(first posted 6/26/2012) How many vehicles have effected radical and lasting change? Not just in the automotive sphere, but also the realms of society, politics, popular culture, comedy, philosophy; even our very physiology? The VW Bus is such an agent of change, perhaps the most potent one since WW2. It’s a truly revolutionary vehicle that redefined that concept, most of all the relationship of inner space to outer. A 169 inch-long hybrid of egg, box and windows with an ability to comfortably and economically transport eight adults; an impressive feat by any measure, yet just the start of its many capabilities. Perhaps it should have been called the VW Transformer.
And the Samba version of the VW Bus is the most transformative of the family. So if seven of you want to hop aboard, I’ll open that giant sunroof, take you for a ride, and tell you how that came to be. It’s going to be leisurely and a bit noisy, as any ride in an old VW bus inevitably is. Will you be transformed? Well, if not, at least the views will be good.
Opposites attract (me). Nature seeks balance. And variety is the spice of cars, food, and sex. Accordingly, the VW Deluxe Micro Bus (“Samba”) should have been my second Curbside Classic ever, as the polar opposite and balance to the first, a 1972 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. The two are truly the ying and yang of the automotive universe. And I love them both.
I knew exactly which VW bus I wanted to write up: a daily-driver white-over-green Samba piloted by a proud young dad, usually transporting a gaggle of sun-splashed kids and their friends. For years, it danced gaily through our neighborhood to its distinctive rhythm of frantic shifts and blower howl.
But then it disappeared, just when I needed it. There’s been a VWacuum ever since, and my nature abhors that. Yes, there are plenty of old VW buses around (some consider it the official vehicle of Eugene), But not any old bus will do. The Samba is a towering icon and played a key role in my life; so yes, it has to be a genuine Curbside Classic: real, and being used for its intended purpose of transporting people.
Three-and-a-half years later, it’s finally arrived. Everyone on board?
The VW Type 2 story is vast, but its origins are surprisingly brief. Above is the very sketch that gave birth to the VW Bus, as drawn by Dutch auto dealer Ben Pon, who was interested in buying some early Beetles to import to the Netherlands.
During a 1947 visit to the VW factory (under the control of British Occupational Forces at the time), Pon saw an open parts mover cobbled together from Beetle parts. The light bulb went off, and the rest is history. The lesson: keep a notebook handy; like Pon, you might find yourself designing, in 60 seconds, one of the most famous vehicles ever.
In 1949, the first prototype was built, but not on the Beetle’s platform as Pon first envisioned. Because that platform wasn’t up to the task, the Type 2 is of unitary construction with integrated ladder-type frame rails; however, it shares the Beetle’s wheelbase and is a mere nine inches longer overall.
In order for it to haul a useful load with its 25 hp, 1133 cc Beetle engine, it was bestowed with the reduction gears on the swing-axle ends from the military Type 82 Kübelwagen. These were a mixed blessing, since they added unsprung weight, noise and complexity while increasing the center of gravity.
And since the driving axle rotates in reverse (corrected in the reduction gear), the Bus is famous for its tendency to tuck its wheels under and jack up its rear end on take-off, the opposite of most cars. It’s quite noticeable in first gear, but you have to really be looking to see it in second; never mind the higher gears.
In this chapter of the Type 2 gospel, we’re going to stick mostly to the Samba, a name whose origins are not known to me (or to Google). It wasn’t used back in the day either, but the name has stuck. It refers to the Deluxe version of the Micro-Bus (later called Deluxe Station Wagon in the US) that was the beneficiary of some well-applied Sawzalls, or whatever VW’s workers used to cut all those extra holes in a VW Kombi. And it was specifically designed for tourist transport in the Alpine region.
Supposedly the first Samba was built in 1950, but the earliest brochures date from 1951. Famous for its 23 windows and giant sunroof, the Samba perfectly filled a need for a compact, comfortable and efficient micro-bus. Never before had there been such a thing. The VW bus was a truly revolutionary design, much more so than the Beetle, which was derivative if not downright imitative.
Growing up in the heart of the Alpine region (Innsbruck) during the fifties, the Samba was a familiar childhood sight, as swarms of them ferried German, British and American tourists to various sights. And almost all of them seemed to have this black-over-red paint scheme, which my Father called “burnt tomato soup.” The white-over-red scheme that replaced it in 1959 became “tomato cream soup” in his parlance. Here’s a smorgasbord of both soup varieties on Grossglockner, Austria’s highest-pass road. And how did they ever make it up there with eight (or more) tourists on board?
Slowly, of course. The German nickname for the Type 2 is “Bulli.” Even the earliest 25 hp (30 gross) buses were unstoppable, in their lower gears at least, according to this 1951 chart depicting the climbing ability of a fully-loaded Bus. 23% is steep, and with the 30 hp (36 gross) motor that came along a few years later, that first gear climbing ability went up to 24.5%. Fourth gear might have best been left off here, as 3.5% is laughable, as is the 80 kmh top speed (49 mph). But in 1951 Europe, it was a perfectly reasonable speed for a bus or truck.
In the late fifties, our family took summer vacations in the tiny Tirolean mountain hamlet of Ladis. Being without a car, my father arranged to have the University Hospital’s VW Kombi take us there. Here I am, posing in front of it during our 1959 trip with its driver, Herr Birkelbauer, on a rest stop along the way. We’re obviously discussing the finer points of Type 2s. That Kombi is a pre-1955 “barn door”, identifiable by the lack of the distinctive front roof overhang on later models.
I’ve even found another picture of that rest stop, wherein I submit proof of my father’s sadistic nature, or at least aiding and abetting my older brother’s sadistic nature. And you wonder why I am the way I am?
One morning, in place of our usual hike we walked over to the Ladis Hotel, in front of which sat a “burnt tomato soup” Samba. There, we and a few other tourists lined up to take a one day excursion over Alpine passes to St. Moritz in Switzerland, and back. I was very excited indeed about finally having my first ride in a Samba on my first trip to a foreign land. According to Google maps, the most direct route is 108 km, and takes 1 hr 43 minutes. I can assure you that it took us significantly longer than that.
In my perfect memory, there were eight adults and several children on that trip. I soon squirmed out of my mother’s lap and hopped into the luggage area over the engine, which was mostly empty on this day trip. I can still see the scenery, moving by ever so slowly, practically counting every wildflower and cobblestone on the steepest passes.
We eventually got to St. Moritz, where I saw a number of ritzy cars I’d never see back in poor old Austria. Scenery indeed!
Now, the Samba wasn’t used only in the Alps. As the best-trimmed VW bus, it also served in a variety of other roles, including ferrying passengers to this PAA airliner (bonus points for identifying it). The point is, in Europe nobody bought a Samba for personal transportation; it was a small commercial bus. A plumber might buy a Kombi if he couldn’t afford a real car for the family, but in the US, the Samba’s institutional role wouldn’t work so readily.
Here’s an American-market Samba in 1954. It was the most radical thing on American roads since Buckminster’s Dymaxion or the Scarab, defying every convention. Check out those giant front bumper over-riders: VW bumper over-riders on Beetles and buses were developed specifically for the US export market; something to do with Americans’ parallel parking technique, I assume. Or just a reaction to American car bumpers in the Dagmar era.
