Ride coming to an end for iconic Volkswagen bus

hcahill@thestate.comSeptember 24, 2013 

The Volkswagen van’s groovy legacy has lasted through generations as a symbolic icon of yesteryear.

But the magical mystery tour is over.

Brazil is the last place in the world still producing the iconic vehicle, or “bus” as it’s known by aficionados, but VW says production will end Dec. 31. Safety regulations mandate that every vehicle in Brazil must have air bags and anti-lock braking systems starting in 2014, and the company says it cannot change production to meet the law.

However, this hasn’t stopped the wheels of the bus going round as VW fanatics look to keep the its spirit alive.

Steve Johnson, owner of Stronghold Gym along Huger Street, still drives his 1973 California Blue VW bus to work, receiving the peace sign from other drivers along the way, he says.

“If you ever go through Five Points, people are out there with their camera phones taking pictures,” Johnson said. “They appreciate it, and it’s a historic icon. They ask you if it was at Woodstock and poke their heads in to see what is inside. It’s like they were there with you 40 years ago.”

The bus – with its large body style and dome hubcaps – was first popularized in the U.S. in the freewheeling 1960s and was viewed as a practical vehicle as well as a joy ride. Its large body and interior made it easy for surfers to carry their boards to the beach and hunt for waves or for the construction worker to carry his tools and supplies in.

“They are so practical, that was Volkswagen’s ad back in the sixties,” VW repairman Rich Hoffman recalls. “If you got a lot to haul, get a box. It had more cubic feet in interior space than anything on the market, even trucks.”

Hoffman is the co-owner of Import Specialties along Rosewood Drive and has been working exclusively on VW vehicles for nearly 50 years. Hoffman worked on Johnson’s bus and rebuilt the undercarriage so that it can keep pounding the pavement.

“There is an old saying that we should cherish the past but live in the future,” Johnson said. “That’s the way you feel when you are driving the thing. They are just really neat.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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