What do touring musicians, alpine explorers and beach bums all have in common? You could catch them behind the wheel of the elusive and highly sought-after hippie classic – the Volkswagen 23-window bus.
Known to U.S. buyers as the “Deluxe Microbus with Samba package,” the 23-window bus was originally designed as a vehicle to tour the Swiss Alps, offering up to nine passengers maximum visibility, but was quickly adopted by families, campers and members of the counterculture. The van features a collection of unique windows including eight skylights, two curved rear windows, a retractable skylight, and a coveted split windshield.
Produced between 1951 and 1967, the first-generation Microbus was budget-friendly and built for sightseeing adventures. The four-cylinder engine was placed in the rear, allowing the driver to sit right on the windshield affording unparalleled views of the road.
Over time, the classic silhouette of the Microbus could be spotted at beaches, campgrounds, and music festivals. The bus quickly became synonymous with the counterculture — posing a complete opposite of souped-up muscle cars that were being pumped out of Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s.
The bus was relatively easy to maintain and could carry lots of passengers — factors that were very attractive to the nomadic hippies of the 1960s and 1970s. The Microbus was responsible for shaking up the automotive industry just as America was on the brink of a social revolution.
While the original 23-window bus only came in two colors (Mouse Grey with a Pearl White top or Sealing Wax Red with a Chestnut Brown top), surfers and hippies quickly adapted their paint jobs with custom art, peace signs and lyrics from their favorite bands.
The Microbus has been featured throughout pop culture, from album covers to cartoon feature films. To this day, the bus continues to evoke feelings of nostalgia and free-spiritedness.
Spotting an original 23-window bus on the road is a rare sight — only between 5 and 10 percent of all VW Bus models made had this combination of features – and when they appear on the market in top-notch condition, they can fetch a six-figure sum. In 2017, a 1961 Volkswagen 23-window Deluxe Microbus Samba sold for $291,500, setting a new record for the model.