Riverbank Find: 1956 VW High Roof Panel Bus

Imagine kayaking down a river in Alaska and spotting an abandoned “split window” VW bus on the river bank. The bank was eroding away and the bus was headed into the river, but the kayaker was a determined devotee of all things VW, especially buses. We read about vehicles found abandoned in odd places but seldom discover what ever happened to them. This bus was recovered, mechanically restored and is now listed on The Samba. It has been driven to several Volkswagen shows. One trip was over 2,500 miles, so this old bus seems to be well sorted. On the next trip up the river, the kayaker found the bank was gone as well as the house that had been 50 feet from the river.

The exterior has been left original except for rust repair.The Acme Company is gone but their van lives on. The high roof  is aftermarket but it’s very well made.

The inside is original as well. The seat is an original seat with split seams repaired with gorilla tape.

The underside and rockers were repaired as necessary. The seller offers a new cab floor so the existing floor must need attention.

The engine is described as being a single port 1600, used in the 1966 buses so the engine is not original. The transaxle has been rebuilt.

This face looks friendly if a bit battered. The going away view just looks battered. It would take a serious van fan to pay $31,500 for this van, but panel vans are rare and can sell for as much as $60,000 restored. Perhaps the story would add to its value? To most folks this is just looks like an old VW van. Are there any serious VW van folks who have an idea what one would do with this?

Fast Finds


  1. Jeff Staff

    I, for one, absolutely love this thing. Worth every penny, if just for the story alone.

  2. Michael Jacobs

    What…nice story…but for gods sake pull that roof off…but in no way is it worth that kind of loot…I hate patina…god darn fad…

    • JamestownMike

      I was thinking the same thing. Pull that aftermarket roof off!

      “Patina” is one thing (which I’m also tired of hearing and don’t get)……..RUST is another!

    • Erich

      I too hate “patina”. Especially since the word is being used wrong. When iron oxidizes, it rusts. When copper oxidizes, it patinas. Don’t know of many cars made of copper or bronze after the 1920s.

      It seems that the new, modern definition of patina is just a fancy way of saying “didn’t have enough money for a paint job”.

      • JP

        Erich, I totally agree with that. Most car guys don’t realize that the term patina was stolen from the antique industry where it is used to describe changes in appearance from aging and NOT from being exposed to the elements.

        The fad is crazy here in Arizona with the whole rat-rod thing; went to a car show and there were many that were mostly or all surface rusted. I think since cars don’t naturally rust here they like to stand out from all the shiny cars. And yes it doesn’t cost anything.

      • Gibbs Connors

        Patina refers to the characteristics of the surface that time and the elements have caused. If someone likes shiny cars, I have no issue. Shiny cars are nice, just not so much for me. I’ve owned a least a hundred cars in the last 30 years. I’ve had 3 painted. That first stone chip ruins your weekend…..

    • KeithK

      Just remember patina for some of us = can’t afford paintwork. Good finished bodywork and quality paint is often the factor that puts these projects over the top and upside down. I’d rather drive looking like hell than spending my day hoping my paint doesn’t get rained on.

      Like 1
    • jaygryph

      Ya know what I like about this new voting system?

      One can trash talk things, and all you can see is people giving positive reinforcement to negative behavior, with absolutely no voice to what may in fact be a larger segment of the fandom that very much does not agree with the things being said.

      For instance, if I said “all Fords are better than all Chevolets” it would get a pile of thumbs up. It would look as if there were in fact, no Chevrolet fans as all evidence would point to there only being enthusiastic thumbs upping ford fans.

      We all know this is not the case, there are many loyal fans of both brands.

      As a suggestion, perhaps just drop the voting system all together. Even Facebook, the king of upped fingers, has discovered this key flaw to that type of system.

      Anyhow, I dig this bus, and it’s goofy roof. I dig patina, and will continue to do so. Something is only original once, and if you restore something it can be just like every other one that ever rolled off the assembly line and goes to shows to park in the vast line of similar product.

      If that’s your bag, good for ya man. Some vehicles are so far gone or so historically significant they demand a 100 pointer.

