VW’s Bus Saved On Trucking, from the Age of Aquarius to the ’90s

From the March 1992 challenge of Automotive and Driver.

A palpable buzz of electrical energy was within the air of the beautiful clapboard cities surrounding Richfield Coliseum south of Cleveland, though the joy—a three-night stand by these cosmic outdated parents, the Grateful Useless—was nonetheless two days away.

The excitement started with the primary wave of wiggy outdated Volkswagen Buses that started showing on the suburban panorama. Quickly the native of us could possibly be seen leaning ahead over the steering wheels of their automobiles, squinting out in any respect the unusual messages adorning the Buses. Have a look at that bumper sticker, Glenda!




The “Deadheads” had arrived, the camp followers of the middle-aged rock group who will journey any distance to attend these mini-Woodstock gatherings of their musical tribe. They pulled their Buses and vans off street close to busy intersections and arrange store, hanging up tie-­dyes—sheets, shirts, hippie-style clothes, T-shirts, Grateful Useless posters and paraphernalia, rastafarian hair wraps—on clotheslines. In a single day, the panorama was reworked. It was as if a touring Sixties roadshow of rootless hippies had come to city.

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One supposes the locals appreciated the environment of pageant. There was a whole lot of grinning and shaking of their heads in native coffeeshops, nevertheless it was all good-natured. (Within the Sixties, there would have been an area brick-throwing contingent, for these vacationers introduced with them unusual concepts and mind-expanding chemical compounds.)

The night time earlier than the Cleveland live performance, some Deadheads, suited up of their tie-dyed finery and sporting critical huge hair and T-shirts with messages like “Eat, Drink and See Jerry,” appeared to drink beer and eat among the many locals on the close by Winking Lizard Tavern, a kind of locations that make use of clean-cut school youngsters who’ve the exuberant look of getting skilled farm work. You could possibly really feel the joy; you possibly can even odor the fragrance of patchouli within the barroom.

The bartender, a strapping college-age youth, was requested if he was going to the live performance. He grinned extensively. “I used to be considering of going,” he stated, “however I am type of afraid it’d change my life.” A waitress his age heard that and laughed considerably uneasily. She understood what he meant; unusual concepts nonetheless have their attract, and there was at all times the potential for ethical defection, the temptation to dump drained outdated values. Who amongst these Nineties youngsters had not heard tales of the depraved Sixties, the sexual revolution, the Age of Aquarius?

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So whereas the bartender laughed it off, possibly he thought of the imprecise risk of being overcome by an odd emotion to drop out, to purchase a beat-up VW Bus for $500, to toss in a mattress, a sizzling plate, and a conveyable fridge, and to go off after the Grateful Useless. What a visit! 1000’s of Deadheads do exactly that, they usually handle to make a dwelling within the course of.

VW Buses and different provocative types of bizarre transport have been in all places: lined up behind filling stations, parked in vacant tons and behind motels, and, most of all, jammed into a close-by state-park campground. Down in that park, the Age of Aquarius had returned.

The VW Bus has passed by many names—Microbus, Panel Van, Kombi, Crew Cab, Camper, Station Wagon, Vanagon—however it’s the easiest van, the Bus, constructed between 1949 and ’79, that has been the car of alternative for many who have turned their backs on conference, or those that have wished to make private statements about their values through their mode of transport.

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The VW Bus, just like the Beetle, has been “a unfavorable standing image” for many of its 42 years—plain as a brick, easy as a lawnmower, gradual as glue, low cost to purchase, low cost to run, and low cost to repair, it has hauled lots of people (and surfboards) round in a method that disdains fashion. Should you’re a Deadhead, it is not only a car—it is house.

One thing on the order of 6.7 million VW Buses have been constructed since 1949. Oddly sufficient, the thought for this straightforward “hauler” was not hatched in VW’s Wolfsburg plant in Germany, however within the head of an bold Dutchman named Ben Pon, who noticed the potential of VW after the warfare and was to develop into an early exporter of its merchandise (he personally introduced the primary Beetle to America).

Pon thought VW wanted to supply extra than simply the Beetle, and with a easy sketch in a spiral pocket book that’s now a museum artifact at Wolfsburg, he drew a rendering of what he had in thoughts.

Conrad Neil of Manitoba sells posters out of his 1978 VW Bus.

Brett UprichardAutomotive and Driver

Pon’s concept so captivated Heinz Nordhoff, the late head man at VW, that to launch the Bus in 1950 he needed to in the reduction of on manufacturing of the Beetle at a time when Volkswagen couldn’t sustain with orders for its cheap automobile. It was known as the “Sort 2” (Sort 1 being the Beetle). Nordhoff and Pon had guessed accurately—by the mid-fifties, VW needed to construct a plant in Hanover simply to construct the Sort 2s. Ultimately the homely hauler can be bought in 140 international locations.

Think about a 2300-pound van that promised to hold as many as 9 individuals however was propelled—hardly the precise phrase—by a 25-horsepower engine! By 1962, when the one-millionth “Bully” (named for its bulldog, workhorse stance) got here off the road, its output had been elevated to 34 hp and it lastly obtained a synchronized transmission.

