When I first heard about Volkswagen’s plans to bring back the Microbus, I immediately decided it would become our new family vehicle. That’s because no mode of transportation offers the same level of excitement as riding in a VW bus.
Except maybe riding in a runaway mine car.
But that was always part of its charm, just like the seat belts that had to be double-knotted to the door handle; the innovative heating system that blended engine heat and exhaust fumes with just enough outside air to keep occupants from blacking out; and a horn that never EVER worked — and when I say never-ever, I don’t just mean on mine. To this day, I have yet to meet anyone who has actually had (or witnessed the existence of) a working horn on a VW bus. Remember, this was way before side-impact bars, breakaway bumpers and so many air bags popping out of places that, last year alone, false sightings of Pamela Anderson rose by as much as 64 percent.
It used to be that comfort didn’t have to come at the expense of safety. In fact, the total cost of safety features on an average VW was about $6, which was the price of a bracket for mounting a spare tire on the front. Once it was put in place, that circle of inflated rubber became your vehicle’s most important safety feature.
Because, technically, it was the ONLY safety feature.
Admittedly, this doesn’t take into account the bus’s aerodynamic body design, which was modeled after a standard ACME brick, and therefore created enough wind resistance to keep the vehicle from climbing any grade steeper than, say…
A speed bump.
Because of all this, I was shocked to hear that Volkswagen described their new Microbus as “a vast improvement over the 1950s design.”
This is like saying you have somehow improved on the design of your favorite pair of old underwear; sure, maybe they’re not much to look at, and maybe the muffler’s worn out, but at least you know you’ll get a comfortable ride. At no time since parting with my own VW bus 14 years ago have I ever driven a more comfortable vehicle. And at no time since then have I managed to get in or out of a vehicle without resembling someone failing a yoga exam. That’s because the VW designers of old didn’t see a need to fill every available space with some kind of special feature. Aside from the essentials needed to steer, accelerate, shift gears and slow the vehicle down enough to allow the drag of your foot to bring it to a complete stop, there was nothing else getting in the way of your driving experience.
There was literally enough room in the front for a driver, a passenger and a pair of square dancers to all lock elbows and do-si-do, just as long as they avoided bumping the gear shift.
You see, the new and improved Microbus has things like an on-board multiplex theater, a DVD/video game console and seven-inch TV screens built into the seats — which, by the way, are covered in white leather. How can THAT be an improvement over the old seats? At least when THOSE cracked they could be fixed with a strip of electrical tape that not only blended perfectly with the seat, but also matched many accents in the black plastic interior.
And if you think you can still save money by working on the engine yourself, you can forget about it. The new and improved version is a computerized, 5-speed, 230 horsepower V6 engine with “Tiptronic” clutch-less shifting. Now, I don’t know what all that means exactly, but I’m pretty sure that my standard VW repair kit, which consisted of gum, duct tape, a beer tab, three rolls of kite string and a copy of VW Repair for the Complete Idiot, won’t do me much good.
So, to set the record straight, we do not plan to buy a new Microbus. At least not until they introduce a new, UNimproved version of the 1950s design. I’d like to stir up a grass roots movement for this idea, so I’m asking anyone who’d like to see the return of the old-style of bus to please honk when they see me.
Of course, if you happen to actually be driving an old VW bus at the time, then you’ll just have to wave.
But don’t forget to swing your partner first.
(Ned is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. You can write to him at email@example.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)