Vintage Volkswagen bus rentals give road trippers a flashback
PINELLAS PARK — Getting behind the wheel of a vintage 1978 Volkswagen bus for a long jaunt along Florida’s coastal highways can put even the most stressed-out tourist in a different frame of mind.
At 60 mph, a constant breeze flows from the driver’s seat all the way to the back, where passengers are cooled by the same kind of jalousie windows found on many classic beach cottages.
After a wall of hotel towers, maybe there’s a patch of vacant sand that would make for a perfect spot to spend the afternoon.
The bus can stop right there with a view of the water, while the driver fires up a two-burner stove inside to cook lunch.
If it’s not too hot, it also might be a good time to pull down the VW’s two beds and sneak in a nap before heading on to that night’s campground.
Whether they’re from Germany, Canada or Georgia, visitors are different when they return from a road trip in one of the fully restored Volkswagens at Florida Oldscool Campers in Pinellas Park.
“They’re almost hippie-fied. They come back and they’re smiling and relaxed,” said Dixie Phillips, the business’ co-owner.
Even if they started off their trip to the Sunshine State in a rush to get going on their vacation, all that changes once they get out on the open road.
“They can’t go fast wherever they’re going, so it really forces people to slow down, enjoy their trip,” co-owner Michael Ponnath said.
❖ ❖ ❖
Lovingly refurbished from the motor to the onboard kitchen sink, each of the vintage 1970s-era buses the pair rents comes with a lot of personality.
There’s Jasmine, a sage green 1978 VW Westfalia Deluxe, with green plaid seats and green curtains to match; or Autumn, a year older and painted in a vibrant bright orange hue.
Each member of the small but growing fleet was saved and continually must be spared from the ravages of time and rust.
Much of Phillips and Ponnath’s time is spent beneath the hood, keeping the engine tuned up after a road trip to the Florida Keys, or scouring for a replacement wood-panel cabinet door to make sure the kitchen retains its authentic look.
Whenever they get ready to add a new bus to their numbers, they typically have a lengthy, reassuring talk with the vehicle’s seller.
“There’s a relationship with these people and their buses,” Ponnath said.
“They don’t just sell them to anybody. The people who have had them for a lot of years, they actually try to find homes for them like they’re giving their dog away.”
People feel deep nostalgia for these old buses and the era of laid-back road-tripping they evoke.
Neither Phillips nor Ponnath grew up camping in a VW, but they developed a big affection for them a few years ago during one of their own Florida ramblings.
Ponnath had fixed up a 1970s-era bus, spray-painted camouflage, and the two set out on a trip to the rustic Gulf coastal city of Cedar Key. They also took a venture to the pristine sand dunes of Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area where campers can set up right in front of the crashing Atlantic Ocean surf at Flagler Beach.
“We’re sitting in the bus with the moon shining on the water,” Phillips said.
“It’s just such a beautiful experience.”
❖ ❖ ❖
About five years ago they figured they could market that beautiful experience, and they’ve been overwhelmed with how many visitors want to share it.
Some of their early customers were Volkswagen enthusiasts like Sarah Havel, who rented Jasmine for a weekend campout in the Tampa Bay area with a group of other VW fans.
She spent her last night sitting in the bus looking out over the estuary surrounding Fort De Soto Park’s campground.
“It’s the simplicity of it; the buses are just so simple to use, especially for somebody who has never used a camper before,” said Havel, a nurse from Jupiter who is restoring her own 1974 VW Thing.
“You can park it anywhere. Just stop and have lunch somewhere and you’ve got your own little restaurant.”
The buses come equipped with everything short of food and beverages.
“We send them out all the way down to the salt and pepper: plates, bowls, camping chairs, sheets towels — everything,” Ponnath said.
The top pops up with mesh windows to catch a cool sea breeze, but a portable air-conditioner makes camping comfortable even in Florida’s hot and humid months.
Of course the buses don’t really appeal to tourists with an appetite for complete comfort and luxury.
About half of VW renters are Europeans — French, German and Dutch — while others are from near and far and appreciate a more down-to-earth style of travel, Ponnath said.
The idea of the classic Florida road trip was a big hit among tour operators at the annual ITB travel trade show in Berlin earlier this year, said David Downing, director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.
“You show that to a European tour operator, that’s right down their alley. That’s a great American experience,” Downing told members of the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council at a recent meeting.
