The 1963 Volkswagen 'Light Bus' Is How You Do Automotive Art

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
the 1963 volkswagen 8216 light bus is how you do automotive art

With the 50th anniversary of Woodstock nearly upon us, it was only a matter of time before Volkswagen released a commemorative vehicle acknowledging the Microbus. The Type 2, a staple of the hippie movement, was frequently found painted in psychedelic patterns and hues. Case in point is the “Light Bus,” which appeared in numerous photos of the 1969 Woodstock Art and Music Fair — including the official Woodstock album — and became emblematic of the moment.

Driven by (and named after) the Baltimore-based band that drove it, the vehicle eventually vanished into obscurity.

Three years ago, artist Dr. Bob Hieronimus and Canadian documentarian John Wesley Chisholm sought to acquire the van, hoping to restore it to its former glory. Unfortunately, a six-month search turned up no trace of the van, so the two made do with an unmolested 1963 VW Standard Microbus sourced via a crowd-funding campaign. It may not be the Type 2 that attended the historic music festival, but the attention to detail here barely makes that an issue.

Not that long ago, we bashed Lexus for releasing what we believed were low-grade marketing materials masquerading as automotive art. Six months earlier, we did the same thing. Frankly, the opportunities to praise an art car have been few and far between of late. But this Volkswagen checks all the boxes. It’s visually interesting, holds some historical significance, and is definitively high-effort. The project itself even retains much of the hippy-dippy charm that inspired the original, thanks to the personalities of those involved.

“We’ve searched the DMV, hired detectives, even visited famous psychics and remote seers with no luck,” Chisholm said in the midst of their initial scavenging. “We’ve also taken an epic road trip from the top of New Jersey to the bottom of Arkansas search backfields, garages, junkyards, VW shows and shops looking for the bus. No luck. Though we’ve met hundreds of wonderful Volkswagen people along the way who have been so kind and helpful. There really is something of the spirit of Woodstock that lives on in modern bus culture.”

Hieronimus and a team of five artists painstakingly recreated the original paintings from the bus, and the attention to detail is beyond impressive. Seriously, going between the photos of the original van and the modern recreation are genuinely amazing. With the exception of a few misplaced stars and irregularly thick brush strokes, which you have to get extremely close to see, it’s all but identical.

“The bus is really about being one people on one planet,” said Hieronimus. “On every side of the bus is a story — many stories — and the stories all point to unification, working together and a higher consciousness, which is what Light really is all about.”

After learning about the project’s existence, Volkswagen of America supported the search and restoration process. Meanwhile, Volkswagen enthusiasts helped by offering their services and helping the team source the correct parts for a more complete restoration.

Having debuted at the Orange Country Transporter Organization’s Winter Meet in Long Beach, CA over the weekend, the Light Bus is currently in the midst of a cross-country tour preceding the music festival’s 50th anniversary.

[Images: Volkswagen]

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  • THX1136 THX1136 on Feb 20, 2019

    Agree with you, Matt, on the efforts put into the restore. I was a big fan of the poster art coming out of SF back around 66 through this time. That's how I would describe the art here - poster art applied to a van. Around late 67 early 68 my brother and I had an old 56 Plymouth that was my grandfather's. He had passed on and we "inherited" the car. We wanted to do the same sort of thing to it. Folks objected. We even suggested we would paint it with "tempra" so it wouldn't be permanent - still a no go. Lost opportunity for us to attempt this sort of presentation. It would have been a fun project.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Feb 20, 2019

    It is important to note that these vans were designed in the early 1950s when many countries had 55 MPH, or lower, speed limits. Also they were mainly intended for around town use. Probably no one thought that they would be driven on cross North America trips at 1960s freeway speeds. The suspension was very primitive by later standards, but fairly rugged. However when driven off pavement the reduction gear rear axles could cause wheel hop leading to a broken transaxle case. Saw many of those back in the day. I had a 1965 model that was mostly used as a parts runner. I had to sell it as I needed the money more than another van. That was about 10 years before the VW vans became a cult item. Did not have any flowers painted on it, just the name and phone number of the shop.

  • Drnoose Probably just cutting conservative talk radio off at the knees. They can’t beat it, so kill it one way of the other.
  • Teddyc73 Looking forward to this. Hopefully it doesn't succomb to the leftist agenda and only come as an EV. If there is a gasoline version and a decent sized bed I'll consider this to replace my Ram 1500 when the day comes. Please let it be available in colors other than the same boring ones Ram has offered for years.
  • Xidex i haven't even turned the dial to AM since the 90's I think at that time it was only because there is one station i liked was on the AM dial (it is no longer around) Someone had to point to the station otherwise i wouldn't have even scanned the AM dial. I still think the AM dial should be left on radios though, If no one listened to it then there wouldn't be any stations would there.
  • Kwik_Shift I have five AM stations preset, each different from one another in terms of content. Some politics, some day to day, some do it yourselfing or help. Focus is more on local news and events. FM is just about pushing crap music and djs pushing the MSM message for their corporate overlords. FM is about making radio sound exactly the same all over North America. I like ONE FM station that plays different varieties of country music and has an entertaining dj. Overall, to each their own.
  • Kat Laneaux What's the benefits of this as opposed to the Ford or Nissan. Will the mileage be better than the 19 city, 24 hwy? Will it cost less than the average of $60,000? Will it be a hybrid?