By Joe Roberts
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / director: Andrew Keil
Producer: Frazer Randalls
Editor: Ian Phillips
Kirk Strawn is the owner of Walter The Bus, a super-sized version of the Volkswagen classic, custom-built on the chassis of a 1963 fire truck.
Once Kirk and friends discovered the truck in a junk yard, they decided to build the world’s biggest VW bus and Walter, named after the Walter Truck Company that made the fire truck, was born.
Kirk, of Arizona, told Barcroft Studios: “There’s always a smile whenever anybody sees Walter. You just don’t see something like this driving the road every day.
“It just brightens your day. It opens your eyes and makes you wonder what else might be possible.”
After the truck was found in 2003, it took three years and more than 100 people to collectively bring Kirk and his friends’ vision to life.
Kirk said: “The team that assembled Walter has really become family and we’ve been doing this for over a decade now. It’s inspired lots of other builds, so much artwork, and so much creativity.”
After being reborn as a two-to-one scale version of a standard VW bus, Walter’s 13ft 2” height and 30.7ft length began turning heads across the US.
His unique features have seen him attend desert festival Burning Man 11 times, as well as appear at events for Google and SpaceX.
Alongside his imposing size, Walter boasts numerous features that make him a one-of-a-kind party-mobile.
The truck is a three-speed manual with an air clutch and torque converter, and runs on a 330-horsepower engine with a 40-gallon gas tank.
85 speakers have been installed throughout the bus, powered by four amps on each side of the vehicle, giving it a 360-degree sound system that’s perfect for mobile parties.
More than 20,000 coloured LED lights line the contours of the exterior while an onboard misting system adds atmosphere to any event.
Lead mechanic for Walter, Nate Matzenbacher, explained: “There are large crowds of people that are just as astounded as anyone else to see something this crazy.
“They will kind of forget that it’s a large moving vehicle and will walk right out in front of you without a second thought just taking a picture.”
Luckily, the driver’s seat sits five feet higher than the original, allowing for an all-encompassing view of the road ahead when combined with the multiple cameras positioned around the vehicle’s exterior.
“It’s good to be able to see 100% around you while you're driving,” said Nate.
“We generally have spotters and walkers that come along with us and ensure that nobody walks under a tire or something like that.”
All of which has given the old fire truck a whole new lease on life, following its years of Air Force service.
“He was at one of the local air force bases,” said Kirk.
“His service was standing by on the runway and if a plane would crash he was designed to drive right up to the crash and discharge the contents of his water tanks, putting a giant gallop of foam over the fire, and trying to save whoever was still in the plane.
“Really he’s only had one purpose, and that was to save lives, so it’s fun to see him having this second chance at doing something different.”
With the amount of man-hours and the exhaustive list of parts that went into building Walter, Kirk says he can’t put a figure on how much he’s invested in the project.
But for him, the cost is very much beside the point, as he sees Walter as belonging to the community he helped to create.
He said: “One of the most amazing things about Walter is that he spawned a community of people who have come together and continue to create. And the foundation of that is really giving things a second chance.”
When he’s not building amazing vehicles, Kirk helps run a community-based arts and entertainment company, also named Walter, that works to help children “express themselves through art and technology”.
Walter has played a major part in the success of the company and Kirk remains indebted to his crazy creation for the experiences he’s had helping people throughout the country.
He said: “It was so unlikely that Walter could have come back and could have had all the crazy adventures that he’s had over these years – gone all the places, done all of these things.
“I think Walter is the ultimate ride because there's only one and he is such an interesting vehicle with an interesting history. He has changed so many people's lives including mine.”