❖ ❖ ❖
The cost of this great American adventure ranges from $450 for a four-day journey during the low season from June to December 19 up to $875 for a six-day trip in high season from the Christmas season through April.
Drivers are encouraged to take it easy on the mileage; perhaps start their trip nearby at Fort De Soto Park rather than making a mad dash for South Beach, or even venture away from the crowded beaches to Florida’s crystal clear springs or tree-shaded inland state parks.
Wherever they venture in the state, the old VW buses always seem to engender good feelings for both the drivers and anyone they happen to pass by on the road.
“It makes people smile, kids, adults; people come up and talk to you about how they used to have a bus,” Phillips said.
“If you ever get behind the wheel of a bus and start to drive, it’s just a different feeling,” Ponnath added.
For more information, visit www.floridavwrentals.com.
Who has memories of the Volkswagen Routan?
Hardly anyone, that’s who. Because even by the standards of minivan flops – and there’ve been more than a couple – the Routan’s failure to capture market share ranks up near the top with the Hyundai Entourage and Buick Terraza. That’s right: two Rs, one Z, Terraza. Like a terrace. Like a terrace you almost jumped off after first spotting one in the wild.
In its best year on sale in the United States, Volkswagen reported 15,961 Routan sales, a 9% year-over-year increase compared with 2009 that preceded four consecutive years of decline. All-time, between the latter part of 2008 and the early part of 2014, VW USA reported barely more than 60,000 Routan sales; 60,197 to be precise.
Between 2008 and 2014, the same vans from Chrysler and Dodge generated 1.61 million U.S. sales.
Of course, the Town & Country and Grand Caravan were more readily available. But why wouldn’t they be? Consumers could visit their local Chrysler or Dodge dealer and spend less on the same product. Those are the vans people will want, not the Volkswagen, so the plant didn’t spent nearly as much time slapping VW badges on grilles as they did Chrysler and Dodge logos. Turns out, minivan buyers didn’t want to appear as though they fell like Andre Agassi for Brooke Shields’ tricks. German engineering, Brooke? In the words of TTAC’s founder, Robert Farago, “Well, some German engineering. Done in America. Presumably by Americans.”
And then, I might add, put into practice by Canadian auto workers in Windsor, Ontario.
But rather than rehash the fact that 2007, the Hyundai Entourage’s best year, was kinder to the Hyundai than the Routan’s best year (2010) was to the Volkswagen, or the fact that Buick sold 4327 more Terraces in its best year, 2005, than the Routan did in its best year, let’s just applaud Volkswagen USA for even considering the importing of a genuine Volkswagen van. They’ve had some success doing so in the past, you may recall.
Sure, the minivan segment is stagnant, but the fast-growing commercial van market can be thoroughly explored. No, we’re not product planners – although with a toddler and a big dog I may wish I was a minivan product planner – but we do recognize that Volkswagen USA may need to expand its portfolio if any kind of success is to be met in the coming years.
You can quite rightly argue that niche products like the disallowed Scirocco and Polo GTI are nothing more than low-hanging fruit for malcontent North American VW enthusiasts, vehicles which lack the possibility of adding measurable long-term benefit to the product range. But at what point does Volkswagen consider the possibility that the automaker is harming the brand’s own image with their own fans by keeping products away from North America, thus hampering the success of products that are actually sold here?
Surely a return to the brand’s illustrious van heritage would do the brand favours. While also erasing memories of the Routan, even if only a handful of people actually possess Routan-centric memories.
A van is not everybody’s purveyor of a good time, but spend a weekend camping or cruising trails in a Volkswagen Syncro… and you just might have a change of heart. These plucky all-wheel-drive Vanagons made landfall in the US in 1986. Though they didn’t sell like hotcakes, they have enjoyed a fiercely cult-like following.
This 1987 Vanagon Syncro came up for sale on eBay. It has lived in Southern California for much of its life, shows 123,000 miles on the clock, and looks about as showroom fresh inside and out as can be. Don’t mind us, we’ll just be reminiscing the late ’80s for a bit.
While the Syncro came into existence in the mid ’80s, its birth dates back to the late ’70s. A group of Volkswagen’s chief engineers – overland explorers at heart – expressed interest in developing a four-wheel-drive system for the automaker’s light truck division. Despite tight budgets, the small team pieced together a few prototypes. Tweaks and changes were made to the standard Type 2 vans, including a one-inch ride height lift, gas tank relocation, and a new viscous coupling to drive all wheels, but in 1985 the Vanagon Syncro began to roll out.
