This Month's Feature VW

Shame On Us

The Beginning: Two young people driving down the Interstate in a rusty Volkswagen Golf, car piled high with camping gear and suitcases. A license plate from a different country and "Vegas or bust" written on the back window. It sounds like something out of a comedy movie but, for us, it was our first road trip and we were on cloud nine. Fast forward to the moment that our car refused to leave second gear and began screaming down the I-80 in Omaha. "What the hell are we going to do now?!" yelled my exasperated then-boyfriend. "I don't know, but you need to get off this highway before the car explodes!" I shouted back. We were sweating in the heat of the late summer afternoon, windows rolled down to counteract the nonexistent A/C. Panic was overtaking us, as we quickly realized that we had no "Plan B." We had placed far too much trust in our aging 500,000 km Golf and now it was time to test our virgin road trip problem solving skills. "Get off here! Just get off." I jabbed my finger towards the next exit ramp. Zach, already in the right lane at this point, veered the car off the ramp. As we crested the bend, luck found us beside a Volkswagen dealership! It was about 4:45 pm on a Friday (the shop set to close at 5:00 PM) when we came sputtering up the service drive door. I will never forget the look on the service advisor's face as he sized up our crappy car, out of country plates and the two sweaty, distraught occupants. Thankfully, we were soon on our way in a rental car. Although we weren't in Vegas yet, we had encountered a little bit of luck.

We finished the trip without incident. Our Eastward journey home saw us revel in the beauty of the Bonneville Salt Flats for the very first time. We maxed out the little Ford Focus with joyful abandon. As car enthusiasts, we had fallen in love for life: road tripping was about to become "our thing." There was, however, a downside: our backs were sore from living out of a tent for two weeks. We were growing tired of changing the ice in our cooler twice a day. There was no room for anything in the car: even the door pockets were packed with supplies. It was somewhere in the middle of Iowa, on our final stretch home that Zach looked at me and said "you know what we need to do? We need to sell the Bel Air and buy a Volkswagen Bus." It was in that moment that everything changed.

The hunt for a Bus: It took less than a month to find a new home for our 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. Although we both liked the car, we had never been in love with it. Finding our Bus, however, was a very different matter. Selection was limited and anything in good condition was priced around $10,000: a price that wouldn't leave us any extra funds for upgrades or repairs. After several months of hunting, Zach finally located a little blue Bus on The Samba, a popular website for vintage Volkswagens. Not your typical Bay Window Bus, this one had started life as a panel van before being converted to a camper by a west coast company called Dorper. The top popped straight up, instead of on the typical Westfalia slant and it had no rear side windows in the bed area (a bonus for sleeping!) After some online discussion with the seller, we decided to order a Pre Purchase Inspection on it and see if it was what we were looking for. The prospect of purchasing a Bus sight unseen was daunting. Not only were we worried about fraud, we knew that there would be unanswered questions and possibly surprises no matter how careful we were. The shop we hired out in BC came back with a positive report on the bus, declaring it "not a rusty Bus." After a few hours of deliberation, we decided to take the leap. We sent a deposit, booked the shipment by train and crossed our fingers. For better or worse, we had become Bus owners.

An inauspicious arrival: As many of you know, Buses are normally given a name. Ours had been dubbed Shamus by his previous owners, who had said "shame on us for buying another bus" and then laughingly embraced the nickname. Shamus had been very loved and taken care of but, unfortunately, had been sold to an interim owner who decided that Bus life was not for him. Having sat for several months (which buses do not like to do,) the cork valve cover gasket had dried out and been sucked in. Zach arrived to the train depot to find our new acquisition rapidly leaking oil everywhere, the engine bay such a mess that there was no immediate locating the source of the leak. Needless to say, the trip home from Toronto was filled with frequent oil top ups and frustration. It wasn't the introduction to Bus ownership that we had been hoping for; however, things soon took a turn for the better.

The many adventures ahead: Our goal was to create a reliable road tripping machine; however, when you have never owned or worked on a vintage air cooled vehicle, they can seem very intimidating. Although we had initially planned to rebuild the engine ourselves, we ended up sending it out. We didn't yet understand this strange "pancake engine" that was lying on our garage floor (hard to believe how much that would change in just a couple of years!) Other upgrades included suspension, tires, shifter assembly and linkage, electrical, exhaust, starter and interior. The Bus had come equipped with a solar panel on the roof but it wasn't working. After investigating the issue and repairing the wiring, we were able to run our refrigerator and lights without connecting to an extension cord. Zach proceeded to upgrade the system further, adding a second battery, power inverter and built in electrical/USB power outlets. All of this time in the garage increased our confidence and understanding of this strange old Bus.
In July of 2018, all of the hard work was put to the ultimate test as we left our home in Windham Centre, Ontario to head to Canmore, Alberta. Aside from making a minor adjustment to the throttle linkage in Northern Ontario and a distributor adjustment in Canmore (where we also changed the oil) the entire trip was without incident. We covered over 7,000 km in less than two weeks and were bowled over by the amount of love we received from other drivers while making the trek. It turns out that everyone really does love a Bus! The honks, waves and peace signs were endless. Arriving home was a surreal feeling. We couldn't believe that we'd done it! Our spare tire was untouched, our tool and spare parts kit had only been used for the most minor of things and our rear window sported several new travel stickers. We declared the trip a success.

August of 2019 would see us test the Bus's mettle yet again. This time, we headed back to Bonneville International Speedway in West Wendover, Utah. New for this trip were oil filled shock absorbers, which greatly reduced the Bus's propensity to "spontaneously change lanes" in the wind. Improved handling made for a less fatiguing driver experience. There were a few times in Wyoming when the bus struggled with the high altitude and mountainous hills. Aside from greatly decreased fuel mileage though, we were no worse for wear. Second gear, four way flashers on and sticking to the right lane made it entirely doable. After several days of camping with our "salt family," it was off to Little Big Horn and Mount Rushmore before once again turning north. When we arrived home, we had surpassed 8,000 km in less than two weeks.

With travel plans currently on hold due to Covid-19, we can only dream of our next Bus adventure. Florida is on the list, along with California and Alaska. Wherever we go, we can carry with us the valuable knowledge that we've accrued in the first five years of Bus ownership. Doing things right the first time, maintaining them thoroughly and investing in quality parts will make a difference when creating a vehicle for long distance travel. Patience and a sense of humour will go a long way as well! Finally, having the courage to venture out into the unknown and the confidence to handle any problems that could arise is the hardest but most important part. I forgot to mention that all of these adventures have been made without a radio. It's the one thing that we haven't gotten around to replacing and it's been broken since we bought the Bus. Sometimes, all you need is the sun on your face, the wind at your back and the song of the open road.

Kristine Hill

Laptop/Tablet Wallpaper

Mobile Phone Wallpaper

Apple: Touch one of the images and "Save Image". Go to "Photos" and select the picture. Tap the box with the up arrow at the right top corner. Tap "Use as Wallpaper" pinch to size and "Set Both"

Windows: Right Click an image and select as "Set as background" on your PC!

Feature VW
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