Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bikes, Buses and Bunkum - 2009

Once again the last weekend in April was Buses, Bikes and Bunkum, held at an undisclosed location near Placerville. Last year was fun chaos, with over 50 bikes showing up for the event. This year was a little more tame, with many of the usual camping friends. This is the type of event that reminds you why you chug 2+ hours in a vehicle that looks at hills with fear. Great people and great times in a great location.

Big Blue was back after getting checked out last week, as we had hit the 500 mile point since the engine work last fall. As readers of this blog may know, the work that was done didn’t impress me too much. I lost power, and couldn’t go faster than 50 on the highway. The slightest hill took the bus down to the high 30s, requiring shifting down to 3rd on almost any incline.

I had expressed my unhappiness to the place that did the work, but they seemed confident in their work. Part of the engine work included bringing it back to them in 500 miles for a free check-in to make sure everything was okay. I had done a valve adjustment at about mile 400, and was not happy to find that the #1 exhaust valve was tight and couldn’t be loosened. I vowed that I would take it to them for the #1 valve issue and have them fix it for free and that would be the last of it for them.

That was last Tuesday night. I picked up the bus Friday night and drove it home to pack for the campout. We were going to head up Friday night, but the prospect of going up hills at 38 mph at night on the highway made the decision to go in the morning a little easier to make.

Once on the road Saturday morning, I quickly discovered something was off with Big Blue. It was running great. Accelerating faster than it ever had. Going through the slight hills in Napa county, I discovered Big Blue climbed them with gusto – these are the same hills that slowed progress and resulted in backed up cars on the Rio Vista campout earlier in the year. I was shocked and happy, as EP can confirm, by my good mood and the lack of cars waiting to get by Big Blue. We were actually keeping up with traffic and the hills took the normal amount of momentum out of our forward progress. It was a good feeling. Out on the highway, we got up to 65 mph without too much trouble. Big Blue was running better than ever!

Lunch on the road.

Big Blue's booming system.


Once we got to the campout, we pulled in next to PJ Alau and Static and the Tentmaster and began to relax. A few quick theories about the better performance of Big Blue was:

1. something finally spit itself out of the carb
2. the garage, when they had it back, determined something that was not tuned right, and fixed it.

The 2nd point is impossible to confirm. When I talked to the place on Friday, they said that all they did was top off the oil and put some spacers into the valve to make it adjustable. They were very happy that the work they did in the fall seemed to be holding out.

Either way, it was great to be moving along at highway speed. And even better to park among friends and set camp, have a great meal, talk all night long, get to know Carl a little better, and hang with some of the motorcycle guys from the previous year. The conversation went everywhere, from right-wing talk show hosts to old vinyl records to quitting your job to go sailing, or to become a teacher. The type of campfire talk that reminds you that you are lucky to know the people you are around. Did you know it’s bad to feed a horse alfalfa? Apparently, it is.

PJ Alau's 1970 bus.


Carl found a quiet spot for his 1985 Adventurewagon.

The VW crew.

Followed by Ginny.

Melissa's 1982 Westy.

Settling in for the night.

Sunday morning EP took a turn at driving as she is going camping with a friend in the bus this coming weekend. She did great. Learning how to use the gears to slow the bus on hills, finding reverse and taking 90 degree turns. Very well done. Look for her report on this coming weekend’s trip next week as she has promised to document the adventure.

Big Blue's [new] Driver.

On the way out, we drove to the nearby house of Gene, who's 1971 bus (see pre-fire pic here) exploded on him while going down the road in Oakland last fall. AAA plus had towed his poor bus back up to his house, where it has sat as a reminder of what can happen. The fire started when his fuel pump blew a hole and started spraying fuel all over his engine. Since he was still moving down the highway, the pump continued to spray gas as he tried to pull over. The fire department came, but the damage was already done. Not much left of it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Receipt from Phil Winslow VW

I found this in an older owner's manual I have. I am fascinated by such scraps of paper...

Phil Winslow Volkswagen, Inc

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vintage Tuesday! - Bringing the new Bug home...

