What a magic ride it was.
By CINDY HOEDEL
The Kansas City Star
For 67 years, the VW bus, a utilitarian German vehicle, has been an iconic symbol of American freedom and free spirit.
Now the last production outpost of the VW Transporter (as nobody called it), a factory in Brazil, is ending the line.
What a drag, man.
The VW bus, known as the microbus, hippie bus or love bus here and Kombi in Europe and Australia, was a dream on wheels. Its lack of sophistication, speed, comfort, aerodynamics and safety features did not diminish its belovedness.
Quite the opposite. Its no-frills design made it cheap and easy to repair, two key advantages if you were part of the Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out generation. Also, it could fit a bunch of your friends as you traveled to make the next scene, plus a few hitchhikers along the the way.
I never owned one outright but have fond memories of road trips in one a group of friends and I owned communally in the late 1970s in Texas.
Then again, just about anyone born before 1970 has fond memories of a VW microbus. Thats what filmmaker Damon Ristau discovered when he set off across the country in a vintage microbus to make his 2011 documentary, The Bus.
Wherever he went, people smiled at him and wanted to tell him their stories, Ristau has said. He devoted one part of the film to those microbus memories.
Even people who never owned one or traveled in one feel a connection, because the VW bus has left indelible tracks on our cultural identity.
It was immortalized in movies including Whats Up, Doc? with Barbra Streisand and Ryan ONeal, Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner and Little Miss Sunshine, in which the yellow microbus was as much a character in the film as a prop.
And when George Carlin gave voice to Fillmore, the VW bus, in Disney/Pixars Cars, he upstaged some of the animated vehicles that got more screen minutes.
The Who were known to be big fans of the rolling party room, which inspired their hit song Magic Bus. But my favorite musical microbus tribute came from Men at Work in Down Under.
Traveling in a fried-out Kombi/On a hippie trail/Head full of zombie/I met a strange lady/She made me nervous/She took me in and gave me breakfast.
Perfect. Because the VW bus (Kombi) was always fried out; it was forever traveling on some hippie trail, to Burning Man or the beach, and if you had one you were forever meeting strange people who offered you hospitality.
The bus even made it into the outlaw country hit Convoy when C.W. McCall sang about eleven long-haired Friends a Jesus/In a chartreuse microbus.
And everyone in my high school circle could recite the part in Arlo Guthries Alices Restaurant about loading a half-ton of garbage into a red VW microbus along with shovels, rakes and implements of destruction.
The microbus was also part of actual history, transporting protesters to rallies and music lovers to Woodstock. And in a cosmic moment described by Walter Isaacson in his biography of Steve Jobs, we learn that Jobs sold his VW bus for $1,500 to get the money to build his Apple 1 computer.
The march toward ever-tighter safety regulations not only doomed the microbus, but effectively rules out a triumphant relaunch a la the New Beetle of any bus even remotely resembling the original, in which the drivers body is pretty much the crumple zone in a collision.
Also, tighter fuel economy regulations make is hard to see how the bus with its breadbox profile could ever hit efficiency targets.
But if anyone at VW headquarters in Wolfsburg can figure out how to engineer ABS and airbags into the bus without altering its appearance and simple-to-repair engine too much, it would be a huge hit. I would order one in turquoise and white in a heartbeat.