The incredible off-road resurrection of a legendary Volkswagen stash

It was rumored for years: Some grizzled, old desert rat had a stash of rare Volkswagen Microbuses stacked up in a warehouse in Moab, Utah. Retired off-road tour vans mothballed after 30 hard years with the first motorized tour company in the southeast part of the state. All split-window sunroof deluxe models, precious as the dinosaur bones, that the old man dug from the cracked red dirt. No, they aren’t for sale, and no, he won’t let you see them.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/08/23/incredible-off-road-resurrection-of-legendary-volkswagen
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In 1995 I drove around the western half of Costa Rica in a rented Suzuki Samurai. It was still pretty undeveloped back then, and we navigated some roads that doubled as rivers or beaches. Just when I’d be considering locking the hubs and selecting 4-low, we’d come across a Brazilian or Mexican made T2c trundling along the same path at a burrow’s pace.

I have felt it an honor to be part of these renewed Ottinger camp outs and overland tours. It was fun stopping by and seeing the progress Jason Smurthwaite made getting the second bus on the road. Lin and Sonny Ottinger have been amazing hosts and make us all feel like family. I look forward to the next year the moment I leave town to head back to Salt Lake after the trip. And what Adam says is true…the merits of the VW community get us to do some crazy things in our buses, vanagons, and bugs that we would never try alone. Thanks for a well written and well photographed piece about an event and group close to my heart.

National treasures of this authenticity are a little tough to come by these days. Thank you for the great scribe as well.

What a beautiful story. I remember reading about Lin last year in hot VW’s. So glad that a couple of those buses are back on the road.
In the late 70’s my girlfriend and I worked for the forest service in Island Park Idaho. We drove her 69 Bus up to the top of a divide between Idaho and Montana. I had shocks on the rear that had coils over them for better clearance and snow tires on the rear. It was steep with some good sized rocks on the trail. We crested the last rise and got to the top where there was an assortment of 4X4 lifted pickups and Jeeps. I think they dropped their beers when this bus with 2 hippies made it to the top. They were a nice bunch of folks and really checked the bus out.

Who’s more crazy, the guy that offered $100,000 each or the owner that turned him down? Regardless of what the offer actually was, it makes an entertaining story.

Living in the California high desert back in the '90’s, we had a '71 Westfalia camper in basically stock and very nice condition. We were spending most weekends camping in the Sierra Nevada and San Bernadino mountains and encountered many of those dusty, broken-rock fire roads leading to parts unknown… and never once backed down. One trip up to Black Mountain, (in the San Jacinto) we saw a sign that said “Camping- 6 miles”. I thought, “Hey, we’ll be there in 20 minutes or so”. Two and a half hours later, after crawling around potholes big enough to swallow the bus and praying through rock-strewn blind curves, we reached the top… much to the surprise of an entire Ford Bronco club with their 30" wheels and 350 hp motors! Needless to say, the bus garnered some well-earned respect that day. For whatever anyone thinks of these beasts, ownership is still a wonderful experience.

Great storey . I learned to drive in a '60 VW bug when I was 12. Then I got into buggies & over the years I probably owned 80 VW’s including many vans & bugs & 3 Karman Ghias. I even turned an oval window into a Baja bug back in the early 70’s. Those years were the funnest I ever had. VW’s for ever!!!(air-cooled of course).

Never had a VW bus, but my brother-in-law had an old beetle we used to take mudding, just enough power to keep plowing along, not enough to spin the tires and get stuck. When the mud got to deep she skidded along on her belly pan, front tires became rudders. We went places the 4 wheel drives couldn’t think of going. Those old busses must have given some priceless memories.

Does anyone know what happened to Tom Toms VW Museum in Moab? Visited in the late ‘90’s and saw a pretty extensive collection, I’ve always wondered what became of it.

I recall seeing these at the tour HQ in Moab, back in June 1988. Cool to know they are still around, and some are back on the “road”!

There’s a reason the VW was made into a war-time scout car in WWII. The Bus is just a stretched and strengthened version for the most part. Not much more power though!

@Cjgrimes Tom Tom’s is still there but all the good stuff, i.e. split-window Buses and other pre-68 cars, was sold off.

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I sold my 1960 VW van in 1971 and haven’t missed it a day. To each his own.

Glad it’s still there anyway, thanks!

Great photos, great story, particularly great ending.

HOPEFULLY the world is waking up and the days of mega-dollar museum pieces are winding down and people will start DRIVING their cool old cars! What a great story!!!
I’ve said it time and again "My restified '71 Road Runner sat still in the garage for a bunch of years while the beat-to-hell-but-mechanically-rock-solid Bluesmobile was my daily driver for over 13 years, the car that helped get my Blues Brothers tribute band going, and that loads of people stood on, sat in, laid on, sat on it… Drove it in the rain, sun, snow, to events & shows. The only time that car saw a trailer was when we were towing it in a parade and singing in the bed of the truck, or if we were doing an event more than an hour away from home, so that we’d be reliable (just in case!).

I bought my 1968 Tin Top camper at Tom Toms in Moab. I still have it and am about done with it’s restoration.