Long Strange Trip
Dude, Where’s My Bus? Fast Times in the Iconic VW Van
Volkswagen is ceasing production of the legendary hippie van at the end of the year, but Scott Jennings, whose restaurant owns 16 of them, says the stories of epic parties will never end.
So I hear they are stopping production of an all-time classic. Not only is this the end of an era, it’s the end of a counter-culture icon. More weed has been smoked, more babies have been conceived, and more fun has been had in the Volkswagen Bus than perhaps any vehicle ever made. When people see the Bus, it’s almost impossible not to smile. It brings them back to a simpler time of no-worries partying.
The Bus’s official name is the Type 2, having been derived from Volkswagen’s first model, the Type 1 Beetle. You might know it as the “hippie van,” as its associations with the ’60s are so strong. The first model of the Type 2 actually appeared in 1949—it’s been in constant production for 64 years. Unfortunately, the Bus’s cab-forward design puts the driver ahead of the front axle, which doesn’t meet safety requirements in almost every country. Germany stopped making it in 1979 and Mexico ceased production in 1994. The Volkswagen plant in Brazil is the last place on Earth still making a version of the VW camper van, but starting in 2014, all new cars in Brazil must have anti-lock brakes and air bags, and Volkswagen says it cannot adjust production to meet the law. As a result, the last Bus will roll off the factory line on Dec. 31.
I always thought it was an urban legend that the VW Bus is the most dangerous vehicle ever made. It’s not entirely true. It can’t be the most dangerous vehicle ever made—that’s the motorcycle. What’s next, are they going to strap an air bag to a motorcycle? We should be able to choose what kind of vehicle we drive, even if it comes from Brazil. I’ve been driving a VW Bus for the past 15 years, and—knock on wood—there haven’t been any physical damages. (But there may have been some mental damages.)
The first time I saw a VW Bus was when Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) rolled out of one in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I was hooked. I was in high school at the time, and for the people that saw the movie, they know the only thing cooler than that Bus was the pool scene with Phoebe Cates. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money in high school to make my move on one.
Throughout the years, I couldn’t shake the allure of the Bus. Now we have a fleet of 16. I ended up starting a sub shop called the Cheba Hut “Toasted” Subs, and the camper van is our mascot. We actually have it written into the franchise agreement that it is mandatory to have a VW Bus (preferably between the years 1965-1972).
The thing with the VW Bus is that it is more than a vehicle. It is an experience, and often an inconvenient one. It lacks horsepower, so you can never go fast. The engine breaks down often, so you can never go far. But there is something about the faint smell of gas, the two foot shuffle between the sticking gas pedal and the slipping clutch, and the thrill of driving one of the most badass-looking vehicles ever made. For any other car, if it breaks down, you get pissed and want to sell the piece of shit. Not the VW Bus. Some of the best stories are the breakdowns. Not once did I have to wait more than 10 minutes for someone to stop and ask if I needed help. A majority of the interactions involved a gracious ride to town, and quite a few ended up at a party. But every single one started with, "Nice Bus, you need some help?” and was followed by, “I remember the time my Bus broke down.” The true perks of owning a Bus go much further than the mechanics. I must admit I have partaken in many of the adventures that go along with the privilege of driving a hippie camper van.
Over the past 15 years at the Cheba Hut, we have taken our well-used fleet of Buses to many music festivals—vending out of them, tailgating out of them, sleeping in them, partying in them, and, occasionally, getting busted in them. We even tried to recreate the classic scene in Fast Times where they roll out of the bus late to class with smoke pouring out of the sliding door. We have had them jumped by skateboarders, guys on BMX bikes, and a guy on a motorcycle. We even had a guy jump his bike over one into a pool of Kool-Aid.
It is getting harder and harder to find these classic icons, and they are getting more and more expensive. As that last VW Bus rolls off the production line in Brazil, enthusiasts around the world will keep the stories coming. It will cost us some money to try to purchase the very last one. But we must remember, a great story will always last longer than money.