Classic VW Volkswagen Bus Van surf beach cruiser auto biography. Story includes history, facts, and information about VW Microbus surfing bus van. VW Bus Surfing Beach Cruiser History - Volkswagen Microbus Van Story.


Classic VW Volkswagen Bus Van surf beach cruiser auto biography. Story includes history, facts, and information about VW Microbus surfing bus van. Collectible nostalgia memorabilia
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Volkswagen VW Bus Microbus Van Surf Beach Cruiser

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VW Microbus Auto Biography

Chapter 1
The Wall

   It was a bitterly cold day in January 1964 when I rolled off Volkswagen's West German assembly line.  Things were booming at Volkswagen.  Sales of all models had been increasing rapidly, especially in the United States.  As a Microbus I and my workhorse brother, the Kombi, were both part of the VW Transporter series, which had begun an unheralded production run way back in 1950.  In the year 1964 my native Germany still was a divided country.  The heavily fortified Berlin Wall had been erected just three years earlier.  Little did I realize as I was driven to a Frankfurt dealership the adventure that the Wall was about to play in my young life.

   My first owner turned out to be an American serviceman -- an Army Major stationed in Germany's "island of freedom", West Berlin.  His primary car was a cherry red 1962 Chevy Impala hardtop.  I was relegated to the role of family carryall, but it was a position I cherished. My 50 horsepower "1500" engine, introduced by Volkswagen as an option a year earlier, was hardly a match for the Impala's 327 cubic inch 300 horsepower V-8.  I know I could never have competed, but still I resented coming factory-equipped with a governor that limited my top speed to 105 kilometers or about 65 miles per hour.  However the family loved my spacious interior and camping on the weekends became a regular routine.  Being with them next to an evening campfire was very special.

   Tension between East and West ran very high in 1964.  Every year hundreds of East German citizens risked their lives in daring attempts to cross the Berlin Wall.  Some tried to scale it, some tried to tunnel under it, and still others tried all manner of ruses to cross through formal military checkpoints.  Many lost their lives in valiant escape attempts.  My Major was stationed with the American forces manning the free side of the Wall and it was not unusual to find myself parked within the Wall's eerie shadow.  From time to time we would cross through the Wall and enter East Berlin on diplomatic missions.  So it was on a warm summer evening in 1966 that the Wall would become the first great adventure of my life.  


Chapter 2
"Beeep! Beeep!"


   It had all started two days earlier when I observed the Major removing my second row metal frame bench seat.  He replaced it with a similar seat, but one in which the upholstery extended all the way to the floor providing an enclosure around the base of the seat.  I had sensed immediately that the seat was designed to smuggle someone or something.  Now we were headed westward and back home after spending the day in the Eastern Sector.  My heart was pounding as we approached the Wall.  Crunched "inside" my new seat was the highest-ranking Intelligence Officer in the Soviet East German government. Months of planning his defection now came down to a routine inspection at the border-crossing checkpoint.  As my Major exited and stood next to me, the border guards began a careful visual inspection.  I sensed they were unusually suspicious, and I noticed one guard in particular kept looking at my new seat -- as if he sensed something was awry but he was not sure what. I had to act quickly.  "Beeeep!  Beeeep!"

   "Stop noise!" one of the guards said in English.  But no one knew how to do it.  Unlike most cars there was no hood to raise to access my horn.  As my shrill cry continued to pierce the otherwise tranquil evening, the head guard said something in German that I think loosely translated meant, "Get that (censored) thing out of here!"  And so my Major quickly climbed back inside and we sped across the border.  My blaring horn penetrated the quiet of the night as we drove on to West Berlin, our island of freedom.

   "I can't believe that horn went off when it did," my clandestine passenger sighed as he emerged from his hiding place.  "I owe this car my life.  Do you think it somehow knew to blow its horn?"  After a deliberate pause my Major responded, "I'm not sure, but the Free World owes this car a debt it will probably never know or appreciate."  As he spoke my Major softly patted my dash and whispered, "I think you did know, didn't you?"  I felt a magnificent inner glow.  I had met the first crisis of my young life and passed the test with flying, albeit "loud" colors.  




Chapter 3
Flower Power


   In late 1966 my life took an exciting turn.  My Major was transferred back to the United States and I came along.  However soon after my arrival I was sold. A pleasant young man named Gordy bought me and immediately crammed his life's belongings inside.  The next day we were headed west to San Francisco.  An aspiring artist, Gordy had heard all about a new counter-culture of dropouts known by the more general term "Hippies".  We immediately rented an apartment in the Haight-Ashbury District.  It was now 1967 and we were fully immersed in the Summer of Love.  I was the envy of all the other cars because I was already the recognized automotive icon of the Flower Power movement. Everyone longed for a VW bus like myself.  And yes, Gordy did paint flowers all over my sides as well as one lone flower on my dash.

