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As production of VW buses nears the end, one Suncoast man keeping them on the road

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Posted: Friday, November 1, 2013 9:09 pm

SARASOTA, Fla. - It's the end of an era. In December, the last VW van will roll off the assembly line in Brazil, and the distinctive bus will no longer be manufactured anywhere in the world. But never fear, you'll still be seeing them on Suncoast roads.

Volkswagen has produced more than 10 million VW vans world-wide since they were introduced 63 years ago in Germany. Brazil is the last place in the world still making them, but that ends December 31st.

"Updated rules and regulations, mandatory anti-lock brakes and such are causing them to stop production," says Francis Hetherington at Sunshine Auto Garage.

The vans are a part of our pop culture. They rose to fame with the Beatles back in the 60's and were the ride of choice for hippies and surfers. Even Steve Jobs owned one in the 70's and sold it to buy a circuit board to build his first computer.

You'd think the end of production would worry Hetherington, whose whole business is repairing Volkswagens, but not at all. He only repairs those made before 1992 anyway. "Anything in a vintage Volkswagen, we can repair it, keep it up to date, keep it on the road, and restore it back to original quality."

And he says he's already booked up through next March.

He says it's their simplicity that makes the classic vans so popular. "Low horsepower, air cooled, you could work on it yourself, you can buy your parts online…we can help you if you can't do all the work. It's fun to keep them on the road. You get 24, 25 miles a gallon in an old vehicle and low maintenance."

The so-called buses didn't even have air conditioning until 1983. And Hetherington says their pared-down style is a safety factor. When you drive a VW bus, you've got to pay attention. "People are on their phones, they're texting when they're driving, eating a sandwich…when you get in a Volkswagen, you have to hold on for life, you have to hold on to that wheel, you have to drive with care. You get a speedometer, you get a gas gauge, that's pretty much all you get."

And he says even when the vans are no longer manufactured, parts will still be easy to find. He often sees vans with 200,000 to 300,000 miles on them, still going strong.

He says the old buses are more than just a ride, they can be a life changer. "I got in an old camper -- it made me smile, and I stopped being in a hurry. You just drive casually, you enjoy the ride more, you’re not in a hurry…improved the quality of life for me."

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