When Johannes Reifenrath discovered a Mercedes-Benz 307 D automatic with a James Cook body from Westfalia on the Internet in summer 2007 his heart immediately began to race: this was exactly the vehicle he had been searching for for years! The fact that the camper van was “very expensive” did not stop him from buying it immediately. Because Mr. Reifenrath knew right away that this was a unique opportunity. The purchase was the beginning of a passionate relationship with a camper van which has long had cult status among camping fans.
The James Cook, the 222,222nd vehicle from Westfalia, was presented at the IAA in Frankfurt in 1981. Then it went directly to the Westfalia museum where it remained until the company went bankrupt. Johannes Reifenrath was not one to miss this opportunity. After buying the van he had a Mercedes-Benz workshop repair the usual tear and wear, restoring the van almost to its original condition. However, Mr. Reifenrath had other plans for the 2.4 liter engine with 65 hp …
Unfortunately, the original OM 616 diesel engine ran like a sack of nuts.After every cold start it shook like a wet dog, was incredibly loud and very, very slow. The 65 hp fought and lost against the 2,630 kilogram unladen weight, the aerodynamic drag of a cathedral and the torque converter transmission. It had to take even small, slow inclines in second gear at 30 km/h and on the highway even trucks blew right past me.
Mr. Reifenrath’s wife once summed it up with the question: “Are you driving your snail again?” In 2014 Mr. Reifenrath decided to replace the four-cylinder engine with a modern OM 617 5-cylinder diesel (3 liters, 88 hp). This originated from a T1 donor ready for scrapping and “was well run in with 388,000 kilometers”. It was completely restored before being fitted. The new engine now drives the “still comfortable” camper van reliably, much more quietly and with minimal extra fuel consumption down every road. The odometer of the 34 year-old James Cook in new used condition only shows 10,000 km.
Mr. Reifenrath and his James Cook value the slower moments: “It does not matter whether I drive 80 or 300 km at the weekend. In the James Cook the clock ticks differently and I enjoy the intense experience of slowness”. That is why Mr. Reifenrath enjoys relaxing at Lake Constance or driving to classic car meets. “When they let me in”, he says with a grin. “Often it needs the historical number plates to convince the organizers that this perfectly cared-for, modern-looking van is truly a classic vehicle.”
Photos: Matthias Just