Vanagon a go-go

With the approach of spring, motor vehicle enthusiasts are pulling their wheels out of storage and signing up for various shows and cruises. Lonnie Corthell of Tiffin is making plans to show off his 1982 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia camper again this year.

Corthell said he bought the camper from a neighbor in 2006.

“Out on (SR) 100, where I live, it was sitting in a guy’s front yard. This would have been the winter of 2005-06 I noticed it sitting there. Then in July of ’06 he put a for sale sign on it,” Corthell said. “I didn’t know if I wanted it or not, but I stopped and talked to him and took it for a drive. It wouldn’t go over 50 miles an hour, and it had a big hole in the exhaust.”

The neighbor said he had bought the van at an estate sale. Before making the purchase, Corthell did some research. He learned the vehicle came out of a factory in Hanover, Germany, and 1982 was the last year Volkswagen produced them with air-cooled engines. About 13,000 were made that year.

The next day, Corthell went back and made an offer. After a little quibbling, the owner accepted and Corthell took home the Vanagon.

Upon closer inspection, he found a spark plug wire had come off. Once it was re-attached, the van ran as it was intended.

“What I found out was … it was sold at Feller Motors on July 2, 1982. And the salesman was Steve Panuto from town here,” Corthell said. “It still has the original body paint on it, the original interior and the pop-up canvas top is still original.”

The first owner had left a Florida map in the glove box, so Corthell surmised the family had driven there in the van. Someone told Corthell it had been stored in a car port. The odometer read 39,150 miles, and the vehicle still had its original tires.

Corthell said one of the first things he did was replace the tires to make the van safe for the road.

“It has what’s called the ‘camper package’ with a stove, a sink and a refrigerator,” Corthell said. “I really don’t think the people that originally bought it ever used it for anything other than traveling.”

The refrigerator can run on LP gas, a battery or electricity. Corthell said it works fine on electricity. He said the stove looks brand new, but he has not hooked it up to test it. Although the literature says the van can sleep four people, Corthell thinks it would be uncomfortable.

For him, the van is more of a showpiece than an actual camper. That was his main motivation for buying it.

“It’s very unique. You don’t see a lot of them,” Corthell said. “The production numbers started going down. The other thing is, the price started going up.”

Records show in 1954, a deluxe micro-bus sold for $2,500. By 1968, the price for a campmobile was $3,200. In 1979, it was up to $7,600. He has not been able to find the actual selling price of his van.

“They still make them. They have different body styles, but you can buy a 2013,” Corthell said.

Last summer, Corthell took the vehicle to more than 30 car shows. Usually, he does not dress in 1980s garb, but he does have a tie-dyed T-shirt he wears on occasion.

In 2008, Corthell took the van to a big VW show in Pataskala. It was his first year to participate, but he placed second in his class. The first-place winner asked Corthell what kind of paint he used to restore the van. The man was surprised the original exterior finish was still in such good condition.

When Corthell returned to the show in 2009, he composed a description to place in the car, stating its outstanding features. That year, he took first place; he did so again in 2012.

The van is set up with picnic plates, a picnic basket and other accessories. Spectators of all ages have taken an interest in the camper, asking Corthell many questions when they see it.

“At Pataskala, there were probably 15 or 16 Vanagons in the years of that category. Some of them were just Vanagons with seats in them. That show gets between 300 and 400 vehicles,” Corthell said.

Another show he likes to attend in the summer takes place every first Thursday of the month in downtown Pemberville. Corthell said last June, the show had more than 200 vehicles.

He has added more than 3,000 miles driving the van to shows, making its present mileage 42,865.

Because “it’s like a box,” it can be hard to handle on a windy day.

Corthell said he has three other show vehicles in storage. Although he does some of the mechanical work, he has a mechanic to make more elaborate repairs. Knowledgeable people at the shows also give him advice and suggestions.

About two years ago, Corthell took the van to a show in downtown Sandusky. As he sat with the vehicle, a woman asked whether she could take some pictures of it. He did not object.

“My husband is not going to believe this,” she told Corthell. “We were over in Germany back in the ’80s. We had one the same color, same interior, and we drove around Germany camping in it.”