Air heads unite for a 1,700-mile cruise

For the past 19 years, groups of intrepid air-cooled Volkswagen owners have set out on a 1,700-mile journey along the Pacific Coast, driving south from Washington State to the U.S.-Mexico border. Since its inception, this “Treffen Cruise” has been organized by Airhead Parts—a Ventura, Calif.-based distributer and manufacturer of components for air-cooled Volkswagen models. Volkswagen of America decided to get in on the fun this year, joining the California leg of the trip with two rear-engined cars from the company’s history—a 1967 21-window Bus and a 1974 Type 3 Squareback. In a year when Volkswagen is introducing new offerings to its SUV lineup in the American market, these older cars serve as a bold reminder of VW’s multi-passenger vehicle history on this side of the Atlantic. One of those new models was also along for the ride. Volkswagen of America provided the Treffen Cruise with an all-new 2018 VW Atlas as a support vehicle. Piloted by enthusiast mechanic Bob Ellis, and stocked with tools and spare parts, the car followed behind the parade of Treffeners to provide roadside assistance for anyone who would require mechanical help along the way. With two of the Volkswagen of America historic fleet on their way to the West Coast, two members of the Volkswagen Experiential Marketing department had to travel cross-country to serve as drivers on the special, ten-day trip. Sean Maynard and I were the lucky ones who somehow convinced our bosses to let us go, promising photos in return for the once-in-a-lifetime voyage. After picking up our cars in San Francisco, we had about 200 miles to get used to old gearboxes and no air conditioning as we drove north to meet the group in Garberville for our first day on the trip. The next morning, we were greeted by a group of over 30 cars lining Garberville’s main drag, waiting to begin the day’s journey. After a quick team meeting conducted from Airhead Part’s “Big Blue” Bay Window Bus, we set out through the Redwoods with a host of Bus, Beetle, and Karmann Ghia models. Road work ahead provided our first stop of the day, as our troop waited for road workers to allow traffic to head south down the one-lane road. Emerging from twisting roads through the trees, we came upon the first of many beautiful vistas for the trip—a gorgeous overlook of the Pacific Ocean and a popular stopping point for Treffen Cruises past. After stopping for lunch, we continued to drive down the coast. Roads carved ribbons into cliffs high above the ocean below. The line of colorful cars snaking behind in the rearview mirror was a sight to behold. Fog gave way to sun, contributing to the stunning view, but then the first hiccup of the trip arrived. Accelerating out of a corner, the Type 3 I was driving began to sputter and lost power. I pulled it to a safe stop on the side of the road and attempted to refire with no result. Something was wrong that my limited mechanical abilities were unable to fix or diagnose, so I sat on the roadside (with a beautiful view and no cell service) waiting for help to arrive. Soon enough, Bob came to the rescue in our support Atlas. Some mechanical magic and a few short minutes later, he’d diagnosed the problem as a fuel pump failure, something we couldn’t fix in the field without a spare. A tow truck was called and we arranged for the Type 3 to be brought to Santa Rosa where we were staying that night. Before long, we arrived at dinner with the rest of the group, a little late because of our delay, but still able to order before everyone else’s food arrived. While I was disappointed to have to give up driving the Type 3 for the time being, its fuel pump failure was a bit of a blessing in disguise. With one fewer car to drive, I was now allowed the opportunity to ride on the next legs of the trip south, meeting other Treffeners who had far more experience with this trip, and old Volkswagen vehicles than I did. First, I started off as a passenger in our 21 window, driving through wine country before we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco. Our stop for lunch, turned into quite the spectacle, with local VW owners and enthusiasts joining the travelling caravan for a few hours. Local news stations turned up and found many Treffeners eager to share their love of Volkswagen and driving in these special cars. Our lunch stop was easily one-upped by the reception we received in Pacific Grove. The town shut down several blocks for Volkswagen parking, and we were greeted like heroes in a parade as we drove through the streets. Already, after