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.
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
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
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
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.
TYPE 1 VW "SPLITTIE"
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;
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
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
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