John Muir (engineer)

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John Muir (1918–1977) was a structural engineer who worked for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), who "dropped out," 1960s-style, to become a writer and long-haired car mechanic with a garage in Taos, New Mexico, specializing in maintenance and repair of Volkswagens.[1] He was a distant relative of the naturalist John Muir.[2]

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive[edit]

In 1969, Muir collaborated with the artist Peter Aschwanden to create the definitive manual for Volkswagen owners, titled How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive; A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. Entirely hand-lettered with intricate hand-drawn illustrations, Muir's self-published edition sold more than two million copies to become one of the most successful self-published books in history, while its wry subtitle preceded (and likely inspired) the unending flow of "for Dummies" books from IDG Publishing, and other "idiot's guide to ..." books. Presently, the 19th Edition, with updated material by Tosh Gregg and Aschwanden remains widely available.[1][3]

Although first published at the end of the 1960s, the Volkswagen was an iconic 1960s vehicle, and in retrospect this book is iconic of hippies' funky do-it-yourself, make-do culture.

Muir's second book, published in 1973, The Velvet Monkeywrench, was an ambitious attempt to, as Muir put it, "lay out this structure, the bones of a completely new establishment," a proposal that included detailed plans for the replacement of the United States of America with the Republic of North America.[4] The book remains available from Ocean Tree Books.[5]


Muir died in November 1977[6] of a brain tumor, just short of his 59th birthday. In 1999, John Muir Publications was sold to Avalon Travel Publishing,[2] with publishing rights to How to Keep ... going to Avalon.[7]


  1. ^ a b Patton, Phil (2002). Bug: The Strange Mutations of the World's Most Famous Automobile. Da Capo Press/Simon & Schuster. pp. 116-119. ISBN 0306813599. Retrieved August 7, 2013 – via Internet Archive. muir velvet monkeywrench.
  2. ^ a b Quick, Bob (November 12, 1999). "Long-time Santa Fe Publishing Company Moving West". Santa Fe New Mexican. Retrieved August 8, 2013 – via EBSCOHost.
  3. ^ Van Cleve, Emily (September 10, 2001). "Santa Fe, N.M., Illustrator Updates Classic VW Repair Manual". Albuquerque Journal (NM). Retrieved August 8, 2013 – via EBSCOhost.
  4. ^ Muir, John (1973). The Velvet Monkeywrench. John Muir Publications. p. 6. ISBN 0943734398
  5. ^ "The Velvet Monkey Wrench". Oceantree Books. Retrieved August 7, 2013.
  6. ^ Muir, Eve (1999) "Afterword" in Muir, John (1973) The Velvet Monkeywrench, 1999 ed., John Muir Publications, p. 247. ISBN 0943734398
  7. ^ "About Avalon Travel Books". October 14, 2010. Archived from the original on September 26, 2013. Retrieved August 8, 2013.