Radios, Bears & Rust Repairs – 1954 Volkswagen Type 2/24 Deluxe Microbus

Words: Ben Laughton Photos by Dan Du Cros

Assembly of this Type2/24 Deluxe Microbus was completed on 10th October 1954, and she finally rolled out of the Wolfsburg factory on 20th October wearing the usual Sealing Wax Red and Chestnut Brown paint, and destined for delivery to Scania-Vabis, Sweden. Arriving in Sweden on 27th October, businessman Mr B.A. Avelin of Växthusv 46, Västerås, became the proud first owner of newly registered “U22684” shortly afterwards on 10th November. “Arvid” enjoyed the bus for three years before selling it to a local garage on 13th April ’57, from where local radio shop owner Mr E. Holström purchased the bus nine days later, replacing his two-year old Peugeot 203.

E. Holström owned a radio shop, or “RadioHallen”, situated at Smedjeg 2 in the town of Västerås, and specialising in Swedish home-brand Luxor Radio. His new Volkswagen soon became the perfect advertising vehicle, adorned from top to bottom in new paint, logos, and signwriting advertising his shop and its wares. Many panel vans of the day got logo’d or sign written, but it’s rare to find a “top of the range” deluxe being used as a delivery and mobile repair vehicle. Holström obviously had style though, and what better way to advertise your store locally than cruising around in a Barndoor Samba and filling every square inch of your “Service Vagn” with advertising for your store. 

Official records show that Holström owned the bus for 6 years before it finally failed its Swedish MOT in Jan ’63 and was sold to a car dealer who scrapped the bus in March. Interestingly though, it survived intact and the ex-employee of Holström who ended up with the bus tells a different story. Per Blomkvist was an employee at Holström’s RadioHallen store and describes how the owner was a pretty disreputable guy, often “finding” extra problems whilst fixing customers radios and TVs, as well as brewing and selling moonshine on the side, and also having an affair with his neighbour’s wife. This behaviour eventually led to a decline in customers at his store, which in turn led to him buying his new Volkswagen van and placing adverts in the local press in order to seek business from towns and villages further afield.

Per was employed as a delivery man, delivering new items or collecting old ones for repair, but one day whilst en-route to deliver a new radio to a customer in local Hallstahammar, he braked to avoid a lorry skidding in the snow and nothing happened; the pedal went to the floor and he ended up hitting a wall. Per, still owed the last few months pay and now narrowly avoiding injury in the poorly serviced vehicle, had it out with Holström back at the shop and ended up getting some of what he was owed and receiving the bus as part payment. He quit his job the same day and headed home in the Volkswagen, stopping to inform the neighbour about his wife’s extra curricula activity with Holström, and continuing to drive the deluxe for a few months until finally parking it next to the lake near his home, removing all the wheels so it wouldn’t be stolen, and making use of it as a fishing cabin.  

Roll forward to August 2004 and a Swedish Volkswagen collector by the name of Gunnar Olsson had received a tip about an old Barndoor bus parked up on the North shore of Långbjörken, a lake situated between the towns of Skinnskatteberg and Ramnäs in Vastmanland County, Sweden. Along with his friend and fellow enthusiast Bengt Nyberg, they managed to locate the bus but decided that it was too far gone to be rescued; rusted in to the ground and with serious roof damage from falling trees. Instead they salvaged what they thought to be useful; Gunnar took the deluxe dash, and Bengt cut off and took the entire front clip of the bus, along with the deluxe trim and sunroof mechanism. They left the rest of the bus to continue slowly rotting in the woods at the edge of the lake.

A couple of years later another Swedish enthusiast, Stefan Jonsson, headed out in Autumn 2006 to find the remains on a tip-off from a work friend, but was wrongly directed to the tiny hamlet of Hålsbo. Consisting of about a dozen summerhouses, Stefan was lucky enough to find someone home and asked about the bus. Imagine his surprise when the local turned out to be Per himself, ex-employee at RadioHallen and owner of the bus, who explained that they were on the wrong side of the lake, gave some directions, and filled Stefan in on the story of the old Volkswagen! Stefan returned the next weekend to collect the bus, no easy feat since it had spent 40+ years sat on timbers at the lakeside while the trees grew up around it. Packing up his tools at the end of the first day he recalls that the whole area became really quiet and spooky and he had the feeling of being watched and just wanted to get the hell out of there. Returning the following morning with his Stepdad, he met Per who told him that they’d found the head of a moose just a couple of hundred metres from the bus that morning. It had evidently been bitten off by a brown bear who often toss the head of their pray around to fool other animals with the scent before taking the body away for themselves. Whilst working on the bus Stefan had probably been watched by the bear and could well have ended up as prey himself!

Stefan had no interest in the rusty old deluxe but he did know a man who would. A phone call was put in to Musclebus Auto in Dorset, England, and Chris Stoneham, barndoor rescuer extraordinaire, headed out to Sweden in 2007 to buy the bus and drag it home to his workshop. Luckily for me, Chris never started work on the bus. He collected a few parts and even sourced an entire top 2/3 barndoor deluxe clip to use on the project, but it remained untouched in his garage until I managed to pry it from his hands in 2011 when the offer of an early 356 became impossible to resist and he needed to raise some funds. If you regularly read Hayburner then you know what happened to the Barndoor deluxe that had had the chassis removed and was fitted to an old Chris-Craft motor boat back in the day. Meanwhile, the rusty remains of the RadioHallen deluxe sat untouched in my garage for a few years while other buses came and went and I tried to find the parts required to fix it.

