New Or Used?: Mad About A Modern Microbus

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used mad about a modern microbus

Ron writes:

I am an old VW microbus fan. Not that I had a lot, mind you, compared to some; but I did own two ’71s, a prototype vanagon, and an ’84 vanagon.

I realize they were, oh, not so safe, what with using the driver and front passenger as a sort of buffer to protect the car, and maybe having a handling issue or two. But I did come to love a few things: ease of maintenance/repair (which you had to do more than my civics); simplicity; huge greenhouse; and, finally, the big roomy open from cockpit. No big damn console between the seats, and no feeling of being cocooned in the car. I could, while driving, stretch my legs out to one side.

I did not like the Eurovan, so, once push came to shove, I ended up with an Astro for 13 years, which got 21 MPG in all driving, and had far more room and flexibility than, say, and Element; had no intrusive center console (that came in later models); and had a lot of what I liked in the microbus (but not all of it; no manual). The astro did beat all the vw’s in not having the engine hump in back. 2 minutes and all seats were out and lots of 4×8 sheets of drywall could go in. Very versatile with a tiny turning radius; nice car.

I miss that microbus roominess. I’m not that tall at 6’3″, and I see people who are 6’7″ or larger extolling the roominess of the Element; how do they do it? My legs hit the steering wheel, and I can’t see the speedometer.The Ford Transit is almost “it”, save for the auto — and, in spite of what you guys say, I can always beat the auto on MPG if I have a manual. I get 10MPG more on my Fit on average than my friends get with their Fits with an auto. Plus, I get the extra control, which I like in messy weather. But once I drive the Fit for two or more hours, my bad knees really start to gripe at me. Unfolding from the Fit is a painful experience.

So, what can I get? Is there a “modern microbus”, with a manual, small engine, very roomy open front, simplicity, that I can get in the US? From what I can see, the answer is “no”. I’ll give room on the engine, but what about the manual?

Steve Lang Answers:

Great. Not another old former hippie who wants to SUV his way into spaciousness and comfort. You’re asking more or less for a box. May I suggest a Lincoln Town Car hearse that was formerly owned by a good friend of mine from New Jersey? Oh wait, that’s right. You’re looking for a big box with a little engine and no suspicious fingerprints. Can’t help you with that.

Lucky for you, I’m channeling the world famous Paul Niedermeyer through my fingerstrokes at this very moment. Let’s see what he has to say:

“I was busy taking pictures of a 1981 Chrysler Imperial in Eugene just the other day. You know. The one with a trombone red interior and a rear fatter than Tip O’Neill’s ass. When I realized I had left some Kodachrome in my Scion Xb. I opened the passenger door and looked all over. Opened the cavernous glovebox that holds all my Twizzlers. Under the seats. Even inside my all-aluminum 1959 Sears Craftsman toolbox that I have always used to repair all 17 houses that I own. Anyhow, it turns out that the missing roll was inside my Mighty Mac jacket. Did I ever tell you Ken Kesey once flipped me the bird?”

And there you have it. You need to buy a 1st generation Scion Xb. Either that or a 1992 Dodge Grand Caravan SE. Wait. I would never recommend something like that. Either Niedermeyer is still controlling my thoughts… or I’ve got this insatiable hunger for Twizzlers and Nikon cameras. Gotta go…

Sajeev Mehta Answers:

Dude, you’re screwed: move to a less oil-privileged country and buy damn near any hippie Van with a stick (and a Diesel!) you want. Just kidding, America rules: go directly to the nearest Mazda dealer and order a Mazda5 with a stick. Because there’s no way in hell you’ll ever find one sans slushbox in a dealer’s inventory.

Older Mazda5’s had a few worrying problems via Internet chatter, one that was previously discussed on Piston Slap. But it’s nothing compared to dealing with old VW vans. But I suspect the Mazda 5 is too bourgeois for you, so all you got left is another American Minivan.

While better than your VW vans, the Chevy Astro is a gigantic flaming deathtrap that I wouldn’t put my worst enemy in. And it’s FWD cousin was similarly shitty. But since you like simple and crude machines, I’d recommend a Ford Freestar (not Windstar) above all: safe, huge, reliable, dirt cheap and it comes with a pushrod, Windsor V8 derived, six banger motor so agricultural that farm tractors shiver at the mere sight of its blue oval topped grille. Put some full moon wheel covers for maximum fuel economy and enjoy life in America’s best option for your needs.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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2 of 34 comments
  • Inside Looking Out This is actually the answer to the question I asked not that long ago.
  • Inside Looking Out Regarding "narrow windows" - the trend is that windows will eventually be replaced by big OLED screens displaying some exotic place or may even other planet.
  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
  • Donald More stuff to break god I love having a nanny in my truck... find a good tuner and you can remove most of the stupid stuff they add like this and auto park when the doors open stupid stuff like that