By on April 13, 2010

Welcome to Eugene. Feel free to stay on the bus, either literally or metaphorically. If it’s the former, no hard feelings; Eugene is not for everyone, and we’ll be back in fifteen minutes or so. But if you’re “On The Bus”, then let’s step out here in the center of downtown, also known as Kesey Square. There is the statue of Ken Kesey, Eugene’s hometown cultural and literary hero, reading from his most famous book “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”.  And what’s that across the street? How serendipitous indeed: a vintage VW bus, the official transporter of Eugene.

Just like it’s usually impossible to identify the absolute source of a new design direction in cars, so it is with cultural trends. But Ken Kesey was something akin to, well, the VW bus. Like the Transporter borrowed heavily from the Beetle, but re-packaged its donor’s mechanicals into a creative and influential new shape, so Kesey borrowed from the Beat era of the fifties and transformed its fading intellectual energy into something new and highly influential. Kesey himself said: “I was too young to be a Beat, and too old to be a hippie”. Perhaps the VW bus could say it was too old to be a Beetle but too young to be a minivan.

The transformation of the Beetle into the Type 2 was the result of an outside agent: the Dutch VW importer Ben Pon. Visiting the factory in 1946 intending to buy Beetles, Pon saw an improvised parts mover (perhaps like this, or not)  that inspired him to draw a sketch of a van. With a little time and refinement, VW eventually put the Type 2 into production in 1949, and the world has never been quite the same.

The profound space efficiency of a box with the fundamental characteristics of a passenger car in an economical and well-built package was about as original and revolutionary as it gets in the automobile industry. And its profound adaptability in so many roles make it difficult to pin down exactly what the VW Bus was or wasn’t. But its final and starring role as perhaps the greatest an icon of both practical transport and cultural transformation is undisputed.

Kesey also defies stereotyping. He spent most of his life on the family farm outside of Eugene, married his high school sweetheart (and stayed married to her until his death in 2001), and was a champion high school and college wrestler. He was transformed by an outside agent too: as a volunteer in a CIA-financed study at Stanford in 1959, he was exposed to numerous psychoactive drugs. His book “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” was based on his experiences working the night shift at Menlo Park Veteran’s Hospital, often under the influence of LSD or other psychotropics.

His early sixties “Acid Tests” on his rural spread in the Santa Cruz Mts. in the Bay Area were seminal events that spawned a cultural revolution (and the Grateful Dead). And the cross-country trip by the Merry Pranksters in his colorfully painted 1939 International school bus “Furthur” created a legend and was the basis for Tom Wolfe’s “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test”.  Not everyone may have an intrinsic sense of connection to Kesey or the hippie movement, but its deep and lasting effect can’t be disputed; we’re all eating organic produce, trying to be “green”, and taking yoga classes now. Or should be.

It’s no stretch to say that Furthur is the granddaddy of the whole VW hippie bus phenomena. The VW was the smallest and most economical scale bus with which tens of thousands launched their own personal Electric Kool Aid Acid Tests, generally pointing west, unlike Furthur’s original voyage east to spread the new gospel of the Bay Area. By the late sixties, used and tired VW buses that had played another pioneering role as the first compact van in America were readily available. With a copy of John Muir’s seminal “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot” under the mattress in the back, where seats once ferried little old white haired ladies on outings in the church’s bus.

Those same sturdy pleated seats once ferried me and my family every year to our summer vacation in a village high in the Alps, thanks to the Innsbruck University Hospital’s 1953 “barn door” Kombi Bus, complete with driver. It was very similar to this 1960 Kombi, having just perused the pictures last week. The “barn door” refers to the extra tall rear engine door that also had a shelf for the spare tire above the engine, a feature that was eliminated in about 1955, when the spare migrated to a compartment behind the front seat.

