The road trip is one of life’s most iconic experiences. With a car, a map, a wandering spirit–and maybe some snacks–anything seems possible when taking to the road. Like a ride down the coast. Or a cross-country trip. When Paul Loofs set out on his epic journey in 1958, however, his dreams were much grander: he was going to take his ’55 Volkswagen Beetle around the world.
Not only did Loofs succeed–traveling from British Columbia, down the Pan American Highway to the tip of South America to Europe before heading back to Canada by sea–but he drove around the world two more times, traveling to Africa, Australia, and Southwest Asia. In all, he drove 186,100 kilometers (115,637 miles) in the same baby blue Beetle. Now, 58 years later, Loofs’s story has been revisited in the documentary Once More: The Story of VIN 903847, which charts Loofs’s incredible trip, reveals hundreds of photos from the journey, and reunites Loofs and his beloved vehicle, that is incredibly still on the road.
The project began when Red Urban, the agency for Volkswagen Canada, came up with the idea of following a life’s journey of a Volkswagen. Inspired by hearing all the stories from VW fans on social media and through individual dealers, Red Urban president Steve Carli says the team began by exploring the VW archives. It was there they found a folder of about 10 photos of a man and his ’55 Beetle in Africa, Asia, and South America. “The pictures excited us,” says Carli. “How could this car be in all those places? How did it get there? Where is this car now?” The agency collaborated with Untitled Films’ director Hubert Davis to find the man behind the pictures and document the story of the car, the man, and his travels.
As it turns out, Loofs wasn’t hard to find. He lives half the year in Canada and the other half in Honduras where he’s spent 30 years volunteering for medical missions in Latin America. In February 2013, he was awarded a Queen’s Jubilee medal for his volunteer work.
The film premiered on Discovery Channel and Bravo and is running on TV through February, but the interactive site allowed Red Urban to dig deeper into Loofs’s three global journeys. “Through the work of a researcher and interviews with family members, we uncovered a lot of content and determined that the story would be best told as an interactive documentary,” says Carli, noting that Loofs was a diligent documentarian throughout his trips. “The documentary film had to be brilliant on its own but we also wanted to provide an enriched experience for those who wanted more and we wanted the storytelling on the website to feel seamless. For example, when watching the documentary you are able to switch on the map mode see the pins on the map sync with the film. This allows you to follow the journey of the car around the world. And the archive can be told by day month and year.”
If the project was spurred by a handful of photos and a client’s desire to tell the story of it’s vehicles, the result is a truly heartwarming story of a man’s bond with his car and the incredible feats they accomplished. It also satiates that innate desire to know what happened to all involved, making this more human interest story than Brand Film. Carli says, that’s one of the benefits of working with a brand like Volkswagen.
“One thing that’s unique about VW is the depth to which people have connected to the models–especially the Beetle, but also the Eurovan camper and the Golf,” says Carli. “The vehicles, in many ways, play a role in our consumers’ lives that approaches companionship or friendship. VW’s connection to its owners is one of our advantages and Once More is a great way to express and demonstrate that advantage.”