By on November 23, 2012

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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31 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1983 Volkswagen Vanagon Steal Your Face Edition...”

  • avatar

    Equipped with the 1.6 liter diesel, the Transporter had truly breathtaking acceleration.

  • avatar

    “this VW— which I believe to be one of the worst motor vehicles ever built”

    Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

    • 0 avatar

      I should clarify that my opinion applies only to the Vanagons, not the earlier air-cooled Transporters (the Vanagon Syncro is the worst of all). The air-cooled Transporters were still terrible vehicles, but they were simple and had a lot of charm.

    • 0 avatar

      Dude. That is an established fact. Not an opinion. The water cooled vanagons were stupendously unreliable and extremely slow. And they don’t even get good gas mileage for all their slowness.

  • avatar

    Mine caught on fire, a big bonus thanks to the insurance. Now an older vdub van driven back in the day was way better, being cheap & easy to fix and a great multi tool. In a court room for a ticket of running without headlights on, the judge let me off when I told him I had a six volt system and couldn’t tell if the lights were on anyway.

  • avatar

    “of the Dead’s disco anthem ”

    Even members of the band disavow that album. Mickey Hart said that Shakedown Street “was produced by twits and plumbers”.

    ” crappy cassette deck”

    As a former Dead tape trader with two Nakamichi decks for copying plus a WM6DC Sony ProWalkman for live recording, I’d say that a Deadhead’s van would be as likely to have nice audio gear as cheap stuff.

    I owned a couple of VW buses, including one with a single, subtle broken wheel window decal. I was once driving down from Detroit to Toledo to get a part for an industrial washing machine for my job and I noticed an inordinate number of VW buses on the road going north. It wasn’t until I was off of the Interstate and noticed a 1950s vintage International school bus covered in a hippie paint job and huge Dead stickers traveling north on a two-lan (I assume it couldn’t keep up with highway speeds, or the driver was a fan of “blue highways”), that I face-palmed realizing that all of those Type IIs and Busanagons were headed to the same Dead show that we were going to that night.

    My favorite Dead VW buses were the ones owned by parking lot entrepreneurs who fitted fullsize pizza ovens and cappuccino machines in the back.

    • 0 avatar

      Naks rock. Simply put there is (was) no substitute, Tandberg be damned. I had a TD700 in my Fury and my buddy had a TD1200…what a machine!! Even with a separate electronics box, it still was not quite DIN sized. The absolute precision of the transport mechanism was pure genius. Nothing embodied Japanese thinking more than a Nak. My TD700 sadly was not a reliable unit, but was amazing even with a manual azimuth control…

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I just keep truckin on

  • avatar

    I hate it when these punks advertise they got a Free Tibet…I had to pay for mine.

  • avatar

    “One of the worst motor vehicles ever built.”

    Ouch. That’s harsh. I love driving these things, and only a kind fate protected me from buying one years ago.

    While I would love to mount a spirited defense of the mighty Wasserboxer, there’s a simple fact that gets in the way: When the most popular mod of a car is the installation of another manufacturer’s engine, and when “Subaru Conversion” needs no further explanation, then yes, it’s pretty much junk to begin with.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s underpowered for sure, but I wouldn’t call it junk. Most of the bad rap it gets is related to coolant leaks, which while being a complete clusterf**k early on (VW recommended the wrong coolant until about ’85) can be avoided by using phosphate-free.

      Case in point (warning, anecdotal evidence): My 89 Westfalia has been phosphate free from day one. Its first engine lasted 18 years and 200,000 kms, and wasn’t leaking one bit when I blew compression in all four cylinders (had a semi bearing down on me, attempted to downshift to second and accidentally shifted into first, hello factory long-block).

      The main reasons for a Subaru conversion are improved fuel economy and horsepower, not reliability.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Fun to drive but your knees are part of the crumple zone :)

  • avatar

    Stanley died not long ago in a car wreck in Australia. He moved there after becoming disgusted with that USA society has devolved to.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    I know you have said that you refuse to “toolbox” anything, but c’mon dude! How lame are these? Those are shop rags IMO. Those boys manning the cash register aint your good friends if they nailed you for a nickel on these. You’re giving us legitimate ‘yarders a bad name.

  • avatar

    What do you mean “un-hippie Dodge van”? The window version of the first generation Dodge A-100 was the PREFERRED van for upscale-minded hippies. It had the cachet of being a real truck, and even the 170 slant-six was more durable and trouble-free (and more powerful) than the air-cooled VW. Hippie-wannabe’s of the early ’70s latched onto the VW as a cheap, necessary alternative when the ’64-’70 A-100 became scarce, but going to a concert in an A-100 was riding in style, and you could fit more gas money donors in it, as well as a full size mattress.

    • 0 avatar

      There are two A-100s that I see around my beach community, each with its own custom bubble roof. They look pretty hippyish to me. I’ve been meaning to get photos of them for Curbside Classic.

    • 0 avatar

      I mistakenly replaced a crude but reliable ’66 A-100 with a sophisticated and stylish ’72 VW bus. What a mistake. That aircooled “bay window” VW (1.7L 2-carb) was the worst car I ever owned.

  • avatar

    At least the old VW vans were cool, unlike these. Murilee, are there people walking around in Colorado smoking weed in public now? Like if a person takes their children to the park will they see people sitting around firing up joints? Makes me glad I don’t live there, lol.

    • 0 avatar

      Because it’d be somehow different if they consumed a 6-pack… LOL

      • 0 avatar

        Umm…no, I don’t think people should drink alcohol while walking around in public or in places like parks either. How stupid.

      • 0 avatar

        Public pot smoking has been a reality in Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach for years. Pretty much ever since drinking beer in any public place became a crime, without irony. Incidentally, the beach drinking ban was forced on us. It failed every referendum, so the council invoked it on us illegally and then claimed they couldn’t verify the signatures on the petitions to get it revoked.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      A lot of parks allow alcohol; at their softball fields, on their golf courses, at grilling areas, and at their shelters/pavilions. I don’t begrudge someone playing softball, kickball, or shooting a round a golf a few beers. I don’t care if someone has some drinks while they’re grilling on a pretty day. A family reunion at a shelter/pavilion? I’m wanting a beer already ;)

  • avatar

    The Asrro/Safari vans were much more powerful & reliable than these. I recall a fleet of 120 commercials around late 80’s. 90% were GMC the rest VW. The Golf diesels were good but the handful of ‘cargo’ Vanogon were all crap and dropped off lease.

  • avatar

    I’m an aircooled VW guy, mainly a Bus guy and I think Vanagons are terrible. The early ones are aircooled and what’s the point of that? Slower than a baywindow but bulkier to drive. The watercooled ones are not much faster. Although I will say that the syncro is a neat idea.

    Now, I’m going to head to work in my favorite in the world to drive, a split window Bus. My ’63 to be exact ;)

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

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