In the long history of the automobile, only a few nameplates have really stuck around for an extended period. Think of names like Mustang, Jeep, or 911; vehicle lines that have been continuously produced for decades. And now, Volkswagen is celebrating a milestone of resilience for one of its vehicles – and no, we’re not talking about the Beetle.
You might know it as the ‘Kombi’, the ‘Bulli’, or just simply ‘the Bus’, but this year marks the 70th anniversary for the VW Transporter, the ubiquitous van that first rolled off the Wolfsburg, Germany production line in March of 1950. Since then, they’ve been built in Hannover, Germany, Mexico and Brazil, and VW has sold 13 million of them so far. Incredibly, the sixth generation is still being built!
The first of the line was the T1, possibly the most recognizable and certainly now the most sought-after version of the Transporter. Built between 1950 and 1967, the first version came in panel van, passenger carrier, eight-seat bus and pickup models. The T1 featured a rear-mounted, 1,131cc, air-cooled flat -four with 24hp (upgraded to 30hp and 40hp later), split windshield and the distinctive ‘V’ shape at the front.
The T2 came in 1967. An evolution of the original, it nonetheless got a little bigger, with larger flat-fours (still air cooled) that made up to a ‘blistering’ 70hp. This version was most famous for its Camper model with a pop-up roof, but all had a sliding side door as standard. We could say the T2 ended production in 1979, but that would be slightly misleading; while Volkswagen moved on to the T3, the factory in Sao Palo continued to build the T2 up until 2013.
The T3 took a different look altogether. Larger, boxier, with a completely new chassis, it still kept the engine in the back but, with stricter emissions standards around the world, the engines now had catalytic converters and turbochargers, and even a diesel was offered, along with an all-wheel-drive version. Yes, the Camper model continued, and was a sales success. This version was in production from 1979 to 1992, and you’ll still see plenty of them driving today.
From there, Volkswagen went in a completely new direction in 1990. The T4, debuting in 1990, was now a front-engine, front-wheel-drive van, with a longer front end, more car-like handling and a wider choice of engines. The T5 replaced that in 2003, more of an evolution of the T4 with better interiors, but again offering the choice of all-wheel drive. Finally, the latest version, the T6, arrived in 2015, offering modern technology, including an infotainment screen and cleaner diesel engines.
From any era, the Transporter has gained its fame (deservedly so) as a workhorse, hippie van, surfboard transporter, camper, family vehicle, and perhaps most of all, a cultural touchstone.
*Our thanks to Ted Gushue, whose articles on the ‘Binz Bus’ and the ‘23 Window VW Bus’ you can find HERE and HERE respectively. You can find more heritage images in THIS Petrolicious Productions article. And, lastly (phew!), you can go behind the scenes of our 1996 T4 video film shoot HERE