Did I say engine? From today’s perspective, the early VW bus engines simply defy our standards of what that implies. The earliest buses used the 1100cc 24  (net) hp it shared with the Beetle. The key as always was in the gearing: the Type 2 used the reduction gears that hang from the end of the swing axles that the Type 81 Kübelwagen used with great success during WWII. After 1953, the 1200 cc boxer with 36/30 (gross/net) hp powered this and most of the fifties and early sixties Buses. I have vivid memories of watching the ground move by ever so slowly, as the Hospital’s bus worked its way up the final steep pull to Ladis, in second gear. First was just something to get the most heavily loaded bus to overcome the initial inertia, hardly faster than a walking gait. Fourth topped out at about fifty or so, on absolutely level ground.

Not to shoehorn in on Ken Kesey, but it seems like my life and the VW Bus’ are highly intertwined too: My earliest memories are of of black over red buses in Austria in the fifties. In Iowa, German friends of ours with two children took my whole family (of six) on a memorable outing in their Westfalia, and I rode in the compartment over the engine. Much roomier than the little luggage well in the Beetle I used to get dropped into as a toddler. Or did I share it with my brother? Ten people, one Westfalia: previews of coming attractions, squeezed into the bowels of Buses. And loving it.

And then, there was the Smokemobile, a 1965 Bus that a fresh-out-of-college high school teacher who allowed his sophomore class to commandeer for rolling smoke breaks in the neighborhood around Loyola HS in 1968. The Smokemobile was the second car I ever drove, at a rather unusual location: on the grounds of the Maryland School for the Blind, on a Wednesday night, after our community service work there. Next thing I knew, I was driving it all over the place (without a license). Some teachers just don’t know where to draw the line with their students.

One of the odd characteristics of the first generation bus was to watch its rear end lift as it did its facsimile of acceleration, mainly in first gear, just like a BMW motorcycle. An artifact of the reduction gears, it provided a visual counterpoint to the usual rear-end squat of automotive acceleration. It was one of those definitive quirks that added to the Bus’ eccentricity and personality. If you can’t accelerate, you might as well lift up your ass to the world.

Even in our preppy button downs, ties, suits and Weejuns, and having only a faint awareness of Kesey, I knew the the Smokemobile was eminently cool. It primed me for my own departure from Towson, even if that was with the power of the thumb, instead of a Bus. How I wished it were so; achingly so. Actually owning a bus in those days was like having a McMansion in the nineties: instant status within a group that tried so hard to reject that concept.

I won’t bore you with my experience in VW buses during my freewheeling rambling days. But lets just say that when hitchhiking during that period, one’s mood always jumped a bit when that distinctive shape appeared down the road a ways. The odds were mighty high that it would slowly ease over, the double doors would pop open, and welcoming faces from within beckoned. There was always room for one more on the bus. And the whine of the engine and reduction gears were the signal that another adventure was about to begin: “Hey; we’re heading for Big Sur; want to come?”

Forgive my random ramblings, but then that’s what VW buses are all about though. Before we end, I should point out that although the VW bus is the spiritual transporter of Eugene, its presence in the daily streetscape has dropped off considerably. Lousy gas mileage, poor performance, and don’t even ask about its emissions from the few hard core drivers still plying the streets. That’s not to say they’re rare either, and I already had several in the can. But for some reason, I kept holding back. The first CC bus needed context.

So when I finally stumbled upon this one recently on Kesey Square, I knew it was the one. And contrary to stereotypes, it wasn’t driven by an old hippie. I was heartened to see this nice Westfalia camper being driven by a cheerful young woman. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was still a bit surprised when I looked into the rear of her bus: a crucifix, with an effigy mounted to it. Her artist mother made it, and it was being transported, of course. Well, it all makes perfect sense somehow, as long as you’re on the bus.

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39 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1960 VW Bus (Type 2) Westfalia...”


  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    My family had one of these when we moved from Alaska to California in 1973. It was a bit newer as it was a 1970 model Westy weekender, without the pop-top. That was the first vehicle I ever drove!

