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Old 05-19-2013, 09:39 AM   #1
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Lightbulb Towing a small Airstream with a VW Campervan

Hi, I'm new to these forums and to Airstreams/ caravaning of any kind. I love camping and travelling, and in the future I'd love to have my own 1967 splitscreen VW campervan and I would like to tow a trailer behind it and tour europe and possibly other continents (i'm from the UK).
I've seen a post on here previously that mentions how it would be impossible to do because the VW engine isn't strong enough, yet I was thinking, and I wondered if it would be possible to give the Airstream its own small power source/engine to assist the camper in towing it? and make any other upgrades that would make it possible; I'm 22 and currently have very little knowledge on mechanics, so these ideas may just be wild dreams that could never be accomplished, but if anyone could let me know if it's possible & how to go about doing it/approx costs, it would be really appreciated. I like to plan out things like this in detail so I have something to aim for in the future
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Old 05-19-2013, 09:46 AM   #2
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In 1969, we towed a 900 pound canned ham trailer with a 1968 VW bus. Top speed in flat level Florida was 43 mph. Our hitch was welded to the rear bumper of the bus, as that is the only place for it. Tongue weight for any Airstream trailer is almost 300 pounds, and that is a conservative number.If you somehow managed to reinforce the bumper to carry the weight, you still have the issue of horsepower. I really, really, really don't think what you're considering is a good idea. The smallest Airstream trailer weighs over twice what our canned ham did.
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Old 05-19-2013, 09:56 AM   #3
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I think the old VW buses had a tow rating of 1000kg (with brakes on the trailer) and an allowable tongue weight of 50kg. That doesn't allow for much. I'd also want to upgrade the brakes on the bus before I considered towing anything at all. Also, the handling of my old Westfalia wasn't all that great and I'm not sure towing something would do much to improve that situation. Why not get a VW Campmobile/Westfalia conversion and tour with that and skip the trailer? I travelled many miles and did a lot of camping with my Westfalia and was very comfortable.
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Old 05-19-2013, 10:10 AM   #4
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We toured the U.S. and Canada regularly over a 35 year span with a series of VW camper vans and two bicycles on the back. Probably as good an overall touring machine as you would ever find. Towing anything really limits your accessibility to remote and metropolitan travels, as well as your camping choices.

I was about your age when I got the first one. If I was starting over, I would do it the same way. The 95 VW camper van with standard transmission was the best, most reliable one by far. Although the others never left us stranded either.

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Old 05-19-2013, 10:21 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by cameront120 View Post
I think the old VW buses had a tow rating of 1000kg (with brakes on the trailer) and an allowable tongue weight of 50kg.
Careful about trying to maximize load to each of these limits. 50kg is 5% of 1000kg -- U.S. axle placement and stable load distribution calls for 11-13% of trailer weight to be borne on the hitch. Euro caravans (and the "new" Airstreams built for your market) locate the axles a bit more forward, resulting in somewhat less hitch loads.

The point is -- balancing a trailer for the least possible hitch loads results in an extraordinarily unstable tow. The trailer starts to sway side to side at much over town speeds. You almost can see the pearly gates by the time you're up to 60 k/hr. Best way I can explain it -- throw an arrow with feathers forward -- the arrow will try to switch ends in flight. That's what a trailer without enough hitch weight is trying to do.

Cameron & Terry are giving excellent advice. Even a pristine, mechanically perfect VW microbus couldn't handle the load.
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Old 05-19-2013, 10:45 AM   #6
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Thanks for the response guys. I guess I'll have to ditch the trailer idea, maybe leave that for in the future with a different vehicle to tow it; I originally wanted the trailer for a bit more luxurious living space, maybe 1 for living, other for cooking/washing or something, I'll concentrate on getting a VW camper & renovating it first still got a few years of saving up to do!
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Old 05-19-2013, 11:10 AM   #7
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Why not just ditch the VW van idea, and settle for the 16' Bambi? It's a heck of a better camping machine than the van (at least the one my ex and I borrowed in 1986) and then you can get a vehicle powered sufficiently to tow it. Essentially you need a place to sleep, cook, and sit in a small RV. If we had thought the van was a better living arrangement than the Bambi, we would have purchased one instead. You are probably OK on the flats with a 1967 VW van, but would you want to drive over the Alps in one?

I don't know if they sell them in Europe, but ultra-light campers in Canada & the US often look for vintage "clamshell" style fibreglass trailers like the Boler and Trillium; or new ones like the Casita. The 13-footers can get you at the 1200-lb. range. There is always the "tent in a box" trailer, as well.

