Wednesday, January 25, 2012

So many buses...which one is for me?

In response to this post…

We’ve owned ‘em all early split, late split, early bay, late bay, air cooled Vanagon, water cooled Vanagon, so I guess from that perspective my opinion is worth SOMETHING, right? :-) (I will be making some gross generalizations here and this is all just my opinion.)


Pros: They are the roomiest, most comfortable (for camping and driving) of the VW family. (I suppose Eurovans are better, but I’m not going there.) They make for absolutely delightful road tripping. They still possess that feeling of freedom but with a few more modern comforts than the older campers. Don’t worry, you’ll still get the quirks and problems associated with earlier buses (i.e. changing fan belts in the campsite at the Sasquatch Festival, or changing a fuel pump in the parking lot at a WalMart in middle-of-nowhere, Utah).

Cons: They are UGLY beasts. I don’t care how you slice or dice it, they just didn’t get the cute genes. Also, to many (or most), they aren’t “real” VW buses.

My Recommendation: Buy a water cooled. They all get hot, but air cooled Vanagons are amazingly difficult to keep cool. With an AC Vanagon, you’ll spend lots of time waiting on the side of the road for your engine to cool.

BAY WINDOWS ('68-'79): 

Pros: They are cute as buttons, possess the spirit and life of VW buses, and are a little roomier than split windows. They are easier to drive, and are safer than split window buses.

Cons: You won’t impress the hard core enthusiasts. Also, they are slightly more difficult to work on than earlier buses. For example, if your window won’t roll up, you’re looking at replacing a window regulator (which is a pain in the neck), whereas, with a split window, if your window isn’t moving, you will be able to see what the preclusion is, and likely move it with your finger.  

My Recommendation: ’71 is the best year because it is the first with disc brakes, and the last year with the upright engine and removable rear apron—meaning you can pull the engine out the back, rather than lifting the bus over it to remove.


Pros: There’s nothing quite like the view from the drivers’ seat of a split window. There is a rich history to these. You will become obsessed with the little unique pieces your bus needs, and will spend hours each day online dreaming about whether your bus needs deluxe trim, or whether you should lower it, or justify buying a set of BRMs for it. These are easy to work on. There just isn’t much to them and for that reason they are really fun to play with. Buy a Bentley manual, and add to your “favorites” and dive in.

Cons: You can (but don’t have to) spend tens of thousands of dollars on these babies—just messing around with restoration.

My Recommendation: The earlier the better. Stock engines were engineered to run forever, and I don't recommend huge engine modifications myself. We've had a couple 1776 cc engines and they run really nice and have some nice energy, but I don't recommend anything bigger than that. The more custom you go, the harder it is to find parts on the fly. 
Depending on the amount of work you want to do, you want to stay away from things like rotted rockers and dog legs, cut dashes, cut bulkheads, and welds in funny places (like the cargo door Craig's dad welded shut on his first bus). You'll have a preference for bullet buses (pre '62), fried egg buses ('62 and later), pressed bumpers (mid '58 and earlier), or over-rider bumpers (mid-'58 and later), or...if you are made of money and want to be a VW god--barndoors (pre '55). Really though, these variations are just stupid things that only people like me who spend way too much energy on VW history would even notice. 

Keep in mind, that in order to own a bus, you need to be flexible and willing to think outside of the box…and have a good AAA policy. Part of the fun of driving them is that they WILL break down. The key is to enjoy the ride and be as prepared as you can with a solid emergency kit, a manual, and as many mechanically inclined friends as you can find. You’ll learn a lot. As Brett mentioned in his post, one day you won’t know a valve from a brake line and before you know it, you’ll be adjusting your own valves and bleeding your own brakes.

Ultimately, VW buses are a ton of fun. No matter what bus you pick, you’ll have people honk and wave at you wherever you go. People will stop you in parking lots, and at gas pumps and tell you about the VW they had, or the one their best friend’s dad had. It is a community unlike any other I know.

(Having said all of this…over the last few months, we’ve sold the Squareback L

the Panel

 and a 13 window deluxe that never even made the blog (as pictured above).

What can I say? Sometimes you just need to have a car that is probably going to start in the morning, get you to work every day, and stop quickly when a permit driver slams on his brakes in front of you. To replace our cars, we bought a house (okay, the house didn’t replace a car, but the panel paid for the down payment), an ’04 Passat, an ’06 convertible Beetle, and, most recently, a ’61 Convertible Beetle—more to come on this one!


Unknown said...

Great Post! Really enjoyed it.

Jahmikes said...

Great article! I saw the posting on Big Blue and am looking for a little insight.

I am in the same position as Art.. trying to decide which bus is for me. I had a '77 in my late teens and traveled all over the US in it.

I am leaning toward 76 - 79 westfalia but mostly because i like how the interior is arranged. Does anyone have thoughts about purchasing an early 70's vs late 70's?

I am only mildly mechanically inclined so any insight from the pros would be more than welcome!



DannyTheBusMan said...

Great Post. Wish I would have sent my friends here to read this before I wrote a letter with the same advice. His wife wanted one, DO IT. Buy a running one with a solid body. I have a 71 like my dad, a split because it's cool, and a 78 westy because those last years with 2L's and improved layout I like the best...

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