team are absolute geniuses and that inspired me to really go to town with my Bus. Although it ended up taking a lot longer than I first envisaged, I am glad I was influenced.» Dean's prime motivation at the start was to get his Samba close to the ground, while still being able to negotiate pot holes and speed bumps, without ripping the whole thing apart. This presented the first of countless challenges for the team at Irv’s.


21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

«You can’t have it both ways without having some kind of adjustability, so we ended up installing a full hydraulic suspension kit designed by Slambassador. It uses a four-way sphere system that allows you to drop the Bus on the floor, but also drive it at a sensible ride height, which can easily be tweaked for comfort,» explains Paul. “I guess you could call it the best of all worlds.”

Even with hydraulics, you still have to lower a Bus first, before it can be raised back up, so there's a Dogback beam at the front and tubbed front wheelarches, as well as some neat cut outs in the doors so the wheels can still turn even when the suspension is at its lowest setting.


21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

The rear was even more difficult to get right. Paul continues: «Because we wanted to use 9x17” Fuchs replicas on the rear, that made it a bit of a nightmare, if I’m honest. With the straight axle conversion, we effectively had to narrow everything to bring the wheels in enough that they won’t take out the rear ’arches when it’s being driven.»

While Paul was scratching his head over all that, the rest of team at Irv’s were busy sorting the rest of the running gear, which now includes a Dave Slack front disc brake kit with Wilwood calipers and a Creative Engineering steering rack conversion, both of which improve things no end on the driving front.

Elsewhere in the workshop, a pallet had arrived with a replacement engine on it – something that would give the Bus, as Dean puts it, “enough power to overtake lorries, yet be reliable enough to get to Cornwall and back without any dramas."


21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

The old 1641 and tall fourth in the otherwise stock gearbox had fulfilled one of those criteria, but wasn’t up to both jobs.

Having relayed his concerns to Paul, a call was put in to Aircooled Hut in Mansfield and a 2210cc unit with Porsche-style cooling, full flow oiling and an additional remote oil cooler and fan was commissioned.

With the added benefit of a Vintage Speed exhaust, Dean now has a reliable, cool-running powerplant that will do the annual Cornish trip with ease, but doesn’t have to do the whole journey sitting behind whatever caravan / tractor / milk float he comes up behind.

That was the mechanical side of things agreed upon, yet to be discussed was the choice of colour(s). Here, Dean was prepared to stick his neck out.


21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

«Despite everything I was having done, I wanted to stick to something close to the existing bright green on the bottom half, but I'd seen a grey Porsche and wanted that colour to replace the white on the top half.» Having told us several times how well he worked with Paul and the team at Irv’s on the project, Dean had to admit things didn’t go quite so smoothly at this point.

«Usually, we were great at bouncing ideas off one another, but when I showed Irv some swatches of the colours I had in mind, he went a bit quiet, before eventually saying, 'Hmmm… I’m not sure this is going to work.' “I had a vision, though, and while I knew I was taking a massive risk painting a Samba I'd already spent a fortune on in these colours, it was what I wanted, and I was determined to see it through.»

“It wasn't just me that needed convincing,” laughs Paul. “The colour combo divided opinion in the workshop, too. Half of the team said wow! The other half, well, didn't.”

Dean wasn’t to be deterred though and, once the Bus was built back up, canvassed opinion again: “I think eventually everyone ended up agreeing it looks totally sensational, and that the risk paid off."

When we enquired about details of the colours, a fog descended and neither were quite sure, Paul preferring to describe it just as a “custom mix”.

21-window 1964 Volkswagen Bus T1 Samba to take his family on holidays to Cornwall

Either way, it certainly gets people talking. With that hurdle negotiated, attention turned to the interior. With more trips to Cornwall on the cards, Dean was keen to make the interior of the Bus functional, but also wanted it to look as good as the rest of the build. Enter Nick and the team at Airteriors, followed closely by Bromsgrove Trim Shop.

Nick is a creative genius when it comes to interior layouts, and he made the lightweight ply cabinets finished in high gloss laminate. In the base of one seat unit, he’s fitted a neat Dometic pull-out fridge, while elsewhere you’ll find flip-out USB points and a hidden Hertz audio install.

Bromsgrove Trim then worked their magic, covering the bare bones, as well as the seats, and a Rusty Lee rock ’n’ roll bed with Dean’s choice of fabrics, before finishing it all off with a new headlining.

Remember us saying those family trips to Cornwall were at the heart of why Dean bought this Bus in the first place? And how every August since 2007, the Samba had played a key role in providing that essential family downtime? Well, you won't be surprised to learn the annual Cornish holiday also had an influence on when the project needed to be finished.

«With Dean's kids growing up fast, he wanted one last family trip in the Bus, and that gave us a strict deadline of the summer of 2021 to work to,» recalls Paul.

«Naturally, we finished it on time – just – and Dean turned up on a Friday night and then drove the Bus straight to Cornwall that evening. “I usually insist on a two-week shakedown period after an extensive restoration like this, but I only had about two minutes in this one! I honestly didn't sleep that night, hoping he'd get down there okay. Thankfully, he did.» When a Bus etches itself into family life like this Samba clearly has, it becomes so much more than a simple means of transport.

Emotion plays a big part, which is why when Dean saw his freshly restored Bus for the first time at Irv's, something stirred inside.

«I watched it progress, so I knew it was going to be good, but I nearly cried when I saw it finished. We've all grown up with this Bus since 2007, it's part of who we all are, and although I had to sell a house to get it where it is today, the end result has made it all worthwhile.»

«When a Bus etches itself into family life like this, it becomes so much more than a simple means of transport»

«Usually, we were great at bouncing ideas off one another, but when I showed Irv some colours I had in mind, he went a bit quiet…»

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