A Magic Bus of My Own

Photo by Jim Church, 1969My fondness for VW busses (or kombis, or wagons, or microbus, or whatever you prefer) is longstanding. A few years ago I contacted the VW corporate office in Germany about using the image of their bus in some fabric designs, wanting to know what the licensing fee was. I got a very nice letter in return from somebody with lots of consanants in their name saying, basically, that I didn't have to pay them anything (but I did need permission) but that they would very much like a few pairs of pajamas, "frei"

The bus in the photo above belonged to my uncle Mike. He is the Mick-Jaggerish looking fellow (they even had the same birthday, and the same lips) with his arm around his girlfriend, her name was Alison. The couple on the ground? Thats my Mom and my Dad. This photo was taken by an old family friend, Jim Church. The story, accoding to Jim, is that he was waiting in line to get into Woodstock (yes, that Woodstock) and my uncle Mike pulled up in this bus with my parents and Kenny and Bob (The other young men in this photo) and said "Don't wait in this crazy line, come up to Vermont with us instead." and so he did. And a day or so later, he took this picture. A year later this particular bus met its unfortunate end on our dirt road, when my father accidentally rolled it down a hill. My mother, hugely pregnant with my sister and I, was ejected from her passenger seat and landed in the grass. Everybody, except the bus, was fine.

My very first car was a 73 Volkswagen Superbeetle that never, ever properly ran. My mother traded our piano for it, which was very thoughtful of her. She is still annoyed at me for not caring for it well enough - or even managing to keep - such a treasure, and she has a point. My Beetle required a pair of needle nose pliers rather than an ignition key and three hands to drive it (four if it was snowing) because of its fog-prone windshield. If you wanted to start it you had to push it down the road and jump in and, while holding the pliers in pace, pop the clutch. One night my friend Angie (we were maybe 16? Maybe not quite?) and I pushed it almost a mile in freezing weather (and flats and miniskirts, naturally), down a snowy road trying to get it started and finally decided to leave it in Mr. Sylvesters yard, without bothering to let him know. The rest of the story is just too embarassing to tell, but that was the beginning of the end.

I didn't own another volkswagen again until just a few years ago, when I bought a little convertible rabbit. I left it in Santa Cruz when I moved to New York, and get to drive it when I am visiting. Its the perfect little beach car, and always starts right up. I know it sounds silly, but it feels more like a pet than a car. It has this eagerness about it, this quick little responsiveness and cheerful little purr. I know that cars don't technically have personalities, but....

Photo by John Gruen, 2007
We even had a VW in our wedding, as more of a member of the bridal party than the getaway car that we intended it as. My dear friend Michael rescued this Karmann Ghia from the infamous Vermont used car lot known as the "Greensboro Garage", I think he paid $800 for it. He lovingly restored it, even adding his company's own signature color combo or turquioise and orange. The "Carter / Mondale" bumper sticker is original.

VW announced a few years ago that they were planning a new VW bus. The concept was much like that of the original, a perfect family wagon that morphs into a camping mobile when called upon. "Well that decides it," I told TC, "we're having kids." Sadly, VW scrapped those plans. It isn't even on their concept cars page anymore.

A canadian company called Verdier has developed this beauty (licensed?) but I think its a bit out of my budget. Its worth watching their videos, here and here.

OK, so why am I blathering on about VW? Because I'm ready to make the plunge again. This time I'm on the lookout for a bus, ideally a Camper. I have big big plans for the exterior and seat and wall coverings, so one that is in good mechanical shape but in desperate need of a paint job and re-furb would be ideal. I haven't quite pinpointed the perfect year and model yet, but have been perusing sites like The Samba and comparing old images and ads. I'm thinking that my bus must be capable of long drives, camping, book touring, mobile party-throwing, and limited refrigeration. I like the pop-ups, but the ones with attached tents are pretty fabulous too, yes? Here are some of my more inspiring finds thus far, all from The Samba..