Bringing the new bug home.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Collectible Classic: 1983-1984 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI

Originally published in Automobile Magazine.

The car-geek bug stings everyone differently. It happened to me in 1985, when my father dragged me along to the local Ford dealership to check out a used Ford Tempo. No, it wasn't the Tempo--the epitome of crappy American sedans--that started my addiction but rather the black 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI that I spotted on the lot. It took very little convincing to get my dad behind the wheel of that hatchback for a test drive, and I'll never forget the smile on my old man's face as he wrung out the 1.8-liter in-line four, worked the close-ratio five-speed gearbox from each traffic light, and barely tapped the meaty brakes before entering each sweeping corner. Naturally, this same GTI soon appeared in our driveway. We all know the Volkswagen GTI started and ruled the hot-hatchback craze of the 1980s, but--more so than any other car of its era--it also created a generation of car enthusiasts.

In 1983, a base Chevrolet Camaro was fitted with a 92-hp, pushrod four-cylinder engine. By comparison, the standard Rabbit featured soft suspension tuning, an interior geared toward the average American buyer, and an engine that produced just 65 hp. Jim Fuller, then vice president of Volkswagen of America, decided that U.S.-market VWs should once again exhibit a German flavor, and the company added the GTI to the American lineup for the 1983 model year. Sure, that first GTI had only 90 hp, but it was also svelte, weighing nearly 1000 pounds less than the four-banger Camaro. That fact, combined with an $8000 sticker price, heavily bolstered sport seats, a quietly aggressive exterior, a slick-shifting gearbox, and excellent handling, made the Rabbit GTI the hottest econobox of the year.

Finding a Rabbit GTI today is easy, since VW's Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, plant built some 30,000 examples. Finding one that has been well cared for is another story. The cars were cheap when they were new and are cheap to buy now. As a result, many have been modified, and most have been run hard. You can't really blame the owners, because it's just so much fun to beat the stink out of this hot hatch. The good news is that GTI engines pretty much last forever, and, although gearboxes tend to fail with very high miles, everything on the car is relatively inexpensive to repair. Rust is an issue, and the interior--especially the sporty front seats--isn't very resistant to wear.

The GTI made me a car geek, just as it did so many others who came of age in the 1980s and '90s. Drive one today, and you'll get to experience the car's raw, visceral nature and chuckable character--traits so often missing in modern cars.


Rough examples start at less than $1000. Prices for clean, original cars--which are becoming quite rare--can reach $7000.

Two-door hatchback.

An estimated 30,000 GTIs were built at Volkswagen's Pennsylvania factory in 1983 and '84.

Heavily thrashed cars, rust in the hatch and elsewhere, and interiors that are cracked and worn.

White isn't usually our favorite color, but it looks great on a Rabbit GTI because of the car's black trim. We'd pass on the optional sunroof and air-conditioning to keep it as pure as possible.


Thirty Years of the Volkswagen Golf & Rabbit by Kevin Clemens, Iconografix, $30.

You & Your Volkswagen Golf GTI by Andy Butler, Motorbooks International, $36.

VW Vortex





Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bus City 2009 is May 15th through the 17th in Sonoma County, California!

Well, Bus City 2009 is just around the corner and we have the group pretty much set. 18 buses confirmed - a few more in the wings, figuring things out (getting engines put back in). I sent out emails to VW parts suppliers to see if they wanted to donate goods to the Bus City Citizens and some were very happy to help, so I need to thank them here:

Love My Bus (home of the really cool LMB stickers!)
The Rust Box
Mid American Motorworks
Wolfsburg West
And of course, it was Paul of Valley Wagonworks in San Rafael who came up with the camping spot (for an example of how great a guy Paul is, click here)

If you get some time, check out some of the above companies - very cool of them to help.

Many of the good people on the VW Camper Yahoo Group are coming, as are a few new faces.

For a bit of a preview, here are some of the buses that will be attending:

And quite possibly, another "Blue"...

Of course Big Blue will be there. Loaded with firewood and wine. Looking forward to seeing everyone and meeting a few new buses (and the people that come with them).

