The Volkswagen Microbus, manufactured from 1950 to 2013, unexpectedly became an American icon for many in the counter-culture revolution of the 1960s. Dubbed a hippie van in some circles, the boxy vehicle was a forerunner to modern vans and an interesting alternative to the station wagon. It was only the second vehicle made by VW following its Beetle, which launched in 1938.
The consumer version has side windows, removable middle and rear seats, a roomy interior, rear-wheel drive and an air-cooled engine. A commercial model was the first panel van on the market. When VW caught wind of owners using the Microbus for a camper, it designed and manufactured camper conversion kits.
In a 2019 article titled “History of the Volkswagen Bus” on autotrends.org, writer and car enthusiast Matt Keegan offers this: [Type 1 refers to the Beetle, for the first vehicle by VW, and Type 2 is the Microbus.]
“Modify a Volkswagen Beetle platform and its 1.1-liter air-cooled engine and place a van body on top of it and you have the makings of a new vehicle. Like the Type 1, the Type 2 featured a rear-mounted engine and transaxle, adding a ladder frame chassis and a pair of gear-hub reduction boxes to lower the gearing across all four gears.
The original engine made just 25 horsepower, then increased to 44 horsepower when a 1.5-liter engine was introduced. Fuel mileage for first- and second-generation models was about 20 mpg with top speeds ranging from 55 mph for earlier models to 68 mph for second-generation models.
The first-generation Microbus featured certain design characteristics that were unique to this model, including a split windshield layout and multiple window variations. Standard models were equipped with 11 windows, DeLuxe versions had 15 windows and Sunroof DeLuxe models added eight small skylight windows for a total of 23 windows. The first models had removable middle- and rear-row seats, while later models had only a removable rear seat.”
As the cultural revolution of the ‘60s declined, so did interest in this novel vehicle, but not for everyone. When Jack Howard decided to open Tea and Jam in Feb. 2018, a unique café (now closed) on the north end of Blacksburg, he decided the VW Microbus would be a great marketing tool.
“I found this 1970 one at an antique car dealer in North Carolina,” Howard relates of his purchase. “I felt it would reflect the vibe of the business I sought to achieve.” The van was all orange with original everything. Howard delivered it to The Bug Shop on Harding Avenue outside Blacksburg to evaluate and repair whatever needed fixing. Today, it runs great. The odometer reads 87,000 miles, but who knows?
Then he got in touch with local freelance graphic artist Sara McCarter. Alongside her day job in construction project management at Warm Hearth Village, McCarter has her own graphic design studio, www.olioworkshop.com. “Jack was fun to work with,” she relates. “He wanted part of the van to reflect his love for surfing, thus the ocean on the back. He wanted something rooted locally with the Blue Ridge Mountains, plus musical touches and a funky hippie culture vibe.” It was all designed for a vinyl wrap to be applied on the vehicle.
“It was my first wrap,” she continues. “The Microbus is great to begin with for not having as many contours and curves as other vehicles. I received some valuable input from Blacksburg Transit.” She began with photos of the van and spec drawings one can find online. “I put the VW bus to scale into Illustrator, overlaying the designs on top of the photographs. I would generate designs for Jack’s review. He would tweak this and that, and I made changes. He was very involved all along.”
Once everything was just as Howard wanted it, he contacted Justin Hurt, owner of Signspot on S. Main St. in Blacksburg to print the wrap. “We do vinyl wraps all the time,” Hurt says. They provide many of the wraps for BT buses, along with very large decals. Signspot recently produced a new magnificent wrap for Moss Arts Center, which was applied to a masonry wall. “That takes specific materials and a process to do this, and in the end, it looks like it’s painted on the building.”
To apply a vinyl wrap, especially to a vehicle, precision installers need a very clean, covered space. McCarter knew a friend with a brand new house and garage, and they let the van come to the new, vacant garage for application. “It was fascinating to watch them place the wrap on the bus,” McCarter states. “They are artists themselves, using heat and molding and placing the wrap, while hot, into exactly the correct places.”
The result is phenomenal, and the Microbus gets a lot of attention around town. Jack Howard’s first car was a 1967 VW Beetle, and he also has owned a 1974 bus. The doll on the dash, he points out, is traditional on these hippie vans.
Originally from Bluefield, W.V., Howard was a software developer for years and plans now to explore Shamanic and sound healing. Maybe this Microbus is not done working. It can still serve as a ride, of course, but also offers a place for a consulting session or quiet time with a cup of tea in the spacious, comfortable interior. It is already outfitted with cushions and pillows for a neat, little, calm, therapy session space.
Text by Joanne M. Anderson
Photo by Tom Wallace