    • 0 avatar
      majo8

      My first drive was in a VW Bus as well — a 68 camper on the beach in Daytona. I’d take it out as an 11 year-old as soon as my parents were out of sight on their beach walks…..

  • avatar
    stars9texashockey

    the owner is another tolerant liberal…

  • avatar
    Autojunkie

    I really hate the “hippy” stereotype that goes along with these. I own an 87 Westfalia that my family and I use for camping. Neither my wife or I are they hippy-type. I would say we’re more the punk-type than anything. So it gets kind of annoying when everyone comes up to us and says “Oooo… Neat van. Are you gonna paint peace signs on it?”. WTF! One day the old punk will come out of me and tell the next “hippy” that makes a comment like to F*** OFF!

    Kind of annoying… That’s all I haev to say…

  • avatar
    Autojunkie

    I also just wnt to clarify that while I hate the hippy generation and everything those selfish a**wipes did to ruin the country, I equally hate the far-right conservative d**ks that also helped ruin the country.

    Ok… Seriously… I’m done now…

    • 0 avatar
      zbnutcase

      There is no far-right, only liberals and Americans.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      “There is no far-right, only liberals and Americans.”

      And I’m sure that we can count on you to identify the two groups for us.

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      There is no far-right, only liberals and Americans.

      OK. I’ll settle this once and for all:

      “Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Far Left and Far Right (and party politics in general) – first-world prosperity for themselves, third-world prosperity for the rest of us (ordinary taxpaying citizens)…”

  • avatar
    texlovera

    My sister and her husband had a 1972(?) Bus, white over tan. I remember how weird it was to ride in the fron seat with NOTHING in front of you, especially making a turn.

    It was also the first VW (hell, the first non-American) car I’d ever been in. The engineering was differently cool: the door handles, door locks, and especially the controls with their simple graphics rather than text labels. And it sure seemed well-built, at least at first….

  • avatar
    troonbop

    “we have some liquid refreshments to pass around.”

    Could I have a swig from the orange juice labeled “Tigers”?

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    I like the juxtaposition of the “love your enemies” and “buck fush” stickers…

    I’ve long thought it would be fun to *add* bumper stickers to peoples’ cars. Like, find some big-ass beater F250 with an “I’ll keep my guns and money, you keep the change” sticker, and add one that says, “A living wage is a family value”.

    (Edit: The ‘you are not what you own’ sticker on a vehicle which exists mainly as a political statement is fun, too.)

    • 0 avatar

      I took a different twist on adding bumper stickers. I mentioned an idea to a friend and he had several 1″ high, standard width stickers made up with:

      “…and I can’t drive!”

      A few of those have ended up just below some interesting bumper stickers. Suddenly, “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers…and I can’t drive!” really brightens things up.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “My other car is a broom… and I can’t drive!”

      Yep. Quality.

  • avatar
    res

    I towed a $100 ’71 Campmobile home back in 1988, and after figuring out the points had closed up (which I learned to check first when troubleshooting my eventual fleet of VWs), repaired the engine (and gutted the interior) and drove it for eight years before it packed up for good.

    Somewhere in there, the van got repainted in olive drab over grey to mimic a WWII B-17 bomber (http://www.peachtreeprairie.com/road/images/belle.jpg) – it was the main character in an ‘independent film’ my college buddies and I produced (unfortunately, IMDB never bothered to list it).

    We made several epic trips in the van, including one from Charlotte to Boston to retrieve items from my wife’s grandfather’s estate. The U-haul trailer, or rather, I should say the bumper to which it was attached, fell off the van just north of The Bronx, so we ended up renting a car for the wife and kids, and put a riding mower, large utility trailer and a bunch of furniture and other stuff inside the van for the trip home.

    Got pulled over at least five times while I owned the van, but never got a ticket. I think the local constabularies were doing a bit of ‘profiling,’ and were always surprised to find a clean-cut, articulate college graduate behind the wheel.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    “I was too old to be a Beat, and too young to be a hippie”.

    You got the quote backwards. Maybe because nowadays the word “hippie” is always associated with the word “aging”.

