“Some long-haired friends of Jesus in a Chartreuse Microbus”

Planning a “staycation” this year? This might just be what you are looking for! Your very own camper-van.

Where did this “Chartreuse microbus” title come from? From C.W. McCall’s song “Convoy” (1975). The song is about a fictitious trucker rebellion that drives from coast to coast across the USA without stopping, protesting against the 55mph speed limit and the tachograph regulations of the time. The song’s conversation, heavily laden with CB terms and trucker slang, is between “Rubber Duck,” “Pig Pen” and “Sodbuster,” while the narration and CB chatter are by Bill Fries (“C W McCall”). By the time the growing convoy of trucks reaches “Chi-town” (Chicago, Illinois), the convoy included “eleven long-haired friends of Jesus (a reference to the then-current Jesus movement subset of Christianity) in a chartreuse microbus” (a Volkswagen Type 2 Camper-van). I built my version, like the accompanying trucks, to 1/10th scale. First shown a few years ago I have recently returned to it to remodel several features and to add drive and steering.

This model is not actually chartreuse – that’s a vivid green about the same shade as the #216 Meccano Cylinder that appeared in a few recent sets. But when I found some second-hand plates that had been painted in green this seemed well worth doing.

The Volkswagen Type 2, known officially, depending on body type, as the Transporter, Kombi and Microbus was a panel van introduced in 1950 by Volkswagen as its second car model, following on from VW’s first model, the Type 1 (Beetle). It appeared in several versions, and I chose the one with the extra high-level windows. Enthusiasts tell me that this is one of the most desirable to collectors!

Like the Beetle, the van has received numerous nicknames worldwide, including the “microbus” and, due to its popularity during the counterculture movement of the 1960s, “Hippie van”.

Every such vehicle I have ever known seemed to have been built and re-be built from multi-coloured and multi-sourced parts which were full of holes and rust. As such it seemed an ideal candidate for some of my oldest Meccano!

“The Jesus movement” was a major Christian element within the hippie counterculture: members of the movement were called Jesus people, or Friends of Jesus, so your “Long-haired friends of Jesus” are Christian hippies, known, among other things, for love, peace and a variety of stickers, which of course feature on our model.

Interestingly, while the trucks have often got the response “Cor!” this little vehicle most often elicits the response “Aaah!” Almost everyone I know either owned a van like this or knew someone who did. People clearly have fond memories of the little van. I do myself – when I was still a long-haired student myself five of us, friends in College, bought something similar and toured round Europe in it. Ours was actually a Bedford Utilabrake: it remains the only vehicle I have ever known which, like so many Meccano models, had a 3-speed and reverse gearbox!

About Philip Webb

Chairman of the International Society of Meccanomen
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