This 23 Window VW Bus Is A Perfectly Preserved Time Capsule
Photography by Ted Gushue
Matt Jacobson is a guy who emanates what I would call “luck”. In his career he’s been at the right place at the right time with the right degree of preparation more times than one could count. In life, he’s been lucky in love, lucky in family and lucky in finding passionate friends to share his hobbies with. Typically when I meet people like Matt I’ll find them decked out in the latest and greatest from cutting edge brands: Shiny Louis Vuitton wallets, razor sharp 2016 Rolexes, you name it. Not Matt.
Five minutes with the guy and you get the immediate impression that he’s chosen every single thing in his life because it carries with it great purpose, and a sense of timelessness. In typical Matt fashion, he’d be the last to admit any of this.
We’re going to be profiling a few of his vehicles over the next few weeks, don’t be surprised when they all carry similar patina to this Bus.
Ted Gushue: Tell me the story of your 1963 “23 window” Volkswagen Bus.
Matt Jacobson: Years ago, I got very interested in unrestored cars, and I decided to only buy really great examples of original/unrestored Mercedes-Benz. I started with an early 17,000 original mile ’71 280sl Pagoda, a really low-mile, 20K mile, 280 SEL 6.3, and a pair of 280SE 3.5 cabriolets, also all low mile cars. But, as Mercedes values went bananas it got to the point where I couldn’t really drive them, and they got to be so precious they couldn’t be really be driven by anyone. And I said, “Well, time to sell at what looks like the top of the market—since I don’t really want a car museum, I want to drive them.” So in looking around, I thought there was an opportunity in Volkswagens. I always loved VWs and so I started looking for unrestored VW’s. It began with a with a ’55 oval Bug, an all-numbers-matching, original car, including the original interior, really kind of a time capsule, and then finding a bus, especially a 23-window Deluxe is fiendishly complicated because they either didn’t survive or they’re really over-restored or just well-restored and that’s not my thing. I also have a great ’68 squareback that is restored and a really cool ’64 Type 34 Ghia.
TG: To expand on that a little bit, why are restored objects not your thing?
MJ: Because they’re only original once, right? I like things that are tools and have been used for their original intent; whether it’s old Leica cameras that have battle scars, and old lenses or watches that have never been polished. I mean, those are the things that really speak to me. You can restore cars multiple times and kind of bring them back to this like-new condition, even better than new, but they are really only original once, and finding the bus and convincing the owner to sell was difficult, but ultimately amazing.
TG: When you find something like the bus, how do you pause its graceful decay?
MJ: Again, this whole kind of rat rod/derelict car lifestyle has got a lot of people who are interested in cars, now they are interested in celebrating cars in their natural state. My secret, which is not so much of a secret, is a whole lot of boiled linseed oil on the exterior—which is a really good preservative—especially for cars that have a lot of patina. The bus still has got quite a bit of paint on it so just a good wax on there. You’re always in a constant state of man against nature.
TG: What have you had to do to the bus to keep it in running condition?
MJ: I just had the engine rebuilt, and the great thing about VWs is that mechanically there’s a ton of parts around. It was a really complete car to start with. It came from a guy who was a collector who appreciated it as a time capsule and so he had continued to keep it together and found good, original parts to put on it. It has a set of original safari windows, and while there are plenty of reproduction safari windows available, these are originals, so things like that. Again, I don’t want to do much to it other than keep it the way it is. You and I went down a very steep hill in it today and the brakes weren’t great, so I’m adding disc front brakes which I think is acceptable, that and seat belts are acceptable additions.
TG: What’s the benefit to keeping an original safari window that might not work as well compared with a reproduction that might work smoother?
MJ: Yeah, there was some replating done and kind of the bits were put together. We try to use as many original bits as we could in putting them together and keeping them right, but the reproductions are often made in Asia and aren’t super high quality and the chrome isn’t great and part of the beauty of that bus is that the windows are delaminating and it just has this look. Once you start restoring the car—it just snowballs. You do the chrome, then you have to do the paint, then if don’t do the interior—it looks wonky, so it all has to kind of be of the same era and same condition. It has to holistically work, I guess.
TG: What are the cars that you’re scouting or that you’ve noticed that you want to keep an eye out for in that similar state?
MJ: I’ve got a Squareback, I’ve got the Oval and I’ve got the Bus, and I’ve got a ’51 Chevy pickup that’s covered in surface rust, no real body rot. I think, in terms of Volkswagens, if I could find a great Notchback, I’d love that. I also have a ’64 type 34 Ghia, which is called a “Razor”. It’s a Ghia coupé that was never imported to America, it’s a beautiful, really sculptural car.
Listen, I mean, again, I don’t want to have a giant car collection and we kind of live with this “one in, one out” rule with everything from T-Shirts to watches to cars. When I started with the VWs I wasn’t going to start buying until I knew I could sell some of the Mercedes so, we’re not trying to amass a big collection here, just enough that we can keep parked in the garages—which, in a beach town means limited parking. I want cars I can drive, that aren’t big statements. And, I don’t want too much of anything at this point in my life. Less is kinda more.
TG: Sure. Is there anything else about the cars or any personal history you have with that specific type of bus? Did you father have one, for instance?
MJ: No, we never had Volkswagens but growing up as a kid here in Manhattan Beach, when I was in high school, the Squareback was the surf car of choice. I mean, that was just the perfect size. That was the dream car, a car that you could do anything in. It was a wagon with a fold down seat that was small, it was a two door and you could sleep in it with your board and that would’ve worked. It was a romantic kind of vision for that. Buses were always for the real cool kids, not even the kids really, their parents had the buses. There was one really cute girl in high school who drove a bay window bus. Typical blonde beach babe—I remember thinking that the whole thing was the platonic ideal—the girl/car combo. There’s something very simple and romantic, and there’s something that’s very zen about driving an original air-cooled VW, because they’re just so simple. I never listen to the radio in the cars, I just love the sound of those little 4 cylinders winding up.
TG: What do your kids think of you driving one of these old VWs?
MJ: I think they’ve gotten an appreciation for vintage cars. Maybe they find the romance in it that I do, but I think people don’t find it romantic when you turn the key and things don’t work, you know? As an enthusiast since I was a teenager, that’s just part of the hobby. That’s what makes it great.
If you’re keen to see what else Matt has up his sleeve, hop over to his blog www.GrownManStyle.com when you get a chance.