  • avatar

    Paul, thank you for another personal, interesting look at a true Curbside Classic. I enjoyed a long trip in a friend’s VW Bus to pick up a wind generator. Dad wasn’t a hippie, but wind power was green (we didn’t call it that yet), interesting, and economical, even in the ’70s.

    Sorry for the political pollution.

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    A friend had one (a ’65-ish) in California when I lived there…rode in it a few times and was never more scared than in any other car…

    NOTHING out in front of you to absorb the impact energy from a crash…um, I like the use of my legs, thank you very much, and after about 10 minutes of initial “this is cool” during my first ride in it, I’d always hate when he’d offer to drive.

    Some people said they were nervous to ride in my Miata becuase it was so small, but my dual-airbag equipped Miata felt like an S-class Benz in terms of safety compared to that rolling hippy deathtrap…I would HAVE to be stoned all the time just to keep my nerves at bay driving a VW bus.

    • 0 avatar
      thebeelzebubtrigger

      Having spent a number of years driving these things (a ’67 and a ’72), I’ve often thought that if everyone felt like the drivers of the old type 2s did the roads would be much safer for us all.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    We drove these all over the west as climbing bums in the mid 90′s After you got to your destination you felt like you pushed the van there, they would work you so hard tacking wind………..sometimes you would push it.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had one 74 or 75 imported (Legally) into Mexico in the 80s, but it had a 1,800 cc engine with twin Weber carburators, it was way much faster and had more power than the domestic “Combi” with the 1,600 cc Beetle engine.
    It had the camping interiors as well as the collapsable roof.

    ¿Does anyone has the HP figure on that model?

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    I wonder if the self proclaimed ‘tree hugging dirt worshipper’ who owns this VW is aware of its CO2 emmissions?

    The back of that van proves that some things should not be recycled; such as political cliches.

  • avatar
    srogers

    The ‘tree hugging dirt worshipper’ probably doesn’t drive this van far enough to be much of a factor. She’d have to drive a long ways to emit enough CO2 to equal a McMansion living, SUV driving, boat trailering suburbanite.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned two buses, a ’67 split-window with a 1500cc single port, single bbl carb. It was dangerously slow on the interstate. The brakes started to fail and the steering box started to bind. One of the last times I drove it was on Woodward Ave. I needed to make a u-turn but when I got to the turnaround in the blvd, I couldn’t slow the bus enough, and with the tight steering couldn’t get the wheel around enough and the right rear tire hit the curb just as I exited the turnaround. That threw the right side of the bus up in the air and I skidded across four lanes with both right side wheels about two feet off the ground, the bus still completing its turn. By the time the wheels came back down I was pointed in the right direction, and I pulled off into a parking lot.

    When the steering and brakes finally failed completely, I kept the engine and eventually found a nice ’72 without a motor. Though VW had already gone to the Type IV motor in the bus, the ’72s could still bolt up a Beetle engine. I built a 1648cc engine, dual port heads, Holley-Weber carb, a mild street cam and other miscellaneous go fast parts like a high output oil pump and external filter. It could cruise all day long @ 70mph. In the summer, the oil got routed to a rooftop cooler element (“what’s that on your roof?” “An oil cooler” “What does it do” “Umm, cool oil.”). Buses only had good heat if they had auxiliary gasoline fired furnaces because the long ducts from the heat exchangers up to the passengers up front would usually be the first things on the bus to rust – well if the heat exchangers themselves weren’t rusted. So I rigged up a heater. In the winter the hot oil went through a spare OEM oil cooler element I had boxed into a plenum with a squirrel cage fan. It didn’t keep the bus warm exactly, but it kept it at a tolerable 50-60 degrees in Michigan winters.

    BTW, those reduction gears make an early Bus about the easiest vehicle to use to learn how to drive a stick shift. First gear ends up being so low that you can almost dump the clutch at idle and still not stall the engine.