VW provided its Bus in numerous configurations, with various inside heights and mattress plans and door preparations. American patrons, who needed to stand up to hurry on freeways, quickly obtained a mannequin with a 1.5-liter, 42-horsepower engine. (Nonetheless it was an journey to be hit by a gust of wind in a VW Bus whereas crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.) The primary main facelift got here in 1967; the two-piece windshield was changed by a single pane, its nostril was flattened, and the doorways, which had opened like these on a barn, have been now sliding. The VW Bus craze on this nation reached its peak in 1969, with a report 65,069 bought that yr. Extra minor facelifts continued, and in 1972, a Bus arrived with a Porsche 914 engine. The next yr, an automated transmission was provided. In 1974, the Hanover plant was capable of construct an astounding 1200 Buses in a single day, and gross sales went over the four-million mark.

Emmet (I’m not a Deadhead”) Hollander.

Brett UprichardAutomotive and Driver

The trendy-day Bus, the Vanagon, appeared in 1979. It now had an all-wheel­-drive mannequin and a squared-off, all-business entrance. It was the perfect Bus ever made, nevertheless it had misplaced its goofy appeal. Gross sales that had begun to slip within the seventies slipped even additional within the eighties (5147 in 1989). The heyday of the VW Bus was over.

John Hollander, who goes by the title Emmett and is simply 23, had parked his ’77 VW Bus behind a truck cease amongst a loopy quilt of Deadhead autos, together with a few transformed yellow college buses paying homage to Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters’ bus of Sixties psychedelic fame (“Optimistic Vibrations,” it introduced). Children roamed by means of the realm, women in muslin tie-dyes, and Jerry Garcia’s voice boomed forth from the open doorways of automobiles. Hollander had pushed all the way in which from Seattle, and he was digging round inside searching for one thing; the within of his Bus regarded like a tornado had visited it just lately. His hair was wild in rastafarian trend, and he was slight of construct, trying as if he hadn’t spent a lot time consuming.

The Bus was painted a flat white, as if he’d executed it with a paintbrush. All the Bus was lined with hand prints in numerous vibrant colours.

Emmett is a budding entrepreneur studying the tie-dye ropes. It has not been all gravy. At a Denver live performance of the Useless, ”the cops busted me for merchandising and not using a license. They took twenty shirts off me. I went house with $4.” It isn’t simple being a Deadhead, though Emmett didn’t wish to be described as one.

Brett UprichardAutomotive and Driver

“What is the take care of the hand prints?” he was requested.

”Properly, I had a stencil of a hand, so… ” He thinks for a second. What was his goal? ” …so, I figured I might put a black hand on one aspect, and, effectively, it simply went from there.”

Like a whole lot of the impartial considering Deadheads, he gave me a solution that had the ring of Zen after I ask what it’s he likes about his Bus, which has a rebuilt engine and value him $2000.

“Uh, I type of appreciated the thought of an air-­cooled engine, you recognize?”

We wished him luck, and headed off for the park campground. An extended gravel street led lastly to a gated checkpoint, the place we paid a $10 price to get in. “Are there any Deadheads down there?” we requested a younger lady sporting a khaki uniform and a Smokey the Bear hat. She rolled her eyes round in her head, prefer it was a query not price answering.

Coming down the hill’s incline to a meadow the place the tribe of Deadheads instantly got here into view, the place Grateful Useless music crammed the air, I used to be one way or the other reminded of Custer, and the way he should have felt so momentarily unusual coming upon the sight of a whole nation of Sioux camped on the Little Huge Horn. It’s reflexive upon seeing a sight like this to utter Christ’s first title, although not in useless. “Jesus.”

Brett UprichardAutomotive and Driver

The primary VW Bus that caught my eye belonged to Anthony Vanderford of Casper, Wyoming. Vanderford, who was 20, had been following the Useless since high-school commencement two and a half years in the past. He had arrange a desk with all kinds of issues on the market, and tie-dyed sheets have been pinned to bushes forming a cover above his Bus.

The cheerful Vanderford invited me to look contained in the Bus. Poking out from below a pile of bedding and clothes was a sleeping lady’s head. There was a sink and a range and a fridge and working water, and a collection of bunk beds.

“It is a bit house. It is obtained every part you want,” he stated proudly. In the meantime, some potential clients poked over his items. However these have been Deadhead camp followers like himself, and I puzzled out loud if it was doable to promote stuff to different Deadheads, who have been in the identical enterprise.

He gave me a cosmic grin, like the entire thing was a thriller to him, too. “I do know what you are saying, however I’ve solely been right here a few hours and I’ve already made 200 {dollars}!”

Brett UprichardAutomotive and Driver

I came across Conrad and Dan Neil, brothers from Manitoba, Canada. Conrad was promoting unique posters for $10 every. This was Dan’s third live performance, however his brother has traveled to 30 of them.

