In the 1930s, the race was on to build a car for the German people.
Adolf Hitler – suffering from automobile envy and peeved that the average American was speeding around in an affordable car but the average German wasn’t – made his desires known. He demanded that a car be produced that could convey the model Aryan family of two adults and three children along Germany’s fancy new roads at speeds of up to 100kmh, for the price of 990 reichmarks.
So in 1933, he instructed Ferdinand Porsche to build such a car. Porsche built three prototypes, one of which was instantly recognisable as the iconic Beetle. It was initially called the Kdf-Wagen named after the ideal of ‘strength through joy’, or Kraft durch Freude.
And so on this day in 1937, the Society to Prepare the German People’s Car – Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH was founded, and was soon abbreviated to the rather more snappy Volkswagenwerk GmbH.
The government allocated 480,000 reichmarks as start-up capital for the construction of a new factory, and on 26 May, 1938, Hitler laid the foundation stone in the Stadt des KdF-Wagens – renamed Wolfsburg in 1945, and still the home of Volkswagen today.
It was originally operated by the German Labor Front. The company began as a piece of Hitler’s project to develop more autobahns as well as an affordable car to drive on them. The goal was to sell the vehicles for less than 1,000 Reich marks — the equivalent of $140 at the time, so they could truly be the car for everyone. At a Nazi rally Hitler said, “It is for the broad masses that this car has been built. Its purpose is to answer their transportation needs, and it is intended to give them joy.”
After WWII, the factory found itself in the British occupied sector of Germany and was handed over to Major Ivan Hirst to run on behalf of the British military government. He persuaded the British Army to order 20,000 cars for its occupying personnel, effectively saving the company from ruin.
The company’s historic connections to the Nazi party dampened sales initially, but not forever. In 1959, an advertising campaign was launched that gave the company’s car the famous name, “Beetle”, and promoted the small size and unique shape of the car. Following the rebranding of the company, VW became the top-selling automotive import in the United States.
The business, now renamed just Volkswagen was offered to various US and British car companies, who all rejected it. So in 1949, the company was made into a trust controlled by the West German government, and administered by the state of Lower Saxony, which still owns 20%. The German federal government floated its stake on the German stockmarket in 1960.
The company went from strength to strength, becoming a potent symbol of German post-war regeneration. It suffered problems in the 1970s, but came back stronger to become the world’s second-largest vehicle-maker, behind Toyota.
Volkswagen’s third-generation transporter was introduced in 1979. Designated “T3,” it was known as “Caravelle” in Europe and “T25” in the United Kingdom. In the United States it was sold as the “Vanagon,” a successor to the Microbus and Kombi that had become cult cars in their heyday. Initially built with the legendary four-cylinder air-cooled boxer engine, it was converted to water cooling in 1983, for better emission control and engine management.
A major upgrade was conducted for 1986, with more fabric choices, a redesigned air conditioning system, a larger engine, an upgraded management system, and a new design transmission, available for the first time with Syncro all-wheel drive. The last of the rear-engine Volkswagens, the T3 was discontinued in 1992, although a version continued to be manufactured in South Africa until 2002.
The Dingman Collection’s Volkswagen Vanagon is the top-level GL model with five-speed manual transmission and Syncro all-wheel drive. A water-cooled, 2.1-liter model, it is equipped with air conditioning and power steering and brakes; it also has cloth-faced seating for seven and a cassette AM/FM stereo radio.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in June of 2012 at the Dingman Collection, Hampton, New Hampshire.
95 bhp, 2,109 cc OHV opposed four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual gearbox with all-wheel drive, MacPherson strut independent front suspension, torsion bar independent rear suspension, and four-wheel power hydraulic front disc and rear drum brakes.
HUNDREDS of half-term holidaymakers were caught up in lengthy delays as firefighters worked to prevent the spread of a heathland blaze at Studland.
Dorset Fire & Rescue Service (DFRS) asked police to close off Ferry Road, and the Sandbanks Ferry was temporarily suspended, while they tackled the lunchtime drama.
The fire – which destroyed a VW camper van, a car and a 40 x 20 metre section of heathland – is believed to have started because of a fault with the camper van.
Both vehicles were parked on heathland, a few metres in from Ferry Road. No-one was injured in the incident.
DFRS Poole and Hamworthy district commander Charlie Pack praised the work of fire crews, who managed to confine the blaze to a relatively small area.
“Luckily the wind was blowing out to sea,” he said.
“Had it been blowing in the other direction, things could have been a lot different.”
The owners of the camper van, who remained at the scene while firefighters dampened down, declined to comment.
Emergency services were alerted at 12.37pm and a pillar of smoke could be seen from across the harbour at Sandbanks.
The Studland chain ferry immediately suspended services to the public to allow fire crews and emergency services to quickly get to the scene.
Firefighters from Westbourne and Poole were sent across, joining a crew from Swanage who made their way to the scene along Ferry Road. Around 17 firefighters were deployed at the height of the incident.
Richard Green from Ashley Cross, who was on the Poole side of the harbour, said police closed the road to allow emergency services to go across on the chain ferry.
“Although a police bike had parked in the yellow box to stop motorists getting to the ferry they were driving around the motorbike,” he said.
Dorset Police closed Ferry Road for around two hours, before opening one lane to ferry traffic. Hundreds of motorists were caught up in the drama.
Mr Pack said: “Preliminary investigations lead us to believe that the fire started as the result of an ignition fault with the VW camper van.”
“Whilst we would like to encourage members of the public to enjoy the heathland, please take care to ensure the risk of fire is kept to a minimum.”
Coronation Street star Joe Duttine has reportedly been roughing it by sleeping in his camper van on the soap set during filming.
The 44-year-old actor – who plays window cleaner Tim Metcalfe in the ITV show – lives in Sheffield, and commutes to work at the Corrie studios in Manchester.
According to the Sun, Joe revealed to his co-stars he has been staying the night on the Weatherfield set in his VW camper van, rather than staying in a hotel.
A source told the newspaper: “In the past, Joe has used a camper van to stay in when on acting jobs away from his own home. He bought it a few years back for family holidays, which he really enjoys.
“When Joe knows he’ll be finishing filming late or starting early, he sometimes brings along the motorhome.”
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.
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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.”
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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.
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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