Yes, some VW buses were sold to institutions in the US (our church in Iowa City had one), but they tended to be the non-Samba variety. So VWoA had to market it differently: “full of sun, full of fun Station Wagon.” So where’s the wood-grain planking on the side?
The tone of the ads changed when VW’s ad agency was switched to Doyle Dane Bernbach, which rightfully addressed the challenge of selling the Samba to the better half; typically, men bought into the whole VW bus idea much more readily. And now, women all want to pilot a tall, three-row CUV.
The DDB ads tried to break through the “odd” image the bus had; in the end, it only reinforced it. Let’s say that these were more common in University town families than in those of typical heartland hamlets. Or with those attending an opening of “Hamlet”.
But the VW bus ended up having a huge impact: The Big Three soon countered with their own 1960 compact vans.
The VW Bus’ “odd” image soon became the most potent wheeled symbol of the counter culture. And although a few Sambas became “hippie buses”, they weren’t particularly preferred: after all, it had too many windows to cover with Indian batik. However, I do remember at least one unforgettable ride in a Samba through the California redwoods, looking up at the towering giants through the immense sunroof. Ben Pon, you are a hero to a whole generation!
Let’s not get lost in that era, or I’ll never come back. Remember that in the opening I told you about the Samba daily driver that disappeared just as I started shooting Curbside Classics in 2009? I assumed that maybe the owner had cashed in, given the run-up in Samba prices (a 1963 23-window Samba sold at auction for $217,800 a year ago). A bit over the (open) top, but it does show the huge public draw this icon has become. Indeed, they don’t make them like this anymore.
Actually, they stopped making the 23-window bus after the 1963 MY. The ’64’s got a larger rear hatch and window, which eliminated the characteristic (and beloved) corner windows, making them “21-window Sambas.” That makes the 23-window Samba even more desirable, as well as scarce. And of course, Sambas disappeared altogether with the new T2 generation of 1968.
The other night, after a quick bite at the Laughing Planet, I saw this new member of Eugene’s extensive VW bus family–and I quickly made it out to be anything but a restored toy. As I was shooting it, up walked Rich, the owner, and his teenage daughter. Incredibly, he had been the owner of that very Samba that used to ply our neighborhood. Rich loved that bus, which met its demise in a minor accident by flipping (very slowly) after a spin on black ice. Rich, who was driving alone, was unhurt. He said it happened as if in slow motion…”will it flip, or won’t it?” Yes, it will.
With a spine permanently curved from all those years spent hunched over his bus’s wheel, Rich found that he couldn’t be comfortable driving anything else. Eventually he found this Samba (moldering away in someone’s yard), but only after looking for a long time; sadly, there just aren’t a lot of them sitting around anymore. And yes, he’s thrilled to be piloting it again. What’s more, his daughter also has the bus fever, although Mom isn’t too wild about that. Perhaps a DDB ad should have asked, “Do you have the right kind of mom for it?”
Obviously, it’s a work in progress, but one can still get just about anything for a bus. Currently, there’s a steady market in reproduction parts, but will that dry up when the last Samba has been restored?
Rich’s bus is a “walk through”, with individual front seats. Although some utility Transporters had walk-through front seats going back to the mid-fifties, that practical feature appears to show up in the micro-bus around 1959. Combined with a two-passenger middle seat, it suddenly made interior access available, should the need arise to change a diaper or mop up vomit on the go. One magazine test even suggested that ladies might have an easier time getting into the front seat of a bus (modestly) via the rear side door and through the walk-through.
Rich’s proudest component is the top-line, period-correct Blaupunkt “Köln” multi-band radio with automatic signal seeking. It cost $180 new ($1200 adjusted); probably not much more than an exchange motor. The rule of thumb back then was 60k miles on a new factory engine, 40 – 50k on a factory rebuild, and 5k miles on one rebuilt on the kitchen table by compleat idiots. If that long.
In its little cubby out back, there’s a well-built “stock” 1600cc engine that Rich picked up from a fellow Volkswagonista. Originally, it would have held a 1500cc motor (optionally available in Europe starting in 1963, but immediately standard for US models). Its 50 hp (44 hp net) did give the bus a solid 65 mph top end cruising speed – on level ground, and without a headwind. That was a significant improvement over the 1200 cc motors.
But don’t laugh: A 1960 Car Life comparison of a VW bus with the new Corvair Greenbrier and Econoline had the 40 hp bus almost identically fast through the quarter mile as the 80 hp Corvair with its two-speed Powerglide. The fully-synchronized, slick-shifting VW transmission kept the little mill humming at full boil.
I know about that. I learned to drive a stick shift (car, not tractor) on a 1965 VW bus, on the grounds of the Maryland School for the Blind, when I was fifteen. This was shortly after my first illicit drives in the family ’65 Dodge Coronet, and I was eager to graduate to something a bit less automatic. An obliging new French teacher at Loyola, straight out of college, was the medium. He drove the most unusual VW bus ever: It was a regular white-over-green 11-window job, but with a giant aftermarket air conditioner on top of the roof at the very rear, fitted under a nicely faired-in panel, making it look for all the world like an old city bus. I’ve never seen one since, and apparently neither has Google.
Anyway, it often wouldn’t start for him after school, so I fiddled with the carb (held it wide open because he flooded it) to get it going. One evening he was driving some of us to the Maryland School for the Blind to perform our allotment of community service. Payback time: that evening, my social contribution was to not hit any of the blind students walking the campus roads with their sticks as I mastered the VW’s stick.
Pretty soon, I was the new designated chauffeur of the so-called “Smokemobile”, into which a number of us would pile in order to indulge our nicotine habit as we rode through the neighborhoods around Loyola between classes. As the bus labored up Chestnut Avenue, trails of smoke poured from the flip-out windows.
I ended up driving that bus on all sorts of trips, including a ski trip up to the mountains of Pennsylvania, in fresh snow no less. Nothing like a supple fifteen-year-old brain to rapidly master the various dynamics involved in hurtling a loaded bus through snow-covered winding back roads. Teach ’em young, even before they get a license.
Mysteriously, the facilitating teacher’s tenure at Loyola was cut short after only about four months. This coincided with the Smokemobile’s engine blowing up in a cloud of, well, smoke. But by then my tuition at Loyola had paid off, and I was a Type 2 ace. Rule One: The gas pedal is essentially an on-off switch; all or nothing. Rule Two: You shift up when the motor noise level stops increasing. Rule Three: No hard braking in turns. Rule Four: Don’t get caught.
From my earliest childhood encounters, the Samba instilled in me a deep longing to take folks for a ride in a bus, to show them new sights and create memorable experiences. Whether they were my fellow ninth-grade smokers and skiers, my passengers on a city bus, my girlfriend in my Dodge van, my family in the back of our Caravan, or perhaps even you, through the ramblings on this page; it is what I was (and am) called to do. I’m happiest hunched over the wheel of of a bus, box or keyboard.
The VW bus is a vehicle of exploration, both inner and outer. It has facilitated dreams of every sort. And created nightmares. Thanks to its weaknesses, we are stronger. Or at least wiser.
Our little trip is over, and we’re back to where we started. Well, not really, because we’re never quite the same after a real trip, one that has pushed the boundaries at least a wee bit. And a ride in a Samba will inevitably do that, one way or another. It may not be life-changing for everyone, but it was for me.
