Rare 1960 VW Transporter Gets Second Life
By Jeff Barnes
Mike Carroll sees plenty of Volkswagen buses come through his Bennington shop; Air-Cooled Express specializes in VW beetles, buses, and buggies. But last year, customer John Adair gave him a Microbus job for the ages.
This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill van – the 1960 Volkswagen SO-22 Deluxe transporter was a special order available only in Germany. With the “Westphalia” camping package, the van can seat passengers and haul cargo as well as hold sleeping space and a removable camping kit.
After more than fifty years of use and un-use – including many years outdoors in a stand of trees – the van was near scrap. Carroll said vans in this shape typically aren’t restored. “The bus was an absolute disaster,” he said, “but it had a cool story and it’s a unicorn of a car – you never see these.”
The story began with Adair and his bride Rosemarie picking up the new van from a dealer in Hanover, Germany, in 1960; it was ordered by his parents, but the newlyweds used it for a month-long honeymoon around Europe, visiting the Swiss Alps, the wine country of the Mosel River, Austria and even Lichtenstein before bringing the van home to his folks.
“They drove it over a hundred thousand miles, probably more than thirty states,” Adair said. “It was an unbelievable for them – they lived in it. Every one of my cousins has been in it – riding in it, going fishing, learning to drive – just everything.”
Eventually his parents opted for a smaller car for travel and the VW ended up with another family member who used it to move television sets in his business. Before too long no one was using it and it ended up behind a cousin’s home at George, Iowa, in a grove of trees.
Years later, a son of friends the Adairs had back in Germany started asking about the van. It revitalized an interest for John in his old honeymoon transporter, and he made contact with Carroll for its restoration.
From the beginning, the restoration was going to be as close to the original as possible, starting with the same reddish-orange/grey-beige paint job. They even recreated the original seat fabric. “We actually found the factory in the Netherlands that did the original fabric,” Carroll said. “They redid it for us.”
The blond-wood camping kit was rebuilt along with the original “Westphalia” decal. Continental tires were on the van when new, so they were again installed on the restoration. The transmission was still in great shape and wasn’t touched, as was the steering gear.
The one thing that was replaced was the engine. Carroll installed a 36-HP VW engine to match the original but Adair kept it only for a week before he brought it back for the lack of power. “The engine is now completely new,” Carroll said. “I built it specifically for that bus and it’s now 105 horses instead of 36.”
The restoration took about a year, from Easter 2015 to Easter 2016. The “resurrection” included Extreme Paint and Sky’s Interiors, both of Fremont, for the outside and inside of the van. “I sent them pictures and pictures of the original brochures while they were doing their work,” Carroll said. Adair added that somewhere between 15 to 17 artisans worked on the van’s completion, and with a rebuilt, stronger understructure, the van is better than new. It was entered in four shows this year and took first in each.
Finding a transporter like this one was a surprise to Carroll but he should be used to it. “I thought I knew everyone in Omaha with a VW,” he said. “I’ve been working on VWs since I was 15 and I continue to meet someone new about every day.”
(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, October 22, 2016)