A conversation with: Niels ‘AirMighty’ Timmerman
Posted on February 27 2018
Niels Timmerman was born in Amersfoort in the Netherlands at the start of the Eighties. As a teenager he fell in love with VWs and combined that passion with his skill behind a camera to go on and create the much-loved AirMighty magazine. Not content with the pressure of putting together a world-class mag, Niels is also the driving force behind the globally attended Barndoor Gathering event too. We recently caught up with him to discover more…
When did your love of VW’s all begin, what year?
For me it started back in 1994/1995, I was 15 years old and my dad’s uncle took me to Budel ‘95 winch was the biggest air-cooled VW event in the Netherlands. He restored VWs and when I saw a freshly finished car in his garage at the age of 14 I was hooked. My first ever VW was a Bug, green and all stock. It was a very good daily car for two years. But I sold it to buy my 1960 ragtop. A rat-looker lowered on EMPI Sprints which I still own today.
When did you first come up with the AirMighty idea?
My dad’s uncle got me 200% addicted and I started collecting VW stuff. I was already taking pictures back then, but more artistic angles and playing with black-and-white etc. I started a little website in 1998 which in 2000 got the name AirMighty.com and grew out to what it is now. The magazine started in 2010. I’m a graphic designer by trade. A passion for photography and air-cooled VWs simply sums up the idea and dream I had. I hoped there was space in the market for this, had to give it a try. I started the project in September 2009 and a long story short in Jan 2010 the first magazine (issue #00) came out and grew quickly to what it is today.
Remember, when I first started there was no social media, I scanned all my pictures in, uploaded them on the website as fast as possible when getting home (sometimes in the middle of the night) and shared them in forums globally. Fun times but looking how fast uploading and sharing goes nowadays it already was a completely different world. But it was definitely the start of AirMighty, sharing new stuff and pictures online as fast and complete as possible.
Did you have an editorial magazine background in any jobs previous to AirMighty starting? Or was it pure enthusiasm that carried you through to create what it is today?
As mentioned I’m a graphic designer by trade. I already worked on several magazines for another publishing company, so I was familiar with the magazine world. Although publishing, distributing, filling one with advertisers, columns, show and car articles was new to me. But if you set your mind and will to something and put all your energy in it it’s possible.
What’s been your proudest AirMighty achievement to date?
Probably starting and presenting the very first issue #00 back in 2010. But, of course receiving every issue fresh from the printers always gives that special feeling and makes you proud for sure.
Could you name some of your all-time favourite features?
No, not really. Some are fun because you love the car you're shooting, others are great because you end up on a beautiful location. Others are fun because of the people you work with, or the owners of the cars are amazing and great to work with.
How many countries do you currently send the magazine to?
As we work with some bigger distributors that distribute the magazines to their dealers, we don’t know this exactly. But looking at our own database we ship to around 45 - 50 countries globally.
So, do you get to travel to lots of countries to cover AirMighty features?
Many, many countries all over Europe and besides that the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, United-States, Mexico, Japan, Canada… I hope I didn’t forget one, but we like to travel. We hope it will take us to many news countries and places in the future for sure. Sometimes you never know where you will end up and I love that.
The VW culture is a global one. Where would you say it’s at its strongest in the world at the moment?
Of course, I don’t know all exact numbers, but in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands and the US it’s pretty big. There are enthusiasts everywhere but the overall scene in those countries is huge.
What’s your feeling on the world of online digital mags… Do you see AirMighty going this way or is the charm of flicking through a physical magazine like yours something that can never be changed?
Digital magazines are easy, no shipping costs and when traveling you don’t need to add that weight… but it kind of feels the same as visiting a website. In my opinion, readers still love flicking trough a printed magazine, having your car, show or even a small picture printed on paper in your hands and to show to your friends is definitely on another level. It's more special. The quality and collectors value to a printed magazine is way higher and something to be proud of. So, my feeling to digital magazines is good but, in my opinion, it will never replace the printed magazine, but it can add something to it. But kicking back on the sofa with a cup of fresh coffee and reading a printed magazine is still a nice thing to do.
What does the future hold in store for AirMighty?
Our goal is simple. We try to bring the best of the best to our readers. And we want to continue doing that… showing the global VW scene to fellow enthusiasts. We know the magazine isn’t the cheapest around, but we want to bring the readers value for the buck, and I think we do that quite well.
OK. Back to basics. What’s your dream VW?
At this point I would love to own a Barndoor Single-Cab Smoothgate, all stock and old sign writing on it.
What’s your favourite car that you’ve owned?
