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Waynesboro man has an affinity for VW campers

March 19, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Don Kauffman bought a new Volkswagen Beetle in 1972, the year his son, Jason, was born.

"Jason grew up sitting in the back seat of that car. When he was 17 the blue bug became his first car. That's how he got interested in Volkswagens," Kauffman said.

Jason Kauffman said he kept the car for about four years. He developed an affinity for air-cooled Volks-wagens by learning how to keep it running. He's never owned anything but a Volkswagen since, he said.

Today, Jason Kauffman, 31, owns Waynesboro Auto Sales at 127 W. Main St., a used car lot that sells different makes.

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Inside the garage sit two mid-1970s Volkswagen Westfalia campers. Selling used cars pays the bills. The campers are Jason's avocation.

He buys them whenever and wherever he can - sometimes locally, usually on the Internet - from as far away as California and the Southwest. He said a lot of campers he finds on the East Coast are pretty well rusted out. They're good for parts in his restoration projects.

"I try to find them with good interiors," he said. "A camper with a good body is worth more than one with just a good motor."

He restores them and sells them on eBay. He rebuilds about four a year, he said.

He sells them at an average price of from $6,000 to $8,000.

"The most I ever got for one is $9,500," he said.

His is a niche market of people, young and old, with a penchant for the romantic old camper buses.

One of his most recent customers was a college student from Maine. He bought a marigold yellow 1976 camper for $6,800.

"He came here, picked it up and drove it to Florida for spring break then back home to Maine," Jason Kauffman said. "He sent me an e-mail saying he drove it 4,000 miles and is super happy with it."

His most distant buyer was a woman from England who learned of him on the Internet. She bought a 1968 model that he had restored.

"She drove to New Jersey and put it on a ship to get it home," he said.

"Some people look for these campers forever before they find one," he said. "They're looking for a nostalgic ride. I get a lot of e-mails from people who say they've had one before.

"I've had people bid on them on eBay then just send a check without even seeing the vehicle. There's a big following for these campers," he said.

"They were the tour wagon for the band Grateful Dead for a long time," Jason Kauffman said. "Whenever one comes in with a Grateful Dead sticker I take it off. I figure the new owner can put one on if he wants to."

Restoration usually means repairing mechanical parts, removing windows, lights and trim, taking out the interior if needed and replacing what is needed with new parts, including the canvas tent that becomes exposed when the top is pushed up.

Jason Kauffman bought his first VW bus, a 1966 split window model, in 1992.

"I still have it. It's in my garage waiting to be restored," he said.

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