Peace, Love & The VW Light Bus

  • The iconic VW Light Bus returns for the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.
  • Features the designs and paintwork of original artist Dr. Bob Hieronimus.

The classic VW Bus, i.e. the Type 2, started out in America as a surf mobile. Yet the same reasons surfers loved the thing – cheap, reliable, you can sleep in it waiting for your swell and such – appealed to a another growing segment of the counterculture: Hippies. From Hattiesburg to The Haight, the young and disaffected, those who tuned in, turned on, and dropped out, took to the VW Bus like ducks to water.

If ever there was a perfect vehicle for a given demographic, this was it.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation

Fifty years on and we, as a society, are still coming to grips with the immutable fact hippies were Right. Peace is better than war, love is better than hate, pollution is bad for all of us, greed destroys us, equality applies to everybody, women, people of color, and gay people too. 50 years ago, Mike Lang and a bunch of other hippie promoters thought it was high time to have the concert to end all concerts. They picked upstate New York for some reason, and predicted 100,000 kids would show up.

They were wrong. Very, very wrong.

Half a million kids showed up and, despite what all the up-tight straights predicted, most had a very good time. And, seemingly, about half of those people showed up in VW Busses. And most of those were highly decorated. For example, the Light Bus. Although pretty run-of-the-mill when it comes to painting, decoration and overall tone, the Light Bus, a 1963 Standard Microbus, became a symbol of the Woodstock Art and Music Fair after an Associated Press shot of the van circulated in newspapers and magazines across the country.

Then the van appeared in the liner notes of the soundtrack to the movie about Woodstock. In its own little way, The Light Bus became A Thing.

VW Light Bus. Photo: Volkswagen of America, Inc.

They picked upstate New York for some reason, and predicted 100,000 kids would show up. They were wrong. Very, very wrong. Click To Tweet

Time Machine

Volkswagen of America and the greater Volkswagen community realized this, and decided to remake the Light Bus in time for all the anniversary celebrations. The original painter of the bus, Dr. Bob Hieronimus (no, dude, dig: he’s literally a Doctor now and his name is literally Hieronimus, and if someone does not call him Hieronimus Bob on a regular basis, then I am very bummed) did up the original in 1968 after an invitation from the van’s owner, who, surprise-surprise, was using it to haul his band to the festival.

This “new” Light Bus represents three years of work by Hieronimus and Canadian documentarian John Wesley Chisholm. They wanted to recover and recreate the original ahead of Woodstock’s milestone anniversary. However, the duo decided on a replica after looking for six months to find the original to no avail. My bet says it’s now a chicken coop on Kesey’s farm outside of Eugene, Oregon.

The replica Light Bus hit the public eye at the Orange Country Transporter Organization (O.C.T.O.) Winter Meet in Long Beach, California. Bonus points for calling your car club O.C.T.O. After hanging out in Long Beach, the Light Bus hits the road for a cross-country tour leading up to Woodstock’s 50th anniversary.

“It’s a time machine that takes people to the past, through the present, and to the future,” Chisholm said.

“The bus is really about being one people on one planet,” Hieronimus added. “On every side of the bus is a story – many stories – and the stories all point to unification, working together, and a higher consciousness, which is what Light really is all about.”

Photo: Volkswagen of America, Inc.

With A Little Help From My Friends

Hieronimus and Chisholm ginned up a successful Kickstarter campaign and acquired an exact model of the original Light Bus. From there, they began the painstaking restoration process. Hieronimus Bob and a team of five artists took six weeks just to recreate the original paintings. Like the original, this Light Bus is enveloped with Hieronimus’ hand-painted symbols and psychedelic shapes that captured a unique moment of American culture.

Volkswagen of America got wind of the project and fully supported the search and restoration. Shortly thereafter, a team of VW fans jumped in to assist the duo.

So keep an eye out all you Real Americans, you Silent Majority. They’ll be coming to your town, reeking of “incense,” hair so long ya can’t tell the boys from the girls; bare feet, love beads, strange clothing, and “music” that’s part of the Communist conspiracy to drag us down to the level of the lesser races.

“It’s a living room on wheels that you can outfit any way you want, and transports you and your family, however you define family, wherever you want to go,” Chisholm said.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle formatFollow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz

VW Light Bus Gallery

Photos & Source: Volkswagen of America, Inc.

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