Monday, June 30, 2008

John Muir - The patron saint of backyard VW mechanics everywhere...

John Muir is, without a doubt, the most influential VW nut in the world of VW nuts. His 1969 book, How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (otherwise know as the "Idiot's Guide"), became the standard by which all “how-to”guides are now judged. It’s hard to find a VW owner who doesn't have a tattered old copy.

On the Samba, the swirling online home of VW madness, it is often the most referenced resource, recommended to newbies and the bible to long-time aficionados and do-it-yourselfers. When Monty, the previous owner of Big Blue, our 1968 bus, bought the bus in 1970, the next thing he purchased was the Muir book saying, “The idiots guide to VW repair came out and with the help of a local hippy VW shop, I kept it running".

The book, written in a style that’s part how-to, part philosophy, with a shot of apocalyptic views thrown in to keep you honest, inspired the disenfranchised generation of the 70s. After the hod rodders of the 50s were being corralled by new laws and stricter enforcement, people were increasingly distant from their automobiles. The counterculture of the late 60s wanted little to do with the mechanics of their vehicles. More than that, with increasing emission controls and complicated machinery coming out of Detroit, they were unable to work on their cars.

Of course, the one car that bucked this trend was the VW sedan (the “bug”). For almost 48 years (72 years if you count production in Mexico), the design of the bug would change very little. With its easy to work on horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder engine, its lack of computerized anything, and its relatively lacking in extra electronics, the bug became the perfect, inexpensive car for the anti-car people.

John Muir’s book took advantage of the lack of change on the part of Volkswagen and his style of writing took advantage of the counter culture that would embrace the VW lifestyle. Published by his own publishing company (which would only publish a few other titles while in existence), Muir took the VW owner from buying the car all the way through a complete engine rebuild. While other VW how-to books show fancy rodded out VWs on the front, or imposing shots of rebuilt high performance engines, Muir’s cover features illustration and the sub-title, “A manual of step-by-step procedures for the compleat idiot” (note: “Compleat, along with other spelling in the book, seems to give some insight into Muir’s own version of reality).

Muir had an impressive resume (included in the book!) prior to getting involved in VWs and writing the now famous book. He was a schooled engineer, who apparently designed missiles for Lockheed in his early years. It seems a far cry from the hippie Muir would become when he settled down with his VWs.

Setting up shop in sleepy and counter-culture leaning Sante Fe, New Mexico, Muir let his hair grow shaggy and sported a mustache (his advice often involves putting your hair up in a stocking cap). He worked on VWs and would visit other VW mechanics to see what and how they were doing things. In December of 1969, when he was 51-years old, he published the first edition of the book under the company name, John Muir Publications. The book was spiral bound for ease of opening it while working on your car. It went to a 2nd printing 3 months later, and by August 1970 they created a revised edition.

The book is also famous for the illustrations by Peter Aschwanden. Aschwanden, who looks a little like Willie Nelson if Nelson lived the life of a desert explorer. Peter seems to have fit in well in the counter-culture of Santa Fe (although, he never owned a VW!) and illustrated in a style similar to - but not the same as - Stanley Mouse, Robert Crumb and other examples of late 60s illustrators. It is hard to imagine the book having been nearly the success it is without Peter’s input. His illustrations matched perfectly with the earthy-toned writing of Muir. And many a night of armchair VW fixing has been spent studying the drawing as much as Muir’s writing. The book may have been Muir’s brainchild, but it was Aschwanden’s work of art.

While being a perhaps unsuspecting business man, Muir seems to have been good at it. According to their website,, Carl Franz & Lorena Havens met John and his wife Eve Muir in the early seventies, while camping in Mexico. Muir had a parrot named “Hey Man!” and a stack of his books in his VW bus. John gave them a copy. Even on vacations, Muir seemed to be a hippie salesman, although it may have been John was, to paraphrase my local VW mechanic, simply turning them on to the scene.

He also sold t-shirts (T-shirtz) and posters featuring art from the book. And sold cassette tapes of engine noises. You could order them from the back of the book.

