Volkswagen's hippie bus turns 65

The first-generation Transporter used the engine and axles of the Beetle

Published: March 12, 2015, 12:40 AM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 11:56 AM

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It began life as a simple transporter of goods but it became a cult vehicle for a generation – the ultimate hippie van.

The Volkswagen Transporter, which has been known by many names over the years, both official and colloquial, has been in production for 65 years. And it's still going strong – though not in North America. Sales of the Eurovan, as it was most recently known here, ended with the arrival of the fourth-generation (T4) transporter in 2003.

VW says the van saga began in 1947 with a pencil sketch by a Dutch vehicle importer named Ben Pon. He saw a simple flat-bed vehicle at the Volkswagen plant and sketched the outlines of an enclosed Transporter based on that vehicle, but with Beetle components.

Two years later, Volkswagen's Wolfsburg Plant Manager, Heinrich Nordhoff, presented four prototypes: two panel vans, a kombi and a small bus. Nordhoff promised that the Transporter, as the family was called, would be as uncompromising and robust as the Beetle, saying: "These vehicles won't be handled with kid gloves; rather they will be treated roughly."

The Transporter used the engine and axles of the Beetle but, instead of a central tubular frame like the Bug, it had a unitized body mounted on a ladder frame. Its 1.1-litre engine produced 24 horsepower at 3300 rpm.

The bus could transport up to eight people and the two rear seat rows could be removed easily to free up load space for about 750 kg of payload. Production began on March 8, 1950, at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, and ten vehicles were manufactured per day.

With an affordable price that made it attractive to tradesmen and retail businesses, the Transporter was a huge success , both at home and in export markets. It could transport anything and everything – goods or people.

A Volkswagen bus with a camping kit appeared in 1951, taking the rear-engined van in a whole new direction that ultimately brought it to the United States and into the realm of the hippie movement in the 1960s.

Demand outstripped the production capacity of the Wolfsburg plant early on, so a new plant was constructed specifically for Transporter production in Hannover-Stöcken, beginning in 1955.

It continues there to this day. A total of 11 million T-series vehicles spanning five generations have been produced worldwide. Production of a new generation model, the T6, is scheduled to launch this year.