      But, if I wanted to see a show of factory perfect, soulless rides bereft of scars and the stories they can tell from their extensive lifespan, I’d go to a new car lot to admire all the rigs fresh off a boat.

      Look at it like this. Would you rather listen to the stories of a newly minted, wide eyed but clueless pimply faced kid fresh out of boot camp, or the tales of someone that saw the war, and lived through it while so many of their contemporaries were lost in the battle with time?

      There’s a reason the Captain America story starts with a 98 lb weakling, rather than ending with one.

      Like 1
      • Jesse Staff

        Feel free to locate or make a better voting system for us jaygryph. We don’t have time to recode the old one, so this was the best ready made solution we could find.

      • jaygryph

        In reply to Jesse since this system cuts off reply chains fairly early: I’d say see how this one goes. You guys are at the wheel here so ultimately it’s up to you. If the voting system has been causing problems, drop it completely.

        The issue here seems to be a vocal minority fussing about having all their comments voted down by people who are sick of their constant, top of comments negativity. I’m guessing it was someone close to the admins who had their feelings hurt by being told by sheer vote numbers that their consistently negative opinions were not highly regarded or valued by other users of the site.

        At any rate, this is just my take on it. The simple solution to it is that I stop using the site if the way it’s being used or managed annoys me, but I’d rather not do that. The site is great in the vast majority of ways, but the vote system seems needlessly contentious. The comment threads cut off a bit early, but I can see why that is done that way. It’s a decent happy medium between single no reply comments and having to manage an actual forum which is a nightmare to manage.

        Anyhow, I’ll let ya know if I come up with a better solution. What system are you using to run this site? What language is it written in, and where did the two vote systems come from? Perhaps there is a better solution.

      • Jesse Staff

        We have stated multiple times that the two thumb system was taken down because it caused. The code was out of date and did not work with the latest version of php. It didn’t have anything to do with someone getting their feelings hurt. People complain when it’s there and they complain when it’s not. This isn’t the place to discuss server specifics though, so if you are serious about your offer to help then please email us. Thanks!

      • Dairymen

        With only thumbs up its like kids getting a participation trophy. Cause heaven forbid the snowflakes might get their feelings hurt…

        Like 1
      • glen

        If someone has a negative opinion, they can simply click on reply, like I just did, and you did. A quick thumbs-up, is great, but if you have a gripe, you will have to express yourself, no big deal.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      You either get it or you don’t.

      Some people paint the beautiful oak trim and baseboards in old homes, and cover inlaid hardwood with carpet.

      Soul or soulless the choice is yours to make.

  3. Howard A Member

    I suppose now that Chris Farley is gone, they can sell his van. I sure miss him.

  4. JW454

    It looks as though that top was made from the part of the roof that was cut out during the conversion. If so, it would be a good place to start if you wanted to return it to a factory roof line. I can’t imagine it helps the fuel economy or highway manners with it raised like that. It would make a cool camper though.

    • Howard A Member

      Hi JW454, I can say from experience, that top DRAMATICALLY affects the handling. My old man put a top on a Dodge maxi-van, and it became downright dangerous, especially in a stiff cross wind, and that was a full size Dodge van. I’d think with the swing arm suspension and the skinny tires, that would exasperate the issue. I even wager, in a stiff head wind, loaded, this thing never got into 4th gear. ( been there) It is really cool as is. I wonder what the story was. They sure parked it in a beautiful spot.

      • Gibbs Connors

        It actually handles pretty nicely. I drive this bus from Olympia WA down to SanJose and it kept up with the best of them. The front beam and spindles have been rebuilt so there’s no front end play. The wind we experienced added to the fun. Semi trucks have as much of an effect with that pusf from behind and the suck as they pass. Let’s face it, driving old VWs, especially panels isn’t for cowards. Bias plys separate men from boys. Most cant deal. This bus runs strong and quiet.

    • Gibbs Connors

      Kerr’ect-a-mundo. The original roof section was raised. If someone buys this and converts it back (or adds a sunroof section and paints it up like the Mystery Machine) I wouldn’t care. I think it would be a waste of time and money with the end result being a bus that looks like every other restored dove blue panel out there (or Mystery Machine). It has history and I think it would be a shame to that to be lost.

