Eye Candy: Vantasia Fugue in a major key (’86 Vanagon)
I suppose the Pacific Northwest qualities of love of the outdoors, pride in self-reliance or independence, and a need for utility contribute to the high incidence of these VWs in the region. I have found myself part of a fraternity.
The car: “Vantasia,” a 1986 VW Vanagon
The owner: “Watchman Homer,”* Portland, Ore.
The story: I bought my Vanagon in Seattle after more than a year of scouring Internet ads and stopping to look at vehicles displaying for ‘For Sale’ signs.
This van, formerly called “Blue Benny,” was first seen at night following a 150-mile (240-kilometre) after-work trip from Portland, Ore, with my sister graciously lending me her Subaru along the way.
I had previously made several cross-country trips or moves in an older Chevy station wagon or an Astro van, and drove lengthy North-South ventures with a Volvo wagon that could also be slept in when necessary. So when thoughts of a return move to the American Southwest coincided with the appearance of a work colleague’s spacious, fun, and practical VW Westfalia camper, the idea for my own was born.
The fact that my beloved mother was from Germany, and that I had a propensity for things German (e.g., Bach, Luther, wine, chocolate, and bathroom scales), did not hurt the cause either. I was also told the hippie factor would go way up…SOLD!
My budget, and particular requirements, narrowed the choices down to a middle-eighties Vanagon (the non-camper VW bus). Weekend or longer excursions did not necessarily benefit from a Westfalia’s stove, fridge, cabinets, table, and the like. It was the ‘Z bed’ I wanted, and an opportunity to modify the cargo space. Besides, in a Vanagon I was less likely to be discovered “stealth camping,” should the need to do so arise.
You have heard two voices of the fugue already — moving, and camping. Now also enter being of some help to others (for conscience sake) as a hauler with lots of room for a variety of things, including 75 wedding chairs for David and Ashley’s reception, or a dryer, as my colleague required.
A certain simplicity and practicality pervade this VW “bus” or transporter.
Windy-road cornering, quick acceleration, and stopping on a dime are qualities I enjoyed with my first car at age 16. It was a 1974 1/2 Datsun 260Z. Now, in a top-heavy, somewhat lumbering, 4-speed VW van, the mood is “take your time, shift gears a lot, ease off the line and to a stop.”
While the VW is fine at 65 mph (104 kph) and 3900 rpm, it’s better at 55 (90 kph) in the right lane, with other folks passing. And better still off the Interstate, on a carefree back road, swinging to Oscar Peterson on the CD player. And this VW’s days as a lumber hauler are over; ‘It’s more of the road for you now, as God wills and you hold together’— the fourth fugal voice).
The van has 175,000 miles on it. The original paint is attractive on the sides but not on top. I have been replacing panels, knobs, cracked ashtrays, an odd-size lug nut, a lens, bumper rubber, plastics, a mirror. It has received a deep clean and polish. I’ve degreased the engine and undercarriage, touched up the body, replaced the hatch struts and engine mounts, and changed the transmission and motor oils. I had the shift linkage adjusted, replaced a hose, tinted the windows, did trouble-shooting on a funky heater.
I am now looking for a roof rack, curtains, and rear speakers. I need to fix both windshield washers, the exhaust at some point, and tinker with a noise related to an after-market engine part, but it’s getting there and I have already enjoyed two Oregon camping trips and an international border crossing to visit my Tante Kaethe in the favourite city of Vancouver. Idaho was planned for July and then New Mexico this month.
I suppose the Pacific Northwest qualities of love of the outdoors, pride in self-reliance or independence, and a need for utility contribute to the high incidence of these VWs in the region. I have found myself part of a fraternity. We wave to each other and share a bond like the motorcyclists and reminiscent of much ground I have covered on two wheels.
Some of these characteristics would make it into the freer, open, improvisational and often virtuosic Fantasia (“Vantasia,” incidentally was borrowed from a U.S. National Public Radio story of a struggling, touring band’s first bus, but I have added my own solo, no?).
The last voice of the fugue? ‘Investment.’ They seem to hold a good value, and I believe the money I am putting into it is not lost, but we are also and more importantly talking of a quality of life and “mobilitat,” seeing the countryside and outback, crossing borders and gaining friends, hearing “the call of the wild,” staying alert and curious, learning, experiencing. A little work for others, a lot of movement. It is Vantasia and Fugue in a major key. That reminds me, I need to track down an original set of cool VW keys. The seller only had copies.
*“Watchman Homer” is the pen-name of our submitter who is pictured but prefers to remain anon, watching the world go by, homing in on life from his VW.
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