    • 0 avatar
      gsw0

      Darn right those things were slow – try learning how to drive on the Autobahn in the 80′s driving 1 of those buses. We had 2 Army Green buses for our small unit, no one liked to be duty driver except me.
      So I used to run errands all over the place in the VW bus while learning how to drive. I used to floor those things like crazy and let the clutch out and still never get anywhere above 100 Kph (sixty mph) everyone else thought I was nuts to drive since I had to clean it everyday with a thorough washing. Small price to pay, since I noticed that radio communications did not always work and you could take your time getting back to post without getting in trouble.
      Best memory of the vans was when we had wrecked one of them (wasn’t me) and I was first in line very early 1 day at the motor pool to check out a replacement vehicle. I ended up with a souped up bus that was much faster than what we had, it also had tinted windows, curtains, a NICE radio. I found out later on why the van was so much nicer – seems the motor pool had assigned me the General’s van when the van had been in for maintenance. I only had the van a total of about 2hours before the General’s staff had tracked down my unit and they tracked me down. But alas I had to return it asap and draw another replacement. I do know for a fact it was faster than any other van that we ever had and we were the MP’s !
      Fun times.

  • avatar
    redseca2

    I was a college student in Eugene in the ’70′s when I bought a decrepit 1957 bus to haul construction materials. I had managed to buy an old westish Eugene house using a student loan check as a down payment. After talking 3 friends into moving in, their combined rents gave me a $25 profit over the $200 mortgage and I was now officially a capitalist.

    That thing was seriously underpowered. With a load of sheetrock tied precariously to the roof it took three tries before we got over the West 11th train track overpass. And I did manage to run into Ken Kesey a couple times when we were both picking up lumber at the Eugene Planing Mill.

  • avatar
    obbop

    There’s class warfare, all right, Mr. (Warren) Buffett said, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The guy across the street bought a ’56 new, it came with a crank that could start the engine. When the 54 suburban got rusty, it was replaced with a ’62 bus then a ’65. I took my driver’s test in the 65.

  • avatar
    TAP

    I owned a ’66 and in ’70 drove it from Baltimore to Sacramento with a friend. It let us down almost daily, but we were 18 and totally unfazed. Just a great adventure. It finally developed a loud rod knock so we sold it to a hippie and flew back east.
    Even now when I approach an overpass at speed my grip tightens sometimes, as if preparing to jerk the wheel left, then right to tack wind.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Everybody here’s watched “Little Miss Sunshine,” right? Anybody?

    Winner: Best Performance in a Supporting Role by a Two-Geared Minibus.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Good you nixed the GTI, Mike. It’s an almost perfect machine, marred by excessive power. I was offered one for an unescorted test drive that lasted 30 minutes. It took about 10 minutes for the rush of turbo acceleration to wear off. But I was a about 50- a teenager might enjoy that rush a lot more, likely too much. The TDI engine solves that problem. It’s powerful, capable of hauling a carload up the steepest mountain grades of I-70 in Colorado at 85 mph. It’s just not responsive or explosive, like the GTI.

    When driving time comes, my daughter will either get my diesel Beetle or our Subaru Forester. That’s an amazingly versatile vehicle, sort of a Swiss Army Car that’s ready for almost any duty or task. Among the few things it cannot do are alarming cops, and insurance agents, or impressing BMW drivers, but that’s not all bad.

    Get your kid a used car from this century that’s well-equipped for safety. Front and side air bags are essential, in my book. But make it a small car. As others have pointed out, kids do make mistakes, and if your kid makes a mistake you don’t want him wiping out some unfortunate family wedged into a smaller car. SUVs and pickups with body-on-frame construction are more “aggressive” in collisions. IMO, we ought to keep young drivers out of them. (Read “High and Mighty” by Keith Brashears (sp?) for a thorough investigation of auto crash safety.)

