The Barrow Bus- 1970 Volkswagen Adventure Wagon

Words by Si Medlicott & Photos Dan Du Cros

Many of us know it well; buying a car with a couple of small issues, with the intention of giving it a tickle and driving it. In reality, quite often this isn’t the case with an old VW. Those small brake rebuild’s ending up in a complete disc kit upgrade or a paintwork blemish, ending up in a body off resto. Sound familiar?

Mark Barrow (Baz) knows this all too well. His 1970 Adventure Wagon was initially purchased as a small project, which he planned on getting road legal and then lowering. Two and a half years later – He has, what is potentially the most highly modified, Adventure Wagon ever built.

With an eye for a cool car, Baz knew what he wanted when buying his second bus. Not only did it need “the look” but it also needed space. Driving his young family through muddy fields while on camping trips was as much a necessity as it being slammed and looking good.

Q: Baz, I know you and many others will too, but tell everyone a bit about yourself.

Baz: Always difficult to talk about yourself so I’ll keep it simple. I’m an electrician from Birmingham with a wife and 2 kids

Q: Many previous/other air-cooled cars?

Baz: I’d always wanted a beetle as my first car, but being 6ft 5″ I knew I might be pushing my luck. After trying to drive a friends, I realised it just wasn’t going to happen and the dream was shattered. 13 years later while shopping for a practical campervan/motorhome, Ebay threw a spanner in the works. Two weeks later I was the proud owner of a Slammed savannah beige 1969 Austrian Microbus which I’d say was purchased quite naively. Driving it home for the first time, I assumed the deadly lack of brakes and vague steering were all part of the charm. Despite being a very steep and costly learning curve, this bus kick started my teenage love of all things air-cooled.

I’m also the owner of a DMG Sakbayan which most people will recognise as the VW-based country buggy. This time the lack of a real roof, doors and windows along with the 2” of ground clearance add to my list of highly practical internet impulse buys.

Q: Did you have an interest in cars previous to the air-cooled stuff, any bad-boy Citroen Saxo’s?

Baz: With a beetle out the window my first car was a Mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier estate in a very nice shade of burgundy and blue doors donated by my uncle. Several years later and a number dubious cars I built a highly modified Vauxhall Calibra. This was the start of my love for low vehicles. I also need to mention I was the owner of a genuine Bond car, no Aston Martin but a silver mid 80’s Renault 11 credited as one of the worst cars Bond ever drove.

Q: What made you decide on an Adventure Wagon?

Baz: Basically while looking for ideas for my micro bus on I stumbled across a picture of a slammed delta green adventurewagen that goes by the name of ‘’The Hobo’’. The blend of the high top with a low stance just worked for me. Fast forward 12 months and with my need for a bus with a fiberglass hat growing, I heard a rumour that Graham, who runs Midland early bay, had an adventurewagen on its way over from the US, a few messages later and it was confirmed, however my initial reaction was disappointment as the bus was delta green the same as the bus I had been drooling over for the last year. I was worried that with such a great bus already on the road, was there room for another? Then I saw the pictures, it had a completely different roof, a strange split front bumper and a crazy/bizarre interior, I knew it was the one. Over the next month I sold the micro bus and did a deal with Graham and by late July 2013 the bus was mine.

Q: Where did this particular bus come from?

Baz: I believe it started its life in California but ended up in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Q: Do you know any of the buses history?

Baz: On the hunt for info I contacted the last name on the US log book I wrote a short letter and included a few photos not expecting anything back. 6 weeks later I received a letter from a lady called Connie who explained she had owned the bus for several years, she had fallen in love with it nearly 30 years earlier outside a local grocery store and left her details asking for first dibs if it ever went up for sale. The couple Connie bought it from had purchased the bus new in 1970 in California and used it to travel all over the US 7 months of every year for 35-36 years, so it’s fair to say it’s seen some action in its life. It most likely started its life as a deluxe microbus then its ID Plate says it was converted by Adventure Campers INC in 1973.

Q: What was your original plans for the bus and are they anything like the bus you have now?

Baz: The original plan was mild lowering, spruce up the interior, a set of rims and use it that coming summer. But essentially build a practical camper. So no, nothing like I have now

Q: Does having a young family, alter any decisions you made when building the bus?

Baz: From day one I knew that it had to be as safe and as useable as physically possible. Things like upgraded braking and seat belts where pushed way up the list. One of the biggest things for me was not to paint it, firstly as I love pantina’d buses but secondly I wanted the kids to be able to run riot and enjoy it without the fear of scratching fresh paint and chrome. On the comfort side of things my wife insisted on two things, new upholstery as the original was grim and a fridge for camping.

Q: How did the bus end up with a crazy little man down in Truro?

