Volkswagen is bringing back one of America’s iconic and beloved vehicles, the microbus, as fully-electric van. Made official over the weekend, VW’s announcement indicated a production version of the horrendously named I.D. Buzz Concept would appear in North America, Europe, and China for 2022.
Showcased earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show, the vehicle is an unabashed nostalgia-machine with enough modern features to keep itself contemporary and betray some of its retro charm. But didn’t we already do this over a decade ago? Immediately after the new millennium, it seemed like most automakers had something on offer to satiate Baby Boomers’ lust for the past. The Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird, Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, Plymouth Prowler, Mini Cooper, Chevrolet HHR, Chevy SSR, and even VW’s own New Beetle all arrived as part of this slightly awkward push to bring back the glory days of the those enjoying their youths in ’60s and ’70s.
The forthcoming Volkswagen van may, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun, have already missed the Microbus. While the vehicle possesses a charm that supersedes age, it might have been more welcome fifteen years ago. Boomers, who would be the most likely to purchase such a vehicle, are getting older — perhaps too old to want something like this. But maybe they’re not the market the German automaker is going for.
It’s funny how it sometimes takes a while to recognize something familiar. In the mid-1980s, when my daily driver was a slightly hi-po’d 1972 VW Type 2, I was driving a work vehicle from the Detroit area to Toledo to pick up a part. As I drove down I-75 and got closer to Ohio, I noticed one Volkswagen Bus traveling north in the opposite direction — and then another. “That’s unusual,” I thought. By then air-cooled Vee Dubs weren’t terribly common, and *Transporters were less common than Beetles. Then a Vanagon passed by, but, as I said, this was the 1980s and Vanagons were still being sold new and didn’t think much about it until I saw a few more Type 2s, including some older split-windows. Was there a VW club convention going on? I once drove to Cincinnati and I passed a large group of MG enthusiasts on their way to a meet.
This being Colorado, I see quite a few Volkswagen Vanagons on the street and in local wrecking yards. Mostly I ignore them for this series, because their local popularity means examples that show up at a Denver self-service yard get stripped immediately and aren’t very interesting photographic subjects. So far, we’ve seen just this exquisitely stereotype-reinforcing Steal Your Face Edition ’83, and that’s it prior to today’s find. An ordinary Vanagon with most of the parts gone, I’m not shooting it. A Vanagon Syncro (which I believe to be the most unwise money-pit available on four wheels or a Westfalia Camper, on the other hand, I’m always willing to photograph those rare birds. Here’s a squalid ’81 Westy that I found at a Denver yard last week.
Call it a Microbus, Kombi, or Transporter, the Volkswagen Type II (the Beetle was the Type I) is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, motor vehicles in continuous production, having first appeared on the scene in 1950. It was based on a suggestion and sketch by Ben Pon, VW’s Dutch importer and a water-cooled version of the second generation bus is still being made and sold in Brazil. Pon knew that Europe, rebuilding after the destruction caused by World War II, needed inexpensive cargo haulers and small commercial vehicles. Pon’s sketch showed a boxy body mounted to the Type I’s platform frame. The Type II ended up being more successful than Pon could have imagined, but production is coming to an end with a run of 600 “Last Edition” Type II Kombis, as the vehicle is called in Brazil.
Here’s the very sketch that gave birth to the VW Bus. Dutch Ben Pon was visiting the VW factory in 1947, which was then controlled by the British Occupational Forces. Interested in buying some early Beetles to import to the Netherlands, Pon saw an improvised boxy parts mover on the factory grounds, and the light bulb went off.
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.
It’s one of my (many) fantasies: fly one-way to Brazil, buy a brand new VW Kombi and drive it back. But alcohol is a little hard to come by here, especially since Oregon has state liquor stores. Actually, the Kombi’s 1.4 liter motor drinks gas too, but I would have preferred a diesel. Anyway, Brazil is celebrating fifty years of domestic production of the VW bus, and today seems to be Brazil day at TTAC. So if you share my fantasy, head to VW do Brasil’s site and their special Kombi 50 Anos site and check out the current Kombi and a disappointingly small gallery of vintage shots.
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- FreedMike On the one hand, it doesn't look good. On the other hand, not releasing the car into the hands of the general public until the obvious bugs are worked out is a good idea for a brand new company. Time will tell.
- FreedMike I do take phone calls using Car Play if I'm not in traffic; it's a little bit of a distraction, but not much. I think it's certainly within an acceptable risk margin if you're not in heavy traffic. Back in the old days when I had a manual car and no Bluetooth, I never used the phone while driving at all.
- FreedMike I guess some folks are just bound and determined to drive around with a grenade in their steering wheel.
- FreedMike Bit dear, but these might have collector appeal, particularly one with 20,000 miles (assuming that's not a doctored figure) that hasn't had the full "whip" treatment.
- Adam4562 I have Bluetooth in my car , the name comes up and I answer . It goes through the speaker. I’ll text on a stop sign or red light . If it’s really urgent hill pull over .