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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

My long (and nearly forgotten) Vanagon chapter | Hagerty Media

My automotive life has been painted mainly with brushstrokes of 1970s-era BMWs used as enthusiast cars, and whatever low-priced, high-mileage, standard-transmission BMW crossed my path and found itself as a daily driver for a few years. There was also a succession of a half-dozen Suburbans used as vacation/beach-assault/tow vehicles.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/the-hack-mechanic/my-long-and-nearly-forgotten-vanagon-chapter...
10 REPLIES 10
Al
Intermediate Driver

Great story! I've been diving Beetles for 50 years, but never really wanted a Bus
petersalt
Intermediate Driver

Great idea!
I've been toying with using an air/water-tight beetle
as a diving bell for getting down into the warm Gulf
of Mexico depths. How does your application work??
toy83h2ssj53
Intermediate Driver

My experience with VW began when I traded my '63 Dodge Dart for a Bus (type 2) in '68, the first of the "Picture Window" line. Signed up at the dealer and expected a long wait, (demand was such that supply was very short), and was surprised when about 2 weeks later, got the call that someone had not taken delivery on their bus, and I could have it if I wanted. Long story short, (for now), is that going to the grocery store and buying what would have filled the Dodge, was just a little space taken in the Bus. Also taking our firstborn to San Diego from LA completely filled the car, and with the bus, putting him on a blanket over the engine, (very soothing-quick sleeper), and having the rest of his stuff taking just a little space, was just marvelous. Loved the Bus, especially being able to service it easily. Lack of lots of grunt was tolerated, and we learned to speed up downhill so we could get back uphill without too much difficulty, but still, would be nice to have more power. A kid came by sometime in '84, and offered me a price I couldn't refuse, and the bus went away. But the bug had bit, and we purchased a new '84 Vanagon GL. Was wonderful! Upgraded upholstery, A/C, and more power. Downside was not being able to easily get the middle seat out for carrying "stuff". Still was nicer to drive and enjoy. Then, it started to have problems - the A/C stopped running - the "flexible" connection at the compressor kept breaking, dumping all the refrigerant. At the time the dealer fixed until they got tired of messing with it, and we just drove it as was. Then, driving it to Alaska, pulling a tent trailer, got to Seattle, and started hearing what sounded like someone pounding on the rear wheel with a sledgehammer. Stopping on the freeway, checked it out and found nothing amiss, and kept on going, ignoring the noise. Found out much later in the trip that one of the CV joints had run out of grease, and was the source of the noise. Stopped at an auto parts store and got a grease gun, VW grease, and a needle to fill the CV joint, which did the trick. A year or two later, drove from AZ to San Jose to visit number 1 son, and during that time while there, lost coolant. Shut down the engine before damage could occur, and after cooling, took it to the VW dealer. After shelling out $$$, was informed that the problem was that the "head gasket" had "blown". "Head gasket" on this engine is a special plastic "O ring", that cost, if I remember correctly about $300. Problem with the engine is that it is susceptible to the effects of dialectric action - magnesium against aluminum in a water medium, and the magnesium is eaten away from the head, resulting in leakage of coolant. Also the presence of steel, brass, and copper in the same coolant makes for an interesting mix. After a year or two, returned to S.J. and had our next adventure. 60K miles, and the CV joints were acting up some, and some noise too. So those I replaced in a parking lot somewhere in S.J. myself, having found that replacement joints and grease could almost break the bank. A couple years later, finding ourselves in S.J. once again, on a trip to San Francisco, got the the outskirts of the city only to have the water temp gauge pegged out on the hot side. Fortunately, by this time, I was carrying a lot of water, and we limped back to S.J. To the dealer again. Driving it for a couple years, the water pump started leaking, and I thought "no problem". Purchased said pump and proceeded to be challenged to get it installed, thinking to myself at the time that I perhaps should have let one of the dealer's wrenchers have the pleasure. Somewhat later, started having coolant issues again, which I addressed personally with "head gaskets" from a parts house. Drove it for a couple more years until I started feeling like it was going to give me problems again, and went to the Chrysler dealer and "donated" it to acquire a Grand Caravan, which has had no problems. Had there been the Suburdu solution sometime during the Vanagon's tenure in my care, it would most likely have been the ideal solution. I loved the styling of the '68 bus and the '84 Vanagon, but it just got to the place that whenever we took the Vanagon out of town, something would go wrong with it, and we couldn't depend on it. We never did get the A/C running. Sorry, but VW is history for me now with this bad taste in my mouth.
J4Customs
Pit Crew