just our first day of the trip, we were starting to get a sense of just what these cars, and journeying in them means for the enthusiasts who love them. Honks from other cars on the road were common—not because we were in the way or doing anything wrong—other drivers just wanted to say “hello” and their appreciation for a group of familiar, yet rarely-seen cars. Each stoplight was the occasion for a short conversation through open car windows. It turns out that almost everyone has a story about an old Volkswagen Bus, Beetle, or other, similarly vintaged car. After our stay in the Pacific Grove/Monterrey area, the next morning was a special one as our caravan took to the sands of Pismo Beach before starting the day’s travel in earnest. It’s not often that you get to see so many Bus, Beetle, and other air-cooled cars in one place, but the sight of such a fine array in front of the ocean is truly one to behold, even with the hazy, Northern California morning mist is in full effect. By now, we were starting to get to know some of our traveling companions better, and I spent time riding in other Treffeners’ cars, getting to know more about their passion for air-cooled Volkswagen models. From Pismo Beach, I was the passenger of Tom Summers, a veteran Treffen cruiser who was making the journey this year in his ’62 Transporter that he converted into a camper. Tom currently lives in Imperial Beach, Calif.,—the south-westernmost locale in the continental United States—but he is seldom home, living a life of travel throughout North and South America. Tom’s Bus represents the freedom of movement and joy of new experiences he cherishes in his itinerant lifestyle. It’s clear that the 70-year-old’s Volkswagen serves as more than just a way for Tom to get from Point A to Point B, however. The car is as much a part of the trip as the destinations. By forcing him to take slower, less-traveled roads on occasion, Tom’s Bus allows him to see the places highways don’t usually pass, to connect with his journey in a way that’s not possible from the seat of an airplane. Those connections extend beyond the road and stops along the way. Tom has found a community of friends and likeminded travelers through his Volkswagen voyages. In fact, Tom had a special passenger along for the ride on this Treffen Cruise—a Cocker Spaniel mix named Alaska he was babysitting for friends from the VW community. When Alaska’s owners were about to travel overseas, they asked Tom if he would look over the gentle Spaniel while they were away. He was happy to do so, but worried that his plans to complete the Treffen would discourage them from leaving the dog in his care. His plans were no deterrent. It turns out that roadtripping was actually the perfect pastime for Alaska while her owners were abroad. Since a puppy, Alaska has grown up in a roaming Volkswagen Bus, meeting friendly new people and scents along the way. The Treffen Cruise would be much more welcome to her than dozing at home all day. More great stops for our roving caravan included the famous Saint Louis Obispo Farmers Market, and an incredible street festival of all things VW in Ventura—the home of Airhead Parts. In Ventura, we also picked up the now-repaired Type 3, allowing me to drive the final two days of the trip to the border. There was a larger crowd of cars than usual in the diner parking lot on the morning of our final day of Treffen. Lots of local Volkswagen owners had come to join the group for our last short trip south. When we reached the border, there were more than 50 cars with us—locals parked alongside the hardcore enthusiasts who had driven all the way from the Canadian border. After our stop at the end of the road, we turned around and headed north a few miles to join the San Diego Aircooled club’s annual picnic where even more cars were gathered. Greeted once again like heroes, we shared food and conversation with other Volkswagen lovers, many of whom are from or have deep personal connections to Mexico, proving that love for these cars transcends borders. The beautiful day and great company were perfect accompaniments to our journey’s end. Through our ten days on the road, we’d seen some beautiful places and cars, and met a host of new friends from around the country. As one of the Treffen organizers was fond of saying, “It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re behind the wheel of an old VW.” It’s true. With faces sore from smiling and arms tired from waving to passersby, we headed home, eager to return for more Treffen adventures in the years to come.

