Goodbye to the legendary Volkswagen van

It’s hauled hippies and surfers.

It’s gutless on hills, handles poorly, is subject to rollovers and requires frequent repairs.

More than 10 million of the iconic Volkswagen vans have been sold since the first model was rolled out in Germany in 1950, just five years after the end of World War II.

Today, however, the celebrated van appears to be reaching the end of its long road after 63 years of continuous production.

Production was transferred from Germany to Mexico in 1979 because the van didn’t meet European safety standards. A decade or so later, it was moved again ... this time to Brazil.

But the Brazilian government recently announced that the van doesn’t meet its own, upgraded standards, and production must halt by Dec. 31 of this year.

No one knows what will happen to the van when its plant in Sao Paulo shuts down in seven weeks. There are no announced plans to produce the vehicle elsewhere in the world.

So the van seems doomed.

Known by millions in the U.S. and internationally as the “hippie bus” and the “love van” because many of its owners’ lifestyles reflect the so-called hippie, pop, counterculture and anti-establishment movements that flourished in the 1960s and 70s, the vans, often bearing peace and civil rights slogans and multi-colored murals, still evoke a certain charm, nostalgia and magic as they pass by.

The VW van or bus is one of the most recognizable vehicles in history.

It has made appearances in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and other motion pictures, on Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys record covers, and in music circles linked to the Grateful Dead band and its legion of touring “Deadheads” who followed the rock group in VW “hippie” buses to performances across America.

The bus has hauled the boards of California surfers and has been pressed into service around the world as a rolling bedroom and living room, kitchen, machine shop, postal vehicle, transport to carry soldiers, school bus, taxicab. delivery vehicle, food store and ambulance.

In some nations, it has even been used as a hearse.

Entrepreneur Steve Jobs sold his van in the 1970s to buy a circuit board that helped him build a computer and launch Apple.

As well as hauling hippies, surfers and cargoes, the van also has enabled countless young Americans to achieve independence from their parents, according to Dr. Doris Dwyer, a longtime history professor at Western Nevada College who studies U.S. social and political trends.

“The VW van has made it possible for these youngsters to find freedom and liberation ... it has provided them a self-contained lifestyle because it is inhabitable, mobile and comparatively affordable,” she said.

The van also has carried many of these newly-independent and idealistic young people to rock concerts and other venues where song lyrics and speeches support peace and anti-war movements, women’s rights, the plight of the poor and disadvantaged as well as opposition to intolerance directed at racial, religious and homosexual minorities, Dwyer added.

My son, Dave, a photojournalist whose work has often appeared in this newspaper, says he sees scores of VW vans at the Burning Man counterculture gathering held each year during the Labor Day weekend in Northern Nevada.

“The vans get good mileage, are rugged and inexpensive to fix, and many ‘Burners’ sleep, cook and eat in them and dress them up as floats in the annual Burning Man parades,” he told me.

Assuming production of the beloved van will end for good when the Brazil plant closes down next month, the price of used models certainly will rise, said Dave, an auto enthusiast who photographs car races and rare car shows and auctions.

Although hundreds of thousands VW vans and buses are on the roads, parts eventually will be hard to find and earlier models of the vans may fetch several times more that what their owners paid for them, he said.

No other vehicle in history has carried the legendary, the romantic appeal of the VW van. Its aficionados number in the millions. Its spirit will live forever.

David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.


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