I was traveling recently and ran into a Volkswagen van pickup. In this blog, you can see a picture of it. I was glad I had a camera with me to capture the feeling that came over me. It was just sitting there on the street, but was obviously in working condition. Without it being started, I could hear the muted rumble of the VW engine; see the panels shaking on the car, and it bobbing up and down as it shifted gears. There it sat, in front of a surf store in Waialua, a surf board in the back. Two symbols of freedom and independence come together; it was almost more than I could take.
I learned in my research that this odd looking beauty is rare primarily because of something known as the “Chicken tax.” Apparently, in 1964, in retaliation to the tariffs on imports from France and Germany of U.S. Chicken, President Johnson imposed a 25% tax (almost 10 times the normal tax) to include light trucks- which the VW vans and pickup vans qualified as. Translation: No chicken= no pickup vans; verstehen? Only politics could contrive such an outcome.
By 1971, these rattling beauties all but disappeared. The Chicken tax still remains to this day. So, as I understand it, the rarity of this classic is due to a political war over chicken. The VW vans of old (including the pickup van) are very popular icons of the free-minded. They became commonly known as hippie vans (as least I refer to them often with this endearing term- and I don’t think I made it up)… and these classics are often owned by the young at heart. Shoot, I think I would like to own one. To those of us who find joy in such a union, it’s hard to think that a chicken came between us.
What a waste of chicken. Could we have leveraged something more useless and less endearing, such as French pastries or German potato salad? Leave it to politics to totally screw up a great thing.
When I came back from this trip, I ran into another VW classic at the airport. Chatted with the young man who owned it, and salivated one more time. It was definitely an omen that this blog be written and a respectful tribute to a treasure of our past be written. From Hawaii to Colorado the victory over chicken lives on!!
I want to thank those readers who have devoted time and treasure to find, buy, and restore these VW icons. Sure they are really a piece of junk, but this is the junk that dreams are made of. Now I know why, for most of my life, I hated chicken. What is your memory of the VW Van and Van Pickup? Hmmm, I probably don’t want to know, but I hope this memory conjures up the best of memories.