October 4, 2022

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When Ken Davison of London, Ont., was 16 years old, his dad handed him the keys to the family’s 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia van and said ‘it’s all yours.’

“It was just an old rusty van to him,’ joked Davison, 59, who’s had the vehicle ever since, but took it off the road in 1988, after it broke down for the last time.

“I parked it with the promise of rebuilding it someday,” he said. “So it’s just followed me around for all those years. So about nine years ago, it was decided it was time to get on with it.”

Ken Davison has been restoring this VW Westfalia for nine and a half years. He figures he’s spent 5,000 hours rebuilding the engine, fixing the exterior and adding new features. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

Davison, who retired last year after closing down his computer-business, figures over nine and half years, he’s spent 5,000 hours working on the van. 

[The van] is called ‘The Mistress’ — time consuming, expensive, have to sneak away to be with her.– Ken Davison

“The best way to rebuild a vehicle in this kind of bad, rusty shape is to actually put it on something called a rotisserie and turn it on its side or use a hoist,” said Davison who has stored the van in a temporary carport beside his Old North home for years. “I had neither of those options. So I have spent many hours on my back underneath sandblasting and painting.”

Davison rebuilt the VW’s air-cooled engine, installed brake lights, BMW heated seats, an android-operated radio, a back up camera, a lane departure warning system — the list goes on.

“My computer, which I built for the engine, also comes up on [the screen], so I can get all my engine information, temperature, stuff like that,” he said.

If all goes according to plan — and the engine keeps running the way it should — Davison hopes to get the Westfalia in for a safety check this week.

Londoner restoring his 50-year-old VW van

Ken Davison, 59, has spent the last 9 years restoring and rebuilding this 1971 Volkswagen Westfilia camper van. It’s been in his family since 1974.

Breaking down was common

Davison has fond memories of spending time with his dad in the van when he was still a kid.

“Probably the best memory was that my dad and I would go up to Mosport Speedway and spend the weekends in the van watching the car races,” he recalled.

But the van broke down. A lot.

Davison rebuilt the engine himself from a kit, but soldered it all himself, and modified it to 2,500 cc, up from 1,600 cc. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

In fact, when he and his wife, Jacquie, headed down the 401 from London on their honeymoon in the mid-80s, they didn’t get very far.

“About 50 kilometres or so out of town, the engine blew on it,” laughed Davison. “We were stranded until my father in law got there and towed us back home,”

Jacquie Davison often took the bus on trips as a girl guide counselor in the 80s. “So, in fact, the last time it broke down was with the guiding group,” said Ken Davison.

Jacquie also named the bus, ‘The Mistress,’ he said. “Time consuming, expensive, have to sneak away to be with her,” said Davison with a smile.

“The Mistress and I have a complicated relationship,” said Jacquie. “My most memorable moments regarding the mistress are polar opposites; leaving me stranded on my honeymoon and watching the joy of my kids using her as a playhouse,” said Jacquie.

“She gives Ken great joy and can also be quite mischievous,” she said. “Simple tasks often take much longer than they should and have resulted in burns, cuts and scrapes (and much cursing).”

Davison tracked down and original 1971 licence plate which was intended for this particular model and year of VW bus. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

“We’re excited that we are so close to getting her finished and joining van life,” she said. But Davison knows he’ll have to prove the van is roadworthy before his wife gets onboard.

“She’s told me she wants to be convinced that it’s reliable again,” said Davison. “I may have to do a couple of week-long trips or something to convince her of that.”

Davison added an android radio, front and rear dash cams, a back up camera which is wired to the screen and lane departure warning system. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

 

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