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

From the March 1992 problem of Automobile 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 previous folks, the Grateful Lifeless—was nonetheless two days away.

The excitement started with the primary wave of wiggy previous Volkswagen Buses that started showing on the suburban panorama. Quickly the native people may very well be seen leaning ahead over the steering wheels of their vehicles, squinting out in any respect the unusual messages adorning the Buses. Take a look at that bumper sticker, Glenda!

“WE ALL LIVE DOWNSTREAM.”

“I NEED A MIRACLE.”

“MEAT STINKS.”

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 highway close to busy intersections and arrange store, hanging up tie-­dyes—sheets, shirts, hippie-style clothes, T-shirts, Grateful Lifeless posters and paraphernalia, rastafarian hair wraps—on clotheslines. In a single day, the panorama was remodeled. 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 competition. There was plenty of grinning and shaking of their heads in native coffeeshops, however 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 substances.)

The night time earlier than the Cleveland live performance, some Deadheads, suited up of their tie-dyed finery and sporting severe massive 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 type 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 can even scent 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 broadly. “I used to be pondering of going,” he mentioned, “however I am sort 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 opportunity of ethical defection, the temptation to dump drained previous 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, perhaps he thought-about the imprecise chance 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 scorching plate, and a transportable fridge, and to move off after the Grateful Lifeless. 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 every single place: 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 selection for individuals 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 detrimental 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 mode that disdains model. If you happen to’re a Deadhead, it isn’t only a car—it is residence.

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 change 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.

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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 automotive. It was referred to as the “Sort 2” (Sort 1 being the Beetle). Nordhoff and Pon had guessed appropriately—by the mid-fifties, VW needed to construct a plant in Hanover simply to construct the Sort 2s. Finally the homely hauler could be bought in 140 international locations.

Think about a 2300-pound van that promised to hold as many as 9 folks however was propelled—hardly the suitable 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 received a synchronized transmission.

VW supplied its Bus in numerous configurations, with various inside heights and mattress plans and door preparations. American patrons, who needed to rise up to hurry on freeways, quickly received 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 document 65,069 bought that 12 months. Extra minor facelifts continued, and in 1972, a Bus arrived with a Porsche 914 engine. The next 12 months, an computerized transmission was supplied. In 1974, the Hanover plant was in a position to 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.

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The fashionable-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 very best Bus ever made, however it had misplaced its goofy attraction. 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 automobiles, 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). Youngsters roamed by the realm, women in muslin tie-dyes, and Jerry Garcia’s voice boomed forth from the open doorways of vehicles. Hollander had pushed all the best way from Seattle, and he was digging round inside on the lookout for one thing; the within of his Bus regarded like a tornado had visited it lately. His hair was wild in rastafarian vogue, 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 finished it with a paintbrush. The whole Bus was lined with hand prints in numerous brilliant colours.

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

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“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 objective? ” …so, I figured I would put a black hand on one aspect, and, properly, it simply went from there.”

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

“Uh, I sort of appreciated the thought of an air-­cooled engine, you already know?”

We wished him luck, and headed off for the park campground. An extended gravel highway 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 value answering.

Coming down the hill’s incline to a meadow the place the tribe of Deadheads all of the sudden got here into view, the place Grateful Lifeless music stuffed the air, I used to be someway 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 Large Horn. It’s reflexive upon seeing a sight like this to utter Christ’s first title, although not in useless. “Jesus.”

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The primary VW Bus that caught my eye belonged to Anthony Vanderford of Casper, Wyoming. Vanderford, who was 20, had been following the Lifeless 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 beneath a pile of bedding and clothes was a sleeping lady’s head. There was a sink and a range and a fridge and operating water, and a collection of bunk beds.

“It is a little bit residence. It is received every part you want,” he mentioned proudly. In the meantime, some potential prospects poked over his items. However these have been Deadhead camp followers like himself, and I puzzled out loud if it was attainable 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 2 hundred {dollars}!”

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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 in regards to the Lifeless’s music that he discovered so alluring, Conrad needed to suppose a second. Lastly he mentioned, “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 nice ’78 Bus loaded with facilities. He summed up his affection for it: “It may well sleep six and it is nice on fuel. What else can I say? The man I purchased it from needed $5000, however I received it for $3600. You’ll be able to’t beat that.”

However actually 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,” mentioned 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 have no 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 exhibits off the tie-dye work of boyfriend Steve Yatson.

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Intrigued by an previous ’72 Bus with a humorous protecting vinyl bra strapped over its nostril, I got here across the again and bumped into Angie Padgett, who could 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 way of life to observe the Lifeless for awhile, studying tie-dying.

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

Angie mentioned, “At some locations, in case you’ve received issues together with your Bus, there are mechanics round who will work for beer.”

Yatson mentioned, “l used to promote development supplies, and did very properly. However you may make cash right here, too.” Pointing to a tie­dyed sheet he’d made that was draped over his van, he mentioned, “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 need to do the real-life factor once more fairly quickly.” Someday quickly he will likely be headed for faculty in San Jose, California.

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

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

“The Lifeless has a practice of taking conventional gadgets from the tradition after which twisting them—in a pleasant means. 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 Lifeless, now of their twenty sixth 12 months, can fairly clarify their reputation. 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 exhibits coming from? What do they discover fascinating about these middle-aged bastards taking part in 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 in regards to the Nineteen Nineties in America? There should be a dearth of enjoyable on the market in America. Or journey. Perhaps that is it: perhaps we’re simply one of many final adventures in America. I do not know.”

John Steinbach, Deadhead vogue king.

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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. Truly, 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 exhibits within the Bay Space, and through all that, they repeated only one music—’Promised Land.'”

Regardless of the case, within the first half of 1991, Lifeless concert events grossed $20 million. Their common take per present, in line with Pollstar, a agency that reviews on the music business, was greater than $1.1 million, or almost twice that of the summer time’s second largest touring act, Weapons n’ Roses. The Lifeless 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 Lifeless,” says Garcia. “The gang invented the Grateful Lifeless. We have been simply in line to see what was going to occur.”

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

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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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