   Living in Haight-Ashbury was a communal way of life.  People often lived as extended families and most thought of themselves as one with the emerging counter-culture.  Among those with whom we shared our communal way of life were members of a musical group who lived in the same building as Gordy and myself at 710 Ashbury Street.  The Grateful Dead scorned commercialism and focused on their music, much of it derived from their own psychedelic experiences.  There was a spirit of family that prevailed throughout Haight-Ashbury, where I was shared transportation and in almost constant use by members of our extended family.  Many a night with Jerry Garcia at my wheel, I drove the Dead to the Avalon Ballroom or to the Fillmore Auditorium where the music they and others played soon became known as the San Francisco Sound.

   Life was "far out" until one fateful day in 1968.  Gordy had been drafted for service in Vietnam, but as a matter of conscience had decided to flee to Canada. "I have to sell you", he tearfully explained, "but I promise we will be together again when this crazy war is over."  I was heart-broken but I knew he spoke the truth.  Someday, somewhere, somehow we would be together again -- I was sure of it.  


Chapter 4
My Secret


   My new owner lived in Washington, DC, and for reasons that will become apparent, all I can really divulge is that he worked for the government.  The first thing my new owner did was repaint me to remove the flowers from my sides.  He definitely did not identify with "Flower Children", although he did leave the special flower Gordy had painted on my dash.  I became his daily-driver back and forth to work.  Life was remarkably uneventful -- actually kind of boring.  I was well treated although my owner was somewhat aloof and we really had no personal relationship the way Gordy and I had.  Life in Washington, DC was quite stiff compared to what I had known in California.  The years passed, and then late one evening in 1972, just past midnight, my owner unexpectedly emerged from his home and we drove off.  He had a solemn look on his face and I felt the tension mounting.   I could sense another nighttime adventure lay ahead.  Any fear I might have felt was overshadowed by a sense of keen excitement.

   After driving a short distance we entered an underground parking garage.  We circled down and parked, the sole vehicle in the otherwise deserted structure.  A few minutes later I heard the ominous sound of another car approaching.  It parked next to us and a young man got out.  His first words were, "I like your wheels. I've always wanted a VW bus."  But the compliment and the ensuing small talk were short-lived.  During the next hour what I heard was "ear-burning" to say the least.  Our clandestine meeting ended with an agreement to hold further nocturnal trysts -- which we did over a period of months.  The meetings were generally about 2:00 a.m. -- and always in a different deserted parking garage. I quickly became aware that I was a silent witness to history.  If you haven't guessed by now, the young man we met was a Washington Post reporter named Bob Woodward and my owner, whose anonymity I have always respected, soon became known to the world as Watergate's Deep Throat.  Now, as I recount my life's story, perhaps the time has come to divulge Deep Throat's identity to the world.  Who was Deep Throat?  "Beep Beeep".  There! I just shared my secret with you.  


Chapter 5
Oranges, Chickens and Dirt


   Life after my Major, D.T. and especially my beloved Gordy became nothing more than a series of "short-term affairs" with a variety of very forgettable owners.  My condition deteriorated as each succeeding owner seemed less interested in me as a transporter of people, and more interested in my capacity to haul all manner of cargo.  I experienced not only wear and tear on my body, but an even greater toll on my spirit.  The next dozen or so years I crisscrossed the country many times.  I hauled oranges in Orlando, chickens in Chattanooga and dirt in Dubuque.  Dents, rust, scrapes -- all were painful.  But even worse was neglect.  My once fine motor no longer purred, but rather gasped for each breath as it labored on year after endless year.

   It was during this very bleak period of my life that I experienced yet another nighttime adventure worthy of note.  I was in the Pacific Northwest serving as a carryall for a rather odd hermit who lived in a crudely built tar papered cabin situated high on the side of a mountain peak.  One May night in 1980 at about 3:00 a.m. the stillness of the night was shattered by the sound of my reclusive owner approaching.  He had with him his two disrespectful dogs, who constantly chewed on what was left of my upholstery at every opportunity. "Let's go," the old man said in a nervous tone.  "Now!"  Both dogs were visibly edgy.  "My dogs know something," he muttered.  "I don't know what they know, but they know."  Although I didn't understand why, he drove me hard the rest of the night and at daybreak the next morning we arrived in Portland.  As we listened to my radio we learned that Mount St. Helens had blown its top, forever erasing any trace of that ramshackle cabin.  And while I still hate what those dogs did to my upholstery, somehow I think I have found it in my heart to forgive them.

   Throughout the eighties I labored on.  Every year I acquired new dings and scars and ever-spreading rust.  I often thought of Gordy and the prestige I had enjoyed among the Flower Children.  But those fantastic days and nights in San Francisco seemed a lifetime away -- and the reality was, they were.  


Chapter 6
The Next Five Centuries


   The decade of the nineties felt like a bottomless whirlpool.  I was being drawn further and further down with no hope of escape.  Passed from owner to owner, each seemed worse than the last. In 1992 I was sold to man in Iowa who used me as a weekend fishing car.  He would drive me to a little cardboard shack he had jury-rigged on the banks of an isolated section of the Mississippi River.  It was a shack not unlike the shack the Mount St. Helens hermit had lived in.  Aside from the unpleasantness of being a depository for his slimy fish, I rationalized that life could be worse.  Soon it was.