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How Volkswagen Chattanooga changes kids’ lives through mechatronics

Imagine: programming a robot, using a 3D printer to create a fidget toy or dissembling then reassembling a Passat’s engine. Thanks to Volkswagen Chattanooga, in collaboration with a local university, Chattanooga-area high school students have the chance to experience all of these activities while attending summer camp – for free. The annual Volkswagen Summer Camp, now in its third year, serves as a precursor to the company’s Automation Mechatronics Program (AMP), a VW Academy-run dual program that combines a vocational education with hands-on skills training. The camp not only gives students the chance to experience real-life work in mechatronics and automation, but educates them about Volkswagen’s other program offerings for after high school. This year, VW Chattanooga was able to host a full-capacity camp of 115 kids. “If you ask a high school student what they want to be when they grow up, and they say they want to work with robots, they don’t necessarily know what that means,” says Albert Graser, Technical Training Supervisor at Volkswagen Chattanooga, and Volkswagen Summer Camp director. “With this program, interested students have the chance to come in and get exposure to and hands-on experience with a robot and they can really decide if that is what they want to do as a profession.” Since 2015, the week-long camp has doubled in size. Campers spent 70 percent of their time gaining hands-on experience in one of seven different skill-training courses: basic robotics, 3D printing, basic electronics, robotic pneumatics, explore a Passat and AutoCAD. Classes are taught by members of the Volkswagen Academy, professors from a local community college and staff at a robotics company. Through this opportunity, the Volkswagen Academy team is proud to share the company’s existing resources and technology that are used every day to not only educate and excite high schoolers about basic robotics and machinery, but also kick start their professional aspirations and allow them to grow as individuals and learn real-life skills. “On the last day, during the awards ceremony, one of students was ready to cry,” remarks Graser. “We see a lot of bonding over the week and the campers are learning about more than just the material. They are learning about teamwork and how to follow directions, in addition to experiencing the Volkswagen culture firsthand. We watch students grow and learn together and form bonds – three students went to the same high school and didn’t know each other before the camp and left as good friends.” In just a week, not only do students gain unique technical skills, but the camp facilitators see noticeable improvements in camaraderie and excitement for the future. Hopefully, the Volkswagen Academy sees some familiar faces back for the AMP program training to be the next generation of mechatronics professionals.  

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Double 1-2 Finishes in Seattle all but Lock Up Driver’s Championship for Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross

Tanner Foust was nearly perfect in Seattle, claiming two victories in the 2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross season’s last doubleheader, almost ensuring a Driver’s Championship victory for one of the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammates at the season finale in Los Angeles. Scott Speed drove two competitive and smart races to protect his lead in the championship points, finishing second in both events at Evergreen Speedway behind his teammate. The results bring the team its fifth and sixth 1-2 finishes of the season, continuing its reign as the top team in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series. With the exception of Qualifying, Tanner Foust’s Saturday could not have gone much better in Seattle. The driver of the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Beetle GRC took wins in each round of Heats and the Semifinal before wrapping up a comfortable victory in the first Final of the doubleheader weekend. Sunday was a similar story for Foust, who gained good points in the preliminary rounds, leading to a front-row starting position in the Final. Foust made a brilliant start from the outside and managed to work his way around teammate Speed in the dirt section of the course. From there, he refused to look back, maintaining a small gap to Speed and pulling away from the rest of the field before crossing the finish line to take his second win of the weekend. “Seattle has been a great place for me to race over the years, but this weekend was really special,” said Foust after collecting his second trophy of the weekend. “Taking back-to-back wins like that is just what we needed to do for the championship, and I’m super proud to deliver those trophies for my crew who have worked super hard all year long.” Speed entered the weekend with a sizeable points lead after his own doubleheader sweep in Atlantic City last month.  With a mindset to rack up as many points as possible without taking risks, he achieved his goals, running clean races and coming away with a pair of second-place finishes. “Even though we didn’t win in Seattle, this was still a successful event for the No. 41 Oberto Circle K Beetle GRC crew,” said Speed on Sunday. “We grabbed tons of points, and we’re in a really good position for LA. We’ve always had great luck there, so I think we’re in great shape for the finale.” With his pair of wins, Foust regained a share of the title of winningest driver in GRC history—an accolade that has been traded between the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammates all year. Provisionally, in the championship standings, Speed sits 30 points ahead of his teammate, and 74 points in front of the driver in third place. With only 81 points on offer in Los Angeles, the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross teammates are in a strong position to win another championship crown. Foust and Speed are each seeking their third titles—for Speed, his third consecutive championship and for Foust, his first since 2012. of

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For one family, winning a Volkswagen Atlas was a dream come true

