1978 VW Van

With the BMW an utter failure as a work-horse second car, I continued to rack up miles on the Alliance. I decided that the plan to have a second car was a good idea, but it was just that the BMW was a poor implementation.

After I got to Ithaca I began to see a lot of VW campers and vans. The area was a bit of a Mecca for deadheads and hippies. I always maintained my appreciation for the vehicle and often lamented the fact that my first one didn't work out. By this time I had become somewhat of a deadhead myself. I also thought that my frequent trips to my fraternity house would be much more pleasurable if I had a vehicle to sleep in rather than passing out on couches.

What I really wanted was a VW camper with a pop-top, built-in cabinetry, and fold-out bed. When I was lucky enough to find one for sale, however, it always wound up being overpriced. Towards the end of that Winter I found an ordinary van that was reasonably priced and in good condition. I took it for a drive, and although shifting gears was still a tricky combination of voodoo and sheer luck, the engine of the 1978 model had a lot more power than the older one I had previously owned. By this time VW had gone to fuel injection on their little pancake engines, and it made a huge difference.

I talking the seller down from her $1500 asking price to $1250, and the van was mine. At this point I had the VW van, the Alliance convertible, and the BMW all on the road at the same time. The van and the convertible were intended to be concurrently registered automobiles, but I kept the BMW registered and insured as well, albeit begrudgingly, so that it would be immediately available for a test drive if I found someone who was interested in buying it. Still, my family and friends were starting to poke fun at me.

The van wound up being a wonderful vehicle from the start. I loved to drive it, and my goal to minimize the miles on the Alliance was finally realized. It was necessary to push the engine pretty hard to get any reasonable performance out of it, but it was actually possible to keep up with traffic in most situations. And although it didn't have fully independent suspension, it did have torsion bars front and rear and it handled much better than I expected it to. It couldn't compare to the French cars that I had owned (the BMW's handling was nothing to write home about), but it was far better than my parents' full-sized Oldsmobile wagon, for example.

The vehicle came with a removable bench seat

One of the first things I did was to build a wooden platform in the back and place a full-sized mattress on top of it. I tinted all the back windows myself and it turned out surprisingly well. My friends at work soon dubbed the vehicle "The Love Shack" (the B52s' song was popular at the time). Although I never did get laid in it, it did make for comfortable accommodations when I visited my fraternity.

On my way home from one of those trips, someone passed me on the highway beeping and pointing to the back of the van. I pulled off at the next exit to see that I was trailing the muffler behind me. I was almost home, so I just kept going. I took it to one of those bakyard VW repair guys, who was very knowledgable and thorough, but he also took a million years to get a job done. I was going to be moving to a new living situation soon, and had planned to use the van to move all my stuff. This was a luxury hitherto unknown to me, to have a cargo vehicle like this to take care of all my moving needs. Never in a million years did I think it wouldn't be ready in time,

The corner of the full-sized mattress is just visible in this pic, taken on a trip to Guelph Ontario

Here the Love Shack is pictured in its home away from home, under the tree by the river behind my fraternity house

Over that Summer I intended to put the BMW on the market, but truth be told I never lifted a finger to do anything about it.

Although the van served me marvelously for the entire Spring, Summer, and Fall, I knew that Winter would be a problem. The only flaw with the van was that it had no heat. I'm not talking about limited heat, or marginal heat. This van, in the condition it was in, did not provide any heated air flow whatsoever. I intended to drive it anyway, but eventually reality set in and I found myself driving the Alliance much more frequently. When the really bad weather hit I was driving it almost exclusively.

When Spring rolled around I finally bade a fond farewell to the Alliance. With the BMW a waste of space, that left the VW van as my primary transportation. had to admit to myself that my attempts to keep the Alliance below the fateful 60,000 mile mark would go unfulfilled. The odometer was getting into the upper 50,000's, and little things were starting to go wrong. Although I would have loved to hang onto it, I knew that I could get a lot more money for it if I sold it before big things started going wrong. I put it on the market that Spring, and much to my surprise it sold very quickly. I got $2500 for it.

With the Alliance out of the way, I could finally get serious about ditching the 2002. The problem was that I was having difficulty getting it into sufficient condition to sell. It had nothing major wrong with it, but the little things that were wrong were the kinds of things that would reduce the price or scare off potential buyers. As quickly as I would fix one thing something else would go wrong. The Summer came and went and I never got it to the point where I felt I could put it up for sale. By this time I was no longer living in the apartment with the garage. A friend of mine, however, had just moved into a house that had an excess of garage space. He graciously allowed me to store it in his garage.

At this point I was facing another Winter, but without the Alliance in my possession any longer I knew that I would be forced to drive the van in even the worst of weather. By this time I had the heating system fixed to the point that there was at least a modicum of lukewarm air flowing to the windshield. This would help keep the glass clear, but didn't do anything to raise the ambient temperature of the driving compartment. I generally dressed in ski clothes whenever I went on any long-distance trips, and although it was uncomfortable I managed to survive.

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