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Bus or Bust?

Contest Winner Gets Beater Bus Instead Of Restored Ride

John Ellsberry
PIMP MY RIDE: Todd Evans thought hed won a refurbished VW Bus in an internet-video contest, but his prize turned out to be a junker.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/6/2007

Todd Evans was thrilled in January to learn that he had won a restored 1978 Volkswagen bus--one of several used in the Oscar-winning movie Little Miss Sunshine--in an internet video contest. He contemplated flying out to California with his father to pick his prize up. He offered to videotape the road trip home as a promotional stunt for the contest sponsors, Fox Home Video and an internet video company called vMix. He was surprised, he says, that Fox turned him down.

"They said, `Great, but we can't give you any support,'" Evans says. That's when he started to wonder.

Another foreshadow fell more recently. Evans, a freelance film maker who works on various local productions, by chance ran into someone who had worked on the film. "He said all the vans on the shoot were junk," Evans laughs.

He's been laughing since his prize was delivered last week.

On Tuesday, May 29, the driver of a covered car carrier met Evans in a parking lot. After first unloading a $120,000 BMW belonging to a sports star, the man, who Evans describes as a "totally funny Romanian dude," backed out Evans' prize.

"He's there in flip-flops and shorts, and he tells me the guy at the lot [in Los Angeles] told him to be real careful--don't let it get scratched," Evans says, quoting the transport driver. "And I'm looking at him funny, 'cause it's not exactly cherry."

The man climbed into the van, deep in the dark of the covered car carrier, and started it up. "And now we see, like, one tail light," Evans says. "He's grinding gears to get it in reverse."

Instead of the pristinely restored VW bus he was promised, out rolled a machine with chipped, mismatched paint, visible Bondo, a bent bumper, a busted tail light, no horn, no spare tire, malfunctioning turn signals, stained carpet, and burned upholstery, among other flaws. Just to register the van in Maryland would require several hundred dollars in repairs. To transform it into the prize Evans thought he had won would require many thousands.

The Romanian dude told Evans that the bus' stablemates on the cross-country ride included a Bentley, a Maserati and some kind of race car, and they had a laugh. "It'd be like me stowed away on a private jet with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, and Richard Branson," Evans says.

Wondering what was up, Evans called his contact for the contest, a Connecticut publicist named Judy Goldstein.

"She says maybe they sent the wrong van," he says (a reasonable theory given that the keys they gave him don't work but a set of keys he found in the van's ashtray do). Goldstein told him to take pictures of the van and send her copies of the paperwork, particularly the vehicle identification number. "She's trying to make good on it," Evans says.

Goldstein will not talk to a reporter. "I'm just the administrator, so I don't have any answers for you," she says. She promises to pass the reporter's name and number to Fox Home Video, but won't give a number or a name of someone at the studio to call. A spokesman at Fox Home Entertainment says the van Evans received is "most likely" the correct prize. The man, who asked not to be quoted, said the contest sponsors' "intent was to rebuild the motor and make it street legal." He said the production company paid $20,000 for the van.

Evans, 40, a graybearded fellow with hooded eyes and a wicked wit, is not the least bit angry about the apparent snafu. He regards the situation as hilarious, an attitude that shines through in his winning video, "Scoob's Wild Ride," which you can find at vmix.com. Or watch it here:

Evans says he received word of the "Little Miss Sunshine Hooptie Contest" just a few days before deadline, between Christmas and New Year's. Working over a weekend with his stepbrother and father, Evans twisted together the one-minute video explaining why he should win the Little Miss Sunshine van. With lightning edits he documented what look like hundreds of flaws in his twin Toyota vans (one uses a chopstick for its ignition key), staged a mock Price Is Right show, and loaded his father, professional Santa Claus Bob Evans, into the back with a pedal-powered generator.

In the video he said he might give the VW to his dad if he won.

Evans didn't even get to see the completed video in its compressed-for-web format before he submitted it to the contest.

Although the audio was spotty, Evans' entry was judged superior. He got the call a week or so later while at a family celebration. His dad, sister, and stepmother all celebrated with him.

Then the weirdness began. "They sent a crew out here to film me getting the van," Evans says--but there was no van yet--"so they had to shoot a video of them telling me I won the van." Evans played along with the crew, acting in a little video to promote the web site. Then he offered to help the sponsors do even more promotion--and save money on shipping, too--but was thwarted.

Later, when he learned that his prize would be valued at $20,000, quick calculations led him to the realization that he would owe about $7,000 in taxes on the bus. Fees meant that registering the van in Maryland and giving it to his father as planned would cost nearly $10,000--cash not on hand. Last week, while waiting for delivery, he sent an e-mail to friends lamenting that the van would probably have to go to auction.

But now that he's received the prize, Evans is not so sure. A couple of similar vintage VW buses in better shape than the one delivered are going on eBay for between $2,000 and $5,000. Evans thinks that if he ends up with this particular van, it might be a keeper.

"The irony of it is, if this is the case, what do I do?" he asks. "Do I keep it? Because it's totally affordable, since it's such a piece of crap."

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