The VW Bus

Not just for hippies anymore, the VW bus seems to be the epitome of traveling adventure. And they make snazzy little houses, too! Their stubby shape, tell-tale buzzing engine and ability to be customized have given the VW bus a dedicated following. If you are going to live for any length of time in a VW bus, you will most likely be living in a vintage bus that has been refurbished.

The original VW bus, the Plattenwagen, was designed by businessman Ben Pon from the Netherlands in 1947. His idea was considered revolutionary at the time and the design had to be built by Volkswagen on the chassis of the beetle car.

Courtesy of Bumfuzzle.com

Courtesy of Bumfuzzle.com

Courtesy of Love My Bus

Courtesy of Love My Bus

My favorite VW conversion belongs to the Bumfuzzle couple, Pat and Ali Schulte. They have traveled through most of North and South American and part of Europe with their 1958 panel van and have created attention wherever they go. Ali affectionately calls it their little house. This van will soon be going up for sale in the UK, as the couple are going to have their first baby. Keep an eye on their website and you might be able to snap it up.

Courtesy of Chanatrek

Courtesy of Chanatrek

Chad and Ana Memmel are also living and traveling the world in their 1977 VW Type 2 bus with a pop-up named Mango. They have a great list on their website of what they modified to make their mobile home more liveable.

Courtesy of Love My Bus

Courtesy of Love My Bus

Luke Janes has been living in a 1977 VW bus named Charlie for the last 6 years. He started living in his bus because he wanted to be able to work for the work and play for the play. He came to love so many of the “fringe benefits” that he now prefers it as a lifestyle, and he choses to continue to live in the bus. He gives a few advantages and disadvantages of living in a bus:

  • Low impact: No electricity, no heating, no natural gas, small land use, low construction materials next to a home.
  • Freedom: No lease, no rent, no mortgage.
  • Preparedness:  Everywhere he goes, he has everything he needs
  • Financial ease: His monthly expenses are low
  • Simplicity: No room for excess stuff
  • Cleanliness: Everything has its place.
  • Health: He goes to the gym most days, and bike most places.
  • Beauty: With a little driving he can move his home to the places where people spend millions of dollars to live
  • Connection to community: It keeps him spending a lot of time in public spaces — gyms, cafes, parks, restaurants.
  • Resourcefulness: He has learned a lot of skills working on the bus

He adds that living in a bus allows him to winnow down the people he associates with. “People put off by this tend to be closed-minded or boring, and people interested in this tend to be open-minded and adventurous. This means that all of my friends and lovers are open minded and interesting! Sweet!”

Luke also lists the disadvantages of living in a bus:

  • It can be illegal
  • It may be unsafe for women
  • It can be stereotyped
  • Too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter
  • You can’t cook or clean dishes easily or keep things that need cold refrigeration
  • You can’t throw good parties
  • Getting mail and packages can be problematic

Even with their disadvantages, what is it about these colorful little buses that keep people coming back? Maybe it’s the community of bus lovers. It seems that once you meet another VW bus owner, they become a quick friend…if not family.

This couple spent their honeymoon in a a VW bus

One of my favorite book characters, Liz Sullivan, of the Lora Roberts mysteries, lives in her blue VW bus, Babe

Vintage buses for sale

Luxurious Living in the VW Westfalia Camper

Love My Bus Community

Circle the Wagen Fundraiser

Courtesy of Chanatrek

Courtesy of Chanatrek

Courtesy of Bumfuzzle.com

Courtesy of Bumfuzzle.com

Courtesy of Bumfuzzle.com

Courtesy of Bumfuzzle.com

By Christina Nellemann

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56 Comments The VW Bus

  1. Lellewynn

    Kent, you are my new hero! I love the bus and I am planning on purchasing one in the future. Can’t say how near that future may be but you can bet i’ll have one eventually!

    Reply
  2. Tom Sackett

    I’ve loved VW buses since I was a kid, and drove a 1971 Westfalia for about 10 years. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. You should expect to do most of the work yourself. You’ll change the oil, spark plugs, and distributor rotor. You’ll adjust the valves, timing, and carburetor. You’ll pull the engine and change the clutch. Most of the work is easy and you’ll have the John Muir “Idiot’s Guide”; the only car repair manual that is fun to read. If you’re really ambitious, you may even rebuild the engine. You’ll bond with this car in a way that you won’t with any more recent vehicle. While your driving, and even when you’re not, your head will be filled with thoughts of carburation, compression, and ignition.