   The summer of 1993 brought with it the "once-every-five-hundred-years" Great Mississippi River Flood.  In a panic to save his other property, my owner left me abandoned along the river.  I was not swept away, but the river did carve a new course and the land on which I sat was transformed into a tiny island no more than fifty feet square.  I was marooned.

   Years passed and my only glimpse of civilization was the endless parade of barges that navigate up and down the Mighty Miss -- and that was only eye contact.  I was alone with my thoughts, remembering another island -- West Berlin; recalling my ringside seat to the downfall of a Presidency; and of course re-living life in Haight-Ashbury with Gordy.  I was resigned to spending eternity, or least the next five centuries, alone and forgotten forever on a minuscule island with no name.

   "We can haul this out of here on my uncle's boat," I heard a voice say. Aroused from a deep sleep, I realized that two young men were on the island and talking about me.  "This is exactly what I have been looking for to make into a beach Cruiser."  Beach Cruiser?!  We were in Iowa and I didn't get the beach reference -- but I certainly didn't care.  I was about to be rescued from total oblivion and I wasn't about to question what kind of Cruiser I was being called. He could have called me a farm Cruiser, a desert Cruiser or even a swamp Cruiser -- but I have to admit the adjective beach certainly did have a nice ring to it!  


Chapter 7


   It turned out Michael had spotted me while working on one of the many grain barges that regularly passed my little island.  A thrifty young man with mechanical ability, Michael soon had my engine humming again.  "I've been saving my money so I can move to Hawaii and check out the surfing scene," he explained.  "You're going with me and you're going to be my home as well as my wheels.  I'm on a tight budget so I hope you'll understand that I can't do anything about all your dings and rust."  Understand?  You bet!  Mechanically he had me running better than ever, and I had a life again.  Cosmetics were of absolutely no concern to me.

   In a few short weeks we were in Hawaii.  We immediately headed for Oahu's North Shore where Michael found work at a surfboard shop.  He removed my back seats and replaced them with a hand-built bed.  He also hung curtains in my windows and outfitted me with cooking utensils.  But most importantly, he added a surfboard rack to my roof. Longboards, short boards, windsurfing boards, bodyboards -- I was adorned with nearly every style and brand of board made. Nights and nearly every moment of free time during the day were spent at the beach. Mokuleia to Kaaawa; Waimanalo to Sandy Beach; Waianae to Makaha; the entire leeward coast -- we soon knew every beach and its wave patterns by heart.

   Life on Oahu was magnificent.  I was now living on my third island, which was definitely "charmed".  Then one day Michael received a job offer in Australia that was simply too good to refuse.  Taking me along was impractical, which I understood.  Knowing I would be easy to sell, Michael placed a For Sale sign in my window and parked me along the main highway across from Sunset Beach. Many a young surfer stared at me longingly.  After all, I was the ultimate "in" transportation.  And with my own bed and "kitchen" I doubled as a beach pad on wheels.  However it was when by pure chance a mature fifty-something man stopped to look at me that my life took a most incredulous turn.  


Chapter 8
"Hey there, pal!"



   "Hey there, pal!  How have you been?"  The voice was hauntingly familiar.  "I'd recognize that flower on your dash anywhere, seeing as how I painted it thirty years ago."  It was Gordy!  He continued, "Consider yourself sold. I'd gladly pay ten times what this sign says -- all I have dreamed of for all these years is finding you again."  Me too!  I was completely overcome with emotion.  From a rational point of view I had long ago given up ever seeing Gordy again.  But in my heart the candle of hope had continued to burn, often flickering but never going out. "It's a good thing I painted that flower on your dash or I never would have recognized you," Gordy mused.

   I soon learned Gordy was now a highly successful artist living in a million dollar home on Maui.  "I only have a three-car garage so you and the Corvette and the Lexus can share it.  The SUV will have to start staying outside."  Gordy emphasized to me that he felt my scarred and rusty appearance exuded the character of my life -- that it was art -- and that he wasn't going to change a thing about me.  And that was just fine with me.  Although he is a very wealthy man, Gordy treasures strolling Maui's many beaches in cut-offs.  No one would ever guess his wealth and status, especially when he is behind the wheel of my battered and bruised body.

   Now life is filled with joy.  I especially relish camping on the beach with Gordy. Young surfers drool and lust for me, but my life will be with Gordy for all eternity.  I have had a number of nighttime adventures, and I have also lived on several "islands".  But no adventure and no island can compare with the peaceful nights I now spend with Gordy in Paradise.  Happiness is a soft tropical breeze, a warm friendly campfire and the sounds of the Grateful Dead resonating from my cassette player.  We often reminisce late into the night.  But my greatest happiness comes when Gordy climbs into my bed and I hold him while he sleeps contentedly.  I fight off sleep, not wanting to lose the moment.  But soon I too doze in sublime contentment.

-- The End --

© Cruiser Art 1999-2015


(Note:  This Auto Biography is included with each VW Microbus print)