After that memorable long, slow trip over the Alpine passes as a child, I heard the howl of the Samba’s engine, fan, transmission and reduction gears in my head as I went to bed that night. And in one of life’s little symmetries, it’s all come back to me: my ears are hearing the Samba’s thirty horse engine conquering that pass once again today, 24/7. I’m told it’s the symptoms of tinnitus, but I prefer to call it tinnibus.
Postscript: I consider the VW Type 2 to arguably be the most revolutionary and influential vehicle of the post-war era, as it essentially defined the concept of the compact transporter/van/MPV. Needless to say, its influence was huge and lasting, and I consider the whole movement to tall, roomy, multi-row vehicles and even CUVs to have been largely inspired by its influence in redefining the concept of the automobile outside of the realm of genuine trucks.
Thanks to Tatra87’s superb look at the pioneers of the minivan/MPV genre, it’s clear that there were some antecedents and contemporaries in the Type 2’s space. But none of them were quite as practical, efficient, robust or otherwise appealing to become commercial successes, let alone be built in any significant numbers. So the Type 2 is safe, at least in my book, in forever redefining the passenger car as something other than one with a hood in the front and only two rows of seats.
i remember back in 77 my sisters boyfreind had a samba bus older than this one it was yellow over white we used to call it the fried egg but we all would pile in i was only 9 years old at the time and we would go for trips down from london to brighton in the fried egg standing on the seats up through the sunroof my sister saw this guy for 2 years and as a child i was lucky [after much pestering to be taken for rides in the fried egg]but they broke up….i often wonder what happened to paul and the fried egg…..dxxx
My uncle had a Samba back in days of yore the only way he could transport 8 kids at once albeit slowly. There are several splitties around here and even one done up as an ambulance but the days of finding them used as chicken coops are long gone.
Bravo – a delightful piece that I nominate as Curbside Classic of the year (a Curbie?). In one of life’s great co-incidences, last night’s airing of American Pickers had the guys finding one of the 23 window versions (in dilapidated hulk condition) in some guy’s VW bus stash in the woods at the back of his property. The guys on the show tried to buy it, but the owner wasn’t selling.
I had forgotten all about the versions with the sunroof and the roof-windows. Now that I think of it, I am sure that I have seen the occasional one, but I cannot tell you how many years (decades?) it has been. Actually, I’m not sure I even knew that these had sunroofs. I would imagine that these were really hard to keep warm inside in the winter.
I also want to publicly salute the owner. There are not many people who become so dedicated to a particlar model that they will search for years just to find another one to drive everyday.
They were all really hard to GET warm in the winter, unless they had a gas heater, or were full of passengers. FWIW, the sunroof, like all those old German sunroofs (and convertible tops) were double-layered, with some insulating material inside. Probably better insulation than the metal and glass of the rest of it.
Hi Paul! I have read your piece on the VW Samba several times in the past 2 years and love it. I owned a ’57 Samba and Fiat Multipla in 1966 when we lived in Austria. 2 European icons! There are pictures of many of the 90+ cars I have owned (including 33 wagons and VW busses) on my website. You mention the insulated sunroof of the Samba but not the double floor. It helped to keep a little heat in the pipe until it reached the windshield. Heat was too precious to waste on passengers! The double floor also served another purpose. The frame didn’t rust through as fast! I had to wash 27 windows on my Samba. The front doors had three panes of glass each.
While I love to see a CC nicely done on my all time favorite vehicle on the planet. (I love all split window Type2s, so I guess I should say on one variation of my favorite vehicle)
I now cringe in the anticpation of the negative and often informed comments on how VWs really are.
For the record, I drive a ’63 Standard Microbus (lesser windowed model) nearly every day, unless it rains.
@JPC – I concur on the “Curbie” nomination. This is the kind of piece Paul shines at, and is why I followed him over from TTAC (which I hardly ever look at any more).
My first ‘bus memory was riding in our neighbor’s to Greenbrier Mall on the south side of Atlanta (which opened in 1965, and it probably still had that ‘new mall smell’ at this point in the late 1960s). I’m pretty sure their van wasn’t a Samba, but I can still vividly remember “Michelle, My Belle” playing on the radio…
While at Georgia Tech, I had a buddy who *did* have a Samba (it had to have been old – non-synchro gearbox, which a quick google tells me should be a pre-’53). It was his daily and the interior was stripped. I drove it once, and remember the experience as being “methodical.”
A couple of years after graduation, I needed a cheap pickup truck, and ended up buying what would later become The Mayfield Belle, which was my daily driver for about 5-6 years out of the eight I had it.
The small startup multimedia company I worked for at the time held a retreat up in the NC mountains, and by the time we got to the Bosses’ vacation home which was at the top of a particularly steep driveway, the ‘Belle was simply out of wind – wouldn’t even climb the driveway in first. We had to back down the road a ways and get a running start to make it (the photo is actually from that very trip).
I came here for the very first story at CC and only went back to TTAC occasionally until the Impala Hell series ended and then I deleted it from my bookmarks. I never visit TTAC anymore. Way too much political shit-flinging and way too many idiots.
Wonderful article Paul, really well written.
Nice writeup Paul, as a VW guy I’m rather shocked that a Samba is still out there being daily driven, not slammed to the ground or over-restored and over-accessorized.
The words transformative and huge impact really jump out at me from Paul’s text, because my Grandparents were transformed by the huge impact they experienced in their bus. Grandpa was driving home at night in Ghana (bad idea) when he enountered a broken down truck that had been left in the middle of the road. He survived but had permanent damage to his arms. His wife was left for dead but was still alive in the morning. Kids had broken limbs. They got shipped back to Canada and stayed with us for a few months while they recovered their mobility, not a happy time at the DougD childhood home as I recall. Somehow I’m OK with driving motorcycles and old Beetles, but I’ll never have a bus.
I can testify to this. I had a ’73 camper van that I’d spent one year restoring (a $400 repossession auction purchase). Driving a friend home, a woman in a Sentra pulled out in front of us. Her bumper rode up mine and pushed the sheetmetal back to within about 6″ of my passenger’s shins. Shaken, I dealt with the police and insurance stuff. When it was time, I started it back up, drove it home, and parked it for the last time. I loved that van more than anything, and I knew every nut and bolt of it, but I never drove it again.
A lovely story, Paul, one of your very best. And that cutie in the last pic really shines (not talking about the bus).
Nicely done, Paul. Great way to start the morning.
Epic! You’ve outdone yourself. Don’t you know I have to work today? More later.
Definitely a Curbie nominee, no question about it.
Revell made a plastic kit of the Samba that I dimly remember making as a kid. 23 little pieces of clear plastic…glue smudge city!
Fantastic article–and thanks for throwing in those iconic (as iconic as the Bus or Beetle themselves) DDB ads. They, too, were well ahead of their time.
I had never heard the name “Samba” before and it seems to fit well.
One of my very earliest memories was of my childhood playmate’s father giving us rides in a well used Samba. He’d drive around the neighbourhood, picking up as many little kids as possible and give us the tour. I can remember driving by my house (at the age of about seven) and waving at my mom, who had only a vague idea of where I was, as was the norm in those days. In 1971 nobody would have batted an eyelash at this kind of thing; it was completely normal. Then the dad would buy all the kiddies ice-cream. We, the kids, thought it was just the coolest thing we could imagine.