Requested what it’s concerning the Useless’s music that he discovered so alluring, Conrad needed to suppose a second. Lastly he stated, “The texture, man. It talks to you. It is a pure excessive, and everyone’s calm. I just like the calmness of it.”

An upholsterer by commerce, Conrad had a high-quality ’78 Bus loaded with facilities. He summed up his affection for it: “It will possibly sleep six and it is nice on gasoline. What else can I say? The man I purchased it from needed $5000, however I obtained it for $3600. You possibly can’t beat that.”

However in actual fact Jeff Johns of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, who was parked fifty ft away, beat that. His ’73 Bus value him $475 simply 5 months earlier. Okay, it wasn’t as good as Conrad’s. Johns, 20, a cycle mechanic “on and off,” stated be purchased the Bus from a Czech who “buys them, fixes them up and sells them.” The Czech, it turned out, wasn’t setting any entrepreneurial information. “He purchased this van for $400, and he was asking $550 for it. We instructed him our state of affairs, which principally was we haven’t any cash. So he bought it to us for $475.”

van of aquarius the volkswagen bus and the greatful dead

Angie Padgett, proprietor of the world’s prettiest freckles reveals off the tie-dye work of boyfriend Steve Yatson.

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Intrigued by an outdated ’72 Bus with a humorous protecting vinyl bra strapped over its nostril, I got here across the again and bumped into Angie Padgett, who can be, fingers down, The Prettiest Freckled Woman within the World have been there such a contest. She was posing for an image when her boyfriend, Steve Yatson, confirmed up. They’re each of their early twenties, and he’d given up the yuppie life-style to comply with the Useless for awhile, studying tie-dying.

“I went from a Porsche 944 to this,” he stated laughing, amused by his personal change of life-style. “I paid $400 for this Bus, however I did tons of labor on it.”

Angie stated, “At some locations, in the event you’ve obtained issues along with your Bus, there are mechanics round who will work for beer.”

Yatson stated, “l used to promote building supplies, and did very effectively. However you may make cash right here, too.” Pointing to a tie­dyed sheet he’d made that was draped over his van, he stated, “That sheet value about $2 to make, and we promote it for $35.” It was clear that for Angie and Steve, this was a brief lark. “I’ll must do the real-life factor once more fairly quickly.” Someday quickly he might be headed for school in San Jose, California.

Brett UprichardAutomotive and Driver

We wandered round, and I used to be reminded of a dialog I had with Blair Jackson, a Useless historian from Berkeley, California, who places out a periodical of Grateful Useless lore known as The Golden Street. “The Volkswagen Bus is a budget warhorse car of the Seventies.

“There’s a complete iconography of the Useless and the VW.” I needed to look that up. It means the photographs and footage that develop into the symbols that describe a tradition.

“The Useless has a practice of taking conventional gadgets from the tradition after which twisting them—in a pleasant manner. Like [a depiction of] Calvin and Hobbes, solely they’re smoking a bong or doing nitrous oxide. ” Simply then I noticed a Charlie Brown T-shirt, with Charlie’s head ballooned to watermelon measurement, making him “Cosmic Charlie.” One other shirt declared, “Bo Is aware of Jerry.” A Disney-like theme park reads, “Deadheadland.”

Nobody, together with the Grateful Useless, now of their twenty sixth yr, can fairly clarify their recognition. Says chief Jerry Garcia: “Right here we’re, we’re moving into our fifties, and the place are these individuals who maintain coming to our reveals coming from? What do they discover fascinating about these middle-aged bastards enjoying principally the identical factor we have at all times performed? I imply, what do 17-year-olds discover fascinating about this? …So what’s it concerning the Nineties in America? There should be a dearth of enjoyable on the market in America. Or journey. Perhaps that is it: possibly we’re simply one of many final adventures in America. I do not know.”

John Steinbach, Deadhead trend king.

Brett UprichardAutomotive and Driver

Blair Jackson says there is a “sense of journey” to it. “It is rock ‘n’ roll with a little bit of country-western. And blues. Really, it is like a jazz band—they by no means play the identical set twice. They’ve such a big physique of music—most likely 110 to 120 songs at any given time. They performed six reveals within the Bay Space, and through all that, they repeated only one track—’Promised Land.'”

Regardless of the case, within the first half of 1991, Useless concert events grossed $20 million. Their common take per present, in line with Pollstar, a agency that stories on the music business, was greater than $1.1 million, or almost twice that of the summer time’s second greatest touring act, Weapons n’ Roses. The Useless performed 9 nights in New York’s Madison Sq. Backyard, three in Cleveland, and 6 at Boston Backyard—and all of them have been sold-out performances.

“We did not invent the Grateful Useless,” says Garcia. “The gang invented the Grateful Useless. We have been simply in line to see what was going to occur.”

Like the recognition of the VW Bus, it defies clarification.

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Patrick Moore

Patrick is our chief editor and he's very passionate about cars. He has a bachelor's degree in marketing and he studies journalism. His favorite brand is BMW and he drives an X5 series. When he's not writing for Vehiclenews.net, he enjoys spending time with his family and 9 years old son.

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