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Largo firm rents vintage VW campers for RV cruising

Decades-old VWs like this are completely renovated and test driven before rental.


Decades-old VWs like this are completely renovated and test driven before rental.

As small businesses go, Florida Old School Campers is … really small.

Mike and Dixie Phillips rent two 1970s vintage Volkswagen Westphalia campers, one named Jasmine, the other Krazy Karl.

Mike works on the bare bones of a third camper in their garage/office at Rogers Business Park in Largo. Dixie helps customers plan their Florida vacations behind the wheel when she's not working at a Mexican restaurant on Treasure Island.

They started up last August and have sold 26 rentals — from a full month for a travel guide photographer to a doctor's two-night beach picnic with his wife. Mike and Dixie talked about their fledgling business last week with the Times.

How did you get the idea to rent VW campers?

Dixie: A friend lent us a restored one for a trip to the East Coast, Gamble Rogers park in Flagler County. It had a pop top with mosquito netting and a double bed. The park was hidden by trees with only 34 parking spaces. We could sit up at night and watch the breakers.

Mike: We were just tent campers until then. We were excited and wanted to share the experience with others. And she loves to plan trips. I was a cabinet builder by trade, and that's when the construction business crashed. I got on the computer and learned how to spread Bondo and weld.

Who are your customers?

Dixie: VW campers are huge with Canadians. We had a couple from Germany on their honeymoon. We had a middle-aged lady who rented one for her mother and father — it was one of the things on their bucket list. Parents like to take their kids on a bus for nostalgia.

Old hippies at heart?

Dixie: Some. People come with bandanas on their heads. They wear tie-dye. It brings out the hippie spirit.

How do they find you?

Mike: Ninety-five percent come to the website through Google. They're searching for VW rentals or small RVs. I pick them up at Tampa International and I drive them to Treasure Island or Fort De Soto if they're traveling south. If they're going to the East Coast, I met them in the cell phone lot.

You pitch the rentals as an alternative to staying in an expensive hotel or a little RV. How does that work?

Dixie: The whole idea is we stock it with everything they need: sheets, bath towels, beach towels, dishes, pots and pans, camping chairs, bug spray …

Mike: Wash cloths, clothes line, garbage bags, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper. They have a two-burner gas stove and sink, 110-volt outlets and onboard water tank.

Your VW campers are 32 and 35 years old. Isn't it hard to find ones in good shape?

Mike: You can go to (a VW vehicle and parts website). The first one, we bought in Tennessee had no heat, very little braking. We had to stop in Atlanta for a quick fix to stop a gas leak. We blast (the body and frame) down to bare steel and replace everything: brake drums, steering. Jasmine took about three months

Dixie: That's the hardest part, making it reliable enough to be a rental vehicle. With each one, we made three long trips — 3,000 miles total — before renting them.

How much does it cost to rent Jasmine or Krazy Karl?

Mike: $100 a day or $675 per week. You get 100 free miles a day and it's 25 cents per mile over that. The only restriction is they need to stay in Florida. For three-day rentals, we want them to stay local. If somebody wants to drive down to Key West and back in three days, we'd discourage that.

Dixie: It's not a new car, it's camper.

Mike: These are meant to go slow.

What effect do the old VWs have on people?

Dixie: You can't stop at a light without someone asking about it or waving. The VW bus looks like it's smiling all the time.

Contact Steve Huettel at or (813) 226-3384.

Largo firm rents vintage VW campers for RV cruising 04/16/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 15, 2011 8:39pm]
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