- My mom bought a 1976 VW bus off of eBay for $2500 a decade ago Now, similar cars sell for 10X that.
- The van’s “cult following” has led some to buy vintage buses for as much as $150,000.
- VW says #vanlife and a desire for “gentler times” reinvigorated the bus as a counterculture symbol.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Over a decade ago, my mom bid $2,500 on a beige 1976 Volkswagen transporter bus listed on eBay.
It was her first time using the website and she had no idea what she was doing. But the next day, she received an email that the van was all hers.
Soon, “Jenny the Jam Van” would be shipped from Ohio to our small coastal suburb in Connecticut.
“I always wanted a VW bus, I don’t know why,” she told me. “When I drive it people wave to me and smile … one time, even a four-year-old flashed me a peace sign. How would he know what a VW bus meant?”
The seemingly universal love for Volkswagen vans didn’t happen right away – the cars were first introduced in the 1950s to transport workers and materials.
It wasn’t until years later that it developed into a symbol for Woodstock hippies and California surfers. Now, social-media trends surrounding the hashtag #vanlife have reinvigorated the VW bus and the kind of life it represents.
“There’s this intense cult following for these cars,” Mark Gillies, a Volkswagen spokesperson, told Insider. “It means a lot of different things to different people.”
For many, the bus reflects “nostalgia for a gentler time,” Gillies said, a desire proven especially prevalent among Gen Z.
From vintage fashion to old sitcoms, experts say Gen Z’s embrace of the past may be a form of escapism after a childhood rocked by 9/11, financial recessions, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
With millions of views on TikTok, #vanlife influencers live, work, and travel in decked-out buses and vans, sharing day-in-the-life stories and hiking tips along the way. The lifestyle has become particularly contagious over the past two years, and now reasonably priced buses are almost impossible to find.
In a recent trend, van life nomads have pushed back against traditional expectations of 9-to-5 office jobs, posting aesthetic travel videos to the sound “yeah f–k no, I go where I want to,” from BoyWithUke’s song “Two Moons.”
“I’m too old to be talking about this, but there are younger people that just don’t want to deal with all the stuff of modern life,” Gillies told Insider. “It’s kind of redolent of hippie culture in the late 60s.”
Despite belonging to Gen Z, I was not always a fan of Jenny the Jam Van. My mom would drive down to my soccer games, the engine puttering so loudly that every head on the field would turn to look.
While the van’s peace-love mystique is great, my mom has spent thousands of dollars over the years to keep it up and running. When we first brought it to the mechanic, they found a metal coffee can connecting two of the engine’s parts.
After paying for shipment, a shiny coat of bright orange paint, rust protectant, insulation, and new parts including a steering wheel, door handles, and windshield wipers, and yearly repairs, the van’s price tag went up considerably.
But Jenny has proven a successful investment. Similar vans are listed online for around $30,000, quadruple what my mom has paid since 2010. According to Gillies, other classic models with additional windows have sold for as much as $150,000.
Every now and then, we’ll find sticky notes tucked into the windshield wipers from people offering to buy it.
The persistent love for vintage Volkswagens has led the car manufacturer to introduce the all-electric ID.BUZZ, set to launch in the US in 2023.
The highly-anticipated modern take on the VW bus “brings back fond memories of Volkswagen past, while promising a revolution in everyone’s future,” the company website says.
“I had so many different people – old geezers, young people, people on skateboards, just all of them thought it was cool,” Gillies told Insider about a BUZZ photoshoot in Venice Beach. “There’s a lot of built-up love for the bus in of itself.”
As for Jenny, my mom said she’d never sell.
“Well,” she said. “Never say never.”