  5. James K Member

    Gibbs (the owner) is a cool guy and this bus is awesome. High roofs were not produced by VW in the factory until April-May of 1962. I can personally say that this bus is a fantastic example of an early, non-barndoor panel van with many correct features.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      And Banjo mirrors!

      • Gibbs Connors

        Harps bro. Banjos are the steering wheels

      • Bobsmyuncle

        Haha yep!

        I’ve got one looking for a second, any leads?

        Great find, I’ve owned my ’63 for two decades but don’t hang out at the Samba much. I’ll check out yout thread this weekend.

  6. sir mike

    What a story…..just continue driving as is…

  7. G8rkathy

    Wish I could get it, take off the high roof and add the extra roof window kit with the roll back roof. Alas, a dream to be followed after many current projects.

  8. Adam Wright

    Gibbs is cool.
    I was hiking with the kids one time and came upon a bunch of VW’s, guy had rolled them off the bank into the river.

  9. Adam Wright

    Here is a pic.

    • Puhnto

      Too bad they weren’t old Porsches. They’d be worth a fortune in that condition!

      Like 1
      • Adam Wright

        Yeah, where would I find a bunch of old Porsches….

    • chip peterson

      I could stand over this all day!
      No rust? No patina? IT’S BARN FINDS PEOPLE.
      Perhaps a different site might be more suitable for some? Perfectly Restored Cars Etc.?
      Every single posted photo is fascinating!! Thank you Barn Finds!

      • Gibbs Connors

        LOL. good point. Thanks again to the site admins for picking this out of the crowd. Anyone who posts a negative comment should also post a pic of their best car.

    • Cattoo Member

      A River Runs Through It.

  10. gbvette62

    So what did they do with the old hippie who was living in the van?

    • Howard A Member

      DB Coopers hangout.

    • Cattoo Member

      The Into The Wild guy? They buried him.

  11. Big Mike

    There is a small quarry in behind Mineral Area College and it is loaded with cars and trucks that were dumped for various reasons, I think mostly insurance jobs. Some years ago they went in a did some diving and I think they reported like 10 – 15 cars in there. If I remember right they tried to remove some of them but the cost was to high. It is now a Missouri Conservation Lake and people fish in there, talk about fish you would not want to eat!!!!! I will guarantee they did not make the autos safe before being dumped like trying to make it for like a natural fish breeding area!!!!!!

    • JoeBazots

      You from over that way? My daughter was born in Farmington and I once worked at Flatriver Building Center back when there was still a Flatriver…

    • Frank M

      Just south of you in Fredericktown we have the Offsets that was used for the same purpose. :)

  12. Jose Cantu

    So how did the guy get the thing home from the riverbank? By boat? If so, how did he load it? Also, is this proof of rising water levels around the world? Hmmmmmmm…

    • Gibbs Connors

      Um. There was a road leading to the house where it was parked. It was on a riverbank, not an island. It did go by boat from Alaska to Seattle

  13. chris Member

    “but panel vans are rare and can sell for as much as $60,000 restored”
    Really? I am restoring an old 63 VW panel van and would love to know the source of that pricing support…(other than in my dreams that is)


  14. Don

    Ant the Acme company were the coyote got his gadgets from to try and kill the roadrunner 🚧🚀🚀🚀

    Like 1
    • That Guy

      I’m surprised I had to get this far down in the comments before there was a Wile E. Coyote reference. :-D It should be displayed with stuffed Coyote and Roadrunner figures at car shows.

      I think this thing is awesome just as is. The raised roof seems to be a solid, workmanlike job done in-period, and it adds character; I say leave it, and revel in its uniqueness. But I’m sure Howard A is right; it would be a gigantic handful in a strong crosswind.

      • Gibbs Connors

        It seems to me that the person who did the work had aircraft fabrication skills. The faceting and compound curves are really nice. The fit is spot on the even the rivets look measured out. It’s good. Sure crosswinds will push it around. It’s part of the fun. The odds of getting blown off the road are for the most part zero.

