Junkyard Find: 1983 Volkswagen Vanagon Steal Your Face Edition

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1983 volkswagen vanagon steal your face edition

I usually don’t pay much attention to VW Transporters in the junkyard, but I have a friend with a Vanagon (he’s an industrial designer and decided that this VW— which I believe to be one of the worst motor vehicles ever built— says positive things about his sense of style and appreciation of good design) who needed a bunch of parts for his hopeless project van. So, when I found this ’83 at a Denver self-service wrecking yard, I grabbed a few bits and took some photos.

In the decades before too many chili dogs and cigarettes killed Jerry Garcia, Deadheads would follow the band around the country in various hooptiefied motor vehicles. While most of them drove stuff like battered old Detroit pickups and random members of the K-Car family, some followed archetypal hippie tradition and toured in Volkswagen Transporters. This is such a van.

The skull-and-lightning-bolt artwork from the Grateful Dead’s Steal Your Face live album became the centerpiece of 900 billion emulations, variations, and permutations, on stickers sold in Dead show parking lots as well as homemade VW van paint jobs.

This van has two Steal Your Face Skull stickers that I could find, and I’m sure there were more.

The “Free Tibet” sticker might as well have been issued to all Vanagon owners back in the late 1980s.

I pulled the left front marker-light lens for my friend’s van, but couldn’t figure out the other items on his wish list.

He needs some component of the engine cover, or maybe it’s the radiator puke tank. Anyway, I couldn’t decipher his cryptic text messages, so he’ll need to go back and get that part himself.

Because, like, life is all a circle, maaaan, I happened to be crawling around in this van on the same day that I and 1,325,809 other Colorado voters chose to legalize marijuana in our state. While I hadn’t been firing up a bowl of Hickenlooper Haywire in a Chong-sourced four-footer prior to seeing this van, I still managed to be impressed by these homemade quasi-Hawaiian curtains. How many times had these curtains absorbed the strains of the Dead’s disco anthem on a crappy cassette deck during their lives, I wondered.

Well, it was like the ghost of Owsley Stanley himself appeared and told me I needed these genuine Deadhead curtains for my decidedly un-hippie Dodge van, so I bought the complete set for five bucks.

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2 of 31 comments
  • Crazymike Crazymike on Nov 30, 2012

    If you for some reason go back to that yard, and they are still there... I could use the RH mirror. Or the left, or both. I'm using one hose-clamped to the rollbar for Scrubby's rear-view and the RH one on my super-towing Vanagon has got that terminal floppy mirror syndrome.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on May 08, 2018

    I see in the photo that the instrument cluster is gone. No surprise to me,back when I went to the self serve dismantlers I never saw a Vanagon with a cluster still in it. Crazymike, Get a new aftermarket side mirror(s) disassemble the swivel joint and coat it with J-B weld. Reassemble and install on door adjust as nec. No more flopping and vibrating. OEM mirrors have been unavailable for about 15 years.

  • Jeff S I ignore the commercials. Never owned a Mazda but I would definitely look at one and seriously consider it. I would take a Honda, Toyota, or Mazda over any German vehicle at least they are long lasting, reliable, and don't cost an arm and a leg to maintain.
  • GregLocock The predictable hysteria and repetition of talking points in the meeja is quite funny. it does not divide Oxford into six zones. it restricts access at 6 locations , one on each road, to reduce congestion in the town centre. Florence, which faces the same issue, traffic and narrow historic streets, lined with historic buildings, simply closed the entire town centre off. Don't see anybody whining about that.
  • Jeff S I have rented from Hertz before and never encountered this but if I had I would sue them. Would not want a gun pointed at me and thrown in jail for renting a car.
  • Arthur Dailey I did use a service pre COVID to get the pricing that the dealers were alleged to have paid the manufacturer. It also provided 'quotes' from multiple dealers .
  • Arthur Dailey Has anyone else concluded that we may have a new 'troll' on this site?