July 14, 2012

One man’s dream bus

Anybody who ever tackled an auto restoration project has to admire what Eric Miner has accomplished with his 1972 Volkswagen bus.

Anybody who ever tackled an auto restoration project has to admire what Eric Miner has accomplished with his 1972 Volkswagen bus.

Starting with no working knowledge of automobiles, he educated himself in virtually all fields of the restoration process and transformed what was a hulk headed for the crusher into a nifty, eye-catching bit of road-going history.

And he did it over the span of nine years while serving as a water/waste water specialist in the Air Force, being deployed repeatedly to hot spots in the Middle East wars.

"I was in Desert Storm when I was 18," says Miner, who recently retired from the Air Force as a Master Sergeant. He bought the VW bus from a fellow airman while stationed in New Mexico.

"I caught wind he was getting ready to send it to the junker … and I said, `Oh no, you’re not,’ " Miner recalled. He paid $700 for the worn-out hulk and limped it home.

"I never saw one of these growing up in New England. I said that the minute I see one, I’m buying it. I just fell in love with it.”

What was the appeal of a VW bus for him?

"Everything is wrong about them -- the engine is in the back, it’s air-cooled, it’s a big, heavy vehicle with a teeny, tiny engine, with little pizza-cutter wheels. It shouldn’t work, but it does. I love every little bit of it," he said.

There was significant body damage and signs of serious neglect everywhere on the vehicle, but no major rust — until Miner began repairing damage to the nose of the bus, just below the windshield wipers.

To his chagrin, he found not one, but two, old beach towels stuffed down under the front sheet metal, covered in body filler. At that point, he knew he had to find a parts car with a good front end on it. Luckily, he located one that had been rolled onto its right side and had the correct front end.

Miner said he bought book after book and studied how to do body repairs, welding and painting.

"I knew nothing about VWs. I had never done anything like this before," he said.

Just at the point that he had the bus pretty well disassembled, he got orders transferring him to McConnell Air Force Base.

"I had three months to get it back together so it could be driven up on a transporter," Miner recalled.

He managed that and continued to work on his bus in his garage in Andover between deployments, later moving to Park City.

"I always kept my bags packed right by the bus. The build took nine years … I was fighting wars in between," he observed.

He figures he tore the Type 4 1700 cc engine down at least four times, adding a dual carb setup, new pistons, a Pertronix ignition and an Empi extractor exhaust system to help boost its stock 78 horsepower output.

"I try to do all the stuff myself," Miner said, adding that he wants to keep his VW true to European specifications wherever possible, right down to the window glass, which bears German markings.

He bought another book to learn how to build his own paint booth inside his garage, where he sprayed the bus a factory-correct Marino Yellow and Ivory.

The interior features fold-down seats that convert into a bed for camping, along with an ice box, a self-contained 20-gallon water system with sink and a fold-out table that can accommodate a camp stove. He found a rare, like-new snap-in screen for the rear of the bus on eBay and plans to add a yellow-and-white "circus tent" to the setup to turn his bus into an authentic VW Campmobile.

"Everybody keeps telling me I’ve got to lower it," Miner said, but he resists that advice, noting, "You never see one of these in stock spec."

So his bus still rolls on the original 14-inch wheels with factory hub caps, although he has gone with a set of 195x75x14 Uniroyal thin-line whitewall radials, for safety’s sake.

The extended, often-delayed project was no cakewalk, Miner admits.

"It was for sale four or five times," he confesses.

Lucky for him and his wife, Kari, and sons Nicholas, 18, and Donovan, 14, no one ever took Miner up on his offer to sell the bus. It will now roll down the highway at a safe 65 mph, and it has been a hit at area car shows, with a vintage set of Samsonite luggage and a Coleman cooler displayed on the wood-slatted aluminum top rack.

"It’s not perfect, but I can say I did it all myself," the proud owner says. It needs new upholstery for the front bucket seats and Miner is still looking for the correct one-year-only 1972 rear bumper.

"I sit at the bus and listen to the stories people tell. Either they had one or their parents had one. The stories are great," he said.

"Little kids look at it when we go by and they point at it and smile. They don’t know what it is, but they like it.”

What’s not to like how this one-man project turned out?

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