“Every picture tells a story,” sang Rod Stewart, and as the images below illustrate, that’s certainly true when it comes to the Volkswagen Microbus.
Created almost by accident 50 years ago, the VW Bus — known by many names — has had a long and faithful following. Among those who’ve owned one are Nike founder Phil Knight who began his business selling his sneakers out of the back of his van. Steve Jobs sold his own Microbus to raise the money to start Apple.
Hundreds of dedicated fans and owners showed up in Newport Beach, California this past week to celebrate the iconic Microbus and mark the debut of it all-electric successor, the American ID.Buzz. As TheDetroitBureau.com expected, there were plenty of interesting stories to share. Here are some of the best:
The Red Devil
To those in the know, it’s a 1970 Westfalia. To Reid Richards, it’s “The Red Devil,” and for good reason. He bought the crimson Volkswagen Microbus barely a year ago, explaining, “I’ve always wanted one,” and he even found a Wonderfold stroller for his twins modeled after VW’s classic people mover. But his bright crimson van didn’t even make it home before its engine failed. And a replacement engine failed twice in the months that followed.
He’s now on a third and not taking chances. Or so he thought. He decided to trailer the Westphalia to a collector’s meet a few months ago but ran into a windstorm along the way that ripped off the Microbus’s pop-up top. While some folks might think it’s time to move on, not Reid. “Deep down,” he explains, “I think I’m a masochist.”
George Evans says “I like working with my hands,” and the Newport Beach, California contractor certainly had his hands full when he found a 1963 Volkswagen Transporter Double Cab in the driveway of a new client 13 years ago. “It was just fate,” he said, noting he’d long lusted for one of the rare VW pickups. The woman he was working for had refused hundreds of previous offers. But maybe it was the quality of the job he did. For some reason, she decided to sell the Transporter to Evans.
Essentially all stock, but for a few accents like the double chrome molding, the van clearly needed work and it took “Let’s just say hundreds of hours” to get it back to the pristine condition it’s in today. “No,” said Evans, when asked whether he uses the truck on the job. That said, “it’s a daily driver” that just requires some tender love and care to keep running.
There were some pristine Microbuses on display, looking like they just rolled out of a showroom. Others were ready to rust into the ground, including Roger Coursey’s 1968 van. He found it one day, sitting in a train yard and bought it on the spot. It had no engine and was in desperate need of repair — which was fine with the Downey, California resident. He’d already restored six other buses. With its rust, dents and broken headlight, you might think it’s in the “before” stage. But it’s exactly the way Coursey wants it.
“The body is 1968, but the rest of it is all 2020,” he explained, everything from the suspension to the powertrain. “I guess you could call it a sleeper. Actually, even the body was updated at some point or another,” he revealed, noting that it started out as a panel van, but an earlier owner added side windows. Coursey, incidentally, is already working on his eighth Microbus restoration.
The Family that Travels Together
“I started buying Volkswagens when I was 16,” said Paul Serventi, and met wife, Robin, at a VW car club event. Raising a family, “We decided to get something we could use to take the kids places.” Fittingly, they opted for a 1967 Westphalia camper model that they’ve continued to work on for the past 23 years. “We collect stuff from here and there” to make the inside period correct said Robin, though Paul seemed almost apologetic noting the portable transistor radio on the dining table was a few years newer than the Bus.
Considering it’s now 66 years old, the van is in surprisingly good condition, yet it’s required only the most modest repairs to the passenger compartment, like the trim around the refrigerator. The couple — and their kids — put the Westphalia to frequent use and are regulars at Microbus rallies. “We’re like family,” he said. “You see someone who owns one and we’re instant friends.”
“It’s all in the family,” said Luke Caldwell. “My parents had Volkswagens when I was young. They were hippies and took the one all through South America.” For his part, Caldwell evokes a classic Orange County cool look, well coiffed, with expensive sunglasses and flip-flops, and a hint of tattoos peeking out from under his designer T-shirt. He may have forsaken the hippie vibe of his parents, but he’s got the Bus in his system.
He now owns an immaculate — and “very collectable” — 1967 21-Window Volkswagen Microbus. It was, appropriately, a family project, his wife “very much involved in its restoration.” It was her choice to go with the distinctive grey and teal color scheme — which is what “most people compliment,” said Caldwell. It may be relatively rare and valuable, he added, “But I use it as much as I can. This is no trailer queen.”
He bought his 1960 “Shorty Bus” for fun. But for Fred Hayes, it’s become a mission. Last February, he was diagnosed with aggressive bladder cancer. But he’s far from ready to give in. “I intend to beat cancer,” he said, and the Bus “has become a metaphor for me. Life is short. Drive a Shorty.” Based in San Francisco, Hayes drives it everywhere to get the message out: don’t take your health for granted. People “need to get checked.”
For someone going through a serious health crisis, the 400-mile journey to Orange County might seem a little bit much, but “I came here to express my appreciation of my friends, and of life.” Along the way, he asks the folks he meets to sign the back of the Bus. Among the names already on it: Inar Castillo, the designer of the new VW ID.Buzz. A recent surgery seems to have been successful, Hayes said. But he may have to slow down for a while, as he begins chemotherapy later this month.