1950 Volkswagen Panel Van #7984 - Part 1
Posted on February 07 2023
It all began from that one phone call…
Our story starts with a friend, Ian Harris of VW Kampers Ltd, trading at the Paddle Round the Pier event in Brighton, with his campers on display. A man approached his trade stand claiming to own a 1950 bus, which in itself is some statement, and one that you don’t often hear; first year production buses are very few and far between. Ian listened in disbelief to the guy, but it wasn’t until he returned with a picture of #7984 that he realised the story was true; Ian couldn’t quite believe his eyes, he was looking at 1950 bus and not only that, it was a panel van.
Within minutes, Ian kindly called us as he knew our love for panel vans here at Cool Flo. We just couldn’t believe what he was saying - did it really exist on UK shores? Not only that, the bus was just one hour from the Cool Flo Cave. Wow! We were blown away! At that stage, the bus wasn’t even for sale, however, a phone number was exchanged and point of contact was made. We kept in touch via text over many years, all be it short and sweet… “Are you interested in selling?” “NO!” … Once we knew this bus existed, we couldn’t stop thinking about it - it was something we didn’t want to stop trying for. We'd spoken to a few people on the scene and word was rumbling under the surface about its existence.
Fast forward to December 2017… having kept the text communications rolling, we got the reply “Yes, I’m ready to sell!”. Well, we couldn’t believe it: were we finally going to see our dream panel van, and did we dare to think we’d have the chance to purchase such a vehicle?
Having been given an address, we travelled one hour to a housing estate on the outskirts of Brighton. It wasn't until that garage door opened that we really believed the bus resided in the UK - we were astounded.
As you can imagine, when you’re looking at what is your dream panel van - and one of very few known to exist in the world - you just know you’re going to do whatever it takes to try and take this bus home. Needless to say, we made it happen.
It was late February 2018 and the bus required extensive work to get it back on the road, including major chassis works and a full mechanical overhaul. We had one thing on our minds: 'The European Barndoor Gathering' in Amersfoort in The Netherlands on May 19. This meet was only eighty-eight days away.
There was only one thing for it, so we called in the very experienced cavalry; we needed the expertise of Matt Smith and Bob Pennicook at Smith’s VW and of our good friend Marco de Waal. We threw down the gauntlet of where we would love the bus to be debuted and driving in just eighty-eight days. Was it possible? The guys accepted the challenge, so we hit the road with the ‘50 in tow and headed for Cornwall overnight for the first phase of works at Smith’s VW. The guys got to grips with a lot of the chassis changes and rebuilds, as a lot of the wrong metal had been added to the bus over time (including later bus parts). They worked tirelessly with precision to turn the bus around, knowing the deadlines and also wanting to help the bus roll again at BDG.
After the guys completed phase one in Cornwall, we had to get the bus over to the Netherlands as soon as possible, to our good friend Marco. The clock was ticking – it was 3rd of May and there were only sixteen days to go! Not only were we working towards a BDG deadline, we were also keeping it a secret from the VW world for the debut at what was to be a world record-breaking Barndoor show.
Many people who know of Marco in the scene, will know about his attention to detail. When it came to a sympathetic restoration, keeping as many original parts as possible, he was the only man for the job: we trusted him implicitly.
The full strip-down of all mechanical components proceeded; it was amazing to see so many original parts still on the bus, surviving sixty-nine years on. Marco and the team completely rebuilt each and every component, utilising as many original parts as possible, but fitting them all with new seals, having painted every part to their original specifications. They worked day and night and as the hours ticked by, amazing progress was made. The bus was coming to life step by step, and after being stored in the UK for 12 years, we couldn't wait to see it rolling on the road again.
An amazing feat was achieved by all concerned, and in such a short space of time. We really appreciate everyone who helped us to bring our dream bus to life: we thank you all. There are far too many people to list - from fabrication to sourcing parts - but it couldn't have happened without you all, you know who you are. The restoration continues bit by bit, sourcing era-correct parts from all over the world - a world that has become ‘smaller’ thanks to the internet. Today’s speedy global communication means that tracking down parts has become easier, but we’re amazed by the parts that still exist out there!
Here is the ’50 as debuted at the Barndoor Gathering in Amersfoort, after the first and best drive ever from Marco's shop to the show. We had promised Marco that he would ‘captain’ that maiden voyage, and it was a promise that we kept (after all the time and effort that he had put into the bus, it was the very least that we could offer such a friend). The sound, feeling and experience running through us on that journey is something that we’ll never forget; when you feel how we do about our buses, they’re almost like an extension to the family.
We look forward to debuting our bus in the UK at this year’s VolksWorld Show at Sandown Park. We just can’t wait to get back in the driver’s seat, after all, that’s what it’s all about, right?
To be continued…
With thanks to:
Image by Michiel Nijstad
Eric V Dooren
Gerrit & Ryan at Rage