In Photos: A Gathering of the Grooviest Air-Cooled VWs in California

We visit the 21st annual Vintage Volkswagen Cruise and Car Show.

Eleonor Segurawriter, photographer

In the late 1990s, Andre Toselli of Airhead Parts in Ventura, California kicked off a vintage Volkswagen lunch cruise for VW enthusiasts who drove a Karmann Ghia. The unceremonious jaunt of classic Volkswagen sports cars took place around Ventura and quickly developed into the largest annual gathering of Karmann Ghias in the world. That being so, the Ghia function's popularity spread like a wildfire in the Volkswagen community attracting enthusiasts who owned other vintage VW models. Due to the growing interest, in 2005 the "Karmann Ghia only" rule was amended in order to welcome all classic rear-engine Volkswagen cars to join the convoy.

To celebrate the inclusion of all rear-engine VWs, a 6,500-mile cross country cruise ensued from Los Angeles to Chicago via Route 66, then to Florida and back to the Airhead Parts Headquarters in Ventura. In 2008, the cruising route was extended from the Ventura Pier to the Golden Gate Bridge, which launched the inaugural Highway 1 Treffen.

In German, the word treffen means to meet or gather, a suitable term to define the vintage Volkswagen conclave. Although the cruise didn't officially become known as Highway 1 Treffen until 2008, the previous Karmann Ghia gatherings adapted the official title of the annual road trip. As if the story of the Highway 1 Treffen could not get more intriguing, in 2012 the driving route was updated and now stretched from the Canadian border to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The annual air-cooled Volkswagen trek starts in Port Angeles, Washington and covers a total of 1,700 miles along the West Coast in ten days. Every year, approximately 1,000 drivers participate in this Pacific coastline voyage and there is no fee or registration required. The only requirement is an air-cooled Volkswagen and participants have the option to join the cruise for a day or the entire journey. This event offers the opportunity to camp out and share meals with other vintage Volkswagen enthusiasts. In addition to cruising on Highway 1, the Volkswagen convoy hosts car shows during their stops in Crescent City, Pacifica Grove, Ventura, and Port Hueneme.

Hosted and sponsored by its creator, Andre Toselli, Highway 1 Treffen just celebrated its 21st anniversary last month. As most Automobile readers may already know, I recently attended an all-British car show at Harbor View Park in Oxnard. Coincidently, the final car show of Highway 1 Treffen takes place at the same park. I made another trip to the Channel Islands Harbor to meet some of the brave participants at the Vintage Volkswagen Cruise and Car Show.

The car show featured mostly Beetles and Buses, however, there were Type 3's, Buggies, Karmann Ghias, and Things mixed into the crowd. Tucked away in a corner of Harbor View Park, I came across one of the most bizarre Volkswagens I have ever seen in my life: a 1959 Volkswagen Deluxe 23-Window Bus with an unusually shortened body. This odd-looking VW Bus was painted in a spectacular combination of purple and yellow, which reminded me of something a hardcore Los Angeles Lakers fan would drive.

When I approached the super cute and rare Bus, I circled it like a college student trying to find parking on campus and noticed that others were doing the same. This customized 1959 Volkswagen Bus-a.k.a. Shorty Bus-was cut by four feet around 1971-72 and has custom paint and pinstriping of that era. The VW Bus came into the hands of owner Bill Stellmacher almost 11 years ago (shortly after the passing of his wife.) He purchased the Bus in a dilapidated and non-running condition and the process of getting it back on the road became part of his grief therapy.

"I truly enjoy driving the Shorty Bus around town on daily errands, taking it to car shows, and even to trips from California to Washington. It brings smiles to everyone who sees it. I enjoy talking with the people and especially the kids who all think it is a large Hot Wheels toy. Seeing the smiles it generates is my happiness," said Stellmacher.

Stellmacher spent a year-and-a-half repairing and upgrading his Bus and when rust from 50 years started to show, he decided to do a full restoration. Keeping it in line with the 1960s style of hot-rodding, he added custom features throughout the interior and exterior.

Inside the groovy Bus: Suede interior, shag carpet with period correct color and texture, metallic gel steering wheel, dash controls, shift knob, hand-worked exotic hardwood veneer paneling, and custom-made rear jump seats.

On the Exterior: Pop-up sunroof, Volkswagen Transporter lights with blue jewels, five coats of metallic paint with pearl and clear coat, Safari windows, hand-rolled engine intake air scoops, and powder coated wheels with chromed moon hubcaps.

Accessories Are a Must: 1960s pinstriped and airbrushed surfboard, roof rack, aftermarket stereo system, USB charging ports, Volkswagen logo projector entry-door lights, musical air horn and siren, coat hooks, and barefoot pedals.

Drivetrain Goodies: Freeway Flyer transmission, 1776cc built air-cooled engine, heavy duty race clutch, raked front suspension, twin two-barrel carburetors, and Porsche front disc brakes.

I followed up with Stellmacher after meeting him at the vintage Volkswagen car show and he shared a snapshot of his experience on the 21st Annual Highway 1 Treffen Cruise:

"I just finished taking the Shorty Bus on a round-trip from California to Washington and back down the coast on Highway 1 with other Volkswagens. While in Washington, it was fun taking my grandkids out and about in the Shorty Bus. Their excitement and enthusiasm while riding in it is priceless."

And for those of you who are curious, yes, it can do a wheelie.