Ludwig

Ludwig is a 1974 Volkswagen Campmobile, which means VW built most of him and another German company, Westfalia, outfitted him to be a camper (kind of like what Winnebago does to Chevys and Fords in this country). He was built at the VW factory in Hanover “Western” Germany on October 24 1973, which fell on a Wednesday that year. We take this to be a good omen, as Wednesday cars are reputed to be of the best construction.

After some research we believe Ludwig was shipped to San Diego (or possibly San Francisco), probably to be sold at a dealership somewhere in the American southwest. We think he must have spent a great deal of his early life in that part of the country because he is not nearly as rusty as are many, or most VWs of his style and vintage. If he had spent many of his early winters plowing through midwest snow and, worse yet, plying salted roads, he would be in much worse shape than he is today.

After fifteen or so years of now-lost adventures, Ludwig ended up in Nebraska. He spent enough time at Ecco Motors in Bellevue to be tagged with a dealer sticker there, which he still has. At some point in the late 80s or early 90s, he became a resident of Norfolk, Nebraska.

In May of 1991, Mitch’s friend McDonald, looking for a VW bus of some sort, discovered that Ludwig was for sale in Norfolk with an asking price of $650.McDonald decided to buy him, so he and Mitch went to complete the purchase. The plan did not go off without a hitch. First, McDonald misunderstood that the price was $650 and had only brought $600. The price was firm, so Mitch extended McDonald the extra capital. Second, the de jure owner was unavailable to sign over the title, so his wife (a notary public, no less) forged his signature there and on the bill of sale. Lastly, as McDonald did not trust Mitch to drive his mother’s car home, he insisted that Mitch would have to helm the newly purchased bus. To his great embarassment, Mitch could not manage to find the gears in proper sequence or with any skill, and had to drive the McDonald mother’s car–a very forgiving late-80s Mitsubishi Colt–back to Stanton. In fact, during the time Ludwig (though he wasn’t known as Ludwig then) was McDonald’s, Mitch didn’t drive him once.

Under McDonald’s ownership Ludwig had a part in many of the expected teenage (mis)adventures. On the several occasions when McDonald was thrown out of the house, being perfectly suited to such service, Ludwig acted as his home-away-from-home. He was the site of not a little partying but save for one cigarette burn on a seat, his interior did not noticeably suffer.

One cold winter day in 1991, years before Mitch and Melissa were to meet, McDonald and Mitch were driving the bus to a trailer court north of Norfolk, Nebraska on Highway 81 to check out a VW Beetle McDonald was thinking about buying. Standing near the highway towered a billboard for the new Bud Dry beer, a picture of a Bud Dry bottle layed on its side with the text “Try Bud Dry” written sideways next to the image. Like a couple of dorks, they both tilted their heads 90 degrees in order to read it. Upon straightening their necks, they noticed that the forward motion of the bus didn’t match the centerline of the vehicle–they were sliding a bit sideways. Mitch helplessly watched McDonald try to compensate, turning the oversized horizontal steering wheel for all it was worth (remember: no power steering!). The bus slid back the other direction, and directly into the lane of oncoming traffic. After slipping back and forth across the lanes a couple more times, the bus turned sideways with the passenger-side leading and slid off the opposite shoulder. As the bus slowed down it felt as though it might just slowly come to a halt, but instead it kind of stopped and fell over at the same time. Mitch looked up to see McDonald clutching the door pull in an attempt to keep from falling on top of him; neither of them were wearing seatbelts. They climbed up out of the bus through the driver’s side door and surveyed the scene. They’d nearly clipped a road sign, not to mention oncoming traffic. Some guy from Minnesota who’d watched the whole event pulled up to see if they were alright. He gave them a ride to McDonald’s Grandpa’s house where they tried to hire a towtruck, a difficult and time-consuming ordeal given that it was early Sunday evening. About three hours of phone calls later, they finally pulled up to the scene of the accident in the towtruck, but the vehicle had vanished. The impressions from the tipped bus were clearly marked in the snow, but the bright orange Volkswagen was nowhere to be seen. McDonald called the Pierce county sheriff (they were about 200 yards within the Pierce county line) and was immediately read the riot act for leaving the scene of an accident. Apparently the local police department, fire deptartment and even an ambulance had arrived at the scene not long after they’d gone for help. Since no people were found at the scene the camper was impounded. McDonald had to wait an entire week before he could get it out of hock. The only evidence of the crime was a fresh crease on the sliding door and some minor scrapes, but otherwise it was fine.