This US-spec Syncro packs the standard issue 2.1-liter flat-four engine, along with the desirable locking rear axle. The current owner added 2-inch lift GoWesty springs along with grippy Hankook mud tires on 15-inch wheels, which should help improve its off-road abilities.
It certainly won’t bomb you around the dunes like a trophy truck – you’ll need hands and feet to count its zero to 60 mph time – but for a utilitarian family van, it sure gets the job done. And if you opt for a coveted Westfalia Syncro camper, it’ll deliver the comforts of home to any trail of your choice.
Various Volkswagen models on display at the carnival on Sunday. — Photos by writer
KARACHI: One doesn’t see too many of them out on the roads any longer, but most Beetles as well as a few other Volkswagen vehicles, including the Microbus, collected together at the 3rd Annual Volkswagen Car Show organised by the Volkswagen Club of Pakistan and Motorheads Pakistan at the Forum Mall here on Sunday.
“It may seem that the German folks’ wagon, designed by none other than Hitler himself, has not changed in appearance all these years but there is in fact a marked difference between its various models,” said Zieshan Mairaj, a participant, who had come with his 1300 model of 1971/72 that he had inherited from an uncle and painted in Berlin camouflage colours.
The VW monogram missing from the car’s bonnet he had kept hidden away in the safety of his shirt pocket. “I don’t want anyone pocketing it when I’m looking away,” he remarked in jest.
The car, according to the owner, who possessed a deep knowledge of the Beetle, went though several changes, though not so visible, since its creation during World War II. Mr Mairaj pointed out the change in suspension from the original torsion bars, the change in its windows and windscreens, dashboards, etc.
“Innovations were made as technology changed. In the beginning it had a 900cc or 25 horsepower engine with a six volt battery and Germany exported some two million of those after WWII. It was a hit of course and its 1303 model was still being manufactured in Brazil and Mexico until 2007. The parts are also available from these countries and Argentina,” he said, adding that the car is a low-maintenance vehicle and easily affordable, too.
Another owner, Asif Khan, who had come with his matte black 1970 Volkswagen 1500 said that he had been in love with the Beetle ever since he was a teenager, who taught himself to drive it in 1983. “I taught myself how to drive my father’s 1969 Deluxe model and the first car I bought myself in 1995 was also a Beetle, a 1974 1200cc model,” he said.
The car show included the Microbus, the VW jeep and some altered models such as convertibles or even a tricycle mix with a dune buggy. While Mohsin Ikram, the organiser, sadly said that he had disposed of his beautiful Microbus that would accompany them as a mechanical support vehicle during the Vintage and Classic Car rallies, Mohammad Saleem, owner of the trike, was proud to show off his piece of work.
He said he owns a car workshop in Shadman, where he alters car lengths, etc, and it just occurred to him one day to take apart his 1965 1300cc Beetle to create a new upgraded 1600cc set of wheels, he has now named the ‘Foxy Triangle’. “I even entered it in the cars category in the Vision Gawadar rally a few years ago and it came first!” he said beaming.
Meanwhile, Iqbal Sulaiman, the owner of a very famous Volkswagen motor parts shop, Cheap Autos, located in the Plaza area on M.A. Jinnah Road was also present on the occasion. There had been rumours that his shop had closed down, but he clarified that the shop was still very much around.
“My brother and I had two adjoining shops of which he owned the front shop. We had some differences after which we parted ways and he sold his shop. But my shop is still there behind his old shop,” the shop owner said. When asked why his shop only dealt in Volkswagen parts, the elderly gentleman smiled and said: “As a young boy when I was apprenticing in a car garage during the 1950s and 60s, everyone here owned Volkswagen cars and the workshop where I worked was also a Volkswagen workshop. So that is all I know.”
Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2015
If your camper conversion is missing something culinary in the form of an actual kitchen or there isn’t space to swing a leg of lamb then have a look at the new range of kitchen pods from Reimo. The pods are designed for fitting in VW T5-based campers and use a Reimo railing system which is fitted first by CamperWork’s sister company, Nomad Campervans. This is to ensure that the kitchen pod doesn’t shift in transit. When parked up the pod can then be used inside the van, or easily removed from the railing system and taken outside where there’s more room to cook. This also means that if you are doing a school run rather than out camping, the kitchen pod can be kept in storage until needed, freeing up vital space.