I can’t imagine something like this happening today in our paranoid world but I guess it helped that the dad was a Mountie and worked at Parliament Hill. He’d often let the kid riding shotgun wear his Mountie hat, too!
My former Creative Director, the late John Noble, collaborated with the legendary copywriter Julian Koenig on the DDB Volkswagen campaign. You can see a few of their print ads here: http://www.greatvwads.com (Be forewarned: The site is hawking a book). A somewhat obscure item of VW promotional collateral is this VW-commissioned compilation of work by some unlikely, albeit notable, contemporary artists.
I have that book!
So do I!
I want that book!
I must go fix my Beetle. Missing the sound of my 1500 with open pipes right now. Thanks Paul. 🙂
I rode in one of these in about 1966, when a classmate took some of us to the Turtleback Zoo in West Orange, NJ. The zoo was a frequent destination, but none of the trips I made in assorted Detroit wagons ever left me with the sense of adventure I experienced on that ride.
Ah, TurtleBack Zoo!! I still have my elephant ‘key’ for the little speakerboxes that used to tell you all about the animals. Were those there in ’66? I grew up in Maplewood in the early eighties. Judging from the look of the zoo at that time it hadn’t been renovated since the mid sixties at least…
Thanks Paul! Great article. I don’t think there’s anything as iconic as the VW Type 2.
My experience with one involved my father in law in the early 70s. He was well to do and lived in a large estate on the ocean in Connecticut. We lived in suburban DC. One day he called and asked if we wanted to take some excess furniture he was trying to get rid of. Being poor college students living off my GI Bill and owning maybe three pieces of furniture, we jumped at it. He sent us train tickets and picked us up in New London. When I asked him how we were going to get the furniture back to DC, he motioned for me to follow him to one of the barns on the property. There inside, was a 1965 Kombi Type 2 – the one with 4 doors and a short pickup bed. We loaded the furniture and took off. What a bare bones driving experience! It was winter and the VW heater wasn’t up to to the Northeast weather. When crossing the I95 bridge from New Jersey to Deleware, the cross wind almost blew us over. I think I had the wheel turned 90 degrees into the wind!
We kept the Kombi for about a year until he needed it back. A most unusual vehicle that always drew a crowd even in those days.
wow, what a great piece! I love CC!
and the picture of Grossglockner … can ANYONE name all cars in the pic?
The Airplane appears to be a DC-4.
It has too many windows to be a DC-4. My best guess is that it’s a DC-7C (Seven Seas) which was finally able to fly from New York to continental Europe without a fuel stop.
DC 4 it is. The DC 6 and 7 had larger rectangular windows.
I’m not sure about this particular example, but the value on these seem to have exploded lately.
Such wonderful photos! And ads, brilliant. Let’s focus in on the dashboard shot.
The Blaupunkt Köln four-band radio, and the mystery of LMKU. Four radio bands?? Yes, lots to listen to in mid-20th-century Europe.
Langwelle: Long Wave, below our familiar AM band, from 150 to 290 kc. Only in Europe and the Middle East, they have megawatt transmitters that cover many countries.
Mittelwelle: Medium Wave, 540 to 1600 kc, known in North America as the AM band.
Kurzwelle: Shortwave, marked not in frequency but in wavelength! 51 to 48 meters, or about 5900 to 6200 kc, the most popular nighttime long-distance band. When this radio was new, West Germans heard Voice of America, Radio Moscow, BBC, all over the world on this band.
Ultrakurzwelle: Very short waves, what we call VHF in English, the FM broadcast band.
What a totally cool car radio, the ultimate.
The defroster vents appear in this picture. In both VW Bugs I’ve owned these were a joke. They’re even further away from engine hot air in the Bus.
Bud vase? Nice touch, not original, inspite of the New Beetle.
Why does the Bus dash have those louvers?
From my expierence, the defrost in a Bus is actually much better than in a Beetle, which is basically non-existant. That’s not to say it’s good, mind you, but better than a Beetle, haha. If everything is working properly (which is rare, especially when they are 50 years old now) it can be ok in the cab of a Bus with the heat, but the back is still an ice box.
The dash of the Bus has louvers because the speaker for the radio is behind there.
In Canada, all VW air cooled vehicles were equipped with a gas heater.
Problem was it used gas like a 5 ton Loadstar and rarely worked anyway.
An excellent piece.
Good writing like this…gives the reader a connection. I’m not unmoved by period VWs; but I never had trafficking with the Type IIs…pre or post-1968. My first and only experience, ,mostly positive, was with my Vanagon – and by that time I was all growed up; no more impressions or heartfelt longings connected with it.
You’ve made a lumpen, awkward and sluggardly box come ALIVE – history and memory, corporate and personal. Well done!
Sigh…. stop it Paul, just stop.
And just to be technical, the reason you saw so many early Deluxes in Chestnut Brown over Sealing Wax Red was because until 1958 that was the only color they came in. They were sort of a Model T in that way. All commercials (Panel, Kombi, truck) were Dove Blue (or special order primer) Standard Microbus Brownish Beige over Light Beige until 1955 when Palm Green over Sand Green took over for that model and the Deluxes in Chestnut Brown over Sealing Wax Red.
I’m sure there were some special order colors (such was German Postal Yellow) but it wasn’t until late 58 that variations of colors were offered in each model.
That explains it! Thanks.
Great read, Paul. I learned how to drive stick on the sands of Daytona Beach in a 68 VW camper when I was 12. My parents would go for a walk down the beach ( to get away from the kids for a while, I’m sure ), and as soon as they were out of sight, I’d take off in the other direction in the bus. I’m sure that my dad secretly knew that I went on these little excursions ( the tire tracks on the sand had to of tipped him off ), but he never once said anything……
Bought a (non samba) 56 bus once. Was in Panama and it increased my chances to get off road without getting stuck. There was a myth in Panama about folks who used these vans to cross the Darien (jungle between Panama and Columbia). It could have been true. Mine was dead slow but never got stuck. No need for a heater in Panama but could have used a better defroster.
I was young and got bored easily. Believe I sold it to buy the 64MGB. Bad choice.
Really entertaining article Paul. Thanks.
Yes, but see the windshields are very close to you so it’s easy to wipe the fog away with a rag 😉
Nice article Paul. Those pictures bring back memories of stories & photos from my aunt & uncle’s travels throughout Europe in a VW Kombi back in the mid 60’s or so. Based out of the UK they drove it as far as Scandinavia & Greece (on separate trips).
I’d bet that the Samba name originates in the UK, but I’m not sure.
It was good to meet you Paul and thanks for the excellent write up on my bus!I’ll add a little more info and hopefully somebody is interested.I did indeed drive my last 21 window(’67) as my every day car for 10 years until that awful morning a couple of years ago when she tumped over on her side.She has been sold to a very wealthy man who loves cars and she will be restored fully.I thought I would never own another as they really have been priced out of my reach but I knew about this bus sitting rotting away next to a house near where I live.Every time my daughter and I drove by the house we would say “we need to save that poor bus!”.I know the owner and he wasn’t interested in selling.But things change and some money was exchanged and I towed her home.After 6 months of constant labour she is back on the road.After you get used to the quirkiness of driving one of these old buses they are truly a joy.Remember that the designs genesis is from Porsche and that the running gear is like a beefed up 356 so they actually handle nicely.Hard to believe but they are only 6″ longer than a bug!Dash notes-that is correct the grill is for the mono speaker; the bud vase was a popular accessory going back probably into the 40’s.Famous porcelain makers such as Rosenthal made them.The Koln radio is fantastic and has a nice warm tone even with just one speaker.I will probably change it when I find an American version of the Koln so I can get all the radio stations.They are hard to find.As far as nicknames for the bus I believe John H is correct in saying Samba originated in England.The Germans called them Bulli’s.Well, I need to sign off and go adjust some valves!If you see my daughter and I driving around be sure to wave!
richbus, Thanks for the reply and additional detail. I got the part about you finding it in CA wrong; I’ll amend the text.