I have had 3 70's model buses. My favorite was my 71 with a crank back full moon roof. Sold it to a young lady North Carolina. Wish I had it back... Good times.
Rider79
Instructor

These were cool, especially the single-grill air-cooled ones, and the later Synchros (with the extra "granny" low gear, and optional differential lock). Once I passed my 20's, though, I could not envision driving something where my feet were virtually on the front bumper; even my 3 Beetles had more crash space - lots more.
jaysalserVW
Detailer

I really enjoyed the story, Rob. Once these Vehicles get ahold of a guy, they just don't let go, do they! I am wondering, however, about the designations which you use--Type 3 and Type 4 VW. The Volkswagen Literature designated all of these vehicles as Type 2s. Come 1972, the Type 2s began to use a Type 4 engine (as opposed to the Type 1 engines used to that point). Type 3 is a designation reserved for the FastBack, SquareBack and NotchBack. I ran the article past a now-retired VWoA trained person. He, too was puzzled about the T 3 and T 4, etc. designation which you ascribe to these vehicles. Can you explain?
Cornbinder
Intermediate Driver

Two words: Corviar Greenbrier
chrlsful
Instructor

yup, gotta have a europa in new england to laugh @ur self for wanting a vanagon. Opposite directions, only allowed one play vehicle, no couple's get-a-way. Gotta buy her one too! If she's outdoorsie get 'er a sami BIG tires & tune it for her. My neighbor has 2 (his/hers) w/SAS, bigger motors, all the goddies - a vert and hrd top. They beat my '70 bronk on the tougher trails round here. 8^0
ChevyDave
Intermediate Driver

@jaysalserVW - As the author states, all buses are Type 2s....which is not to be confused with the T1, T2, T3, and T4 designations which indicate Gen 1, Gen 2, Gen 3, and Gen 4.
Regarding the Vanagon’s amazing versatility, I’ll just add that in the Carat/Wolfie/Weekender/MultiVan iteration, the “middle row” is actually two rearward-facing jumpseats located directly behind the driver’s and front passenger’s seats. The seat cushions flip-up when not in use to increase room - as well as ease ingress/egress for the sliding door - and can be removed completely with the tug of a single lever.
I fact, my answer to the proverbial “If you could only have one vehicle to do everything from haul the family to haul the new washer and dryer home to camp overnight, all while being fun to drive”, it would be a Wolfie hardtop modded with more power and improved suspension....pretty much what Porsche created in the mid-80’s to support their Paris to Dakar entries: https://t3vanagon.blogspot.com/2008/10/b32-volkswagen-vanagon_6299.html?m=1
Even stock though, the Wolfsburg with it’s rear-engine/rear wheel drive layout, short wheel base, balanced weight distribution, lowered suspension, and wider tires is surprisingly entertaining to drive.
I miss mine every day.
02-orignal-ownr
Detailer

My first (and actually only) experience with a type 2 VW was as a sixth grader back in 1955-56. The school I attended had a "fleet" of three, 21 window, sunroof-equipped '55 Microbuses that they used as school buses. Apparently the only way you could get a passenger Microbus back then was with the upper windows and cloth sunroof. We never could persuade the driver to let us open the sunroof, despite the school being in Ft Lauderdale.