Remember The 'Hippie Van?' The VW Microbus At Woodstock, Dead Shows And The Surfer Scene
View of a Volkswagon van painted by Florida-based artist 'Scramble' and modeled after psychedelic art from the 1960s, mid 1990s. (Photo by Blank Archives/Getty Images)
The Volkswagen T2 -- or the classic Microbus or "Hippie Van," able to haul a dozen freaks to Woodstock or surfers to the beach -- is among the most useful vehicles of all time. It's not sexy (though you can have sex in it), but owning one in the '60s or '70s put you closer to the ideals of independence and freedom. In a Hippie Van, any band of merry pranksters could hit the road to find themselves, make the world a better place, or at least make the next Dead show.
Freedom comes in many forms and in the ‘60s and ‘70s no vehicle represented open-road liberty more than the Volkswagen Microbus. It was originally christened the Type 2 Transporter but hippies, surfers, and wanderlust specialists turned the people mover into a cultural touchstone. They also came up with much better names like Vanagon and Kombi.
Whether your reaction was to punch the person next to you and yell, “slug bug” or gaze wistfully at Volkswagen Microbus, the classic car inspired a reaction from everyone. Few, if any, other cars of such humble beginnings survived so many years and brought joy to Baby Boomers and Millennials alike.
Made With Groovy In Mind
No sects of society embraced the Volkswagen Microbus more than surfers and hippies. Naturally, there’s a fair amount of crossover between the two groups. For surfers, few cars could store as many boards and the engineers practically designed the microbus with beach bums in mind. Instead of carpeting Volkswagen decked the van with rubber mats. That made a post-surf clean up a lot easier and ended the inevitable mildew issues water causes.
Ironically, the inspiration for the Type 2 Transporter came from a flat-bed car parts carrier they used to haul VW bug parts around the factory. Dutchman Ben Pon imagined a big, enclosed people-hauler shaped like a loaf of bread and boom -- the Volkswagen Microbus was born.
Hippies saw another type of nirvana in the HippieMobile, unrestrained independence. Those of the Bohemian persuasion turned the microbus from a car into a home. The size and openness of the van, along with ingenuity, turned it into one of America’s first mobile homes. Turning a relatively cheap and easy to fix van into your home was one of the many ways Baby Boomers stuck it to the man.
Counter culture and the Volkswagen Microbus went together like marijuana and music. According to McKeel Hagerty, classic car market expert, “It was anti-style, anti-success, and rebellious in a totally new way."
An Optimistic Perspective
Part of the genius of the Volkswagen Microbus was the front end configuration. By mounting the engine in the rear and flattening the front, VW gave drivers an unparalleled view of the road. Add on the panoramic view and you feel like you're driving around in an aquarium. Few cars could match the otherworldly viewing experience that you got from driving the microbus. That’s why the Microbus was the ultimate road trip vehicle.
Roger White, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, believes many saw it as anti-establishment to the Detroit automotive superpower: "For many people, the VW Microbus became the symbol of protest with Detroit’s overpowered cars and society in general. It was a way of thumbing their noses at the establishment.”
A View From Cloud Nine
Surfers and hippies are typically optimistic people, looking to the future. For surfers, there was and is a natural inclination to keep an eye out on the horizon, looking for that next wave. And hippies were always looking to the future because that’s where their peace paradise would come from. Neither group tended to be in a rush, which was good because the Microbus only packed between 25 to 40 horsepower! But when you’re living on cloud nine, what’s the rush?
Thankfully, for both groups, the aftermarket support was incredible. Want to put an actual sleeper camper on top? No problem. Feel the need for speed and want to tune up that 45 horsepower engine? Done. Just don’t go around a corner with any alacrity. The short wheelbase and high center of gravity made the microbus a bit tippy.
Back in the day, you could find someone to customize your van anyway you wanted it, without breaking the bank. Those with the most vagabond in them turned them into their little homes and toured the country. Born to be wild.
Tags: 1960s Cars | 1970s Cars | A Brief History Of... | Volkswagen Microbus
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