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1965 volkswagen 21 window deluxe micro bus


When the boxy Volkswagen Transporter arrived on American shores in 1949, its effect and influence was immediate. Using standard Beetle components, it was easy to maintain and was one of the best ways to move small groups of people.

Dubbed the "Micro Bus," Volkswagen's unique Transporter survived through the decades and evolved into several different vehicles. Its combination of economy and practicality made it a hit with the flower-power generation of the 1960s.

The rarest of the Micro Buses is the 21-Window Walk-Through, shown here. It was in many ways the Cadillac of VW buses, as it was adorned with lots of trim and amenities absent on other buses. The standard configuration provided a bench front seat, but the Walk-Through was fitted with two separate front seats so the passenger could walk to the back of the bus without exiting.

This two-owner, California black-plate, 31,000-mile, rust-free Volkswagen received a no-expense-spared restoration by its previous owner. Single-stage urethane paint, completely redone brightwork, and new wide whitewalls help make this example a show winner. Running on a 12-volt electrical system and prepared for any adventure with its deluxe tool kit and spare tire, no detail was missed for either ease of operation or pleasure of ownership.

Complete with its factory sliding sunroof and a fully restored custom luggage rack, this Micro Bus is fit for any locale, be it a concours field or an afternoon at the beach. Finished in two-tone turquoise with a light gray interior, it is attractively equipped with such deluxe features as a chrome ashtray, original Sapphire push-button AM radio, coat hooks, grab rails and jail bars on the rear windows.

{analysis}{auto}184{/auto} This VW bus sold for $38,500, including buyer's premium, at RM's Monterey auction, August 17, 2002.

Although one of the slowest, most ill-handling vehicles imaginable, I must admit that I smile every time I see one of these at auction, or, far more rarely, going down the road. The shape has an innate, near-Bauhaus purity to it, and if restored to the same standard to which they were originally built-they have a level of fit and finish matched only by Mercedes-they are a visual delight.

Driving one, however, is a different matter altogether. Wildly underpowered, and with positively terrifying "high-speed" handling, it's hard to imagine one on today's 80-mph expressways, buffeted by the gargantuan eight-passenger SUVs that are their spiritual successors. The advent of the 42-hp 1500-cc engine in 1963-initially an option, but fitted in most buses that came to the US-raised the top speed to 65 mph. Travelling at that speed was so scary that the factory installed a governor on the carburetor in 1964. And this was before eager lawyers and the DOT were keeping carmakers on their toes.

Despite their mechanical flaws, Micro Buses possessed two powerful virtues when new: they were cheap as dirt and could easily haul all manner of things. When I owned one, I would load my Penton 125-cc motocross bike into the back and head off to the track. Strangely enough, the high-priced tin can here loses both virtues. This Deluxe Samba model has loads of expensive and hard-to-restore trim items, such as full-length "deco" strips of alloy with rubber inserts, complex bumpers and 21 windows. And at nearly $40,000, it is now a relatively expensive toy. With its fully trimmed interior, I doubt anyone will be hauling anything in it except bags of receipts from its restoration.

Tracking this particular vehicle through the SCM Gold database does provide some information of interest. Unsold at $29,000 at Barrett-Jackson's 2001 Petersen Museum auction in Los Angeles, it sold for $24,840 at the same venue the next year. The purchaser was a savvy SCM subscriber with a reputation for turning out brilliantly done Jaguars. He worked his detailing magic on the Micro Bus, added a period luggage rack, and just two months later and 300 miles up the California coast, sold it for nearly $14,000 more. (Of course, his take was less once commissions are factored in, but nonetheless, I'm sure the seller is satisfied with the outcome.)

I don't believe VW Micro Bus prices are on a significant upward trend. Nicely done ones like this have been in the $30,000-$40,000 range for the past decade. The key here is the underlying model (21- or 23- window buses only, please) and the level of the restoration. Anything less than perfection, and the value plummets to the high teens.

As with many iconic collectibles, these vehicles have risen above their intended purpose to be symbols of an era, reminders of a different time. Before we got day jobs, started wearing neckties and having families that rode around in Chrysler minivans, we wore bell-bottoms, listened to the Grateful Dead and went from concert to concert in VW Micro Buses. In a gangly sort of way, this Micro Bus takes us back to that era. This price, considering the venue, shouldn't be that surprising. After all, icons aren't cheap, especially in Monterey.-Jim Schrager

(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of RM Auctions.){/analysis}

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