By some standards, my 1976 Volkswagen bus was a bad car.
Bought second-hand in 1977, it was underpowered and slow. Blunt-nosed, it was hardly aerodynamic. Its heating system didn’t really give off any heat, at least in winter.
Despite all that, I remember it as one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. The more quirky the vehicle, the better the memories, I guess.
Now I wonder if those memories will motivate me to buy a descendant of the bus, Volkswagen’s all-electric ID. Buzz. It arrives in Europe this fall. A larger version is expected to arrive in the United States in 2024.
In the latest New Yorker magazine, Jill Lepore, historian and vintage bus owner, writes that the Buzz “is perhaps the most anticipated vehicle in automotive history.”
Anticipated, in part, because there are former bus owners like me. For maybe 10 times the price we’ve paid in the past (the Buzz will cost $40,000 and go up), we can go back in time.
I worry, though. The images indicate that the Buzz will have lost many quirks and some of the character of its predecessor. Clearly, VW is targeting buyers who want comfort and convenience, as well as cars that pollute far less than previous gas-powered versions. Go figure.
The Buzz has a sleek exterior and an interior filled with touchscreen bells and whistles. Engine? Do not touch it. “You won’t recognize the innards,” writes Lepore, “and you won’t be able to fix them.”
My son Ben remembers our bus as “iconic, a great car”. Great, yes, basic too.
The bus, aka a VW Transporter Type 2, had room for seven people. The middle and rear seats were bench seats with backs. Barely comfortable, but sufficient.
Its electronics were limited to a radio. The shifter came off the ground and was tricky. “It took experience and patience, Reverse was terrible,” says Ben, who like his brother Will has transitioned from passenger to driver over the years.
There was no air conditioning. There was no console between the front seats, so I made a box with a sliding top and cup holders.
The car crossed the country twice, going up and down the mountains. It made the rounds of the state’s North Country in the late 1970s when I was trying to write to become a journalist.
Will took the bus to Indiana University in 1991 for his senior year, making it there and back without a hitch. “It was a fun car to drive,” he recalls. “You were high up and the angle of the steering wheel was almost horizontal.”
Not that the bus was carefree. Will recalls the accelerator pedal becoming disjointed and suddenly falling to the floor of the car. Ben was driving once when the muffler fell off, another time when the steering column disconnected. I remember lying under the bus in the dead of winter trying to thread a new clutch cable from front to back. For reference, a copy of “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Step-by-Step How-To Manual for the Complete Idiot” lay in the snow.
As time passed and more cars arrived, we drove the bus less and less. In the mid-1990s, I put it up for sale.
A kid who wanted to tour the country after Phish showed up and found everything perfect on the bus. (Which it didn’t, because a panel on the left side had detached from the car. Anyone sitting in the middle row could look down and see the road.)
Little Phish asked me what I wanted for the car. I asked him what he had. He withdrew $325 from his wallet. I took it, and the car was gone, in good hands.
Thanks to their cult following, vintage VW buses in mint condition now cost thousands of dollars. I’d like to hope our bus is rejuvenated and hooked, enjoying the open road, ready to beat the Buzz when that vehicle arrives and begins its own journey down memory lane.
A recent story in the Bob Chavez’s Democrat and Chronicle reminds us how much G. Peter Jemison has done to raise awareness of Native American history in this area. Add his name to list of notable Rochesterians.
G. Peter Jemison (1945-): From 1985 until his retirement in 2022, this artist and historian was the manager of the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, dedicated to the history of Native Americans, in particular the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). Under his watch, a Seneca Bark Longhouse, and later, a Seneca Art & Culture Center, were added to the site, which sits on land occupied by the Seneca at 17e Century. A member of the Huron clan of the Seneca nation who grew up on the Cattaraugus reservation, he continues to paint and share the Haudenosaunee culture.