Oh, and assuming we aren't arrested, Bus City 2010 will take place on May 14th - 16th, 2010. So put it on the calendar now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Some 1968 VW Kit Car options

The Jamaican VW conversion.

The Hustler and the Deserter VW kit cars.

The Gazelle VW kit car.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Vintage Tuesday! Chaos.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Hot VW T-shirts.

I would LOVE a vintage Hot VWs t-shirt. I'm thinking they should bring these back...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tinkerbell and family enters the Blog-iverse!

We are happy to welcome a bus friend of Big Blue's to the blogo-nation. Tinkerbell, Aaron's bus up in Sacramento, now lives online as well as in dusty campgrounds.

We look forward to many updates and many camping photos.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Collectible Classic: 1966-1973 Volkswagen Squareback

In honor of Gertie:

Originally published in Automobile Magazine here.

By the middle 1960s, it was clear that Volkswagen's iconoclastic "Think Small" campaign on behalf of the lowly Beetle had succeeded in transforming that Third Reich relicinto a revered totem of American individuality. Back home in Germany, though, the novelty had worn off, and consumers were getting weary with the predictability of VW's offerings.

Anticipating Beetle ennui, VW launched the Type 3 in 1961. (Type 1s were Beetles and Karmann-Ghias; the Type 2 was the Microbus/Transporter). Intended to provide a more upscale choice to upwardly mobile Europeans, the new Type 3 looked like a huge departure but was really a clever variation on the original theme. Built on the Beetle's 94.5-inch wheelbase, the new car retained its forebear's air-cooled rear-engine layout, but there were notable differences. The cooling system was revised, and the opposed four, initially displacing 1500 cc and growing to 1600 cc, was only fifteen inches tall. This allowed for both front and rear trunks in the notchback and fastback sedans and a flat floor in the cargo bay of the Variant station wagon, known as the Squareback upon its delayed U.S. debut.

The Type 3 might have remained a well-kept European secret if not for American servicemen, who bought the cars in Europe and shipped them back home, priming the U.S. market. It wasn't until the 1966 model year that Volkswagen of America offered the new car in both Fastback and Squareback configurations (the notchback was left dockside). With two passenger doors and a one-piece rear hatch, the Squareback - VW's iteration of the 1955-57 Chevrolet Nomad - offered practicality and modern style that was absent in the mid-'30s-designed Beetle. VW fans who wanted to step up but weren't ready to commit to the lifestyle change of the Microbus were attracted to the wagon.

The Squareback offers today's Veedub devotee a happy alternative to Bugdom. Its clean and still fresh-looking body style sets it apart from the more common Beetle; unlike that car, the Squareback actually provides a modicum of comfort, performance, and interior volume. Thanks to a reworked front suspension plus more power (0 to 60 mph in less than 20 seconds!), available electronic fuel injection (in its first production application), and an optional automatic transmission, it's more roadworthy and competent than many other forty-year-old cars. It's able to cruise at 80 mph, can get up to 30 mpg on the highway, and has 24 cubic feet of aft cargo capacity plus a front trunk that, in the longer-nose model introduced in 1970, can accommodate another 8 cubic feet.

As VW's first real attempt at modernity, the cool car with the square name stands out as a breakthrough model that kicked off the brand's evolution into a full-line carmaker.


What to Pay
You can find a prime example, fully restored and ready to go, for less than $8000. Less than half that amount buys a good runner with lots of potential, since parts are plentiful.

Body Style
Two-door, four-passenger station wagon.

Approximately 860,000 worldwide between 1961 and 1973.

Watch Out For
Rust in the inner and outer fenders, the jacking points, and the door sills. Also, cracked cylinder heads and overheating engines.


Volkswagen Model Documentation
by Joachim Kuch, Bentley Publishers, $30.



California Pacific/JBugs, Inc.

Mark's Bug Barn


Vintage Volkswagen Club of America

Volkswagen Club of America

A '68 or later with fuel injection, but we'll forgo the automatic, thanks. Sahara beige or Indian red are the right colors, but for a custom touch, two-toning can be tastefully done.

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