Can-Am RV in London, Ontario, Canada is an Airstream dealer, and they pride themselves on being "the towing specialists." You might consult with them about feasible hitch arrangements. Can-Am RV Centre | #1 Airstream Dealer in Customer Satisfaction Worldwide | Your Full-Service RV Dealer

Here's how we camp on a small scale.
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Old 05-19-2013, 08:12 PM   #8
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Just a reminder that the OP is 22 years old and still saving (I read that as 'limited budget'), so I suspect that what he wants to achieve would most realistically be done with an old Campmobile (what we in North America call the Westfalia). Many of us started with tents and moved on to VW's, which are quite luxurious in comparison. As a single person, I still think about going back to a 'Westie' for the pure simplicity and ease.
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Old 05-19-2013, 08:39 PM   #9
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Revan

Welcome to the forums and all things Airstream.

If I were lucky enough to be camping through Europe at your age, I would either have a VW camper period, no trailer needed, or rent a VW rabbit diesel and just sleep in a tent. I think that pulling a trailer with a VW camper is not only not practical, but not necessary.

Since I have done a lot of motorcycle touring in my younger days, I would actually probably travel by motorcycle also. Much cheaper than a car or camper, and a lot more fun going through the Alps.

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Old 05-19-2013, 08:48 PM   #10
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I'd second the motorcycle. Those mountain roads would be ideal on a bike.
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Old 05-19-2013, 08:55 PM   #11
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Iíve worked for VW for 40+ years and the split screen camper is one of the most desirable VWs on the collectable market. Iíd love to go back to my roots and tour around in an old bus.
That being said, I looked up the specs for a í67. Considering the vehicle they were somewhat impressive for the time. However, towing any Airstream would be out of the question.
This doesnít mean you canít tow anything with an old Type 2. I towed a 17 foot canoe with a 1970 conversion van packed full of camping gear around the eastern half of the US for a number of years.
A few years ago I ran across a guy who towed a 2000 something Bambi with a VR 6 Eurovan Camper (you call them Transporters) without too much trouble.
Keep you options open. With a bit of luck you should be able to find a Transporter and a small Caravan and realize your dream of touring the EU.

Good Luck
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Old 05-20-2013, 01:23 PM   #12
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Thanks for all the comments guys
I have definitely considered motorbikes also to tour on, I would love a Harley but I think I'd end up going for a Yamaha Dragster or something that looks like a Harley (Harley's are way too expensive) and maybe adding a small trailer to the back to carry some camping equipment (sleep in a tent). I've considered the options but I've not quite decided yet; I guess whatever works out cheapest is what I'll eventually go with, but either way is a bit of a sacrifice; I could go for the motorbike and have great views and an easier time getting around but lose a lot of comfort, or I could go for the camper for a bit more comfort but less freedom; I'm sure I'll eventually try all of the options as my life goes on, but it's quite a difficult decision for my first trip.
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Old 05-20-2013, 04:01 PM   #13
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In the past few years the prices of the split busses has gone through the roof. If you do find one though and wish to pull a camper you should look for an Eriba Puck. The Puck is small enough and light enough to be pulled with a split window bus, plus since they were built in Europe you'd probably have a better chance of finding one than any of us here in the U.S. You might try looking on thesamba.com as the little Puck's sometimes can be found for sale there, and you'll most definitely find a wide variety of VW's to choose from. On my split windows I feel blessed if they just pull me and my 125 pound (that is pounds in weight, not monetary value) Fat Lab down the road. Good Luck.
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Old 05-20-2013, 04:45 PM   #14
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Did I forget to mention that it's just going to look weird.
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Old 05-22-2013, 09:32 AM   #15
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Airstream just pushed this photograph out under its "Throwback Thursday" series



Not entirely relevant but a nice picture anyway.
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Old 05-24-2013, 11:00 AM   #16
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Thanks for all the comments guys
I have definitely considered motorbikes also to tour on,

A VW Golf would work. Comfy, dry drive and no bugs to pick out of your teeth at the end of the day.





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Old 05-24-2013, 11:35 AM   #17
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We went through the self-contained vs. trailer dilemma a few years ago and ended up buying the used Class A moho, but that choice is farther down the line for Revan. Here's another possibility:

I've had several Type 2's over the years: 65, 67, and 71, and while the split window is charming, the 1971 was notable for several design advantages: first dual port engine, and power disc brakes. After 1971 the engine is harder to pull out and my brother's 1970 Westie needed frequent engine pulls when he was crossing the country.

With your limited mechanical knowledge I suggest a product that would be relatively easy to find repair shops for when you are in some small town, or Len n Jeanne's suggestion on page 1. A 16' Bambi will be more comfortable to live in than a converted VW.
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Old 05-24-2013, 12:23 PM   #18
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I wondered if it would be possible to give the Airstream its own small power source/engine to assist the camper in towing it?
No. It's a bad idea, certainly not legal in the U.S., and probably not legal anywhere else.

The 1967 VW buses were underpowered even when empty. That was part of the charm then, at the end of an era when there were still a sizable number of trucks and buses on U.S. roads that couldn't maintain what are now considered highway speeds.
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