Not content with just buying new panels off the shelf, or even donor sections from other barndoor buses, I decided to try and discover what had happened to the front clip and other pieces of “RadioHallen” before tackling any restoration work, and my first stop was some of my friends and contacts in Sweden. In 2012 I managed to find out about Gunnar and Bengt visiting the bus in the forest and, even better than this, discovered that Bengt still had the complete, untouched, front clip along with the trim, sunroof and everything else he had removed from the bus. We agreed a price and I collected all of this from him in September 2013. Gunnar, on the other hand, had sold the dashboard but it is such an integral part of the bus that I didn’t give up and managed to track it to a collector named Christer Rye who was using it to house some of his vintage Telefunken radio collection. Christer didn’t want to sell, but I managed to source another original barndoor deluxe dash which I prepared and painted for him, and in the end, he was very happy to swap and see the original dash going back to the RadioHallen deluxe. He actually apologised when I met him in at his work in Sweden and presented him with the newly painted dashboard. The RadioHallen one was looking tired and old and he felt bad that it hadn’t been painted up nicely like the one I’d brought him. No apology needed Christer. It was perfect!!

Whilst parts were collected, my next problem was to find someone up to the task of fixing the twisted and rusty deluxe since I really wanted to retain as much original metal as possible. It would be a much cheaper and easier restoration just to replace the roof, side panels, doors, etc. and either paint the bus or blend the new panels to suit, but with so much of the project surviving, and with the great period paintjob, logos, and signwriting, I knew that I wanted to repair and save everything that I could. My old welder wasn’t confident that he could reshape all the bent, twisted metal and so my original plan was to persuade my friend Mark Spicer, (of Kohlruss fame), to pick apart and reshape the body panels and get them ready for my old welder to tackle the reassembly. I was in no particular hurry, being neck deep in various other projects and wanting to ensure that I had sufficient funds not only to comfortably build this deluxe exactly how I wanted, but also to ensure that I could afford to keep it afterwards. Building cars is expensive and all too often my pride and joy, the vehicle I’ve toiled over for years, has had to go to raise funds for my next foolish car build. The RadioHallen deluxe was extra special to me though, and I wanted to make sure that it would always have a place in my garage. This delay worked massively in my favour when, after I parted ways with the guy who used to do my welding work, Mark decided to set up his own Volkswagen restoration and parts fabrication business, ( / @type29ltd ), and agreed to take on this special restoration.

And Type29 in Gloucestershire is pretty much where the story of the RadioHallen barndoor deluxe ends for now. I delivered the bus to Mark in early 2018 for the metalwork but was persuaded by my equally enthusiastic friend to let him undertake the complete restoration. This isn’t how I usually build a bus, beetle, Porsche or whatever; I normally get the metalwork done and then drag it back to my shed, or more likely to my friends at Beetle Magic near Dorchester, and we set to with the mechanicals, paint, interior, etc. between us to finish the project. It felt very odd giving up this involvement in the build, but I have seen the quality of work that Mark, Evelyn and their small team of craftsmen produce and feel very privileged that they’ve all worked so hard to finish the bus to such a high standard. Original paint, “patina”, restorations often involve a huge amount more work than a painted car, and Mark has put massive effort into straightening and saving that trashed roof, the dented front clip, rusty side panels, and rear corners that were so squashed they were almost bent back on themselves. In fact, other than the usual centre chassis, floors, and lower 6 inches, almost all the metal you can see is original metal saved by Mark! All mechanics and electrics have been refurbished by the team, (I’m running the original front beam from the bus, but cheating a little with 12v electrics, dual circuit brakes, big nut trans and 1600 engine). Type29 offer a complete suite of restoration services in house so the cloth headlining and cab panels were manufactured by their interior specialist, while original rear door panels were reworked to tidy them before installation over the traditionally soundproofed interior. Original front seat was reupholstered at Type29, but I must to confess to not yet sourcing rear seats; these are temporarily borrowed from other buses along with some interior panels, so if anyone knows of a barndoor middle or rear seat, long side, short side or bulkhead cargo panels, or some original rear lights for sale in any condition then I’d be very grateful to hear from you!Finally completed after two and a half years and collected at the end of July, I’m now just waiting on my UK paperwork and very much looking forward to putting some miles on the old girl, 9 years after I first brought her home and nearly 66 years after she rolled off the Wolfsburg production line!

A project this large often involves a lot of people and I really must give thanks to a bunch of good friends who have helped out enormously with the build. Obviously huge thanks go to Muscles for selling me the deluxe, and Mark, Evelyn and the Type29 team for the superb restoration, but other people that need a mention are Scotty for donating the cargo door panels, Stefan for recounting Per’s recollections of Holström, Bengt and Christer for helping to reunite the missing metal parts and Thomas Landbergsson for the Scania-Vabis information. Last, but definitely not least, I owe massive thanks to my very patient and ever helpful friend Demian Sjöberg for the huge amount of time he put into tracing the history of this bus and E. Holström’s RadioHallen business. Demian dude, you are a proper legend and I owe you big time for everything my friend!