I know all about how they handle!! And if you’ve driven a Porsche 356, you’ll know that there’s quite a lot of variation in that family. The bus’ high center of gravity and those reduction gears make it a bit different in the final result from the 356. But I get your point.
I’ll keep an eye out for you, and maybe you’ll give me a ride 🙂 Enjoy the bus!
Well back from the valve adjustment and oil change! Being a pilot I will weigh in-yes DC-4!I have a great picture of my last samba parked next to a private jet.My caption-always travel in style!You are right Paul, not exactly like driving a 356!I forgot to mention the utilitarian side of these buses.They came stock as 3/4 ton vehicles and you could get beefier springs to make it a 1 ton.I have hauled almost a cord of wood in one!You can have a ride anytime Paul, you can often find us eating at El Jarro Azul next to Laughing Planet.One of the pleasures of driving these buses is sharing them, I love doing that and hearing the inevitable story that starts “when I was a kid…”.
So awesome you responded to this. You definately sound like a total Bus guy.
Very nice Bus btw. The fact that it’s a walk through is pretty cool too. After having only bench seat Buses my current Bus is a walk through and I love it.
I remember thinking “21 and 23 windows are cool and all but I don’t get the big fuss over them” Then I rode in a ’66 21 window……..and drove it……..yeah, I got it then. I love any Bus with two windshields and may never actually own a 21/23 but I get it after that.
The VW van is #1 on my list of cars I hate to love. Like the Beetle, the engine’s at the wrong end, cooled by the wrong element, noisy, slow, lacking creature comforts etc etc. Everything about them tells me I should hate them, and yet…and yet they are the coolest vehicles in the world! The level of sheer cool factor that they exude is unbeatable, and the 23-window Samba is at the top of the list. Great write-up, thanks Paul!
That’s funny. I remember talking to a friend of mine, into fast import stuff and I said “An aircooled Volkswagen is the opposite of everything that makes a car ‘cool’ but yet it is, just because it is and that’s why they are so awesome.”
Oh that photo makes me happy and also so very sad! That used to be my bus! Saab blue, painted by the chap who bought it from me… moldering on 17th and Lincoln pretty much since he acquired it. Though at one point (I’ve heard) it was stripped and dipped. If you want the skinny on that bus from when I bought it (1984) to when I sold it (1989), hit me up. I was originally a (VW) blue bus.
Of course; I used to walk by it all the time. I probably have it sitting in the driveway somewhere in my files…Do tell us all about it. Here or at the Contact form.
I thought I would share an “as found” photo of the bus.I don’t know how to make this happen but it would be great to be in contact with the PO of the bus!
Yes Dan, I would LOVE to have some history of our bus!It was not stripped that I know of but unfortunately small areas were sandblasted (as evidenced by a few pounds of sand lurking here and there.I have a picture of it as it sat for years rusting away.But she is now very happy and dry in her garage and getting PLENTY of attention!The Saab blue actually looks pretty good but I can’t wait to go back to the original deep blue and blauweiss on top!I too love all buses and think they are all cool 21 window or not!Never say never Adam you just might find a 21 or 23 sitting behind some barn in Vermont for 300 dollars!If not, like you said anything with 2 wind screens will do fine!Thanks to all for your kind comments.
Here is an “as found” photo of the bus. A lot of work has gone into her since this was taken!
In 1985, at 16yrs old, and holding a freshly minted driver’s license, I spotted a tired old VW bus for sale for just $600. It was a 21 window, sunroof equipped Samba.
The engine was original, and needed rebuilding, but it ran fairly well and the van was drivable. The body was rust free, and the original red paint was faded and flat. The tires were bald, but held air… I wanted that van soooo bad!!! But my dad wouldn’t let me buy it because the engine was in the rear and he was afraid of what might happen in a crash.
To this day I regret not being able to buy that van so cheap at a time well before the prices went up… I could have retired on what it would have been worth today if restored.
My love of VWs goes back to 1988 when I bought my first car, a 1972 Beatle, for $35. It didn’t run and didn’t steer, and I knew nothing about cars, but in short order I managed to learn enough to get it running again. I drove that car for 8 years and 100k miles!
Today I have a 1965 21-Window deluxe that I use as a side business called Hippie Limo (http://hippielimo.com). I provide wedding and special occasion limousine service in the Denver & Boulder areas. Tell a friend about us – it will help grow our business, and I promise you that it will make your friends smile!
I remember buying my ’58 Micro Bus (with ‘Safari windows’), when I got back from Nam in February ’69. In 1973, (I opened the upper cabin air intake panel and found the 1958 purchase order, as the 1st owner picked it up in Germany and brought it to Seattle.) I bought this ‘Tomato Soup and Charcoal’ bus from a fellow Vet, who moved from Seattle to Santa Barbara. I customized the interior with a bed and alternative seating for my new family (son and wife) and painted the exterior Lemon yellow and black to look like a big bee and added an exterior ‘bulb’ horn, as the steering wheel horn was inoperative. I then had widened rear rims fabricated, with fat tires (Wide Ovals) all around, for better handling. I then fabricated (I had been aircraft sheet metal repair in Vietnam and now worked in electronics sheet metal fabrication) a spare tire carrier on the front (they were not yet available for purchase), to get more room behind the front seat for storage (it didn’t have a split seat), and for aerodynamics, which gave it about 10% more speed (69 mph) and about 10% better mileage (25 mpg). Over the years, I replaced the 36 hp engine twice (it didn’t like the Conejo Grade on US 101 in Ventura County of California) and finally I got a 40 horse. The “crash box” gearbox never gave me any trouble (though the one in my ’58 Baja Bug did), but salted snow covered roads in Washington finally caught up with it and structural integrity was compromised. So I had to buy a ’62 Bus body to integrate the two buses together. My Bus brought many great and less than great memories, but I still miss planning my ‘passing’ of “slower” cars, when a long stretch of roadway allowed it.
In the weirdest big circle, I finally got to meet Rich, who came into the brewpub I am partnered in, and he introduced himself to me, and pointed down Main St. (imagine that, in Springfield Oregon, no less!) to where (my former, my first of seven) his van was parked. Curbside Classics helped to make it real! Thanks (again) Paul. I like our small world. Hey, Small World used to be the VW intensive parts store on 11th and Garfield. It all comes clear to me now…
“It’s a small world after all”; ran into Rich just this Saturday, in his driveway, where he was trying to sell his seductive MBZ W124 wagon to a prospective buyer. We’ll have to organize a “Eugene small world Get-together one of these day”.
