Ben Pon 2014

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The Ben Pon vintage VW show, held in Amersfoort, Holland, over the Easter weekend saw a new world record set of 76 pre-1955 buses on display together.

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By 6pm the display began to finish up, but many remained!

Niels Timmerman, editor of Air Mighty magazine and owner of a ’53 bus, was so inspired by the gathering of 58 Barndoor buses at the Octo Show in 2012 that he decided to try and hold a European Barndoor bus meeting. Encouraged by Paul Wisk, who commented, “out here in the EU we should be able to get more Barndoors together”, he set about making plans…

Growing up in Amersfoort, Niels had always been aware of the importance of Ben Pon in the VW story; not only did he produce the famous sketch in April 1947 that led to the birth of the Transporter, in the same year, Pon’s Automobielhandel (‘Pon’s Car Dealership’) became the first dealer outside of Germany to sell vehicles manufactured by Volkswagen. In addition, the ‘Wagenwerkplaats’ rail head in Amersfoort was where the trains came in from Germany to distribute all VWs to the VW dealers in the Netherlands.

 

We knew from the outset this could be something very special, but even so were not prepared for the reality of what lay in wait!

 

The old rail works site now houses businesses, an opera company, exhibition and conference facilities, and a restaurant, as well as being open space for locals to enjoy, so was the perfect venue to tie all the history together. It took 18 months of negotiation to get support of the town authorities and the businesses on site, and the Pon Dealer group were a great support, allowing Niels to trawl their archives to tell the story of a local dealership that helped change the face of motoring.

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Note the small engine lid and downward opening tailgate on the grey/blue former ambulance.

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1951 panel van is ready for restoration.

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Rare Barndoor ambulance still has its original equipment and fittings.

 

1951 Westfalia in a colour scheme originally ordered by a customer.

1951 Westfalia in a colour scheme originally ordered by a customer.

1940s Plattenwagen on display in the restaurant.

1940s Plattenwagen on display in the restaurant.

 

April was chosen to mark the anniversary of the sketch and the idea was expanded to include all vintage VWs, generating more interest, and the story was in the press and on TV in the run up to the event. Even the main rail station had a special photographic poster exhibition tracing the story of the VW bus and local boy Ben Pon, from 1947-’57!

We knew from the outset this could be something very special, but even so were not prepared for the reality of what lay in wait! We joined the Hull posse on the overnight ferry to Rotterdam, but the main UK contingent, organised by the Cool Flo team and including 20 Barndoor buses, travelled over from Dover. Unfortunately the dreaded Antwerp Ring Road made their journey turn into a mammoth 12-hour drive!

After a few wrong turns our little group of around ten buses pulled into Evam Klassic’s premises in Woerden, where owner Etienne had laid on a Barbie and open house for the afternoon. Over 50 buses had assembled, including several Barndoors, and we spent a pleasant time chatting and bus buffing. Gerson Caicedo, owner of Klassic Fab which makes high quality repair panels was there with his ’54 Kombi which he had shipped over from Columbia especially for the event. Just about every panel and body part had been replaced on this and it had all been done in 100 days in a frantic rush to finish on time!

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Check out the roof vent on the factory ambulance.

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The Bundespost pre-55 models used the ambulance style small engine lid/outside filler to allow parcel storage over the rear deck, but had the tailgate hinged at the top.

The Bundespost pre-55 models used the ambulance style small engine lid/outside filler to allow parcel storage over the rear deck, but had the tailgate hinged at the top.

Deciding not to wait for the Cool Flo Cruise (and not knowing they were stuck in Antwerp), we decided to head out to the site led by some mad Belgian friends in their Barndoor pick-up and Kombis. What we had not realised was that though the buses looked ratty they had huge engines… and following them on the motorway was hairy—even in a T5—as we had several near misses, jumping lights to keep up with them in Amersfoort!

We had booked the nearby hotel—yes, I know, I know—and so had many others as it turned out. At breakfast we met a group from Malta (one of whom had been featured in the mag), several USA visitors and quite a few travel worn Brits! Then it was off to check out the show.

It’s almost impossible to describe this event, it simply took one’s breath away. When we arrived it was freezing and grey, and Rikki, Scott and the Cool Flo boys were busy parking up all the Barndoors in a central square. Quite how they managed to fit everyone in was amazing, they even grouped Sambas, Kombis, panel vans, etc., together! Then at 11am the sun came out to light the spectacle and by lunchtime temperatures were up to 21 degrees!

I am not going to try and describe all we saw, with 76 Barndoors parked up it was almost too much to take in! Wandering up and down the rows, every bus was a gem with its own charm and story, whether rusty project or immaculate restoration; and it was good to see the ’51 whose rescue we featured in #80 which had been trailered over. Other personal favourites included a Samba featuring the optional opening rear hatch (only two buses present had this), the Greek school bus in original paint and livery, a Barndoor ambulance, the Coca Cola liveried bus, the ’51 Westfalia Camping Box… I could go on for ages! I also learned something new—the pre-’55 Bundespost buses did not have the huge engine lid that gives Barndoors their nickname; instead they had a small early ambulance style version with external fuel filler as evidenced by an example on show.

 

Fully equipped Dutch fire truck.

Fully equipped Dutch fire truck.

Immaculate ’52 signwritten panel van with optional trim; bumpers were not standard till ’53.

Immaculate ’52 signwritten panel van with optional trim; bumpers were not standard till ’53.

LEFT: Turn a corner—and find an original SO 14 Pole Carrier. RIGHT: 14 Cristal Brewery’s fire truck was much photographed!

LEFT: Turn a corner—and find an original SO 14 Pole Carrier. RIGHT: 14 Cristal Brewery’s fire truck was much photographed!

This ’52 Deluxe school bus is still in original paint and signwriting.

This ’52 Deluxe school bus is still in original paint and signwriting.

But it was not just Barndoor buses to admire. Two Plattenwagens (the vehicles that inspired the Ben Pon sketch) were on display, and there was a huge display of pre-’67 T1s all parked nearby. We even spotted a very rare SO 14 pole carrying trailer set up. Then there were displays of vintage Beetles, Ghias and coachbuilts, a photographic exhibition, an original Split ice cream van and a coffee bus, plus of course the adjacent camping area with delights of its own to uncover! A lively trade area and parts market had also been set up.

We did not attend the Saturday night party, but by all accounts it was great fun and after it had finished many sat by their buses chatting for hours. Sunday dawned as hot as the previous day, and time to take more photos, meet more people, do more bus buffing, and just soak up the vibe. A look at the map pins revealed visitors from 33 countries worldwide, including places like Mongolia, Madagascar, Russia, Tanzania, Brazil, Hawaii and Indonesia as well as the usual suspects! Visitors from 18 different countries actually came in an air-cooled VW!

Wanting to avoid the exit time crush we left at lunchtime, missing the three schimmwagens on the nearby River Eem. Instead we meandered down to Gouda, and enjoyed a meal in the picturesque town square, relaxing in the warm sunshine. Then it was back to the ferry, gorge out on the all-youcan- eat buffet, and recover from what was one of the best vintage VW events we have ever been to. Thank you Niels, Michiel van den Bosch and all your team for making the magic happen! We are already looking forward to the next one in 2018!