    While this might sound attractive, a lot of us are looking for ways to simplify our lives by getting rid of stuff, rather than complicate them by forming a new (somewhat obsessive) relationship with a piece of vintage technology.

    Environmentally, old VWs also pose a problem. While relatively efficient (how many people can say their houses get 24 MPG on the highway?) they produce much more air pollution than modern cars, and constantly drip oil.

    That said, I recommend the 1971 bus. This was the only year to have both disk brakes and the older-style VW bug engine. Later engines introduce complications, like dual carburetors, that make them more difficult to maintain. Early buses (1967 and earlier, the classic ones with the split front windows), are quainter and have less plastic stuff in the interior, but have parts that are difficult to find, particularly the reduction gears that bring power to the rear wheels. Make sure that all of the engine tin (the sheet metal that surrounds the engine and makes the engine compartment air-tight) is all there, and get a carbon monoxide detector for the passenger compartment so that the heater doesn’t kill you.

    I sold my bus when I got tired of worrying about the clutch, the carburetor, and rust, and when I got tired of having grease under my nails all the time. I miss it, but I’m glad to think that its problems now belong to some other hippie.

    Reply
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  4. Robato Kun

    Found your blog because I am preparing my 1970 Westfalia for a 6 week journey up the California Coast. I have owned my Bus for 5 years and she is with me until the very end. Regards, Robato

    Reply
  5. mark

    Food: Try joining the WWOOF network and can your own food
    Refrigeration: 12 volt Engel portable refrigerator
    Power: Solar panels can be mounted temporarily when parked
    Security: transmission locks, DIY lo-jack

    I am currently concluding an initial restoration on a 78′ Camper. My biggest concern is police harassment and profiling.

    Another disadvantage not mentioned is having to seek out toilets.

    Reply
  6. John Hamilton Farr

    DON’T DO IT!!!!!!!!! Forget it, leave this page immediately, never think of this again. Old VW buses are gloriously cool and fun to drive. They also break all. the. time. Owning one these is a labor of love. You also have to love to labor. AND they can’t keep up w/ traffic on modern highways.

    I’ve owned three of them. I loved them all, but every one was hideously unreliable. DON’T DO IT, not as a primary vehicle and especially not as something for long-distance travel. Just for fun, sure, but even then you will always, always have to work on it. If that’s your favorite activity, you’re all set! :-)

    Reply
    1. patrick

      haha. i second that. this guy tells it how it is. sure they look super cool, that’s about it. they’re kind of like super models…. look good, not much else there…

      Reply
    2. Tontolayo

      These vehicles are best for weekend adventires, camping, car shows, a trip to the lake or mountains for a hike. They have never been best for daily service like todays cars.

      Reply
      1. Rob

        I’m on my 4th, a syncro westy…. that means it is a 4×4. They cost a lot of money and require someone who is way above average at fixing things. They are an older vehicle and parts are hard to find, you will sometimes need to make your own parts. VW shops will not want to have anything to do with you, because they don’t have the parts or older personnel who have the experience to work on their many problems. I’ve taken many 8-12 week trips in mine, always with some problem or other, even though I’m above average at working on them. I’ll only give mine up when I can’t get out of my death bed.

        Reply
  7. John Hamilton Farr

    Another commenter mentioned the [non-existent] heating system. If you live or drive in a cold climate, FORGET IT. Completely hopeless. I’m not kidding. Defroster? Hahaha! Slush splashed on your windshield will freeze instantly and you will go blind and die.

    The only VW bus I would consider buying is one that’s lived its entire life in southern California, NEVER WENT TO THE BEACH, and was maintained by a fanatic with deep pockets. If you buy such a vehicle, don’t ever drive farther than you want to walk. They’re very fragile, designed for gentler times and little countries.

    I have no idea where you would even get parts these days. I had to haunt junkyards years ago, and all of those buses have long since been hauled away.

