To see a field of Beetles, Microbuses, Karmann Ghias and Things could make one feel as though he was in the parking lot for a Grateful Dead concert — sometime around 1972.
More than 120 Volkswagens and their owners, aficionados and the curious gathered Saturday at Fairgrounds Park in Hagerstown for Simple Transport 5, a celebration of air-cooled coolness.
“It’s a love affair,” said Jason Kauffman of Waynesboro, Pa., the owner of a 1966 VW camper.
“It’s almost a religion,” said Mike Norris of Baltimore, owner of a 1965 Dormobile. The machines harken back to a simpler time, he said.
Kauffman and Norris sat between their microbuses munching on grilled hot dogs. They and fellow traveler, Dustin Thompson, also of Waynesboro, don’t just show their buses — they drive them pretty hard.
Last year, that included an 8,500-mile circuit of the country in which they joined up with a fourth VW bus owner in Utah, Kauffman said.
“We had our minor breakdowns, but nothing we couldn’t handle on the side of the road,” Norris said.
Norris has had the Dormobile for about five years, and it took about two years to restore. The former owner used it as a storage shed, he said.
Coincidentally, Chad Johnson had the same story for his bus, which he bought 19 years ago.
“It’s still on the road — four engines later, but the same transmission,” Johnson said.
Brother Bob Johnson of Reisterstown, Md., owns a VW Thing and a 1974 Super Beetle.
“That Thing’s awesome,” Bob Johnson said of the vehicle, similar in appearance to the German Kubelwagen scout car of World War II. They don’t build them like that anymore and, with features such as removable doors, it probably would be illegal.
In the 1960s and 1970s, no vehicle on the road was more ubiquitous than the Volkswagen Beetle, and no vehicle was adapted more to the whims of its owners.
“Everyone adds their own personal touch,” said Josh Chronister of Hanover, Pa., owner of a 1979 Westfalia van. “Their charm grows over time.”
From 1938, when the first rolled off an assembly line in Germany, to 2003, when the last came off the line in Mexico, Volkswagen built more than 21.5 million Beetles, officially known as the Type 1.
Unlike some auto shows, some of the cars at Simple Transport 5 look their age, well-worn from decades on the road.
“You’re going to find scratches, you’re going to find dings,” Chronister said. “They’re meant to be driven.”
Owen Lehman of Millersburg, Pa., meant to drive his 1968 Westfalia down, but it broke down in Greencastle, Pa.
“They’re a lot of fun as long as they are running,” Lehman said. He bought a replacement distributor at the show.
While Lehman said “there’s something magic” about these aging and instantly recognizable vehicles, it’s a good idea to have a toolbox along for the ride.