The video named Resurrection shows the story of how a group of guys, led by young Volkswagen fanatic Florian George, ventured into the forest in the French countrywide to rescue a crusty 1955 VW panel van.
The van was in bad condition, wedged between a couple of large trees that no doubt grew up around the van as it sat there, abandoned, for more than 40 years. The video, in French with English subtitles, beautifully captures the scene.
George, who originally located the van by hiking after hearing some leads, originally planned to drag the crusty heap out of the deep woods. But he came up with a more adventurous idea: to get it running and driving it out. That seemed pretty impossible judging by its totally decrepit condition, not to mention the rugged terrain.
But he and his friends did it, installing a replacement engine, new brakes, hydraulics, wires, tires and whatever over the course of a couple of days. After starting the van and making a few practice runs to make sure everything was working, they laboriously drove it out through the hilly, untracked forest.
The video is amazing, and gorgeously filmed, and shares their sheer joy, which is contagious. Try to watch this video without smiling. Cool soundtrack, too. The filming was underwritten by two companies that specialize in vintage Volkswagens, AirMapp.com and Serial Kombi.
Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, young VW fanatic Connor Langley is known for his own adventures in saving junked vans, buses and bugs from all kinds of adverse conditions. Last year, he made the momentous retrieval of a 1947 Beetle, back when they had split rear windows and before they were even imported to the U.S. As such, it is valuable and highly desired by fellow fanatics.
“That’s my pride and joy,” he told me during a recent visit to his Tempe, Arizona, Volkswagen restoration shop, noting that the very-early bugs are the ones most sought-after by collectors.
He watched the video with some fascination, knowing how it feels to make a great discovery and bring it back home. Most of his finds are in Arizona and New Mexico, so generally they are preserved by the dry climate. But still, most of them were left to rot long before Langley was even born; he’s just 24.
“I want to re-create something like that,” he said of the video, adding that he has his eye on a ’66 bug in rough condition but with an interesting back story and still owned by the guy who turned it into a drag racer in 1976. Langley has plans to make a video not only of rescuing the car but with comments from the longtime owner.
At his shop, Langley said the French video accurately captures the joy of finding a discarded relic and bringing it back to life.
“That video’s pretty intense. I’ve done similar stuff but never had anything drive out, like actually go and make a car run that hasn’t run in 30 years and then drive it out of the forest.
“This car was in that kind of location,” he added pointing out a 1965 Beetle in his shop. “We had to tow-strap that car about a half mile to get it off the property to where I could get it on the trailer.”
The Resurrection video has pretty much gone viral among the VW crowd, Langley said.
“There’s so much energy in that video that’s so cool,” he said. “I know who the guy (George) is on the video. He has a couple of barn-door buses and he’s pretty well known in the scene in that part of the world.”
While most gearheads Connor’s age are playing around with modern imports and muscle cars in the Fast and Furious mode, he has become something of an archeologist and VW historian with a particular fascination with early bugs and buses that were built 60 or 70 years ago.
“It’s the history from between ’45 to ’50, right after the war, that’s what I’m interested in,” he said. “Each car has its own little vibe to it. Each car has a personality to me. They speak to me.
“The styling is great, but just the engineering, the mechanicals, all of it.”
Langley has been fascinated by Volkswagens since around the age of 12, when grandfather Howard Minnick restored one and started taking it to shows. Connor wanted his own and when he was 16, granddad presented him with a project VW. He quickly became addicted to Volkswagens that were made around the time his grandfather was born.
At his young age, Langley figures he has had more than 200 VWs pass through his hands, many of them barn and field finds sold as projects to grateful hobbyists.
“The amount of stuff that I have and the amount of stuff that’s gone through my hands is completely out of control,” he said as a point of pride.
Although Langley has not driven a derelict VW out of a forest, what he did with the ’47 split-window seemed nothing short of miraculous. He had showed me the car, still on the trailer, right after he got it back from southern New Mexico after being alerted to its location by a friend.
The bug had been owned by the daughter of a U.S. soldier who was stationed in Germany and brought it back to this country in 1950. The 1947 cars were among the first produced by Volkswagen and never were imported to the United States, although a handful of 1949 models were brought here by a New York dealer of European cars.
Langley noted that only about 50 Volkswagens from 1947 are known to exist in the world.
“It’s kind of a Holy Grail,” he said.
The ’47 looked its age, with a crackled finish remaining of its paint, an interior that was torn and tattered, ancient tires and an engine compartment caked in dirt and crud.
But what happened a couple of weeks later was truly remarkable.
At a monthly Phoenix gathering called Air-Cooled Arizona that celebrates vintage Volkswagens and Porsches, Langley showed up in incredible style, actually driving the newly rescued Beetle pretty much just as he had found it, with the crud, rotted tires and all. It looked like some kind of phantom risen from its tomb. A crowd gathered.
Langley said he had rebuilt the carburetor, adjusted the brakes, filled the tires, and that was about it. It was just a few miles drive to the meet, but still. The tires alone…
He cheerfully showed off the running wreck to the group, opening the hood to expose the engine components still covered in silt, and with the stuffing and springs coming out of the seats and the body being barely wiped off. But it was all there, Langley noted, in relatively decent condition after its decades of sleep.
“They’re never really dead,” he said, noting in his shop a nearby project 1956 oval-window bug, now undergoing complete restoration after being hauled out of an Oklahoma junkyard. The work is being done for a customer, he added.
“His childhood dream car was an oval window, for whatever reason,” he said. “He’s now getting me to build it.”
Langley seems fairly obsessed by the ’47 Beetle and heavy into research about it.
“I’m trying to dig deeper into that stuff. The lady (who owned it) says she has more pictures and writing about it in her father’s diary.”
Despite its value, Langley plans on keeping the bug for himself. He’s found and sold some other later split-window cars, but this one is too special to flip.
“I already turned down $55k for it,” he said. “For me it’s a six-figure car. But that’s not why I bought it. I wanted to have it.”
And the memory of driving it to a club meet just after pulling it out from decades in the desert, well, that’s priceless.