Get the W124 Wagon as a new car for Stephanie, Paul. You know you want another gen-u-ine CC for your collection. (Tsk tsk)
My dad bought a new 67, last year of the split windshield. Nice looking white over blue standard bus. We spent 3 summer vacations touring Europe , up as far as Norway , as far south as Spain, and as far east as Turkey. It was our home away from home, even though it wasn’t a camper. We kids slept in it every night, while our parents slept in a tent. What a great trouble free vacation vehicle it was, and an experience of a life time seeing all the countries.
I’ve always liked the rear-engined, rear-wheel drive VW Bus. I was disappointed when I heard that Volkswagen had discontinued the Volkswagen Transporter. Did they think that people didn’t need a van? Did they not think they were going to buy a van? Like many car manufacturers, Volkswagen seems to know exactly what people want or need in a car. I thought Volkswagen was doing fine with its rear-engined Bus. It’s when they decided to switch to front engined, front wheel drive cars, that things went downhill.
VW may be trying a little to bring back the old look , but not hard enough.
yes, they are gorgeous. And a reminder of seemingly better times. How can you not love them?
I love looking at them. Driving in one? No thanks. The absence of any crumple zones in the front gives me nightmares.
yes, they are gorgeous. And a reminder of seemingly better times. How can you not love them?
As a 5 year old in the early 70s I used to wash these buses in my dad´s company car fleet (well…at least I started and quit after 5 minutes) and once I got trapped inside the back of one and totally freaked out.
Today I just love looking at them. Driving in one? No thanks. The absence of any crumple zones in the front gives me nightmares.
The annoying part: American carmakers shouldn’t have been shocked or awakened by the Transporter. They had been building smallish stepvans for bread and milk and mail since the ’30s. The Econoline was just a somewhat smaller version of the stepvan, not a technical departure. More recent SUVs have returned to the EXACT shape of the ’30s stepvans, with a smoothly slanted front end.
In the early 1960s, my mom and dad were raising a young (and growing) family. My dad didn’t seem like the type that would consider a VW Microbus, given he was stationed in frigid Canadian Forces bases like Sudbury and North Bay, Ontario. However, he bought a Microbus sometime around 1961. Surprisingly, it was one of the most fondly remembered vehicles by my family. As it allowed them to spend more memorable times together. Including vacations. From family photos, it appeared to remain in good shape, as their prime means of transportation, until the mid to late 60s.
I have mentioned on this site before that my childhood was irritatingly occupied by one of these, and that the registration beginning HTL was spookily prescient for a bunch of too-many Catholics descended directly from German Jewish refugees. Hitler’s revenge? Well, who knows, but I disliked it as if it were so. Stupid slow, smelly, cold, hot and air-free, unhideably bright green over white, breaking down on a Most Important holiday. Draughty, leaky, with a roof (and floor) near-resembling the first photo, but from rust instead of accessories. Childhood trauma, I tell you.
But being an odd child, I got the appeal far before the hipsters grew facial bumfluff. I sneakily did like the oddity, and little railcar effect.
I did plan on getting one when rich, but that didn’t happen, and anyway, now that it’s a Thing to have one, it’s back to being a nasty thin-skinned potential child-killer that it really always was.
I really need to get around to writing up a COAL on one of my Buses.
It was great fun re-reading this PN classic. Inspired me to post some of my (mis) adventures I had in my teens and early 20’s in the 2 split window Buses (’65 Westy camper in HS) ’66 Sundial camper right after HS. I hope this post makes it through the sites comment problems.
One big shortcoming in these VW’s is side vision when you have a passenger in the front seat, you can’t see traffic through the side window and since the windshields are flat you have to have your passenger tell you if the coast is clear. This backfired on me twice, the first time pulling out of a gas station with Dad in the shotgun seat. I asked if any cars were coming, he said “it’s clear”. So I pulled out and I heard brakes lock up and wham! WTF, Pops? The answer… “I thought she would stop.” She almost did, minor damage to the dogleg under the door, her car was OK. This was in my ’65.
Years later when I had my ’66 was in a similar situation, this time my passenger was known for being a dipshit so my bad in trusting him when he said “go ahead and pull out”. Wham again. Just a little damage to the dogleg like in the ’65. However, this guy who collided with me turned out to be a total asshole, he had plenty of time to stop but I’m pretty sure he elected to bump me for an insurance payout. No damage to his car, but he insisted his neck hurt from this light tap and he thought his car had frame damage. When it was all set and done, he soaked my insurance company for thousands.
Final collision was my fault, I had studded snow tires on the back of the ’65 and I was following too close behind a ’65 Thunderbird. He slammed on his brakes and as I did the same the rear wheels locked up on the dry pavement and I slid into the rear of the T bird, putting a V into his rear bumper and trunklid. My Bus appeared to be undamaged. How can this be, you say. Well, I had the spare tire bolted to the front panel (complete with a ’67 Continental wheel cover attached to the backward mounted wheel, I thought it looked cool), and I had a towbar bolted to the front bumper, lifted up in front of the spare. As often as the VW broke down, it was a handy setup. This bar was heavy and really thick steel. The guy seemed nervous and was eager to just forget the whole this and move on, this was fine with me. I noticed my turnsignals would not work after this, when I pulled the front inside trim panel where the flasher relay box was located I say that the front panel had caved (in the shape of the spare tire) just enough to crush the relay box.
One other time, this time I was 16 driving my brothers ’56 25 HP panel Bus, I started to pull into traffic and saw a car speeding down the road on my side and I slammed on the brakes after I started to pull out. My friend was passed out (uh, sleeping) and when I hit the brakes his head slammed into the windshield, cracking it. The windshield, not his head, though he developed a purple goose egg on his forehead. No seat belts, of course. Got the windshield replaced quickly before returning the Bus to my brother, who quickly noticed the new right side replacement.
Moving on to (mis) adventures, there were a few. Like the time me and a buddy and his friend were in Upland, spent most of the evening drinking in a bar, I only had a couple since I was the driver. This was in the ’66 which had the front bench seat with the spare behind it, no walkthrough. I also had curtains drawn across to help block the pot fumes from the back as we headed back home. Needed gas, pulled into a station around 2:00 AM, I noticed it was crawling with rednecks in Datsun pickups with huge CB antennas. My buddies friend had gone into the bathroom while the tank was being filled, I paid for the gas and pulled away from the pump into a parking space, waiting for the guy in the bathroom. A few minutes later as I was dozing off, a loud tap on my side window and a flashlight attached to a cop was shining in my face.
Turns out the guy in the bathroom had thrown up all over the bathroom and passed out, one of the guys who discovered him decided it was a good idea to call the cops on the drunk hippies. I explained to the cop that I was sober and the driver. The Bus reeked of pot, and I was told to get out of the car. There were cops everywhere, and one was a really old cop dressed up in a fancy uniform, I guess he was the Grand Wazoo of the police force and was here to observe the bust. I was told to open the side doors, and my buddy was passed out in the seat, with a frisbee full of pot still sitting in his lap. To jail we went. I was charged with maintaining a place of pot habitation or something to that effect. The “buddy” later was advised by his lawyer to testify in court that the pot was in fact, mine, not his.
