Heavy Metal Affliction - 1962 Volkswagen Bus
In talking with Brian Frazee, owner of this glorious 1962 Volkswagen Deluxe 15-window bus, I tried to drill down into what makes these vehicles so special. At the start it seems obvious but, after talking with Frazee and reflecting on the Bus myself, I think there’s more to it. You see, for folks like Frazee and myself, the VW Bus is an emotional experience.
First there is name the Type 2, because it is the second chassis design offered by Volkswagen, originally in 1950 (after the Beetle, the Type 1). Since then it has earned many names. Officially this model is a Transporter, but it’s also known as the Kombi, from the German word Kombinationskraftwagen. Ok, that one’s not so simple but, that is the German language for you. It translates to “combination vehicle,” since you could remove the seats to haul cargo, or keep them in and haul people.
More commonly it is referred to as a VW Bus, or in long form, Microbus. Also the VW Van, or for some models, Camper Van. Their owners have in almost all cases called them many other things. Buses as I refer to them have earned endearing titles for the times they have created adventure or made us proud to own them. Most have also probably been called derogatory names for the times they have broken down or confounded their owners with the German way of doing things.
There are innumerable associations with the hippies of the counterculture movement, but the VW Bus has also toted families on vacations and enabled businesses to do all kinds of work. Their functional space, breadbox form, unstoppable versatility, and economical design has helped create memories, build dreams, and for some, become part of a lifestyle in and of itself. Along with the Beetle, the VW Bus made VW culture a thing right from the very start.
Brian Frazee was born in 1967, and his father bought a 1967 Beetle that same year. That was the car that drove the family to the mountains of Idaho to fish every summer and made first tracks in the Denver, CO snow when his father went to work. It was that same Beetle Frazee drove to work as a teenager in the freezing cold winter. “It was a common occurrence to have to scrape the inside of the windshield as you drove down the road,” Frazee said.
Heat was never a strong suit of the air-cooled VWs, but their ability to claw their way through nearly any conditions made them the reliable choice. Okay, I use the word “reliable” loosely, but when Frazee and his wife fell ill with a nasty flu one winter, his dad picked them up in that Bug and took them to Urgent Care. Somehow memories stand out when they took place in that old VW.
That Beetle stayed in the family for 47 years. Since then Frazee has owned several other old VWs: a 1962 Beetle for his wife, a 1969 VW Camper (“Old Bussey”) that took the growing family camping every year for 14 years, and the 1962 Convertible named “Flossy” his wife now drives and “Bussey” the 1962 Deluxe 15-window Bus you see here.
Frazee always knew he wanted an older Bus to make his own. At the time the family was living in Arkansas. When they found the listing in Florida, Frazee’s wife not only encouraged her husband to go look at it, she made it happen. Seventeen hours later they were standing in front of the Bus, and an hour after that it was loaded on a trailer headed back to Arkansas. On the way home Frazee had tears in his eyes, having fulfilled what was a lifelong dream of owning a “Splittie,” so-called for the split windshields of the early models.
The Bus was running, and had a new paint job in the original colors: Sealing Wax Red and Pearl White. The Bus was painted in Spokane, WA, and sold to the Florida owner, who had it transported some 3,000 miles to own it. Now Frazee was taking it to Arkansas, and the family would soon move to Olympia, WA to bring the Bus full circle since its restoration began.
The previous owner had done all he could for it before having to sell. Frazee had just sold the 1969 Camper for a tidy profit, so he had the budget to take it the rest of the way. The work started with restoring the interior. Inside you will find all original styling, a rare full-size middle seat, a rare dashboard clock, and cool features like safari windows and jail-bars that were meant to secure luggage.
On the outside, they had the roof rack restored and re-chromed all the shiny details. One of my favorite components of the Buses presentation is the three-inch drop spindles coupled with an otherwise stock appearance. Underneath the deck lid is something special though, something that gives this Bus uncharacteristic ability.
Over the years Buses never been known for their power. Bumper stickers such as “NEVER, get behind a VW Bus” or “0-60 in 15 Minutes” are common and well warranted. Fully-loaded it’s not uncommon to be in second gear going through mountain passes, with 35-40 mph being top speed. But not this Bus, not by a long shot.
Convinced by the influence of an engine-builder friend, Frazee built a “big-motor,” a 2,180cc with dual carbs and all the right internals. With the help of father and son team Ed and Will Bowers, they built a beast of a motor that purrs like a kitten, but can roar like a lion when asked. Horsepower is estimated at around 150, a far cry from the 40-hp motor the Bus would have come with. “People are usually surprised when a vintage VW bus is passing them on the freeway,” Frazee said. “It’s been fun.”
I asked Frazee about the front license plate “5TRANGLH3LD” even though I pretty much knew the answer. He loves the song by Ted Nugent, and it’s his rendition of the attachment Frazee has to this Bus and VWs in general.
Aside from his own love for the vehicle, and how much fun it is to drive, what Frazee enjoys most is the reactions it brings out in anyone who sees it. Perhaps they all grew up around VWs? It seems everyone has at least known someone who owned one. Why that connection brings so much joy is just a mystery that we can all accept with a smile, a thumbs up, or a peace sign the next time you see one.