When you see an older Volkswagen bus or van, many people think of the hippies of the 1960s, as it was a popular vehicle for the counterculture crowd.
There were different names for this vehicle: Microbus, Splitscreen, Splittie, but the VW company called it Type 2. As you may guess, Type 1 was the Beetle or Bug. The van had a split windshield for better aerodynamics, thus the names. About five years after the end of World War II, VW’s first vans were built using an 1100-cc air-cooled, flat-four-cylinder “boxer” engine mounted in the rear of the vehicle that produced 24 horsepower. The bus was pretty much unchanged during the 17-year run from 1950 to 1967 except for minor improvements. Gradually the horsepower was increased from 30 to 54 in 1967 with slightly larger engines.
There were a lot of different uses found for this VW vehicle. They were used as hearses, ambulances, police vans, fire trucks and campers. There was even a flatbed truck. All in all, VW produced about 356,000 of this model in various forms with America being their largest export market.
But in the early 1960s, the sale of VW pickups and commercial vehicles to the U.S. market was greatly reduced as a result of the “chicken tax.” There was a “chicken war” going on between the United States, France and West Germany. Those two European countries had placed a tariff on U.S. chickens, and diplomatic channels failed to settle the dispute. Two months later, when LBJ became president, he put a 25 percent tax on things like potato starch, brandy and light trucks. At least as late as 2015, the “chicken tax” remained and affected light trucks manufactured in all countries.
Mike and Kathy Crawford have a 1967 VW Splittie with 13 windows. The buses came with a different number of windows. The base bus was an 11-window model, but also available was a 13-window, a 15-window, a 21-window and a 23-window model. The 21- and 23-window models, called the Samba, had eight panoramic windows in the roof and offered a soft sunroof. The price range was $2,150 to $2,665 ($15,459 to $19,161 in today’s dollars).
“We got it 2007, and she was pretty beat-up, kind of a rust bucket. We found it in Martinez parked in a field. Somebody owned it and wanted good, good money for it in its poor condition. I had to pay $5,000 cash for the rust bucket and I probably have well over $30,000 into it now,” Mike said.
Was he looking for a VW bus, I wondered.
“Oh, it’s my wife,” he said showing a little frustration. “She wanted one. She had one and she’s from that generation.”
Not surprisingly, it goes back to her hippie days. I’m beginning to see the labor and management factions in this Concord couple’s acquisition. It was Kathy who wanted and found this VW bus. Mike showed me some pictures of the vehicle when acquired and he did not exaggerate that it was a rust bucket.
“We went from there,” he said, “she orchestrated a lot of the parts finding, interiors and color schemes of Velvet Green and Pearl White, which were the original colors. She insisted we keep it originally stock.
“She kept me in check with some of the things because we were spending a lot of money.”
Mike thinks the vehicle is worth about $40,000 but an expert in the field said he could probably get about $80,000 for it. However, it has not been officially appraised. It’s an academic situation anyway, as Mike doesn’t believe that Kathy would ever part with her bus.
Mike has worked on many cars in the past, but this is his first complete restoration. He said once they had purchased the VW, he sort of became a fanatic about doing the job right. Except for the upholstery, he did everything and did it at home, in his double garage including the fantastic paint job inside and out. Everything is meticulous, there are no flaws, scratches or dings. The interior was beautifully done by Armand’s Auto Upholstery in Walnut Creek.
Mike and Kathy are not big into car shows, but they did enter their VW bus in one show and won first prize in 2013. Neither of the Crawfords drive their prize vehicle very much. To them, it is a work of art, like a painting or sculpture, and they enjoy owning and viewing it. But Mike has another good reason he and Kathy don’t drive it much. With only one very thin sheet of metal separating the driver and front passenger from the vehicle directly in front, it’s difficult to think of a vehicle offering less protection if there were a collision. Well, maybe a skateboard.