    Smaller vehicles teach their drivers humility and defensive driving. Way back in Tennessee, you could drive at 15 1/2 on a motorcycle of less than 60cc. I had an Italian two-stroke imported as a “Harley-Davidson,” one you won’t see in the coffee table brag books. It was basically a mo-ped without the pedals, which would have been helpful assists sometimes. Underpowered and barely braked, it taught me a lot about anticipation and watchfulness. I do not expect you to copy this learning method…

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Sometimes memory IS the context.

    I had a ’62 transporter that looked an awful lot like this one while I was in grad school. It had a later, somewhat built engine that actually had decent power for getting up and down mountains. It had lived at Taos for most of its life so it wasn’t inordinately rusty, and in the late 80s it was one of few buses in my area that hadn’t been hippified. Unfortunately, it still had the 6v electrical system and attendant poor lighting that made night driving somewhat more risky than the constant level of danger one was in any time it was in forward motion. Anyone with an aging 6v VW remember the double-solenoid trick that was required to get sufficient electrons to the starter for hot-starting?

    Not too long after I got it, one of my friends was killed in a first-gen Toyota van (any of those in your files, Paul?), and I was simply unable to feel anything approaching safe while driving it. I sold it to an artist couple, friends of my sister, and it still lives on a farm in Virginia.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I remember laying across the back of a VW bus, over the engine, and having to yell to my sister sitting next to me as we inched along up hills. The reason I would lay down is because I was so embarrassed to be seen in it by the long line of cars that followed us wherever we went, as we inched along.

    This vehicle was utterly gutless. A bicycle has more power and push. As the driver strattled the steering column riding it with his crotch, he would instinctively lean forward almost pressing his nose against the windshield, praying that the forward movement softly felt under his butt would increase enough to get the Bus out of it’s own way. It usually didn’t.

    The VW Bus was a big box that couldn’t hold it’s own weight and perform as a bus. So, putting anything into it and expecting it to actually move what was put into it, was for daydream believers. The VW Bus was so loud and so slow, it was the auto equivalent of a drunken marching band.

    The reason the VW Bus because a hippy icon is because no one in their right mind would drive them. The only enjoyable trips taken in them were Acid ones. They were cheap, they were a fad for thousands of Americans, and they found their ways into used car lots faster than they moved.

    So, yeah – the VW Bus is a rolling cartoon of liberalism because it didn’t function in the real world, it gave it’s owner a feeling of sacrifice, it stood out as a thumb to the nose around it, and it moved so slowly the rear could be used as a billboard for moronic liberal statements in hopes that by appearing holier-than-thou, it hid it’s utter uselessness as a motor vehicle. Drivers forced to endure it’s non-existent performance usually felt a need to insult those of us forced to follow them.

    By insulting us, VW Bus drivers kept us from just laughing at them. By plastering bumperstickers that offended normal Americans, VW Bus drivers pretended to justify their horrible rides. They pretended to live in another world, a world somehow better, somehow more natural, somehow more fair, somehow more selfless, yet as utterly impractical as their political beliefs.

    Like the millions of illogical pacifists who believe that just saying that war is wrong would magically end war, the VW Bus depended on everyone else to do what is right, in order for it to keep from being destroyed by reality and then tossed into the nearest ditch.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    And if that statue of Kesey is actually reading “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, then why the heck is he reading it to children? Ken Kesey’s work would be bad Dr. Seuss to anyone under the age of twenty.

  • avatar
    carnick

    I did the VW Bus scene my sophmore year in college, with a 1968 vintage pop-top camper (in 1977). I think it was a required ritual for a certain segment of college kids at the time, those of us that just missed the hippie generation but still identified with it.

    It was a blast. The Camper was the top of the line – pop-top with a hammock-like bunk on top (and a deluxe add-on canvas tent!), a sofa-cum-folding bed in the back (very handy for a college student…), a little table, icebox, even a tiny sink (that did double-duty on long trips). It was a college kid’s dream. Durable, versatile, playful, fun, ill-handling, unheated, and unsafe. But it did it all for me. From daily commutes to campus, to stuffing it with a dozen other sophmores and driving around drinking all night (not the driver, of course), to moving furniture, to yes, actually “camping” in it. On a college student’s budget at the time, it was a vey cheap way to “travel”, staying in parking lots, and for a treat, the occasional ‘campground’ with access to a shower.