Muir took what he had and ran with it. His small publishing company would publish The Septic System Owner’s Manual, How to Keep your VW Rabbit Alive and finally, his own novel, The Velvet Monkey Wrench (TVMW). The books were illustrated by Aschwanden.TVMW is a rambling, hard-to follow guide to human’s living in balance with the earth they inhabit. The following is an example of his thoughts:

In this section we are giving up the Right to Lie, but only the Right to tell 100% lies. The rest of the scale is your own business.
While Muir’s novel is mentioned occasionally on VW forums, it is his “Idiot Guide” that he will always be remembered for. The book has over 2 million copies in print and there have been Spanish and German (of course) editions. Even though the book is now no longer spiral bound (the books were getting damaged in shipping, though there are instructions in the newer editions of the book for how to cut the spine of and have it bound in a 3-ring binder) it continues to sell almost 20,000 copies a year. That’s amazing considering that the last aircooled VW imported into the US was in 1983.

While not all VW enthusiasts agree with his methods and some non-smokers grapple with his warming the car up instructions (which asks you to wait as long as it takes to roll your own cigarette and get it going really well), no one can deny the influence he had on the VW scene. When we bought our bus, the original copy Monty bought in 1970 was still in the back, though now moldy and grease-stained. And I use it almost every time I work on the bus. If for nothing else than to gain a little perspective on why I am working on the bus.


Video of John Muir messing around.

Added 9-26-08.

Below is the Subaru book that John's publishing company put out:

Sunday, June 29, 2008

VW bus as art - part 2

Finally, Timothy Horn, a California painter, painted a Bay Window VW. I posted about him a while back, but could only find him painting Split Windows and a Vanagon. I am loving this guy's work. You can see it here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Fuel Filter and fuel line done... next? Lights!

I managed to get the fuel line replaced after having a hell of a time finding the right size fuel line. Since it's metric (I think it's supposed to be 5mm?) I had to take the pin out of the carb and use that as a guide to buy fuel line. Kinda freaks me out a little as that pin pulls right out with some pressure!

We spent all night Monday night driving around looking at auto parts stores like AutoZone, Kragen and Pep Boys, only to run out of time before they closed. On Tuesday morning I got up, drove 2 blocks to a Napa Auto Parts store and found the right size tube without an issue. I'm glad to get it done as the more I looked at the old lines (you can see them below) the more I considered it lucky that we didn't leak fuel from them on the ride home.

Taking off the old set-up.

The connecting pin from the carb.

Click on this picture to see the questionable cracks in the old line.

Click on this picture to see the questionable cracks in the old line. This picture makes me dizzy when I look at my feet. Too much information?

New set-up in place.

Gratuitous engine shot!

Tomorrow, I am hitting Viking Foreign Auto Parts in Novato, which is a VW shop, for some 6-volt replacement bulbs and, with any luck, a replacement tray for my taillight which I broke while trying to fix on Tuesday night. If I can get the lights working correctly, we'll have a fully operation 1963 VW bug to head to dinner in Saturday night...

This is the piece I need to replace - from the driver's side taillight.

There should be a little plastic piece that hold the silver and black lines and secures the bulb in. This is what broke when I was trying to get it to connect better to the bulb.

Original stamping on the taillight tray.

Amazing the amount of stuff on this thing that is original. The side markers have taken a few hits from stones in their days, the taillights are used, but all of it is original German!

Little Blue's history & mile by mile info

Please note this post will be updated as we find out more information about the car.

The story:
The car was built in either late December 1962 or Early January 1963. Later in 1963, Jack Ray Vaughn of San Jose, California purchased the car from Val Strough [note: Val Strough might not have been a VW dealer, and may have been a used car dealer. Hopefully I will learn more]. The car is a deluxe 1200 turquoise sedan. In 2008, he passed, leaving his car, which he drove for 45 years, but put only 79,000 (what we were told) miles on it, to his family. His grandson, Kody, listed the car on craigslist, when we bought it (6/21/2008).

Original Craigslist ad.

