VW’s Microbus and Its Woodstock Legacy Pave the Way for ID. Buzz

Jackson Wheeler
13 Min Read

Damon Ristau knows Volkswagens. Not only did he direct two documentaries about them—The Bug: Life and Times of the People’s Car (2016) and The Bus (2012), but he’s also had a lifetime personal passion for the VW Microbus, a/k/a Transporter, Type 2, and Kombi. The car’s retro electric successor, the three-row ID. Buzz, is scheduled to go on sale in the US as a 2025 model next summer.

“At 16, I bought a beat-up 1968 Microbus. I was a wanna-be hippie,” Ristau said. “And as a teenager I was able to change the oil and keep up the maintenance. It was a joyful few years. I had it from sophomore to senior year of high school, and used to pack the whole cross-country team into it for runs.”

After high school, to his parents’ horror, Ristau turned down a scholarship to the University of Montana and drove the bus—by now converted to a Westfalia camper—to Mexico and had adventures.

When he got back to Spokane, the bus was promptly totaled by a drunk driver, but the good memories remained. He later bought an abandoned 1974 Westfalia for $80, fixed it up, and subsequently sold it to an eager buyer in France.

Now Ristau owns a 1985 Westfalia camper. “I have four kids, and we’ve had all six of us sleeping in the VW,” he said. “We put a cot over the front seats. These old VW vans drive like no other vehicle, and they can turn on a dime. I think VW has done a good job with the ID. Buzz—it’s a modern car but they’ve kept the nostalgic charm.”

That charm has attracted celebrity collectors. Actor Ewan McGregor, whose parents had a Beetle when he was a kid, owns a 1958 Transporter and two 1967 Volkswagen Westfalia camper vans, among many other examples of the company’s products.

Microbuses Were Rampant at Yasgur’s Farm

He converted a 1954 oval-window Beetle to electric via specialist EV West, and is looking forward to the ID. Buzz he has on order. “Fewer CO2 emissions and a smaller footprint—for the sake of my children and for future generations,” he said. “That’s pretty cool.”

Another major collector is comedian Gabriel Iglesias, a/k/a Fluffy, whose huge assemblage of Microbuses (worth a reported $3 million) includes passenger versions, panel trucks, pickups, and campers.

vw bus and beetle photo at woodstock

The author snapped this photo at Woodstock in 1969. Count all the VWs.

Jim Motavalli

No purist, he’s got buses with Subaru engines and buses converted to electric. He paid $700 for his first 1968 example, and describes his collection as “Disneyland for people who love Volkswagen.”

I never owned a Microbus, though I did have a mechanically similar pale blue ’67 Squareback station wagon that was fairly dependable until rust led to the battery falling through the floor.

Around that same time, at 17, with the Squareback dead and a red 1962 Chevy Nova convertible secured, my twin and I drove to the Woodstock Music Art Fair.

vw bus and chevy nova ii at woodstock

The author’s 1962 Chevy Nova convertible at the Woodstock Music Art Fair, with VWs in the background.

Jim Motavalli

If any proof were needed that Microbuses were rampant on the grounds, take a look at my previously unpublished photo above. Is there two or three buses visible, not to mention a few Beetles?

The Grateful Dead weren’t happy with their set at Woodstock, but their presence in the muddy field among Microbuses is ingrained in the minds of hippies and ex-hippies alike. When Jerry Garcia died, VW ran an ad showing the prow of a Microbus weeping a single tear. Did Jerry ever own a Microbus? Some sources said he owned an orange 1960s example, but it isn’t confirmed. He was definitely into old Volvos, and had both a 122S and 1800ES.

volvo p1800 painted red with three million miles

Volvo P1800 with three million miles.

Jim Motavalli
an early volvo 122s painted light yellow

An iconic Microbus at Woodstock was an 11-window 1963 Type 2 Deluxe called “Light” and painted in vivid cosmic patterns. A famous photo distributed by Associated Press showed a pair of hippies sitting on its roof.

A 1963 Replica Microbus Gets a Special Paint Job

The 1969 artist Dr. Bob Hieronimus was on hand when, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the festival, a replica ’63 (the original had rusted away after doing commune duty) was painted by hand to reproduce the long-gone original.

That car was exhibited at Amelia Island Concours earlier this year, with an ID. Buzz and some working examples of the Transporter.

replica 1963 woodstock light van exhibited at 2023 amelia island concours

This replica ’63 Woodstock Light van, which was exhibited at Amelia Island Concours this year, was painted by hand to reproduce the long-gone original.

Jim Motavalli

“My friend, Bob Grimm commissioned the painting on it so he would have something eye-catching and meaningful in which to drive himself, with his fellow musicians and their gear, to their performances,” Hieronimus said.

