1963 Volkswagen Bus – Terry’s Terrific 23 Window
Story and photos by Courtney Cutchen
This 1963 Volkswagen Bus (AKA Samba) is unlike anything we have ever photographed. Its owner, Terry Pettigrew has the car gene and you can clearly hear it in his voice. You can listen to the high notes of his enthusiasm when he explains the story of his 1963 Volkswagen bus. It’s quite evident when he talks about his history with VW buses his eyes light up and his inner child comes out.
Having been a self-proclaimed Volkswagen buff for most of his life, Terry maintains a vast appreciation for these iconic German cars. The bus holds a special place in his heart, which is why he has owned the one featured here for just about 21 years. As a young man in Southern California, Terry grew up with Buses—so much so that the first vehicle he ever piloted was a mid-sixties bus owned by one of his friend’s parents. For anecdote’s sake, Terry was 15 and had not even acquired a license yet, but his friend—who had lost his own license—managed to convince his parents that his friend was legal to sit behind the wheel.
In its current glory, Terry’s 1963 Volkswagen bus 23-window is painted in a timeless, two tone fashion, utilizing “Lexus Merlo” and “Chrysler 300 Cool Vanilla” colors in an old school cool style. To those who are well versed in the language of classic buses, it may be obvious that this particular example has some special, even unusual bits. The side mirrors are off of a 1938 Ford, the retrofitted reverse lights (which did not exist in factory form) are from an old fire engine control panel. The tastefully dropped ride height is attributed to a WagensWest adjustable front beam and rear adjustable offset spring plates.
However, the Bus wasn’t always this nice to look at. Terry first acquired the vehicle in February of 1996. As he restored a Bay Window bus to running condition for his young daughter to begin driving, he ultimately decided to get rid of the car when the 15-year-old decided she didn’t want to drive quite yet.
“A potential buyer phoned me and stated that someone who lived up the street from him had a ’32’ window Bus. He may have been dyslexic,” Terry joked. Wasting no time, he followed the lead and surely enough, found the Bus in question. The owner, however, was out of the country. Terry passed along his information to the owner’s secretary, and patiently awaited a response. After waiting the better half of five months, Terry had grown discouraged. He came across the owner’s phone number while thumbing through some files one day, and to his excitement, his call was received and the 1963 Volkswagen bus became his.
“A previous owner did a superb ‘cover it with bondo paint’ job,” Terry reminisced, “but under that paint and bondo was significant rust.” Rust had also eaten away at corners of the roof. This wasn’t the only problem the old 1963 Volkswagen bus had—the middle seats were missing, some of the prized windows were broken, the sunroof had holes strung about it, and the front guide bow had been cut. Someone had also cut a drain hole behind the driver seat for a sink outlet. This part doesn’t come as such a huge surprise, as these buses have always been massively popular campers.
The restoration was a dirty, time consuming, demanding job. Terry dedicated years to the job, and was honest in admitting that it was his first restoration. As with any big project, life tends to happen simultaneously. The Bus was slowly completed over the course of Terry buying his first home with his wife three months after buying the bus, working on many other house projects, and welcoming his first grandchild in 1999. Nearly 15 years later the bus embarked on its maiden voyage in 2014. Interestingly enough, there are a couple of features that have kept their original flair—for example, the brushed trim that runs along the underside of the windows is unrestored. We think this makes for a nice touch, as it pays homage to the VW’s history.
Fortunately, Terry’s love for Volkswagens can be shared with his family as well. His oldest daughter has owned a couple of Bugs, his wife seems to enjoy the cars, and his 1963 Volkswagen bus will likely be passed down to that same Beetle loving daughter of his. Moreover, what he enjoys most about these cars is the sense of community that surrounds them. “I have met so many amazingly helpful and resourceful people in the VW community,” he explained. “Whether it was to purchase a hard to find part, or figuring out a technical job, there has always been someone there to help out.”
Toward the end of our photo shoot, Terry said something we think will stick with us forever. As he ran his hand along the brushed trim on the side of the Bus, he said, “These cars are just like us. Things happen to us in life, and we get these scratches and scars. Why would I perfectly restore every piece if it means part of the story is lost?”
Terry has a fantastic outlook on life, in everything from his cars to his family. We genuinely hope to see more beautiful builds like this one from him in the future. As a special thanks, Terry has mentioned Everett, The Samba community, Kelly (AKA MetalWizard), and we would like to extend an enormous thank you to Lindsey at the Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont, California for allowing us to access this beautiful venue for Terry’s Volkswagen story.
Keep on cruising, Terry!