It’s still my 1960 Ragtop, that’s really MY car, one I will never ever sell. But I do need to give it some TLC and get it back on the road again.
And what does your current collection look like?
Five. Of which four are road worthy. As mentioned my Beetle Ragtop 1960 needs some work. The others include a Beetle 1950, Barndoor 11 window 1953, Porsche 912 1966 and my wife’s T2a Westfalia 1968. The rarest is probably the Barndoor Bus as it’s an early one.
Could you share some of your most memorable VW experiences?
I went to Cold Balls in 2017, racing VW on ice is quite something I can tell you. I was stoked when the new Barndoor Gathering record was set in 2014 at our Ben Bon Show in Amersfoort. Driving a Schwimmwagen and actually taking in into the water is an experience I’ll never forget. And my first drive in a Barndoor bus in California back in 2005, loud and noisy, is something I will always remember.
What’s your favourite thing about the globally followed VW culture - the people, cars, lifestyle?
Easy, the people! All the creative and super friendly people. Me and my family love it all.
Do you have a favourite VW show?
For me that’s easy. It’s Hessisch Oldendorf. But Le Bug Show and the European Bug-In in Belgium are always good.
What made you decide to set up the VW event Barn Door Gathering?
I’ve always had a big interest in the Pon Dealer History. As Pon comes from Amersfoort, my hometown. Mr Ben Pon Sr. who sketched the VW Bus, the location, me willing to tell the history etc.… it just all came together in this event. That’s why, after drinking some beers and brainstorming about it with Mr Paul Wisk, I decided to take it on and organise it. To be honest, I never ever had the idea it would become as big as it has… it’s crazy. Even now organising the 2nd edition, I’m amazed about the response. I’m not an event organiser by trade. But I do my best. I have lots of experience in visiting them, organising smaller shows and think I know what ‘we’ all are looking for.
How much time goes into preparing the 4-yearly event?
Over one and half years easily. Really, I had no idea when I started it all. But it’s something I start 18 months before the event. There is so much to arrange. Half a year before the show it takes me around 2 days a week next to all the other work to get it organised. And the closer the event date comes, the more time it takes! It’s hectic sometimes, but well worth it when a plan comes together.
Can you name some of your favourite vehicles that have attended BDG, do you have a favourite car or element of the show?
I think the Barndoor Square and record attempt at the show is one of the highlights. Also, the Swimmers in the water on Sunday is a blast, a that sight never gets boring. A favourite car, I don’t know… I like them all. Stock or custom, ratty or shiny they all have a story to tell, especially the oldies. I can’t name one I would want to take home, they all have something special. So, I’ll just stick with my own ’53. It’s a perfect bus for me. ‘Far from perfect, perfect from far’ as they say right? But it’s a car I drive on daily basis during Spring, Summer and beginning of Autumn. That’s what I love.
We know you currently claim the world record at BDG for the most pre-55 buses in one location (at 76 buses). Do you think this record can be broken in 2018?
It would be great if we can get a new record set. I think it’s definitely possible. Many ‘new’ Barndoors came out over the last 4 years. Many people got them roadworthy and are willing to come to the show. So, if all participants from 2014 will be there again and all these ‘new’ ones come too, we could even go over 100! Of course, a lot of that depends on if they make it, if they come, etc. We will see on May 19, 2018. But yes, a new record is definitely a possibility.
What’s your favourite thing about BDG?
It’s fun! But before the show takes place it’s very stressful, trust me. I’m a perfectionist and do all the best I can. The event itself, it’s just great to see everyone is having fun, enjoying themselves and it’s simply amazing to welcome all these nationalities to the show. Last time we had cars from 18 countries and visitors from 28 countries. To be honest, after the show you say to yourself ‘never again’. But then getting back to earth, seeing all positive feedback and reactions gives you the energy to simply start the journey all over again! So, making the effort to run this is gives the participants an experience to enjoy and hopefully never forget.
How many people attended the show back in 2014?
We welcomed 11,000 weekend visitors from those 28 countries. We had around 600 cars on site, with 76 of them being Barndoors. Amazing, simply amazing! We will simply do our best to put all that together once again and make another great BDG weekend on 19-20 May 2018.
We can’t wait. But it won’t be long before another big event takes place. AirMighty will soon be celebrating its 10th year - how will you mark your decade?
Good question. I haven’t even thought about that or looked that “far” ahead. I don’t know yet but I’m always open in organizing events and gatherings. Who knows what the near future will bring?
For those of you who do not have the following sites bookmarked, check them out now…
Ben Pon: www.BenPon.nl
Neils Timmerman Graphic Design: www.NTGV.nl
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