When Patti Shenk signed up her family for the Four Wheel Family Face-Off contest on Disney/ABC’s syndicated daytime talk show “Live with Kelly and Ryan” she didn’t even know what the prize might be. The New Jersey mother of four was just hoping for some quality time and a fun day off from the typical busy routine. But the day was nothing but routine. After besting three other families, the Shenks won a 2018 Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium. So what do they think about their newest family member now that they’ve spent a couple of months behind the wheel? “I love it. It’s like a dream car for us,” says Patti Shenk. “I keep thinking as I’m driving that I’ll have to give it back.” Patti Shenk says the Atlas arrived just in time for a busy summer. The family has put some 3,000 miles on the Platinum Grey Atlas since mid-July, a hefty dose of traveling thanks to competitive swimming commitments and college scouting for their oldest son Connor. Pre-Atlas, the family’s vehicle fleet had included a minivan with 180,000 miles and another well-worn car with 140,000 miles, both busy with two working parents and four children in sports (plus one dog with car privileges.) Neither had the available panoramic sunroof or Fender audio or center-dash touchscreen of the new Atlas – along with room for soccer equipment and swim gear. “We’ve already brought it to Virginia and Connecticut a couple of times,” Patti said. “It’s very spacious. My kids love it; they say it has more room in the seating than our old minivan did.” And while some of Patti’s friends and coworkers know her new SUV as a TV star, the Atlas has drawn a lot of positive attention from other drivers. “Driving it the other day, an older couple stopped me at a light and asked me how I like it,” she said. “I let my husband take it to work and a lot of people asked him about it. There’s a lot of interest in it wherever I go.” Up next for the Shenks: the back-to-school routine, the occasional vacation, and looking forward to years of adventure in their Atlas. “We were blessed to win a car,” Patti says. “I plan on keeping it for years.”

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Inside Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias’ dream VW collection

Everyone has an attachment to their first car, a certain nostalgia that makes them want to relive every memory from those years. For comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias, success has allowed him to turn that passion for the VW Bus into something close to an obsession. Ten years ago, the comedian decided to go back in time and purchase a 1968 Volkswagen Transporter, his first car at age 17. The project of finding and refurbishing the Bus quickly turned Iglesias into a collector. Today, the comedian owns more than 30 Volkswagen Bus models and has even built his own private Volkswagen museum. “Every time I do something, it’s in excess,” says Iglesias “I don’t do drugs, I don’t drink, I really don’t have any bad habits. So, instead I decided to do this. Every time I get a new item for my collection, I feel like a kid with a big new shiny toy. Right now, I just got a 1963 Bus and I’m already in love with it.” The new addition to his collection is one of the 32 Bus models in his private museum, which has been built to resemble the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, with of course, a “Fluffy” original twist. Across the space, there is Volkswagen artwork, three rare VW Beetle models from 1950, 1956 and 1958, and even a set of matching fish tanks made from two halves of a 1967 VW Bus. “Every piece is a VW classic that came from Germany or the United States, with the exception of the fish tanks which are actually built from a 1967 VW Bus from Brazil,” he says. His collection is worth more than $3 million and includes rare finds such as a 15-window 1963 Bus and a 1952 Barndoor Bus. Iglesias calls them his “metal babies,” and works closely with a team of experts to restore his finds and keep them in running order. While he drives most of them on a regular basis, the trips are often brief. “I take a lot of care of my collection. You have to figure each one of these is like driving a luxury car with a really bad alarm system,” he says. “You can pick the locks with a toothpick and start the engine with a screwdriver; when you have something that valuable, you have to take care of it.” And despite its size, the Fluffy bus depot has room to grow. “My museum right now is about eight cars away from being cool,” he says. “You always have that attachment to your first car.”

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It’s official: The VW Bus is back, and it’s electric