A few months later, now freshman in college, McDonald was driving the bus near 27th and Cornhusker in Lincoln, Nebraska when the engine gave out. The bus was towed over 100 miles to our friend Mark’s farm, and put in a big metal barn to wait. Lacking some combination of money, time, and desire to repair it, the old bus just sat in that barn for over ten years.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, McDonald commented that anyone who put a new engine in the bus could have it, just like that. A few people considered investing their effort into it, but nothing ever came of it. Sometimes, while Mitch helped moved equipment or one of the other cars that sat in the barn nearby, he would glance its way and give it another thought. It always stayed in the back of his head that the bus was there, waiting.

During the weekend of Mark’s wedding in October 2003, Mitch took Melissa out to Mark’s farm to show her where he’d spent so many late nights and weekends, and had so many adventures (especially with old Volkswagens). Since she’d never seen the camper (but had heard plenty of stories), he took her up to the barn to see it, and told her about McDonald’s deal. In spite of all the dust and the almost overpowering stench of mouse urine that permeated it, Mitch could see that Melissa kind of fell in love with it then and there. Before we’d left the farm she made him vow that we could (and would) get that camper.

In short order, Mitch kept his promise, the deal was struck with McDonald (Mitch insisted on paying McDonald for it despite his admonitions) and Mitch began work on Ludwig in March of 2004. Mice had destroyed much of the interior, not by chewing it, but with the sheer volume and pungency of their urine. Mouse-piss had eroded away the canvas poptop, part of the upper bunk mattress, and most of the carpeting. During strip down and cleaning, Mitch threw away no fewer than five mouse carcasses. (The mice had rendered their environment unlivable; there was no evidence that any had actually lived in the bus for a number of years.) Luckily, they had not only left the wiring untouched (mice often chew on car wires), but also had ignored the extremely hard-to-find and expensive seats and seat padding. With help from Mark, McDonald, Groaner, and (eventually) a couple VW mechanics, the bus was fitted with a fresh 1800cc engine (died at ~12,000 miles, April 2010) with a single Weber carb. We also redid the brakes. With much help from Melissa’s parents, we redid the interior; new canvas top, carpeting leftover from a living room renovation, and (with Much Help from Melissa’s Dad) refurbishing the pee-soaked cabinetry.

We loaded Ludwig (he was Ludwig by now) with various odds and ends and two bicycles hanging off his tail and moved to California just days after getting him road-ready in late July 2004. Like dumbasses, we didn’t think twice about driving 1700-plus miles on tires that had been partially or totally flat for more than a decade; they performed admirably, but we lost the front driver’s tire on I-15 just west of Mesquite, Nevada, and the front passenger’s tire–in fast-moving traffic–on the San Bernardino Freeway just north of Los Angeles. (The rear tires never gave any indication of trouble, and remained on the vehicle until winter 2005.)

Ludwig’s Technical Specifications
Engine: Four-cylinder 2000cc (case no. GD035193, from 1977) air-cooled, horizontally opposed engine with Solex 34PDSIT-2 and 34PDSIT-3 carburetors. Distributor is a 021-905-205N (Bosch 0231 181 005), spark plugs are NGK B5ES (Winter), B6ES (Summer). Exhaust is stock.
Transaxle: Four-speed manual
Maximum and cruising speed: 75 mph
Dimensions 14 ft 9 3/8 in long; 6 ft 8 in high; 5 ft 7 11/16 in wide. Wheelbase: 7 ft 10 1/2 in (same as Gertie!). Weight: 3296 lbs unloaded, 4961 lbs at max load (vehicle plus 1665 lbs). Ground clearance: 7 13/16 inches.

M Codes
I think the “M” stands for “manufacturing”. For a long time (and up to present day for all I know) every Type 2 had a plate rivetted to it and this plate is covered with a bunch of letters and numbers. It encoded information about the vehicle’s final configuration so it got the proper equipment as it moved down the assembly line. Some ACVW freaks have gone to great lengths figuring out what information the codes encode. It is kind of interesting. Here are Ludwig’s M Codes, decoded:

42 050 077
227 507
922690 D55 P22 O27
43 3 7685 UF 2319 41

4=1974 model year. 2=bus. 050 077=50,077th built that model year (out of 224,993 total).
227=detachable headrests. 507=vent wings in doors.
9226=”brilliant orange” paint. 90=cloth interior. D55=US specifications. P22=Westfalia interior set up.O27=emissions compliant
43=built in the 43rd week of 1973. 3=built on a Wednesday. 7685=unknown. UF=shipped to San Francisco (though another source says this is San Diego). 231=left-hand drive. 9=Campmobile. 41=50hp engine w/ manual transmission.