Baz: With the help of friends I drew up a short list of people to contact, Ben Lewis was the first number I called – For no other reason than it was at the top of the page. At this point I didn’t know a great deal about Ben and the cars he’d previously built, but after our first conversation I knew I wanted him to build my bus and the list went in the bin. He understood what I wanted to do with the bus straight away and didn’t make me feel daft for asking basic questions, which I found reassuring being so new to the VW scene and having some bad experiences with my previous bus.

Q: Evil Ben’s (Ben Lewis) have made a name building some of the most iconic cars in the modern UK VW scene. Knowing how the team could build a complete show car – Was having it painted and immaculate ever an option? Or possibly in the future?

Baz: Not really. I’m mega clumsy and rubbish at polishing so it probably would have ended in disaster. There may be some pin striping/lacing at a later date to help in the lowrider style of the bus but no paint job on the horizon.

Q: Could you tell us about the process of having a car built down at Evil Bens? How was it being so far away from where you live in the Midlands?

Baz: To be honest the distance didn’t really come in to it, with regular updates and work sheets with each invoice detailing every hour worked and a list of all consumables used it was easy. This attention to detail and Ben’s laid back ‘’anything is possible attitude” is what makes Evils Ben’s a great place to be, on the run up to VoWo this year I spent a few weeks on and off in the shop re-fitting the interior and helping out where I could, all the guys there made me feel like part of the team and not just a customer.

Q: The bus has a real “Lowrider” theme to it with the wheels and small touches, was that a deliberate decision?

Baz: 100%, the bus is very American and I wanted to carry that theme on so the early Lowrider scene was the natural place to pick up inspiration from.

Q: There is no short way of doing this, but could you talk us through the modifications?

Baz: At the front end the chassis has been narrowed 4” to allow the 9 1/2” narrowed ball-joint beam to fit. The beam itself is also raised 7”. The shift rod and cable ducting were also modified to suit the beam. It has a factory servo, but it is not beam mounted, resulting in a heavily modified brake pedal.

The front suspension can be raised and lowered at will using Air Ride Technology Shock Waves. There are massive front tubs of course, equally matched by massive tubs at the rear. Due to the tubs the standard fuel filler flap has been moved from the centre of the panel to the rear as per a ‘72 bus. The rear torsion housing is narrowed 5” in total with aftermarket spring plates to suit. Horseshoe plates fitted onto adjustable spring plates get everything lining up straight.

The engine and gearbox are both raised and standard Beetle drive shafts join it all back up together again. The rear chassis is heavily notched to allow for the crazy drop with hand-fabricated airbag mounts getting it back up again. The brakes are standard ’71 5-stud with the stud pattern altered slightly to accommodate the 4 1/4” Astro Supreme wheels. All of the work was carried out to get the wheels on (with horrendous offsets) sitting right.

Q: It’s a big old bus and needs a good motor to push it along. What is the engine spec? I know its fast after you flew past me on the way home from Skeg Vegas this year.

Baz: Stefan Rossi at Air-cooled Engineering built the motor.

The spec is:

  • 2276cc
  • 94x82mm
  • Fully balanced and blueprinted
  • H-Beam rods
  • Magnesium case full flowed & stroker clearanced
  • Lifter bores bronze bushed
  • Fk8 Camshaft
  • CB UltraMag plus Cylinder heads with 42×37.5mm valves
  • 8.7:1 compression
  • 1.4:1 ratio rockers
  • 45 DRLA carbs
  • MSD 6AL ignition with blaster SS coil pack
  • Vintage Speed SuperFlow exhaust

Q: What’s the story with the interior?

Baz: It’s the original interior from when it was converted in ’73 although I’m guessing the previous owners had tinkered with it a bit. I had to remove all of the Formica to get to the fixing screw to get it out of the bus then I replaced any rotten panels and gave the whole thing a good clean, before repeating the job in reverse. The whole process took several weeks, a lot of head scratching and looking back through of photo’s I’d taken pre-strip out. I’m in no rush to do it again ever.

Q: Easy answer I imagine here, but was it worth it? The wait, the money, any stress?

Baz: Definitely. The hardest and most stressful part was the wait as I was desperate to get out and use it. The Money is what it is, I wanted the bus to be the best it could be and I couldn’t do that without Bens help, so it meant a lot off late nights at work earning what was needed to make it happen.

Q: Do you have any further plans for the bus? Or is now just time to use and enjoy it?

Baz: A project like this is never finished. I think I will always be tweaking and changing things slightly but there are no big plans other than to use it and enjoy it.

Q: What shows do you plan on attending in 2016 so people can have a good nose?

Baz: As many as work and family life will let me really, if all goes well I would love to take it Le Bug show in Spa next summer. And some sort of family holiday will be planned shortly.

Q: Any final words? Would you like to thank anyone?

Baz: I have to thank my family first for putting up with me always being at work and not having a bus for the summer, Graham at Midland Early Bay for importing the bus in the first place, Stef at Air-Cooled Engineering for the motor. Big thanks to Austin at Waboo Automotive for sorting the trimming out super quick, and of course Ben Lewis and all the lads down at Evil Ben’s.