Driven by popular demand, Volkswagen announced today it is planning on selling a production version of the award-winning I.D. Buzz concept electric vehicle in 2022 for the United States, Europe and China. “For me, the I.D. Buzz concept is the most beautiful and most exciting electric car in the world,” said Dr. Herbert Diess, Chairman of the Board of Management for the Volkswagen brand, in Pebble Beach, Calif. “Our goal is clear: we want to make the fully electric, fully connected car a bestseller around the world. The iconic car of the electric age must be a Volkswagen.”   The I.D. Buzz is the second EV concept that VW has revealed for production, along with the original I.D. concept slated to enter production around 2019 as a 2020 model, while the I.D. Crozz concept has shown how an electric VW SUV could look. All three use VW’s Modular Electric Drive kit (or MEB, for its German acronym), a group of components and chassis parts engineered to maximize the potential of electric drive and future technology. “These cars will offer everything – and even more – than you have seen from other electric carmakers,” says Diess. “And they will be much more affordable.” Designed to recall the original Type 2 Microbus without mimicking it, the I.D. Buzz concept has won several awards in the months since it was revealed at the Detroit Auto Show. The front V in the bodywork calls back to the two-tone predecessor on the original Bus, but in the I.D. Buzz carries a light strip that surrounds the vehicle and gives it a unique visual signature. The LED headlights have hexagonal segments that act as “eyes” to communicate the vehicle’s status. With near-zero body overhangs and 22-inch wheels, the I.D. Buzz manages to look modern and timeless, one of the hallmarks of Volkswagen brand design. The first VW Bus sold in the United States in 1950 had all of 30 hp. The I.D. Buzz concept sports 369 hp from electric motors on each axle that also provide all wheel drive and the 111 kWh battery pack in the floor of the MEB chassis provide nearly 300 miles of estimated range. Using a VW fast-charge system, the it can recharge about 80 percent of its energy capacity in 30 minutes at 150 kW. But just like the original Microbus, the design and engineering of the I.D. Buzz concept and MEB platform provides ample space for passengers or cargo, with an expansive view of the surroundings. It can seat eight people with ease, and hold up to 162.5 cubic feet of cargo when the seats are folded or removed – the space of a full-size SUV on the footprint of a typical mid-size SUV. There’s even a front trunk, just like the original VW Beetle. The I.D. Buzz concept also offers a preview of the type of autonomous technology that VW will develop for future models – namely its fully automated “I.D. Pilot” mode that could go into production by 2025. From the fold-away steering wheel and pop-up laser scanners in the roof to a heads-up display that integrates augmented reality, the I.D. Buzz does not lack for innovation. “The I.D. Buzz stands for the new Volkswagen,” says Diess. “We are fully committed to the future of mobility, and we want to reignite America’s love for VW.”

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Rabbits, run: The home-brewed magic of the Mk1 Madness Festival

Esher Lutzo organized the first Mk1 Madness Festival 10 years ago because he wanted to gather together owners of first-generation Volkswagen Rabbits, GTIs, Cabriolets and pickups, and maybe swap parts and stories. A few people showed up in the rain for a camp out. This year, more than 300 people came to the campground in Maple Grove, Penn., for the weekend festival, and more than 150 people brought their Mk1s to be entered in the annual auto show. Campers came from around the country – travelling from as far as Alaska, and driving from as far as Minnesota in a 1983 Rabbit GTI. “It’s about the community around these cars,” Lutzo says. “The people that work on Mk1s have so much respect for other Mk1 people, they just do everything right. It’s a family, one big family.” Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect reliability, warranty coverage, & compliance with safety and other standards Lutzo says the Mk1s offer an approachable form of classic-car ownership; a low barrier to entry in both money and time, with the benefit of cars that have aged well over the years. Having a community behind Mk1s is an added bonus for many of these people, who’ve spent years working on their cars and collecting parts. During the festival, owners can enter their Mk1 vehicles into the show and earn trophies for various categories, including Best in Show for Rabbits, Pickup Trucks, Jettas, Cabriolets, Scirocco 1 and Scirocco 2, Farthest Distance Travelled, NOS + (New Old Stock Plus), to name but a few. Anyone who enters a vehicle also has a chance to judge the other vehicles, making the term the “people’s choice” the most accurate description. The trophies are handcrafted and distributed by Lutzo. “We made a goofy trophy last year; it went to guy who brought a car with modifications that were just really silly. A lot of the stuff on the car, like cambered wheels in the back, is stuff that people do, but not everyone really likes. This year, we gave him the ‘NOPE’ trophy because it’s just silly, and he loved it.” The group organizes purely by word of mouth, using Facebook as their main channel of communication. Lutzo coordinates the event entirely on his own – without advertisements, official sponsors or paid partners. While the Mk1 Madness festival is an annual event, the spirit and enthusiasm of the attendees stays strong all year. Owners bring parts to the show and spend the weekend trading tips and stories about working on their cars over the years. The people who come out to this event show more than just enthusiasm for the cars, they show a genuine passion for Mk1s. One Volkswagen Rabbit pickup that had been bought and sold among several members has earned its own social media hashtag. The group donated money to fly its original owner in from the Pacific Northwest to this year’s event, just so he could drive it again. “A guy who races Rabbits in Alaska flew to Ohio and drove in with one of the club members, and attended the event,” Lutzo said. “He was amazed with it and will definitely come back next year.”

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