Now cancer-free, my son can’t wait to inherit our VW camper

With the help of a sympathetic Volkswagen engine expert, the Gauthier clan got their Westfalia on the road just in time for camping season. Courtesy Joel Gauthier

I brought home my first classic vehicle back in 2016. It was a 1948 Chevrolet 3600 pickup—my dream vehicle, but not the one you’re looking at here, because later that same year, the lives of my family changed drastically: Our 6-year-old was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Treatment started right away, and the rest of life took a back seat. I found myself in the garage at nights, working to distract myself while my wife took a leave from work to stay by my son’s hospital bedside. We adjusted to our new normal and got everyone back under one roof, albeit with lots of hospital appointments. About a year after the diagnosis, I had the truck licensed, insured, and was hitting up all the local car shows with my kids squeezed beside me.

This situation encouraged my wife to declare, “We need a vehicle the whole family can fit in.” After countless missed opportunities and “paralysis by analysis,” I found it—a 1977 VW T2 Westfalia, sitting in a farmer’s field seven hours north in Quebec. I rented a trailer and volun-told my dad to help bring it home.

It didn’t take long to realize the old bus needed an engine rebuild to get moving again. I decided to seek the help of a VW mechanic. As it happens, I had already been chatting with one in my search for parts, and he had read my bio, which included some background on my son. He was well versed with such trials from his own family, so he cut me a deal and I loaded the tired engine into his pickup. I worked away at the rest of the bus, my son lending me a hand or just dreaming inside the camper. “We’re taking it out in the spring, right Dad?”

VW Microbus 1977 VW T2
Courtesy Joel Gauthier

As weeks passed, I found myself apprehensive about that goal. There was so much to do! A week before we were set to camp, I got a call from the engine builder. If I could get the bus to him, he would help me get the engine installed. We spent the weekend working in his driveway. We got home Sunday, passed vehicle inspection on Tuesday, and hit the road Friday. A nailbiter, but nothing felt better than pulling into our spot, setting up camp, and standing back to admire our work. She isn’t pretty, but she’s ours and we’ll have these memories forever.

As for my son, he’s in full remission and already making plans for when the bus (“Herbella”) is his. I can’t wait to see that day myself.




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    Congrats on the clean bill of health and I wish your son many years in the hobby.

    My mother in law had a 5% for 5 years and we just got a 15 year still clean record going. I know the strain.

    So get out and enjoy life now never wait for later.

    Yes CONGRATS indeed! For ALL of your story: getting through the trials of your son’s illness, finding the fortitude to finish the vehicle in time, and making memories with your whole family. In today’s world, it’s always refreshing to learn of someone who is grounded in what matters most – FAMILY. I send my best wishes for you all to enjoy many years of piloting Herbella on great family adventures.

    Congratulations. May your son and your family enjoy many years of health. 21+ years cancer free myself. I bought my ’97 Supra after beating cancer so I get the car connection too.

    What a terrific story! Life can throw you a curve ball (health or cars). I love how your family did something purposeful and lived a great experience. And like all of us reading this, I love how cars are the magic behind it.

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