Mile by mile history:
0 (sometime before 1963) - bought at Val Strough.
74609 (7/6/2005) - Adj valves, change oil, clean filter ($137.82)
xxxxx (9/14/2005) - Repair & reupholster the front seats
xxxxx (10/3/2005) - New rear bumper from Bugformance in Sunnyvale ($140.61)
xxxxx (10/4/2005) - Left & right lower door (rust) Repair dent in left door. Scuff and primer only. Bumper exchange. ($700)
75225 (10/6/2005) - repaint left door jam only ($621.55)
76968 (6/21/2006) - grage1auto cleans battery area, new battery ($119.36)
79510 (6/21/2008) - Sold to the BVEP
xxxxx (7/19/2008) - rebuild carb added, tuned. Check tire pressure, fixed windshield wiper.
xxxxx (9/7/08) - oil change, fixed gas cap gasket, new fuses.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Last "Burrito Bus" run with Shawn...

It's been about 2 months since our last burrito run with our friend Shawn, who is now over in Germany (taking many pictures of VW landmarks, one would hope). Shawn shipped his Ghia to the East Coast before leaving (even though I made an offer to keep it on the road for him while he was gone).

Anyway, found these photos on my desktop and thought about Shawn and his Ghia and I hope he's doing well...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Big Blue's new parking spot...

Since Big Blue's top is too tall for our new place, he is being forced out onto the street. We will try to park the bug in the garage if we can make enough space...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Picking up Yet-to-be-named VW bug

Our new 1963 VW 1200 Sedan.

We went down to Cupertino on Saturday to pick up our new 1963 VW Sedan from the seller, Kody Macaulay. We had a camping trip planned for this weekend along time ago, so we picked up the bug on the way. EP drove us down in the Hybrid and then she followed me to the East Bay, where we met up with some friends for some camping. We were quick to show the bug what its new lifestyle would be like.

The car ran great the entire time. Although, now that I drove it back home, I'm not moving it until I get a chance to go over the fuel lines and replace them. I noticed that they looked a little worn, so that's first on the list

I'll be working on the history over the next few days, going through the car for any bits of history. Here, though, are some pictures from the camping trip this weekend...

EP and the new car.

Kody (on the right) was the grandson of the original owner.

They gave us some lock that locks the gas pedal and has a large wrap for the steering wheel.

At the campsite in Anthony Chabot Regional Park near Castro Valley in the East Bay.

EP driving it around the campsite.

The campsite.

Today we went fishing on our way home from camping.

The road home.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The adventures of Ludwig...

Since I have been posting about other people's blogs of late, I wanted to bring your attention to some people who have been at it for a while. Ludwig's drivers, who write with a great husband/wife point of view, chronicle their adventures in everything from stuck gears to a bad appendix. It's great stuff, really, even if their posts have you sometimes googling their somewhat obscure references (they named their daughter after a Salinger story, after all). All in all, Ludwig has some great history and it's great to keep up with him as mountain passes continue to be climbed and the roads of western Montana continue to be explored.

You can check out their travels at

Friday, June 20, 2008

Big Blue Self-portrait #1

From Miami to Alaska in a '78 bus...

On June 4th, a couple from Miami set out to reach Alaska in their 1978 Westy. The blog they are keeping of their journey is as interesting as it gets. Take note of the set up they have that uses their GPS to track their path - great stuff. Be sure to check it out.

You can follow their path by clicking here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicken in Big Blue...

One of our favorite meals is the roasted chicken that the Roli-Roti serves at the local farmer's markets. We like the meal so much, we had Thomas, the owner, cater our bocce event before our wedding. Last Friday, we enjoyed the chicken, along with the chicken-grease-soaked potatoes, and a bottle of Caparone wine in Big Blue for the first time, and it was a perfect end-of-week dinner! Never forget, Big Blue rocks!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Adding one to the stable...

Well, they say you can never have just one VW.

Last night, we shook hands with a 20-year old in Cupertino who was selling his grandfather's 1963 bug. I'll be posting more details when I get them, (and, renaming the blog?) but the story goes like this. His grandfather bought the car new in 1963 from a dealer here in the SF area, and drove it about 78,000 miles over the next 45 years.