The kitchen pod range starts with the Reimo VW T5 Cooky, which is the budget option in the range. The Cooky doesn’t come with a camping stove or coolbox but does have lots of storage. The Reimo Kompact is the mid-range option and is like having a portable sink unit. It features a sink and water system for fresh water, waste water, a pump and water taps. It has a cutlery drawer and a shelf to place a portable gas hob on. The MultiVan Pantry is part of the premier range and offers and integrated sink with glass lid, spacious storage compartment and space for a gas camping stove. At the top of the range the California Beach finally adds cooking facilities with a double-burner gas hob with glass top and storage cabinet big enough to put a 2.8kg gas bottle inside. Prices range from £650 to £1,250. Discover more at CamperWorks.
A fire destroyed a vintage 1977 Volkwagen Westfalia Camper in Sturgeon Bay last weekend at 6116 Alabama Street. Bob Parins, owner of the vehicle, describes how the fire started in his backyard on Saturday around 6:00pm.
After attempting to put the fire out, Parins called 9-1-1 when the flames engulfed the vehicle. The fully restored VW was a complete loss and a Toro riding mower was also damaged in a storage shelter. The Sturgeon Bay Fire Department was able to contain the fire from spreading.
(Video and photos courtesy of Bob Parins)
Is there anything worse than entombing yourself in a warm sleeping bag only to realize you’ll need to face the cold of night again to turn off the lantern in your tent? For those who like their camping on the comfier side, Brunton’s new Lightwave Amp can be controlled remotely using a Bluetooth connection to an app on your smartphone.
But that’s not the only reason you’ll want to kick your old kerosene lamp to the curb. The Lightwave Amp is powered by a massive 21,000 mAh battery that can also be used to charge your other electronics via three built-in USB ports. It also serves as a portable wireless speaker, letting you stream your music to it over Bluetooth. And to really keep the campsite party going, the Amp’s even got a set of color-changing LEDs that can be synced to flash along with the beat of your tunes.
A camper van containing valuable camping equipment was stolen from outside a house in Aldworth Close, Southcote.
Offenders stole the cream, ivory and beige Volkswagen camper van between midnight on Thursday, April 23 and about 5.30pm on Friday, April 24.
Police are now appealing for witnesses following the theft.
The van was beige, cream and ivory
Anyone with information should call PCSO James Wicks on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Getting away from it all in a camper Campervan and caravan holidays are overtaking standard package holidays as the most desirable escape for British families, according to new research. More than two thirds of parents (68 per cent) say they would choose a leisure vehicle holiday not only to avoid airport stress and luggage restrictions but also for the freedom, adventure and flexibility it offers.
The rising number of celebrity fans has also substantially upped the glam factor, making campervan and caravan holidays a stylish option. High profile fans including Jamie Oliver, Kate Moss, Rio Ferdinand, Take That’s Mark Owen, Lorraine Kelly and One Direction.
According to the survey of 2,000 parents, conducted by insurer comfort-insurance.co.uk, four in 10 parents say that package holidays require too much planning, and one-fifth of parents say that the overall airport experience is too stressful.
When it comes to top stress factors, nearly half of parents (47 per cent) say that lugging luggage is the biggest drag. With 48 per cent reporting that they haul up to 6 bags, and 22 per cent saying they pack up to 10 bags with all the family’s required kit, it’s clear how campervan and caravanning holidays are winning modern-day fans. Freedom from luggage restrictions takes the pressure away – making for a calmer overall holiday experience for the whole family.
The comforts of a ‘home from home’ are also proving a key factor in making it an increasingly popular lifestyle choice. More than half of parents (53 per cent) say that they miss their home comforts on a traditional holiday. However, a key finding shows that it is not just more gadgets, toys and clothing that families most want to take with them – it’s their furry friends. Just over a quarter of parents said that bringing along the family pet was the most important item on their children’s holiday wish list.
Whilst scoring high in the style stakes, leisure vehicle holidays also continue to offer great cost-saving benefits for families. Over the span of 18 years, a family of four could save more than £10,000 with campervan holidays in comparison to an annual one-week package holiday.