Keeping the Westfalia outdoor tradition alive with the Minnesota Westies

Setting up camp, complete with awning room, at Carly Lake State Park in Minnesota.

In Volkswagen and #vanlife circles, the “Westy” nickname has a special meaning.

What started as a one-off German conversion in 1951 of a Volkswagen Bus to a mobile living room became a worldwide success under the Westfalia name. The first Westies arrived in America in 1956, and the pop-up roof tents added in later years soon came to symbolize an embrace of the great outdoors all the way through the end of U.S. sales in 2003.

Westfalia campers were surprisingly spacious inside with loads of storage, often equipped with a two-burner stove, sink, a fridge, a couch that converts into a bed, and a second bed in the pop-top. Over the years, owners could add side and rear tents, air conditioning or other creature comforts. In some models, there’s even a special storage bin for a child’s cot. No space is wasted.

Aaron Davidson had long thought about buying a Westy for his camping adventures. After much searching, he found a 1971 Type 2 Bus. Since 2016, he has taken it on adventurous trips all over the U.S. and found a new pack of friends to camp within the Minnesota Westies, an enthusiastic band of owners around the Twin Cities.

Davidson was a member of the Chippewa Valley Volkswagen Club, based in Eau Claire, before he met John Lynden, the founder of the Minnesota Westies, through Instagram.

Davidson came across a post in which Lynden had put a card on the windshield of someone else’s Westy that read: Come camping on Father’s Day weekend? Sign up for the car show and the camping is free!

“I inquired about the meet-up he had planned,” says Davidson. The rest is history.

A Westies meet-up.

Another avid VW enthusiast, Lynden became addicted to the Westy life by taking a camping trip with his kids in 2014.

“My buddy lent us his refurbished 2002 GoWesty Eurovan Westfalia Weekender,” says Lynden. “We went to an area up north where there was no phone reception and no internet. It was incredible.”

On the way home, Lynden decided to buy one. It took a year, but he found a 1989 Vanagon that struck his fancy. “I flew to Colorado and drove the van back to Minnesota before the title was transferred,” Lynden says.

Then, he hit the road, driving it from Tennessee to Florida to Texas to Colorado and beyond. In the spring of 2016, Lynden decided to launch a group of like-minded owners that liked to hit the road and camp out under the stars, passing out cards at the Twin Cities Bug-In that happens every year on the first Sunday in June.

“They had Westy stamped on the front with my number and on the back asked if the recipient wanted to get together and camp out,” says Lynden. “We had five buses that first campout and 12 at the last.”

Though small, the Minnesota Westies are well connected in enthusiast circles around the globe. “I’ve found that this community is willing to drop what they are doing to help a fellow Westfalia owner, whether that be a tow, tools or parts,” says Lynden.

“My engine blew, and I reached out to the club,” Davidson adds. “Almost immediately, someone said they had an engine. Another offered up his shop so that I had a place to install it. Where else does that happen?”

A Westies meet-up.