Burning Van – 2018 …for the love of VanagonsA peaceful Sunday afternoon, and it is apparent that the hippie culture is still alive and thriving in San Francisco! With well over 100 vans attending Burning Van this year, the Vanagon social held at Ocean Beach on the waters of the San Francisco Bay was a huge success. The weather, while a bit cold, was very nice for mid-January. Vanagon owners shared meals, shared stories, and most importantly, shared their love of Vanagons. I had the opportunity to interview Ben Tan, Burning Van’s founding promoter, while I cruised the scene, laughing with people, taking pictures and learning to fly my drone. I asked the obligatory first question: “Ben, what made you think to start Burning Van?”
“Because there was nothing else to do…”“Ha! Come on, Ben, let’s be serious. What made you start Burning Van?”
“I am serious. There is nothing to do in the winter months that is Volkswagen related. It’s perfect! Let’s go hang-out out at the beach, set up a fire, set up a Volkswagen engine case and party.”“Ok! So then tell me, how long has this been going on?”
“This is our 17th one; so, 16 years ago.”“Holy cow! It’s been that long?”
“We had one year where we had two of them, that’s why I said that this is number 17. Before this we were doing Vanarama, which our 18th year is coming up this year. That used be down at Stern Grove, but it has moved now to south San Francisco, to differentiate it from this event.”“Burning Van has grown, I notice. It seems much larger. To what do you attribute this growth?”
“I think it is the internet craze. Social media gets it out there, and there is a greater interest in these vans. I mean, when I first started doing this, you could buy a cherry Westfalia 2WD for about $2,500 – here; $4,500 for one that was absolutely perfect. Now you can’t touch those for, like, $18-20,000.”“So you were into these vans long before their recent popularity?”
“Well, I got my first Volkswagen in 1973. So a lot longer. I got my first van in ‘75. I’ve had over 200 VW’s.”“So how many Vanagons do you own now? One, two…?”
“I don’t know.”“Oh, really?”
“I have this Syncro here. I have a Westfalia weekender, I have one with a turbo Subaru, I have a Syncro-16 double-cab, a 2WD double-cab…”“Wow! You really have this many?”
“Ya. Ya. I used to have 14 of them. But not anymore. I got remarried. So… I had to get rid of some cars.”“So tell me about your favorite vehicle.”
“Let me think. That is hard to say. It’s probably the Syncro-16 double -cab, which I hardly drive anymore. It’s fairly unique. It’s factory turbo -diesel, dual-locker (front and rear). It was very slow before. It had a 1.6 turbo diesel, called a JX engine and I’ve since changed it to a 1.9 turbo diesel. It’s an AAZ. So now I can at least go 60 mph! They are very competent off-road, but not very good at highway speeds.”“Right. I know. They are like tanks off road though.”
“Ya, they’re designed for slow work. I have other vehicle I can drive if I want to drive fast.”“Ha! Well, we really appreciate coming over to Burning Van. It has grown exponentially since a few years ago.”
“Oh, ya. Last year we had about 120 vans here, and probably 200 attendees. There is such a great market for Vanagons. The collector market is increasing, and it is just such a unique vehicle.
Let’s face it. The guy who runs the Mars rover project owns a Vanagon. The guy who is in charge of BMW X3 concept vehicle, he is a Vanagon guy. He doesn’t even own a BMW.
It’s a cult thing. It’s not so much a vehicle, it’s more of a lifestyle.”Come on over next year, and enjoy the fun on the beaches of San Francisco! Everyone expects that this event will grow even bigger next year!