I was on probation for pot possession in my county and in the ’70’s this was still a big deal, jail was in my future. My lawyer told me since at this time police didn’t like to share info between counties and computers were not yet a national thing, the court in the county I was in was unaware of my previous bust. So I got probation and diversion in 2 different counties, and they both never were the wiser. Fat chance of that happening today. Years later, I got a traffic ticket and the judge was my old lawyer, he remembered me and threw out the ticket! Damn, I had a great lawyer, he kept me out of the greybar motel!
Another time was a trip to a “church camp” some girls we knew invited me and a couple of friends to crash, they said we could stay in their cabin and they would sneak us food. Once again this was in the ’66, the same one as in the pot bust. When we arrived, the first thing we saw was a girl painted green and dressed up as Peter Pan in the woods, dancing around playing a flute. We found the girls cabin, everyone in the “church camp” was frying on acid. This worked well for the first night, but the second day, shortly after dropping acid around 5:00 AM a cop walked into our cabin and pulled me and my friends who were also blazing outside, in our boxers and bare feet in the snow. He searched my Bus and found a pipe with pot residue in it, and told me how he could bust me for this and that. By this time I was coming on strong to the acid, doing my best to maintain, and was instructed by the cop to drive down the hill with my friends and out of his county. He followed us down the hill for 45 minutes, right on my bumper, I was so high I saw several identical roads in front of me and chose one to follow, every time I went around a sharp corner I could see the cop was still behind me. Finally he pulled off and I was able to park and blaze for a few hours before coming down enough to continue the drive home.
One other time in the ’65 Bus a few friends were in the back while we were driving on a rainy night late at night, the roads were flooding and a bridge was closed with a detour sign. Normally I always checked that the side doors on the Bus were latched. you had to pull the handle up after the side doors were closed or they would fly open. My friend was sitting Indian style againt’s the side doors and as I made a sharp left for the detour they flew open (we were going about 15 MPH), my friend slid on his ass Indian style down the road for about 50 feet, his eyes open as wide as silver dollars. I slammed on the brakes, we all laughed like hell as the only injury was a bruised butt and injured ego.
Thanks for reprinting this great story Paul, I flashbacked back into the early ’70’s for a few minutes. Disclaimer. Never do any of these stupid tings, kids!
@67Conti – I was going to write a lengthy VW Van experience dialog like “Alice’s Restaurant” but yours takes the interweb prize for today.
i don`t care what Chrysler claims! The VW bus was the FIRST minivan.
Thanx for reposting this Paul ;
I wish I had any photo of the many different Typ II’s I’ve ridden in, driven, fixed or owned since Pops bought a 1954 in Germany and shipped it home to avoid the waiting lists then .
May 31, 2018
Dear Mr. Paul Niedermeyer,
As an occasional visitor of the Curbside Classic site and a thankful reader of many stories on it (without sending any reply so far), I just discovered that you recently (March 27, 2018) re-posted your article from June 26, 2012 on the Volkswagen Type 2 Samba Bus.
When I saw this re-post, I remembered reading your original Samba Story shortly after it had been published, and I wondered if you had been able since to find an answer to the question you had in 2012 concerning the origins of the “Samba” name.
Apparently you did not… since the re-post still contained the same question, in spite of two replies on the subject in which a British origin of the car’s name was suggested (or even stated as a fact).
If there exists any evidence for the source of the Samba name lying in the UK, I’ll be the first to admit it as a fact. But up to now I haven’t seen any proof or even read or heard about it. Therefore I remain doubtful on the origins of the VW Samba’s type designation being British. Even more so, since VW Type 2 export to the UK only began in 1954 (Type 1 export in 1953) in relatively small numbers, from which probably only a hand full were 23-windowed “DeLuxe Microbus” variation as the “Samba Bus” was officially designated by Volkswagenwerk AG in English-speaking countries. (In a later stage the term “station wagon” was introduced in the US and Canada; I don’t know how the car was [re]called in Australia and New Zealand.)
VW’s late official sales start in the UK would imply that in the early 1950s, Volkswagen as a brand and the Type 2 range in particular were relatively unknown to the British public. Volkswagen certainly did not have an image in that country strong enough to generate a popular nickname just for one very specific and rarely seen model variation.
Moreover, my doubts on the British origins of the “Samba” name are especially based on a very logical German explanation of were “Samba” comes from, I found many years ago in some original VW Type 2 documentation:
In fact “Samba” isn’t a name at all! … It’s an abbreviation.
SamBa stands for: “Sondersauführung mit Banken”, meaning: “Special (or DeLuxe) version/edition with sofas (seats)” – it is the official factory description for the Volkswagen Types 24 and 25 being the 7-, 8- or 9-seat microbuses with 23 windows, two colours, one sliding roof, some extra chrome and a lot of factory-fitted luxury extras and accessories, including a broadened dashboard (pre 1955 models) with a clock and (for some markets) a tube radio.
Mind you! In early post-war Germany, modern marketing techniques – such as giving well-sounded names to cars – were hardly known, let alone used. No one felt the urgency to use or even think of that kind of sales promotion. It simply wasn’t necessary, since the German and European markets, still recovering from their deep war wounds and in the middle of the first phase of post war reconstruction, were crying for cars, no matter if they wore a name, a number or just an incomprehensible product code.
At Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, in such an environment of time and circumstances, caught within the boundaries of Germany’s specific ‘Prussian-Teutonic’ national character of hard working seriousness, solidity, precision and modest functionality, supplemented with feelings of national shame and a damaged self-confidence, inflicted by the country’s recent history, probably not a single car salesman would have given it one thought to propose a commericially attractive sounding name for the new DeLuxe People Carrier, in particular not such a frivolous name inspired by Latin-American dance music. The simple fact that the vehicle offered no less than 23 windows, was already frivolous enough.
Given the circumstance that Germans are often controlled by a lack of humor, it is even questionable if the Wolfsburg commercial department’s staff immediately recognized the double meaning of “SamBa” after they had abbreviated their “Sonderauführung mit Banken”-description. They certainly did not make use of the word “Samba” officially as a name for the car from the moment it was introduced to the public during Germany’s first post war international motor show in 1951… not in Berlin anymore, but in Frankfurt am Main, of all places!
It took the seriously thinking, hard working Volkswagen sales and marketing people quite some time before they reluctantly began to unofficially use the Samba-word as the car’s name. Here we can see an interesting parallel with the term Beetle (Käfer in German) for the original Volkswagen (Type 1). That car was officially launched in 1938, became a world wide best seller from the early 1950’s and was cheerful called “Der Käfer” for the first time officially in the MY 1968 German (and Swiss and Austrian) sales brochures; in my native language the car became “De Kever”… Thirty years after it was announced as “Der KdF-Wagen”. Those Wolfburgers took their time!
Please allow me your reading time for one more remark and two questions concerning your Samba Story and the accompanying photos:
1. The reduction gears on the swing-axle ends did not come from the military Type 181 Kübelwagen, but from the (Porsche) Type 82 Kübelwagen; the Volkswagen 181 All Purpose Vehicle (“The Thing” in North America) had them too, but that car was introduced in August 1969, one year after the Samba Bus had left the European and North American scene!
2. What was wrong with the left hand side air intake louvres of Rich’s blue Samba Bus, you took your photos from? I can’t recognize what the black line and dot are.
