Kombi Last Edition (Photo credit: Autoexpress.co.uk)

Kombi Last Edition (Photo credit: Autoexpress.co.uk)

What do you think is the appeal of the Type 2 VW bus today ?

I’ve been pondering this amid the flurry of media articles reverberating around the world on the ‘Last Edition’ of the T2 bus in Brazil which will roll off the production line at the end of 2013.  For the second time in a year a syndicated press agency article has announced the end of the road for the T2 bus (expect yet more articles and photos of the very last, Last Edition in late December).

I was listening to a piece on the radio this morning – while driving my camper van of course – while a branding consultant and motoring journalist, neither of whom seemed to know that much about VW buses, were clumsily explaining what the fuss is all about.  They managed to establish the reason for the 56-year production coming to an end (safety regulations) and then talked about the simplicity, shape and attractiveness of the bus’ design,

The branding consultant then went on to suggest that the appeal of the Brazilian bus today is that they’re both “hip and hippie”.  I’m not sure I agree.

The evidence for the “hip” label seems pretty shaky.  According to the ‘branding expert’ this is because One Direction feature a VW bus in one of their videos.  Mmmm, are One Direction the height of coolness I wonder … and are they even old enough to drive ?!  I know for a fact (since I’m told it every single day by my 12-year old daughter) that camper vans “are not cool“.  She also tells me that “Dad, this is so embarrassing“, “park over there so no one sees me get in” etc etc … I think you get my drift.

So if they’re not “hip”, then are they “hippie” ?  Well, I don’t know about you but the last time I saw anyone with long, greasy hair, a tie die t-shirt and flowers in their hair was (a) in 1977 (b) in California or (c) in the Bus Movie.  Put bluntly, hippies are a rare breed indeed in this part of Scotland and not exactly a big market for retro 1970s campers.

No, I have to disagree with Mr Branding Consultant.  I don’t think the appeal of the VW bus is much to do with either hip-ness or hippies.  Instead, in Europe and North America I think the appeal is everything to do with an enduring yearning for freedom and adventure.  I think it harks back 40 years to a time when life seemed simpler, when a camper van was a passport to exciting and affordable travel for youngsters and young families.  Having grown up during the 1970s the opportunity to own a VW T2 bus (or rent one for a weekend festival perhaps) is a chance to relive the memories of your childhood and to give your own young family a taste of your own heritage.

It seems that many people share this nostalgia.  VW America have a website devoted to people’s VW Stories and NBC have a great photoblog of people’s buses.  I’ve blogged previously about my wife’s family exploits travelling in a Splitscreen camper down to Holland, and having lazy picnics in the Scottish Highlands with their T2 bus.

Photo credit: news.yahoo.com

Photo credit: news.yahoo.com

But I think there’s another story to be told here.  The VW bus – simple to drive, easy to mend – is a by-word for practicality.  For beyond the family-holiday-nostalgia of the US and Europe the Brazilian buses (and those manufactured in Mexico until 1995 also) are the commercial workhorses, taxis, school buses and mobile snack bars of many countries across Latin America and Africa.  There’s little room for wistful contemplation here: the buses simply represent practical solutions to help people live their daily lives.

And I guess this is where it all started – the Plattenwagen, the box-shaped delivery vehicle sketched out in 1947 by Ben Pon in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Further reading:

60 Years of the VW Camper Van – Pt1 The Birth of an Icon

60 Years of the VW Camper Van Pt2 Coming of Age

The Bus Movie

5 Comments on “Hip vs Hippie ?

  1. I think it’s memories and nostalgia. We were sad to post the news article of it’s demise. We have a couple of Bus owners that work on our staff so we have a special place in our heart for them here.

    • Yes, I agree – people have real affection for T2s. But it’s easy to overlook the fact that few water-cooled Brazilian buses have actually been exported to Europe in recent years – it’s 24 years since VW stopped making them in Germany, so the ‘demise’ has been a long time coming !

      Here in Europe of course we have the California, VW’s modern successor to the T2. The slightly more enlightened journalists have acknowledged this:

      Inspired by the past, but built for today, the Volkswagen California introduces new standards of comfort, performance and safety, thanks to its modern purpose-built design. But the latest evolution of Volkswagen’s iconic camper van still symbolises the fun, freedom and adventure that was such an appealing quality of the original. The ability to go where you please, when you please is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s – maybe even more so“.

      I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Pingback: Até amanhã ? | Wild about Scotland

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