  15. OA5599

    Great story…reminds me of ” Into The Wild.”

  16. Leo

    Sorry but i dont get it… seems like it was gotten running on the cheap and now is trting to get big dollars for a rusty, modified, piece of doo

    • Gibbs Connors

      Isn’t that the way is supposed to be done? Actually I have that much into it. All the rust repair has been done. The pictures where it looks rusty are the “as found” shots.

  17. CJay

    I don’t feel it’s worth its current asking price. But what was the logistical challenges faced?
    Getting it off of the riverbank?
    Getting title?
    Transporting from Alaska to Pennsylvania?
    Getting it up running and driving?
    While doing the repairs need from the inside out, so that the originality was minimally altered!
    Some had to put a lot of effort(and hours) into this they are hoping to be compensated for their time. I wish them the best.

    • Gibbs Connors

      It came on a boat to Olympia WA where we worked to get it running and driving again. The trans was rebuilt (NOS first/reverse gear, find another) rebuilt front end spindle to spindle, new brake, bias plys, wiring sorted, gas tank cleaned out, 1600 installed. Then driven 1250 miles. From there I had it shipped to PA. I drive it to Florida and back. 2500 miles. From there $12000 in metal repair. The front floor is patched with license plates just to be snarky. It’s a cool bus and a great driving bus. You can actually stand up in it, fill it with swap stuff and sleep in the top part. Doors 60 all day long fully loaded.

      Like 1
      • jaygryph

        It’s a pretty cool ol’ bus. I dig the funky roof. Reminds me of driving the Corvair powered UltraVan RV I have. Semi trucks are always interesting, and lord save ya if you get passed on both sides at the same time. The wind buffeting is insane in light weight aerodynamically awkward vehicles.

        Despite what others may say, the price is reasonable, if a bit on the high side. Ya can always start high and come down, but raising the price after it’s low rarely flies. You’ll never run into another bus with the look or story of this one, and to me anyway that counts for a lot. A fella could buy a newer hatchback for that money, sure, but it wouldn’t have anywhere near the unique history or personality of this thing.

        What is the reason for selling, if I may ask?

  18. Woodie Man

    Amazing story thread on the Samba.


    Leaving aside the asking price by what appears to be the second owner after it was found by the “finder”, much work has been done on it by dedicated bus folks. The “roof raising”appears to have been done as professionally as it could have been done many decades ago.

    Where did the sixties go! :)

  19. Tenspeed

    We had a 60 VW camper van and it could barely get down the road because of lack of power. The vans already have the aerodynamics of a brick and I would think that roof increases the Cd (coefficient of drag) so much that it would take several miles to get up to speed. This is a conversation piece only and wouldn’t make much of a driver with that roof.

    • Gibbs Connors

      Maybe that was because of how it was tuned?

  20. angliagt

    It was probably only used in-town,when
    it was a working van by ACME.

  21. Charlie

    Did the person who recovered this VW bus actually get a bill of sale from someone, or did he just find an abandoned vehicle and take it?

    Here’s a 1600 on a hiking trail, South Beacon Mountain, New York.

  22. Bruce Fischer

    Just GLAD he saved it.Bruce F.

  23. newfieldscarnut

    The “Wheel Pad”
    Built in 1971 , a fully self contained camper .

  24. MQ

    It is not a van, it is a bus, there is no such thing as a VW van.

    • Gibbs Connors

      Actually panels are referred to as “vans” as are baywindows. I’m with you in calling them buses. If someone calls it a van I just let it slide.

  25. Snotty

    Didn’t Volkswagon make a Vanagon.

  26. Bill Walters

    it would make a nice house boat if it was turned upside down

  27. David Miraglia

    Got to have that type 2.

  28. Rob S

    Wow, nice find and nice save. Well done! Love the story! Now why can’t I find a old shelby or boss mustang like that?

    • Gibbs Connors

      You gotta want it.

  29. Cattoo Member

    Great find and I’ve enjoyed the thread. How long was the time frame between rescue and the next visit? Fifty plus feet of land could take little time to significantly longer amounts of time to erode.

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