    Reply
    1. RC

      Wow, pretty negative! I live on the East Coast, plenty of snow & cold. I’ve driven a bus since 1968. Plenty of heat if you insulate the bus and the heater tubes. Fragile? You must of had a lemon! VW’s are very reliable, bomb proof. I would and have driven across country without hesitation & without any trouble. And if there ever is a problem they are very easy to repair. You can work on it yourself, no FI, no electronics, no computer True, you will stay in the slow lane, particularly in the mountains. But I always laugh when I see car companies like Chrysler or Honda bragging that their vans get 20-25mpg. I’ve been getting that for 40 years. Solar panel on the roof, fridge, chemical tiolet…

      Reply
      1. alice

        Had to laugh about the slow lane comment. Years ago I was driving a 65 Ford converted school bus up a really steep grade and got passed going uphill by a VW bus. The looks of absolute delight on the faces of the driver and passenger were a treat, probably the first thing they’d ever passed uphill. I used to use that story as an example of how slow my bus was.

        Reply
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  9. John @ Vintage VW Cars

    Fantastic post – you’ve featured some great buses. As chance would have it I am good friends with Pat and Ali from bumfuzzle – they sure do have a fantastic bus, and a fun life traveling the world.

    Thanks for sharing some VW love with the link to my VW buses for sale page as well. :)

    Reply
  10. Hal Mooney

    I’ve always loved VW’s! I’ve been befriended by 2 Beetles, a Karmann Ghia, and 2 camper buses. The buses are great for all kinds of uses. I seldom got to camp with mine, but it was great for relaxing lunch hours. There will be another one in my life someday!

    Reply
  11. Garson Le Sixe Pack

    I live in a 78 VW bus, campervan style, with my son and occasionally my favorite lady friend and soon enough a dog. It is fabulous. There is very little room for living inside, so we spend the vast majority of life exploring beachside cliffs, Redwood forests and Rocky Mountain wilderness. You can live anywhere, just about, and people are far more likely to come up and talk to you in awe/respect/fond memories than to judge you. Those who would are probably not worth the worry anyway.

    Food, heat and constant engine work are definitely something to contend with, but forced ingenuity is the drive of a life well lived.

    Long live the buses!

    Reply
  12. mark claycomb

    Hi my name is mark got a 81 vw vanagon bus I am asking somebody if you know what would cause smoke be going thru the vents if oil leak then burnt oil seeping thru or could it be something major or something small. I have only owned it for not even a year love it not planning to sell it. but the guy thay had it before me owned it for twenty years bought it brand new.
    I am kindof inclined to work on a vehicle but want somebody elses thought on it. reply back let me know at estellpat@sbcglobal.net

    Reply
  13. Mellotron G

    I lived in a shorty ’62 bus for about six months. Great adventure for a college age kid! When I saw another ’62 VW bus for sale last summer, I bought it with the intent of reliving my youth 35 years later. Nothing wrong with that!

    Reply
    1. Kent Griswold

      Hi Robin, I would suggest checking your local craigslist and watching there. You never know what will come up.

      Reply
  14. mark claycomb

    To everybody that readed mine name mark claycomb
    I like to know of anybody that has a extra grill for a 81 vanagon. I know theres places for parts but if anybody has parts or a junk yard with any in it like a grill I need one with the round light wholes not squares holes. anybody can email me on it to let me know at estellpat@sbcglobal.net
    Well everybody that has one just keep truckin on and keep truckin on. The words from jerry garcia keep truckin on.

    Reply
    1. Jeff

      Mark,

      You need to go to vanagon.com and sign up for the e-mail list. If you ask you will get a lot of good advice there on the issue you are having with your ’81.
      As far as a new grill goes go to thesamba.com and check the classifieds.
      If you will be doing your own work get a Bentley Manual and pick up “How to Keep your Volkswagon Alive” buy John Muir.
      For parts:
      gowesty.com
      busdepot.com
      vanagain.com
      van-cafe.com
      bus-boys.com
      There are others out there too.
      Good luck – lots of resources for you and your ’81 Vanagon.

      Reply
  15. GJannini

    Mine’s an ’89 Vanagon model with 260+ thousand miles on it. It’ll do 70mph day in day out summer and winter in comfort with heat and air conditioning.

    Learn more at http://www.vanagon.com http://www.limbobus.org and http://www.fullmoonbusclub.com

    We’ve been to so many gatherings of buses over 15 years of ownership that I can’t list ‘em all- every one a party. Burrito breakfasts, potluck suppers, awards, games, musical entertainment…

    George

    Reply
  16. Raymond

    My ’65 poptop transporter has been across the US half a dozen times. Only lived in it while traveling. Just moved & everything but the dining room table & matresses fit into it. Had to nick the new garage to get it in

    Reply
  17. Belinda

    After starting my own business, I realized I was spending hours in the car driving back and forth between my home office and my clients, putting hundreds of miles on my car each week. Keep in mind my clients only live about 10-15 minutes away but all that drive time adds up.

