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Behind the story: One writer’s eventual embrace of the red-hot VW Bus

Los Angeles Times staff writer Gustavo Arellano discusses his 1968 Volkswagen Bus and why the collectible vehicle has risen in popularity.

When my future wife told me about a decade ago that I should buy a VW Bus, I laughed.

I had grown up enamored of classic cars: “boats” (long, sleek models like the Impalas and Cadillacs of the 1960s) and “bombs” (gigantic big band-era Chevy Fleetlines and Lincoln Continentals) and late-’70s Ford F-150s and Dodge Rams — the type my dad and uncles drove as they rumbled back to Mexico every winter.

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A VW Bus? I thought it was little better than the Corolla of vintage automobiles: a flimsy thing of little value and annoying ubiquity.

I had seen them my entire life in Orange County in various states of disrepair, almost always with “For Sale” signs. Mechanics I knew said they were headaches to drive and maintain.

But it was my wife’s dream car, and she suggested we drive one. Just to try it out.

We ended up buying three within a year.

They are headaches to own. A simple trip to the grocery store becomes a “Choose Your Own Adventure” in which you try to predict how the Bus will fail you this time.

Once, when I was on the 5 Freeway, the car horn wouldn’t shut up from about the 605 interchange to Anaheim, even after I clipped its wires. Another time, on the 91, the pop top suddenly flew up and nearly flipped me on my side.

But, ah, that VW Bus aura.

Anywhere I park, people of all ages and ethnicities approach with their stories. On the road, drivers and pedestrians alike always point and wave and smile.

All that positivity brightens your day, even as you curse the carburetor for not fully opening up in the morning.

VW buses are not for everyone, so I’m flabbergasted at how pricey and trendy they’ve become. I realized a bubble was happening almost as soon as I sold two of the three I’ve owned. The first one — a beat-up ’74 automatic — got me about $4,000 in 2011; I sold the second Bus — a ’71 sea-green hooptie — for $10,000 just three years later.

I bought them for about $1,000 apiece.

My wife and I still own a ’68 camper top. Nowadays it rests in our driveway, because people tail us to offer cash on the spot — and good bids, too.

It ain’t for sale.

LA Times writer Gustavo Arellano poses for a portrait with his Volkswagen Bus at Dockweiler Beach Park on March 13 in El Segundo, California.
LA Times writer Gustavo Arellano poses for a portrait with his Volkswagen Bus at Dockweiler Beach Park on March 13 in El Segundo, California. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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