“He named it after his band, Light, and it was with friends and fellow bandmates that he drove it up to Woodstock the following year.” As to the painting, he says, “It’s not psychedelic—it’s symbolic.” The van inspired a documentary, The Woodstock Bus.

vw bus and id buzz on display at amelia island

VW ID. Buzz and vintage Microbus at Amelia Island.

Jim Motavalli

Julia Fell, curator of exhibits at the Museum of Bethel Woods, which maintains an extensive Woodstock archive, told Autoweek that of 1500 attendees polled, 75% used personal vehicles to get to the site. Of that number, an amazing 45% “reported using a Volkswagen of any model.”

V-Shaped Windshield for Better Aero

Even further, within that group, “42% specifically described using a VW bus or van.” That means a Microbus was transportation for lots of Woodstockers.

My friends bought Microbuses for $100, shoehorned new engines into them (four bolts led to removal), and drove the wheels off them.

A little history. Ben Pon was an early Dutch Volkswagen dealer in 1947, and an ambitious one. He first tried to start importing Beetles into the US, and when that didn’t initially work out he came up with another idea.

vw rust bus on the road

The “Rust Bus,” with V-formation windshield and a fresh makeover, is headed for Route 66.


After visiting Wolfsburg and seeing the makeshift transporters on the Bug platform that workers were using in the plant, he penned a sketch for a more sophisticated cargo van that could sit on the chassis.

Pon may have been influenced by innovative designs such as the Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion or the Stout Scarab, but, in any case, his design is not far from the realized Microbus. The engine was still in the back, and driver and passenger sat right up front.

VW was under postwar British administration, and the idea was met with enthusiasm. A new ladder-frame chassis was built, and what was known as the Bulli in Germany (a name revived for some ID. Buzz prototypes) went into production at the end of 1949 as a 1950 model.

When initial prototypes did poorly in wind tunnel testing (0.75 Cd!), the decision was made to split the windshield and roofline in a V-formation. Initially, there were two models, the Kombi with two side windows and two rows of removable seats, and the Commercial.

The Microbus and the Deluxe Microbus followed in May 1950 and June 1951 respectively. Soon after that an ambulance entered the fray, and then a pickup in the summer of 1952.

Would You Convert a Microbus to EV Power?

Eventually there was the panel van, the Westfalia camper, and the upscale Samba, with up to 23 windows and an optional fabric sunroof. These are the most valuable Microbus models today, commanding $200,000 or more when restored.

The first-generation Microbus lasted through 1967. The second-generation got more power and retains some charm, though not quite as much.

Michael Bream, proprietor of Santa Monica, California-based EV West, sells EV drivetrains and converts classic cars to battery power—including a lot of those early Volkswagen buses. “I own three of them myself,” Bream told Autoweek. “The bus is a fantastic platform for an EV conversion.”

Bream, who said Ewan McGregor loves driving his electric Beetle, believes the release of the ID. Buzz will actually lead to more people—not less—wanting to convert their old buses to electric power. The advantages of battery power will become evident, he said.

The electric buses don’t just drive locally; last year, enthusiast Jack Smith and some companions took an EV West 1964 battery panel bus with a beat-up and semi-rusty body on a 6000-mile road trip from San Francisco to New York—and back.

The route followed that taken by Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, the first person to drive across the US (in 1903, in a Winton, with Sewell Crocker and a goggle-wearing bulldog named Bud).

vw rust bus ev at old gas station

The “Rust Bus,” converted for all-electric driving, drove from San Francisco to New York—and back.


In Cleveland, Smith’s group met with Dr. Bob Hieronimus at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where the newly painted Woodstock Light bus was being displayed.

And now Smith’s heading out again this week—in the same vehicle, formerly known as the “Rust Bus,” which just had a body makeover. This time the itinerary is Chicago to California, following the old Route 66.

vw rust bus crew meets the woodstock bus at rock and roll hall of fame

VW “Rust Bus” crew gathers beside The Light bus from Woodstock, as repainted by Dr. Bob Hieronimus.


“I have a passion for traveling across America, and I like to see it at a slower pace,” Smith told Autoweek. “I went coast to coast on skateboards four times, and then again on an electric skateboard.” As to the latest Microbus trip, Smith says the pace will still be leisurely—as befits the vehicle. “Maybe 150 to 200 miles a day,” he said.

Smith has an ID. Buzz on order but is not sure when it will arrive. “I heard that I’d get it in 2024,” he said.

Do you think the arrival of the ID. Buzz will inspire more people to convert their VW Microbuses to all-electric? Please comment below.

Headshot of Jim Motavalli

Contributing Editor

Jim Motavalli is an auto writer and author (nine books) who contributes to Autoweek and Barron’s Penta. He has written two books on electric cars, Forward Drive (2000) and High Voltage (2010), and hosts the Plugging In podcast.  

Motavalli’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, CBS Moneywatch, Car Talk at NPR, Forbes, US News and World Report, Sierra Magazine, Audubon, and many more. In his spare time, he reviews books and jazz.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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