    So one day I had this great idea to get a bus or van that I can use as my mobile office. Not to mention a great way to create overhead and write-offs when you don’t have much. The modern buses and minivans weren’t doing it for me. I wanted something cute that I could work out of that reflects my design taste. So I bought a 1964 vw bus.

    It cost thousands of dollars and months to get it to be a reliable vehicle, but now that it is, instead of spending hours driving back and forth, I spend those hours being productive at the beach with my ocean view while I run my laptop and wireless internet off an auxillary battery. Not to mention I’m right there when the surf is pumping.

    I love my bus and I can totally relate to people living out of them. They were a great concept and production vehicle. It’s a reminder of how life was 50 years ago… slow, relaxed, and a whole lot simpler.

    Reply
  18. Todd Sloan

    In 197o I bought a new 1971 VW Bus and drove it for six months. My then GF talked me into selling it and buying a ’67 Deluxe (21 wndw) Bus because it looked cooler. 240,000 miles later, fast forward to 2011, I still am using it. It has been all over the US and Canada, even the most remote parts. Total only two catastrophic breakdowns, both sucked valves. The Muir book and my skills learning about my VW has kept it out of repair shops but only once back in 1978 when the reduction gear bearings started to howl. I also have a ’67 Bug, bought a year after the Bus, has about the same mileage, and never been in a repair shop. So that’s roughly a half a million miles with little or no support to the auto repair business. Thanks VW for making this possible.

    Reply
  19. Todd Sloan

    I will get pictures of my two VW’s when I get to my other computer. Both look quite amazing for their old age, and miles of smiles.

    Reply
  20. Jason | BodesWell

    Our family has been living and traveling in a ’71 VW bus for 2 years. Three people living in 50 square feet.

    We’re now in our 15th country and I can’t imagine going back to a ‘normal’ life.

    Reply
  21. Jack

    Great life!
    I had the exact same bus a few years ago. same color and all. unfortunately it was stolen from me a stripped for parts just a few months before i was planning to hit the road full time. it has been a sore spot in my heart ever since.
    I am truly envious of your life. someday I will realize my dream again.

    Reply
  22. Grady Lee

    In mid October I am leaving for a 4 week road trip in my 1967 VW camper. I’ll be traveling from East Texas through Memphis, across Tennessee, up through Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, down through D.C., along the East coast to Savannah, and across the South back home.

    I have owned this Bus for 24 years and completely restored it 3 years ago, including a new crate engine. I’ve decided to do this trip before the bus gets too old. “The bus is 45, I’m 65″. My wife says I’m crazy and she gets no argument from me.

    I’ll be blogging from the road and sending photos from points of interest.

    Reply
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  25. kenny

    I am considering a small camper. Interested in a 71 or late 70’s Bus. However, I am NOT mechanically inclined, really dislike repairing a vehicle ( I bike, everywhere). However, I am interested in a Toyota RV or a Bus for trips along the Baja and stay ont hebeaches as well as visit my Mom’s rentals in Loreto, to CA from OR yearly, the OR coast, etc.
    Am I better off avoiding the Bus? I mean, I am happy to have a new engine and having the brakes all sorted,etc… will I still have constant break downs? Need to throw money at it, expenses I do not want? I am also happy to learn how to adjust valves, but not much more than that.
    Maybe I would be better off with a late 70’s or late 80’s Toyota motor home or a mid 80’s Toyota Van that i convert to something like a Westy?

    Reply
  26. Janel

    I have owned a 1970 bus for five years. I have not lived in it (thought I want to!) because I have two cats and one dog–when they pass along somewhere along the line, I definitely plan to try my hand at bus life! It truly is simplistic. As far as toilets, etc., sure, one has to tend to that, but with a history of backpacking, this really is luxury camping.

    Along the mechanical/automotive side, do your research before you get one to make sure you know some of the basics and what you’re getting into. I bought one with 5 miles on a rebuilt engine and the engine has been strong–goes up mountain passes in 3rd at 40-43 mph–nothing to balk at in a 42-year old vehicle! Sure, there have been other repairs, but they are part of the adventure. That being said, I have a second vehicle for daily driving, and make sure I’m not in a hurry when I take my bus somewhere. Living in Colorado, I drive it only in the spring, summer, and fall due to the lack of heat/defrost. These are just the adjustments you make if you love a vehicle. Its gotta be VW love or you will get frustrated. And, if you’re not a good mechanic yourself, find yourself a good trustworthy one BEFORE you purchase your bus…I found mine two years before I actually got my bus. I sometimes think about moving to a warmer climate simply so I can drive my bus more :)

    Reply
  27. VW Desire

    We have had a van for 8 years now and the kids would never let me sell it. Even though it’s old and all their friends have new cars.