3. Did you succeed in finding a picture of a VW Bus with such a giant aftermarket air conditioner on top of the roof at the very rear, fitted under a nicely faired-in panel, making it look for all the world like an old city bus? And if not, can you explain (or show) what kind of old city bus you have in mind when comparing it with a VW Bus equipped such an aftermarket device? ( I don’t believe you meant the Australian first-generation Typ 2’s which had a slightly higher roof combined with a differently designed system for air-intake to prevent their engines from “dust eating”.)
Finally: Thank you and your colleagues very much indeed for all those lovely and super- informative stories on CC-cars. I’m looking forward to many more of them!
Someren, The Netherlands
Thank you for your comment. And your theory as to the origin of the word SAMBA makes a lot of sense. Being originally from Austria, I am familiar with the tendency to make very pragmatic abbreviations.
I sure would like to see something in print that confirms that, like a price list or some other factory document. The closest/earliest I’ve found at thesamba.com is a 1954 Dutch price list, which calls it the “SAMBA”. The use of all capital letters supports your theory.
So where did you get this from? I’ve Googled like mad, and can’t find anything else out there on the web that makes the same inference.
If I could find some confirmation, I’d love to run a post about how the Samba got its name, as the many web sites dedicated to the early Samba/Type 2 have nothing on that subject.
As to your other points, I made a typo with “Type 181” as the source of the reduction gears; it was of course the Type 82, and my link went to that vehicle. I’ve fixed that now.
I think there was some damage to his cooling intake; if I remember correctly, on of the louvers was missing. But that was a few years back, and I’m not quite sure.
I’ve never found a picture of another bus with that type of air conditioner. The unit sat on top of the roof at the rear, and had a cover. I’d have to draw it for you.
Is this the roof AC you saw Paul? Found this on vintagebus.com under rare VW Buses and Bus Accessories.
That’s it exactly!! Even the exact same vintage bus and color. is it the same bus??
Thank you for refreshing the memory banks.
Another inside view.
Last image . No info on who the manufacturer was. Website linkhttp://vintagebus.com/rare.html
Feeling blue (ha!) about this bus again. I am now 56 and remember when first a passenger in that bus in’83 in the way to a party, as a 22 year old, doing the punk rock thing, with its owner Eugene F. Thinking, probably stoned, of what a lovely dashboard it had. Art Deco in my mind.. Nine months later he offered to sell it to me.. $350. Maybe it hadn’t moved since that night. The emergency brake was frozen/rusted. Took a 6” cheater bar to release it, on the street, in front of Eugene’s house on 17th and Hilyard. Drove it home 4 blocks in 1st gear. The shift rod coupling was out. Took me about a year to get that fixed. Research was slow, and, as a recent dropout from the U of O, and more interested in bass guitar, other priorities loomed. My pal Pat helped when he could. The van was in his driveway! We’d get stoned in the back under the open ragtop. Dream about rolling up to punky parties in it. John Muirs guide as well as Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language” became my voices both. A year later I was in my second band (St. Huck) and all was ready to roll! My test drive from my house (The House of Shit, so named because the former tenant had raised rabbits and covered their turds with carpet remnants) near 13th and Jefferson ended 6 blocks later with a traffic stop and tickets for “no tags, registration, or insurance”. The van became my daily driver (who needs a car in Eugene? I drove it to Portland to carry fellow musicians gear mostly at 55mph, once in the rain with shoe-strings working the wipers from the vent windows) for three years and decided to sell it to Matthew (whom Rich bought it from) for $900, with the proviso that I got first dibs should he sell it. Matthew was unreachable (LSD), and a friend in the bus-world told me he had a cork board by his front door with 100 cards of people that wanted it. I realized it wasn’t coming back. My fondest wish still. Still playing music, but as a secret rockstar who still fetishizes that van and all of the 6 “splits” that I was lucky to find in 15 years. I still live here, play music, drive a ‘91 Buick Park Avenue, had a ‘70 Mercury Montego (The Artists Car) featured here, wish I had all of them back now so I could cruise and retire in style! Typical Eugene trip, right?
Thanks for the backstory on this van.
So you’re the guy with the purplish-red Montego I shot in the Whit some years back?
Well now… I am feeling like a dupe, more than ever, about not realizing the value of most of the cars that I’ve been lucky to own, but never able to maintain. I look at that like my ability to afford health care… the first car (van) I owned was the ’65 van in question… let us see if we can find it… in its museum in Stuttgart, I believe?, sold for a bit more than I or Rich paid… um… I paid $350 for it in 1984, as I mentioned. The person I sold it to, M. Tettsner, had a giant board by his front door of folks that wanted it… I had first dibs, according to our agreement. To buy it back, that is. As a musician (that is how I found it, connections, etc), I had little money but a lot of motivation and a lot of connection to get it on the road. It only took me 3 years, and zero dollars, to get it going. Then the stories mentioned. I don’t want to cry too much. (I know the original owner, and his son, if that matters to anyone.)
I don’t want to cry too much… of course this was my favorite and most sentimental vehicle of my life. I did get it going after two years, and I did drive it up to several rock n’ roll parties here in the Euge, and transported bands up to the Satyricon, house parties, and other clubs, in PDX, on many occasions in it. 55 on I-5. Until the rust became an issue, and the lack of locking doors too… I had to run down Mt. Pisgah at full speed from halfway up, after a trusting moment, of seeing an early version of a homeless person try to test the doors (albeit, with some crappy bass gear inside) and take my stuff. Maybe he only wanted a place to be with old hard wood….
I’ve had a ’71 Polara ($200), a ’66 Newport with a 383, a ’70 Montego (mentioned here more than once), and the other five splits (I never paid more than $500 for any of them, this being Eugene, in the 80’s, when these vehicles were 20 years old or less), as well as a ’67
Caddy convertible, bought for my dad when I made the one big check from Universal Records that I received in 1999, to give to him restored at his retirement the very next year (never delivered to him, as the royalties were denied at the end of that year, and the Caddy needed too much work).
I regret never being able to hold a car that had issues, as I’ve always had issues making enough money to keep any of them. Imagine a $100,000 VW Van, and not having enough money to keep it… who would have thunk it in 1984? I wish I were one of those. I guess I have always been one of those, in reverse.
I think that I’ve been abused by car flippers. I wish that there were some “commupence” for their like. M. Tettsner was not one of those. He was like me, though he had a trust fund…
Now I have vintage music gear. And a few old (pre-1960) golf carts. Some moldy. What should I hold on to? Like most Americans, I have no ability to retire safely. I am 57. I don’t think my 1991 Buick will ever cut it. Maybe I should hold it, like all my old LP’s and books?
The last split I had was a ’67 walk-through, same color blue/white as my first, but with a 1600. Ran great for years, until it didn’t. Told by a customer of mine at the brew pub I worked at to “never sell it. It has all Porsche internals”, and true, it’d do a bit faster on I-5 (68mph, pretty rad for a split with no tranny mods), and really I had that van longer and more functional than any of the other splits that I had had… I wish I had it back. And all the others…
BTW, this is why I held on to the early plum version of the Montego, until I couldn’t (on my musician and waitperson salary) afford to keep it… Who knew? Like the poor persons before me, who could presage the value and have means to hold that value? The friend (?) that bought it (the Montego) from me has it under wraps (after its last CC write-up) and can put money into it that I couldn’t. And still can’t. More power to him. But I’ll always wonder and be jealous.
Another talk for another day, I suppose. Of course there are stories within these stories.