[sixties-l] Fat Freddys Combi

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Thu Jan 18 2001 - 17:49:55 EST

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    Fat Freddy's Combi


    What would infamous Sixties hippies, the Fabulous
    Furry Freak Brothers make of VW's new Microbus?
    Andrew English reports

    AGAINST a backdrop of falling sales and profits, plus job losses in North
    America, Volkswagen turned the clock back half a century this week with the
    launch of its Microbus concept, a VW Combi with which to tour the new
    This is no mere transport for the offspring of the Fabulous Furry Freak
    Brothers and Fat Freddy's Cat, however. VW's new Microbus has been
    carefully carved to cut a fine line between retro (to ensure it sells as
    well as the new Beetle in America) and modern (in the hope that it will
    sell in Europe, where the Beetle bombed because it was considered too retro).
    New Beetle designer Charles Ellwood conceived the front-engined, six-seat
    Microbus in VW's California design studio back in 1994. It was developed
    alongside the new Beetle, which first appeared as Concept 1 at the Detroit
    Show that same year. Since then, it has been given a makeover to dilute the
    retro feel. Ellwood says VW is keen to build the Microbus and will be
    watching reaction carefully over the coming months.
    Although the VW Combi is more than 51 years old, it still arouses huge
    interest. VW campers have provided transport for generations of surfers,
    itinerant antipodeans and holidaying families. As anyone caught in the
    traffic jams of clattering VW campers roaring down the M4 for Newquay's May
    bank holiday Run for the Sun will attest, they remain popular despite their
    advancing years. About four million have been built and, badged as the
    Transporter, they are still in production. The modern version is about to
    undergo its fifth styling change and the Microbus borrows the mechanical
    underpinnings from this next-generation model.
    Inside, the Microbus tips its hat to the original. There is a large, round
    speedometer stuck in front of the driver and other control clusters echo
    its styling. In the centre of the cabin, just below the dash, another
    circular panel houses a joystick-style gearlever and the air-conditioning
    controls. Sadly, there are no lampshade furbelows running around the top of
    the windows a la Freak Brothers. Instead, the modern Microbus has a
    high-tech mix of a plasma-screen television, translucent rubber flooring,
    double xenon headlamps, electronically operated sliding side doors and
    split air-conditioning.
    Unlike the original rear-engined, air-cooled VW Transporter, the new
    Microbus has its 3.2-litre, 231bhp V6 ahead of the cabin and it drives the
    front wheels via a five-speed automatic gearbox with Tiptronic control.
    This, of course, would be be far too much power for impoverished Freak
    Brother types and a smaller petrol version is likely to be built, along
    with a diesel. The concept Microbus has 20in wheels, but these are likely
    to shrink as and when it reaches production.
    VW's first Microbus was called the Type 2 (the Beetle was the Type 1) and
    was inspired by Britain's Major Ivan Hirst, who was appointed to run the
    Wolfsburg factory after the Second World War. He asked for a simple
    platform-style carrier to be made for factory use. Hirst's Plattenwagen
    might have provided the inspiration, but it was Dr Ferdinand Porsche's
    Beetle that supplied the horizontally opposed, four-cylinder powerplant.
    The Type 2 was developed for three years on the worst roads that Lower
    Saxony had to offer before going on sale in 1949. Its launch price was
    5,850 marks - about 435 at contemporary rates.
    The first Transporters were commercial vans, but pick-ups, campers and crew
    buses followed. Its heyday came in the Sixties, when thousands of the
    flower-power generation set off to explore the outer edges of
    consciousness, and some nice beaches, from the driver's seat of a VW.
    Mindful of this, VW went to the trouble of creating accurate scale models
    of the new Microbus in the form of a crew-cab pick-up, camper and bus, all
    of which were displayed beside the full-scale concept.
    VW board member Dr Jens Neumann said: "We looked at nomads, surfers,
    entrepreneurs and younger families. They all need lots of space for
    friends, bikes, snowboards, kayaks, coolers, beach chairs, strollers and
    football gear.
    "Many of you will remember how young folks travelled the world's highways
    being free and easy."
    Under his breath, one journalist added: "And stoned out of their minds".
    It was significant that many of the world's leading designers came past the
    VW stand, which was not exactly on a convenient route to anywhere else in
    the show halls. Most seemed to agree that the Microbus was an assured piece
    of work and, to a man and woman, they felt there would be an enormous
    market for such a vehicle, always assuming it was priced correctly.
                                Brothers in armchairs
    The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers are Fat Freddy, Freewheelin Franklin and
    Phineas - hilarious hippie survivors of the Sixties, idle loafers at life's
    trough. As their creator Gilbert Shelton said: "The Freak Brothers
    represent the anti-authoritarian spirit: the joker, the prankster, Huck
    Finn. People enjoy reading them because they cannot be that way in real life."
    The brothers made their first appearance in 1968 in The Rag in Austin,
    Texas, where Shelton attended university, studying history and art. He
    moved to San Francisco in 1969 to establish Rip Off Press with three other
    Texans. From there the Freak Brothers strips were syndicated, borrowed (or
    stolen!) by a host of American underground papers of the late Sixties and
    by International Times and Oz magazine in Britain. The first collection was
    published in 1971 by Rip Off Press; it is still being reprinted annually
    and has been joined by nine further collections of Freak Brothers
    adventures. The books have been translated into 12 languages and worldwide
    sales are now a staggering 10 million copies.
    Telegraph Motoring is grateful to Knockabout Comics of London, which
    supplied the Freak Brothers artwork used in this article. Established in
    1975, Knockabout specialises in publishing the best and most innovative
    British, American and European graphic novels and comic art and has more
    than 50 titles in print, including versions of Coleridge and Shakespeare
    and the work of Robert Crumb. The Freak Brothers books, published under
    licence from the US, are its best-selling line; more than two million
    copies have been sold and 10 comics are reprinted each year.

    Knockabout Comics, 10 Acklam Road, London W10 5QZ; tel 020 8969
    2945, web site www:knockabout.com

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