    Its just so handy for every family life, nice and spacious for travelling long distances. N low ceiling !!

    Reply
  28. Bus phreak

    I have a 70′ …I absolutely love it..could not live without it…when I die they will bury me in it !

    Reply
  29. VegasJones

    Ok, I know this is a couple years old already but right under the offensive “May be unsafe for women” comments it says, “May be stereotyped”. Seriously?

    Anyway, I lived in one for five years in the Bay Area California 18 years ago. I am in Hawaii now and about to do it again.

    Don’t let the comments scare you live where ever you want, in what ever you want. (if it’s legal)

    Reply
  30. Richard Blake

    This may half qualify, but I try to make a living out of my 1965 VW Samba Microbus instead of living out of it. My business is called Hippie Limo and I use my bus as a limousine service in the Denver & Boulder area for weddings, date nights, tours, etc. I am a full-time at-home dad of two young children and Hippie Limo was my idea to try to make some money with my classic car instead of having to sell it to help with the family expenses.

    If you have a moment you can take a look: http://hippielimo.com

    As a side note, I always wanted to spend a good portion of my life living in a VW or other camper van . . .

    Reply
  31. ray

    I like you guess photos and stories and I drive a 71 VW Bus I call Snoopy I would like to meet with some yeah sometime if you get this email me back maybe get together

    Reply
  32. Penny Espinoza

    I am so happy to have found your blog; I feel like we’ve now found a few like-minded folks who also believe living/traveling in a VW Van is ‘the’ life to live.

    My husband and I live and travel–with our toddler and little dog in tow–part time in our 71 Campervan ‘Peniki’. We are currently living in a stick structure, but only until we get to a certain point in the restoration of our old girl.

    Our van had been abondoned in a backyard when I found her. I’d been wanting to buy one and travel and live anywhere and everywhere in my ‘home’. When I met my husband a little over six years ago, I knew he was the one; adventurous, laid back, a musician, skilled in paint & body and mechanics.

    Though I didn’t realize his skills when we first met, he has been the reason we’ve been able to rescue our van. So now, we are gearing up and thinning out our accumulation of material possessions; looking forward to hitting the road for another adventure.

    The last time we were out there, we headed down to Key West in our van. It took us a couple of months, since we are notorious lolly-gaggers and tend to take our time quite a lot.

    Who knows where we’ll be headed this time; that’s still up-in-the-air. No matter where we end up, we’re always glad to be at home in our little VW Van.

    *To see Before & After photos of our Van to-date, please visit our blog at http://GypsyVinRose.wordpress.com.

    .V.. Blessings & Safe Travels!

    Nicolas, Penny, Nixi, & Blanca the Schnauzer
    (Peniki)

    Reply
  33. Emily (WheresMyOfficeNow.com)

    This is a great post! My boyfriend and I are currently traveling America in our 1987 VW Vanagon. We are living and working out of it and it couldn’t be better. We’ve had one major breakdown but met some amazing people because of it. With every breakdown there’s an opportunity.

    If you’re thinking about it, go for it!

    Reply
  34. Pam

    We had a 1975. Ours was not a car for cold weather. The heater did not keep the bus anything close to warm. A warm can of soda froze solid on a 1 1/2 hour trip. We had our baby in that car. We got a gas heater of the type a Semi-truck would use and it was smelly and difficult to maintain. The jets kept needing cleaning. We did rennovate for camping. We made a piece of plywood that extended out the back and braced on the bumper. The back hatch door opened up and I tailored an old tent to fit over the opening and under the plywood extension. Easy project. We could sleep two kids and two adults and open the tent screen and get air through with no mosquitos. we made wood bench seats for sleeping with storage.
    Once with all the gear for camping and family loaded we tried to use a very tight cloverleaf highway ramp at rush hour. We couldn’t get up enough speed to get into traffic and stopped everyone up till someone stopped for us. Bad. It was very good driving in snow. We were glad to sell to a VW bus lover. People steal the VW symbols off the bus too.

    Reply

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