The 1962 VW Panel Van: Miles Already Gone and A Promise to Keep
Between my junior and senior years at Northeastern University, I was busy growing my own stereo equipment business while working at the local stereo shop. I focused on delighting the customer; if they couldn’t find what they wanted in the store, I’d offer my phone number on a slip of paper and suggest we meet at my studio apartment, where I felt confident I could answer their burning question, “Where’s the good stuff?”
I was also running ads in Boston After Dark and, to keep up with the interest I was generating, had allowed my living space to give way to warehousing. I had a path from the door to my bed but the boxes of equipment were obviously the priority as they reached from every square inch of the floor toward the ceiling. Nothing gathered dust and inventory turned over.
Based on this early success, I decided to pursue fame and fortune instead of graduate school. I chose my father’s apartment building on a main drag in Buffalo, NY as my flagship (and only) location, which featured a perfect storefront. I even picked out the name, thinking I was cleverly playing off the vibe of the 60s: Transcendental Audio.
That’s where I hit my first logistical hurdle. I’d built up inventory one piece at a time, carrying each box up three flights of stairs after the supplier left the boxes at ground level. Now, getting everything back home to Buffalo on my Honda 305 Dream motorcycle was just not going to happen. I needed that could haul some cargo.
A 1962 VW Panel Van To Move My Stereo Business
Being the legendary rug trader that I fancied myself to be, I swapped a few pieces of audio equipment and the Honda bike for a 1962 VW panel van with close to a million miles on the odometer.
The panel van was painted Dove Blue and had a mere 5 windows. It’s probably best the van didn’t have the 11 or 23 windows that are now so desirable, or I might regret what happened. The interior wasn’t for the faint of heart. Brown shag carpet covered the floor, walls, and ceiling.
A copy of Richard Avedon’s 1967 famous psychedelic portrait of John Lennon had been enlarged to dominate one wall of the van. His trippy eyeglasses were flanked by two customized portholes on either side of the van. Oversized mag wheels supported this design circus and I piled the boxes on top of that carpet, ignoring the odor trapped in its fibers.
The VW Van Didn’t Move For Very Long
I hastily christened the van Lennon and began the trek west. I got as far as the village of Weedsport near Syracuse. The van stopped on the New York Thruway, just stopped. The rain poured over the metal protecting the carpet, my boxes, and me. I figured I was stuck there for the night so I crawled over to the passenger seat and fell asleep.
I got a couple of hours in before two imposing New York State troopers woke me. They were interested in my hippie mobile and that odor and conducted a thorough search. Satisfied that I was hauling only my entrepreneurial dreams, they called for a tow truck that took me to the nearest Mobile station where I found another few hours of sleep in the passenger seat.
This time, two German Shepherds woke me. I stayed in the van until the owner came to feed them and help me get to Buffalo where it would be my turn to wake someone.
I Should Have Called It Lemon
Lennon (or was it Lemon, I don’t recall) died with little dignity a short while after my return to Buffalo. After two mechanics “fixed” what was wrong, the van made it a whole 100 feet before the engine blew up.
I pointed to the floor of the garage where they’d removed and replaced the engine to ask about the assorted parts lying there. “What are those?” “Leftovers,” was the response. I vowed to never purchase a high-mileage vehicle ever again.
Robert P. Minnick is founder and CEO of the Piston Foundation. The cars in his life and the people he calls friends because of those cars inspired him to create a national fundraising platform to preserve car culture. He’d like nothing better than to know future generations can have car experiences as memorable as his own.