You won’t be allowed to travel in the vehicles featured at the vintage Volkswagen Charlotte Transporter Show, but one look at them and your mind will be on a journey to a simpler time.
The 10th annual all-air-cooled bus event promises a relaxed, family-friendly gathering for classic VW enthusiasts of all kinds and the opportunity to exchange parts and information with other collectors. More than 100 buses and 25 swap-meet vendors are expected at the Hodges Family Farm in Charlotte.
“There’s so much diversity in the kinds of buses and vans that are here,” says Jake Armour, co-organizer of the event. “We have trucks, ambulances, firetrucks, and of course the classic micro buses that most people think of when they think of VW buses, with the sunroof that goes down.
“There’s also the hippie culture that shows up for this event, but I wouldn’t say that’s a focal point. … People assume a VW event is going to be about that, but it isn’t. It’s more about the functionality of the kinds of vehicles, the purist aspect of celebrating the vehicles.”
In fact, Armour says, show organizers used the word “transporter” in the title to prevent people from assuming the event only involves what many would refer to as “hippie vans.”
The show isn’t a competition or selling event, Armour says. “Most people don’t come here with big money in their pockets ready to buy a bus. That’s not to say that buses don’t change hands here, but it’s not a focal point.”
The focal point is the dedication and passion of vintage VW bus enthusiasts. Armour, president of Metrolina Volkswagen Enthusiasts in Charlotte and also heavily involved with Piedmont Transport Owners, says he recently returned from an event in Florida that featured 300-400 vehicles.
“It’s very much alive and well,” he says of the hobby. “There’s a subculture of folks who modify buses – lower them, raise them, get into some pretty crazy modifications. … You’ll see some perfect restorations where every nut and bolt has been replaced and looks like it’s just out of the showroom, and right next to it there’ll be a car that looks like it was literally dragged out of a field yesterday.”
In many specialized hobbies, core membership consists of a select group of diehards without a lot of “new blood.” Charlotte enthusiast Bill Rudie prefers to encourage new VW aficionados.
“Until the last couple years, the event’s been kind of internal,” Rudie says. “We didn’t put a lot of advertising out. Basically it was a show for us. Since I took over the advertising a couple years ago, we’ve sort of expanded and reached out more to include the general public.”
The show’s new location also makes room for growth. This is the second year the event will be held at the 180-acre Hodges Family Farm – one of the last working farms in Charlotte – after opening at a VW dealership in Huntersville 10 years ago.
Armour says most of the show’s vintage-VW owners come from the East Coast, with an occasional one from the Midwest. Wherever they come from, they’re usually most interested in what’s oldest and rarest – in this case, buses from earlier than 1955.
“We have a few pre-’55 buses that are kind of a collector’s item unto themselves,” selling on the open market for $100,000 or more, he says. “They show up at this event; we’ve had as many as seven. Globally there are only about 300 of them.”
Armour explained the extra rarity of pre-’55 models – often featuring “skylight” windows high along the sides, with some of the buses used in Europe as airport shuttles: “In 1955, the vehicles were still just European-based. They were not exporting anything – vehicle, bus, anything.
“Any pre-1955 vehicle that’s here in the States was actually brought here by a private party.”
Rudie says there is no deadline for registering to display a vehicle, that “anybody can come that day to display their bus if they choose to.
“It’s a very informal event, just meant for people to hopefully enjoy some nice weather and get together to share common interests.”
Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at email@example.com.
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