Many a time I have seen someone driving a VW kombi (microbus/camper van) and thought to myself, ‘It would be cool to have one of those.’ I would day-dream about the chance to take off whenever the mood took me, to just head out onto the open road and stop for the night at an unplanned and possibly unknown location. I would imagine driving a camper van across the United States, around Europe, or along the Australian coast. As day-dreams go, it was a good one.

That was the dream, and here I am now with a map of Australia open before me and the keys to a camper-van in my pocket. Only, it’s not a split screen VW kombi from the days of the Beach Boys. Instead it’s a 1989 Toyota Tarago, a relic from the big haired era of BonJovi.

Sadly the opportunities to acquire a decent VW kombi in Melbourne were scarce, and the price for such style would have taken a ravenous bite out of my budget. I could have waited for a lucky deal, but the truth is my Tarago was a bargain, and while it lacks the romance of the old VW, it would at last give me the freedom to experience life on the road in a camper-van.

Unlike the iconic VW Kombi, my Tarago wasn’t originally a camper-van when it rolled off the Toyota assembly line as Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” crackled over a radio somewhere.

It made the switch from humble people carrier to camper-van in more recent years like some late-in-life gender reassignment surgery. The result didn’t bring forth an undiscovered charm or long hidden beauty, but then the Toyota Tarago was never pretty. In motoring terms this was an ugly duckling that matured into an ugly duck.

Originally a rejected design for a 1980’s Japanese shopping mall, the Tarago was not a vehicle that stirred feelings of desire or envy. The drive feels like a long conversation with an accountant, at an accountancy seminar, in Dudley, when it’s raining. But, like all Toyotas, it was more about the function than the form, more focused on longevity than lust. And so it is that long after people have stopped listening to the likes of Milli Vanilli and Richard Marx, the trusty old Tarago is still going.

However, longevity and reliability aside, my ‘post op’ Tarago doesn’t offer much in the way of refinements or creature comforts. The air conditioning no longer works and the stereo mutes for the duration of any right hand turn.

Where there were once an abundance of seats there is now a large bed set upon a hinged wooden board. Underneath that there’s space for luggage and essentials, and in the back there are two large plastic boxes packed with gear for life on the road. There’s also a table and two chairs, two sleeping bags, a large water container, and a single gas burner for cooking.

By no stretch of the imagination could my Tarago be called luxurious, though it is surprisingly comfortable, and since its reassignment operation it’s become a well travelled little camper-van. It’s been driven to far off places by French people, some Germans, a couple of girls from Finland, and now me.

It’s not the dream, but really when you consider everything, it’s actually not a bad reality either.