    It was a kick to drive. It would run out of breath at 70 mph, but would run at that speed all day. With regular valve adjustments and oil changes (the engine didn’t have an oil “filter” in the conventional sense, it was literally just a wire screen that you would regularly scrape the sludge out of), it would run a long time. The visibility, sitting up high with literally nothing in front of you, was fantastic – just you and the road. That also made it equally terrifying, with nothing in front of you but the road. Being a young and stupid 19 year old, I didn’t think much about it.

    They were revolutionary vehicles, the first true “minivans” (Chrysler’s claims notwithstanding). But, they also had all the usual weaknesses of VW’s (and many other cars) of that era – like, rust. Mine was less than 10 years old, but had already been through plastic surgery a couple of times, with more bondo than sheetmetal at anything below knee level.

    The heating system was interesting too. Mine had intact heater channels (actually, corrugated tubes stuck into them to carry the hot air), but the usual rusted-out heater boxes. They delivered fairly decent heat, but unfortunately, it was also mostly engine exhaust fumes that came pouring out of the vents. In winter, it was a process of turning on the heat for about a minute to ward off frostbite – while holding your breath for as long as possible. Then, as dizziness started to set in from carbon monoxide poisoning and oxygen depravation, open all the windows to purge the fumes and allow breathing again, which would plunge the interior to sub-zero temperatures and start the cycle anew.

    Back then you could buy these nifty ice-scrapers for the inside of windshields. It was a circular hockey-puck sized thing with a scraping edge all around and a handle in the middle. I had one and would furiously run it all over the inside of the windshield, my hand a blur of speed, to try and stay on top of the layer of frost that would form from my breath (I also wired up a tiny 12V blow dryer – which I got from the wizard of JC Whitney – to try for an ersatz defroster. If you focused it on one spot, in a couple of minutes it would clear a dime-sized area to try and peer through like a peephole in a door).

    A friend of mine had a 1967 camper bus (the last of the previous generation, we would park them side by side and compare), had an incident. While driving on a highway at top speed (about 60 mph for him), a tire fell off the back of a truck ahead of him. He watched in terror as it bounced along the road, drawing a bead on his front end – which it bullseyed. I was hanging out in his driveway when he pulled up in his camper, with the front end looking like an origami nightmare, unbelievably bashed in all around him and his legs – from a tire!

    After that, whenever I drove mine I was acutely aware that my feet were resting on the same 1/64th inch thick sheetmetal that was the front of the bus, and I would have horrible visions of what the laws of physics would dictate would happen if I was struck with some large damaging object – like, an acorn, or a bird, to say nothing of something with real mass.

    They were the perfect vehicle for the time, when people didn’t think so much about “safety” (or for naive teenagers who didn’t think much about mortality). I cherish the memories, but wouldn’t go back.

  • avatar
    jonnyguitar

    Interesting how a vehicle can bring up such a political debate.

    I drove a 76 vw van with a poptop from Texas to Utah one summer, the trip stopped short due to some “profiling.” I agree with many of the comments above about the naivete and annoyingly smug attitude of the types who drive these as some sort of identity emblem, but hey, you gotta dream, and if you’re not dreaming, you should be glad that at least someone is.

    One saying though that I have yet to be unproven: “Noone is more uptight than a hippy.”

  • avatar
    FromBrazil

    I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, I kinda understand the grip this bugger has on some American minds, but, but, but…Living where I do, this thing is a constant, in traffic, parked all around you, and it’s such a nuisance. even in the land of the 1.0 car, these things are dreadfully slow and inherently danger. Can’t wait till in 2012 air bags finally become mandatory and these things finally go the way of the dinosaur.

    good riddance! if anybody has ever overstaid their welcome…


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