by Fred Stoermer and Charles "Luke" Lukey
Fred Stoermer writes:
"Riviera Motors was the Beaverton, Oregon based regional
distributor of Volkswagens. At some point they decided
to contract with ASI (Automotive Services, Inc.), based
in the Vancouver, Washington area, for Type 2 camper
conversions modeled after Westfalia Campmobiles. Why
Riviera decided to do this is a puzzle, because Campmobiles
sold like hotcakes in the Pacific Northwest."
Charles "Luke" Lukey responds:
True - they sold so well that Riviera Motors could not keep their downstream dealers supplied. VW offered the following take-it-or-leave-it deal: You get X number of Westfalia campers when you buy Y number of pickups and panel vans.
This posed a problem to Knute Qvale, owner of Riviera Motors. VW pickups and panels were slow movers, prone to "lot rot." Knute knew a cabinet maker named Lasko and assigned him to design and build a camper conversion that would work with the VW panel. He then imposed a new regime on his downstream dealers: You get X number of Westfalia campers when you buy Y number of my "Riviera" campers.
The dealers were hesitant at first, but once they'd seen the workmanship of the conversion, they got on board. This was in 1965.
"Over the years the ASI conversions became (in my opinion)
more and more like mini-motorhomes, and less like campers.
ASI used their own poptop that is similar in appearance to
Westfalia's, but actually quite different in execution.
The cabinets, etc., were initially clones of Westfalia's
designs, but diverged over the years. All of the fittings,
hardware, etc. in ASI rigs are pretty standard mobile home/RV stuff."
Mostly true. Every year the sales reps from Westfaliawerk would arrive in Portland to see what new things Knute was adding to his campers. Many of those ideas appeared in next year's Westfalia. They exchanged ideas on what hardware held up and what layout seemed to be popular. Westfalia also used off the shelf RV parts, some still available in European RV shops.
"I believe they converted Type 2s that were delivered
to Riviera Motors by VW as Station Wagons. Two of my
friends drive late-'70s ASI conversions. Theirs, and
others I've looked over, show all the signs of having
been built and fitted out as Station Wagons, then
stripped by ASI and reincarnated as campers. I've never
seen an ASI conversion with a reinforced chassis, for
instance, but I have seen ones that clearly had originally
been built with a sunroof."
ASI campers, being much lighter than their German counterparts, usually did not require a belly pan. I've seen one that did, but as a double door panel, it would've had one anyway.
"If ASI continued converting VWs after the 1979 model
year, I'm not aware of having seen one. That may be
because I haven't really paid much attention to Vanagons."
They continued on to the mid-80's. Al Lasko, son of the original cabinet maker, is still in business in Vancouver. He's been doing van conversions since demand for Vanagons petered out a few years ago. I've got him on video, looking over the interior of my Riviera and commenting on the originality of it.