Any good surf car needs to be able to accommodate a surf board, or three, either inside or on top on the racks. It needs to look the part in terms of style, and be tough and eager enough to handle a bumpy beach track and some extreme hill starts.
Small wonder that the iconic Volkswagen is the vehicle that has become most connected with the surf tribe. Aside from their obvious panache and associations with non-establishment leanings, plus that whiff of 1960s surf nostalgia, VWs are practical and robustly designed.
The clue is in the name: this ‘people’s wagon’ was made for living, for using and enjoying, and that’s something surfers tend to appreciate. The other thing both surfers and VWs have in common is a thriving community scene.
As Damon Hill so eloquently suggests in this article: “Surfers are a little like motorcyclists. They are just outside the mainstream of society. No shirts and ties allowed. And you need to be able to go when the surf arrives. At the drop of a hat. Surfers’ cars and vans express this ‘free spirit.’”
But there is so much more to Volkswagens than camper vans. In association with VWHeritage I’ve put together a list of hip VWs that make fantastic alternative surfing vehicles:
An idea that began life in the mind of an evil man became the best selling vehicle of all time, with over 21 million units manufactured since 1938.
In 1999 the Beetle was listed by the Car of the Century poll as the fourth most influential car of the 21st century. This charismatic car has captivated the hearts of people everywhere and appears on the wish lists of as many young girl driver/surfers as it does boy driver/surfers.
There’s something about its form that looks good on a beach too, perhaps it’s the wave like curves and arcs in the body work?
Cool fact: The air cooled opposed four cylinder engines have been used for experimental aircraft since the 1960s.
Passat Mk2 and Mk3
The second generation VW Passat was launched in 1981, the Mk3 incarnation being offered from 1988 until 1996. With enough room in the back to carry your board, (plus another few on the roof), the kids, a bag of wet suits, your suitcase, your grandma and your best friend, this practical family car is a popular choice for active outdoorsy types.
It’s the kind of car the understated landed gentry own and keep for decades. Tough and practical enough to take you down the gnarliest beach tracks, and a ding or two only adds to its character. A beer too many at the beach barbeque and you could push down the seats, roll out a camping mat and sleep like a baby in the back.
The Mk3 or B3 (seen above with a harlequin paint job, replicating that offered by VW in the late 90’s on Polo and Golf models) are a little easier to get hold of than the Mk2 (B2).
Top tip: If you are fond of exploring hidden coasts, try and bag yourself the tough 4wd Syncro model.
VW Caddy Pick-up
The VW Caddy pick-up has always been a bit of a favourite among the surf fraternity, and is now a classic vehicle with a cult following. But fashion always comes at a price. A decent Mk 1 will set you back anything from between two and five thousand pounds, but you could pick-up one for under a couple of grand if you’re prepared to throw time and money at it.
You can put surf boards and your pooch in the open back, or sit out there with the elements, cradling a flask of hot brandy laced coffee and watch the waves.
Cool fact: The Caddy Mk1 was known as the Rabbit Pick-up in the States, in the UK VW offered a Caddy Sport, boasting GTI power and pick up practicality – these are rare and now extremely pricey.
This compact, eager little motor might not be the obvious choice for many surfers, but you’ll see a lot of them stacked with boards in some of Europe’s top surf spots. VW Golf, named after the German name for the Gulf stream, not the game, is the 3rd best selling car in the world, and for good reason. It is well built, light weight, with precise steering, power and superb road manners, and holds its value well.
It was this car that coined the term “Hot-Hatch”. Choose from the classic Mk1, or the more useable Mk2 model for helpings of reliable retro charm. If you don’t mind curves, the Mk3 Golf is an appreciating model – get in quick and bag a bargain!
Cool fact: You can get a 9’4” long board into a VW Golf!
VW brought sports car styling to the masses with the Karmann Ghia.
The ultimate dream car of many a soul surfer, the Karmann Ghia takes pride of place in any beach surf car line-up. Gorgeous curves penned by Italian styling house Ghia, built by VWs’ favourite coach builder Karmann, it still retains the solid reliability of the Beetle.
Launched on 14 July 1955, within the first two years of its production VW had to double production numbers to keep up with demand (from 10,000 to 18,000). Neither a family sedan nor a sports car, not a Grand Tourer or a Luxury Saloon. This smart classic resists easy pigeonholing but one thing’s for sure, it was, and still continues to be exceptionally beautiful, exuding nostalgic elegance and exquisite design aesthetics.
Cool fact: When the Karmann Ghia was finally replaced by the VW Scirocco on 31 July, 1974, Karmann workers decorated the last example with a sign that read: “Du liefst so gut, Du warst so sch*, Doch leider musst du von uns gehn.” (You ran so well, you were so beautiful, but alas, you must leave us now.)