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VW CAMPER HISTORY

The idea for the Type 2 is credited to Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon, who drew the first sketches of the van in 1947. The aerodynamics of the first prototypes were not good but heavy optimisation took place at the wind tunnel of the Technical University of Braunschweig. The wind tunnel work paid off, as the Type 2 was aerodynamically superior to the Beetle despite its slab-sided shape. Three years later, under the direction of Volkswagen's new CEO Heinz Nordhoff, the first production model left the factory at Wolfsburg.

Unlike other rear-engined Volkswagens, which evolved constantly over time but never saw the introduction of all-new models, the Transporter not only evolved, but was completely revised periodically with variations referred to as versions "T1" to "T5," although only generations T1 to T3 (or T25 as it is called in Ireland and Great Britain) can be seen as directly related to the Beetle (see below for details).

The Type 2 was among the first commercial vehicles in which the driver was placed above the front wheels. As such, it started a trend, at least in Germany, where the Ford Transit among others quickly copied the concept. In the United States, the Corvair-based Chevrolet Corvan cargo van and Greenbrier passenger van even went so far as to copy the Type 2's rear-engine layout, using the Corvair's horizontally-opposed, air-cooled engine for power. Except for the Greenbrier and a mid-70s water-cooled version from Fiat, the 850 Microbus neither of which were produced in great numbers the Type 2 remained unique in being rear-engined which was a disadvantage for the Panel Van which couldn't easily be loaded from the rear due to the engine cover intruding on interior space, but generally advantageous in terms of traction and interior noise.

 

Another trend that the Type 2 may not have started, but that it certainly gave momentum to, is the use of nicely-trimmed commercial vans as people carriers. This first took hold in the United States in the 1960s, aided by very intelligent, tongue-in-cheek advertising by the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency.

During the hippie era in the United States, the Bus became a major counterculture symbol. There were several reasons: The van could carry a number of people plus camping gear and cooking supplies, extra clothing, do-it-yourself carpenter's tools, etc. As a "statement", its boxy, utilitarian shape made the Type 2 everything the American cars of the day were not. Used models were incredibly cheap to buy a majority were hand-painted (a predecessor of the modern-day art car). Some Bus enthusiasts (especially for antiwar activists) would replace the VW logo with a painted peace symbol up front. Since that time, however, the original 19501967 Type 2 (primarily the pre-1956 barndoors) has become a hot collector's item with special variations reaching into the North American five-figure price territory. The second generation has also passed its low-price years and is on its way to collector status.

TYPE 1 VW "SPLITTIE" OR "MICROBUS"

The first generation of the VW Type 2 with the split front window, called the Microbus or Splittie among modern fans, was produced from March 8th, 1950 through the end of the 1967 model year. From 1950 to 1956, the T1 was built in Wolfsburg; from 1956 it was built at the completely new Transporter factory in Hannover (usually spelled "Hanover" in English). Like the Beetle, the first Transporters had a 1.2 L, 25 hp (19 kW), air-cooled four-cylinder boxer engine mounted in the rear. The 36 hp (22 kW) version became standard in 1955 while an unusual early version of the 40 hp (25 kW) engine debuted exclusively on the Type 2 in 1959. This engine proved to be so uncharacteristically troublesome that Volkswagen recalled all 1959 Transporters and replaced the engines with an updated version of the 40 hp (25 kW) engine. Any 1959 models that retain that early engine today are true survivors. Since the engine was totally discontinued at the outset, no parts were ever made available.

 

The early versions of the T1 until 1955 were often called the T1a or "Barndoor," owing to the enormous rear engine cover, while the later versions with a slightly modified body (the roofline above the windshield is extended), smaller engine bay, and 15 in (381 mm) wheels instead of the original 16 in (406 mm) ones were called the T1b. From the 1963 model year, when the rear door was made wider (same as on the T2), the vehicle was referred to as the T1c. 1963 also saw the introduction of an optional sliding door for the passenger/cargo area instead of the standard outwardly hinged doors.

In 1962, a heavy-duty Transporter was introduced as a factory option. It featured a cargo capacity of one metric ton (1,000 kg) instead of the previous 750 kg, smaller but wider 14 in (356 mm) wheels, and a 1.5 L, 42 DIN hp (31 kW) engine. This was so successful that only a year later, the 750 kg, 1.2 L Transporter was discontinued. When the Beetle received the 1.5 L engine for the 1967 model year, its power was increased to 44 hp DIN (32 kW).

German production stopped after the 1967 model year; however, the T1 still was made in Brazil until 1975, when it was modified with a 1968-79 T2-style front end and big 1972-vintage taillights into the so-called "T1.5" and produced until 1996. The Brazilian T1s were not identical to the last German models (the T1.5 was locally produced in Brasil using the 1950s and 1960s-era stamping dies to cut down on retooling, alongside the Beetle/Fusca where the pre-1965 bodystyle was retained), though they sported some characteristic features of the T1a, such as the cargo doors and 5-stud (205mm bolt circle) rims. VW do Brasil production aircooled vehicles (including the VW Brasilia) are a rare find in the USA and usually sought after by collectors; the website vintagebus.com has several rare pics of the T1.5.

Among American enthusiasts, it is common to refer to the different models by the number of their windows. The basic Kombi or Bus is the 11-window (a.k.a. 3-window bus because of three side windows) with a split windshield, two front cabin door windows, six rear side windows, and one rear window. The deluxe model featured eight rear side windows and two rear corner windows, making it the 15-window (not available in Europe). And the sunroof deluxe with its additional eight small skylight windows is, accordingly, the 23-window. From the 1963 model year, with its wider rear door, the rear corner windows were discontinued, making the latter two the 13-window and 21-window respectively.

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