by Paul Williams
Frank Condelli is Almonte, Ontario’s Volkswagen Bus expert, and likely the town’s biggest fan of these unusual vehicles. His main interest is the 1980s Vanagon Westfalia camper, but he likes VW Busses from all decades.
One night Mr. Condelli had a vision. He saw Artfusion, Almonte’s annual Festival of the Arts event, combining with hundreds of VW Busses and their enthusiastic occupants. The Busses would camp on the Almonte Fairgrounds, next to the Mississippi River. Their occupants would run VW Bus activities in conjunction with ArtsFusion events. The local economy would be boosted and everyone would have a fine time.
Made sense to him.
Mr. Condelli convinced Artsfusion organizers, local businesses, the town council and a few hundred VW Bus enthusiasts from eastern Canada and the US that that his idea had merit. The result was last year’s inaugural BusFusion, by all accounts a resounding success. This year, from May 28-June 2, two hundred VW Bus fans again made Almonte their destination.
“My original idea,” explains Mr. Condelli, “was to bring different VW Bus clubs together so that members can meet each other.”
Mr. Condelli noticed that regional VW Bus clubs tend to participate in their own events, but members are enthusiastic and will travel for something different. In fact, it’s the love of travel that distinguishes the VW Bus crowd, points out Mr. Condelli. “The thing is,” he says, “it’s not really a classic-car type of event, even though we’ve got people with Busses dating back to the 1950s. We’ve also got brand-new 2002 Eurovan campers. Many of their drivers use them as regular transport, or at least all through the summer.”
“The appeal of the VW camper van,” continues Mr. Condelli, “is that it’s a car-sized vehicle you can live in. During the week you can drive it to work, for groceries or whatever, like a regular car. But on the weekend you can pack the family in and go camping. It sleeps four with no trouble.”
The VW Bus crowd is a social, family-oriented bunch. Of the 90 Busses that made it to Almonte this year, there were many families and dozens of children. VW Bus drivers ranged in age from 17-85, so all generations participated. “It makes for a really nice mix of people,” said Mr. Condelli.
Representatives from four VW Bus clubs participated in this year’s event, plus others without club affiliations. Each of the four clubs has assigned committee members to develop BusFusion into the future.
This year’s event attracted numerous local sponsors. BusFusion fees contribute to the restoration of the Almonte fairgrounds Agricultural Hall. In the future, other buildings under the auspices of the North Lanark Agricultural Society will be restored with help from BusFusion. This is another of Mr. Condelli’s interests.
An immediate concern for VW Bus owners is that some of the older vehicles are wearing out. There aren’t many people anymore who can do a proper job rebuilding an old VW Bus engine. Some owners are substituting Subaru motors rather than rebuilding the old VW units, but this is expensive and not an ideal solution. “Imagine trying to service a thirty-year old, Subaru-powered, VW Bus,” says Mr. Condelli. The appeal of the vehicles is reflected in their owner’s determination to keep them on the road.
Apart from the need for good parts and service, fuel consumption is another issue. Older Busses achieve about 17 L/100km as it’s a small engine and a heavy vehicle. That’s the irony. A lot of Bus owners are family conscious, environmentally conscious or socially conscious, but there’s no way around the fuel consumption issue, other than a light foot where possible.
Plans are underway for next year’s BusFusion. After a few years Mr. Condelli wants to see 500 VW Busses and 1200 participants trek to Almonte.
For more information and pictures of this year’s event, see busfusion.com.