About 4 months ago, he was unloading groceries from the bug and died of a heart attack. That tragedy aside, the bug is almost rust free (a little rust in the pan behind the driver's seat). And hasn't been cut up, which was a requirement. At some point it was re-sprayed, but the paint job isn't terrible. And it is clean! And runs like a brand new car.

The car is still in his grandfather's name, so he is doing the paperwork with the DMV and we'll go down and pick up the bug in the next week or so...

I was so busy checking for rust and crawling underneath it that I failed to take pictures. So, below is the original ad on craigslist:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

In no hurry...

Another Bay Area bus fan just started a blog called, In No Hurry. Check it out when you get a chance.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

VW Bus as venture capital

Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized Bikes:

"After graduation in 1972, I decided to take a bike tour through Europe. To finance the trip, I sold my old Volkswagen bus for $1,500. Three months into the tour, after riding from Amsterdam to Milan, I met a Swiss woman at a hostel and started talking to her about biking. She knew a few Italian cyclists and said she would help me land a meeting with key staff at Campagnolo and Cinelli, two big Italian bicycle manufacturers. Up to that point, I had been traveling in a pair of jeans and a sweater I hadn't washed in a couple of months, so I spent some of my remaining money on a suit so I wouldn't look like a bum."

Apparently, he has earned enough money to buy a replacement...

You can read the whole article here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

1966 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

As some of you know, EP and I have been searching for a early 60s VW bug, to give Blue a break from the new commute. Last night, I almost fell out of my chair at this VW posted on Craigslist: A a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible for $4100. A great deal as it was completely restored.

I emailed immediately, saying that we could come look at it today. Below are pictures of the car:

Pretty nice, right? Well, I think this was the first scam I found on Craigslist. See the email below that I got back (note the time it was sent to me).

When I responded, saying I was still interested, and asked where the car was located, I got this:

So I went to the website, Dependable Shippers that "she" leads me to, which seems pretty bootleg (bad design, some of the links don't work). I emailed them to ask about the legitimacy of the claim that there is a '66 VW in the possession and that they will deliver it. As of now, I haven't heard anything. The thing is, I had to sign in (which I did using a password that was never anything I had used before).

The ad is now off Craigslist. I'm still trying to figure out if the shipping company website is the scam, or if the sale is a scam and the shipping company is innocent. Any guesses? Not sure how they can take my money or identity as they only have my address (and email and name if you assume the seller and shipping company are the same thing). I guess anyone could get that. I am curious how these things work (and hope I don't find out the hard way).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Big Blue's friend...

Peter hitting the open road.

I wanted to draw your attention to a friend, Peter, and his adventures as they are always impressive. We met him through some VW camping as he has a red 1971 Westy he is restoring (and it's looking great) but he is always into things and always on the road - usually on his BMW motorcycle rather than in his bus.

He just finished a pretty epic ride which is photo-chronicled on his blog. I've never really thought of myself a motorcycle guy, and my parents would freak if I were to head down that road, but Peter's adventures make it tough not to feel the pull of the open highway.

You can try to keep up with him here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

An excellent article on the joys of Bus

Click here for the article.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The bus as the symbol of Hippies...

A cover of ODE magazine from a few years back.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

VWs of Mexico

We returned from a week long vacation in Mexico last Monday and I have some pictures of VWs to share. First of all, when I first got there I was trying so hard to take pictures of all the VWs I saw, but soon realized that they are EVERYWHERE down there. Here are a bunch I took:

Note: Many of them had the grill on the front. I'm a little confused because they sounded like air-cooled engines...

These are the Mexican-built Bugs. There is something very odd about the headlights on these cars.

One of my Favorites.

Now this bus was interesting - I'm pretty sure it was a German-built Westfalia. See the website on the back (pic below). It's a Volkswagen club in Costa Rica! Click here for the site.

Many of the cars down there have these odd sun visor tinting on the windows.

This bus was obviously owned by some VW fans. We saw them later and they were certainly hippies and certainly ex-pats. There were VW stickers all over the inside, including one from HOT VWs, although I'm guessing this guy will never be featured in their magazine.

Looks like the front has been "fixed" at some point. I'm kinda jealous.

A close-up of the badge on the grill. Not sure what it is.

The only other "German" looking bus I saw.

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