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23rd of March 2018


Throttle-Back Thursday: On this day in 1950, VW Bus production began

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Long before it mutated, ironically, into an expensive collector’s item, before it was a crucial part of the Volkswagen Brand DNA, before it gained any acoustic guitar-and-patchouli oil connotations, the Volkswagen Type 2 -- aka the Bus or Microbus, or Kombi or Transporter (and sometimes even the Westphalia) -- was a hard-working hauler for people and their stuff. The first production versions rolled down the Wolfsburg, Germany, production lines on March 8, 1950; they went on sale in the United States the following year.

Credit for the Volkswagen Bus concept as we know it is typically given to Ben Pon, a Dutch VW importer. But it was at least partially the brainchild of British Maj. Ivan Hirst, who managed Volkswagen production after WWII, and Heinz Nordhoff, the civilian manager who followed him. You didn’t have to be a genius to see the demand for a vehicle fitting the Type 2’s description: Germany (and Europe) desperately needed rugged, functional, mechanized transportation for both people and goods during the postwar rebuilding process.

As with the military Jeep, it’s the VW Bus’ unabashedly utilitarian roots that sparked its immediate success and ensured its enduring charm. The platform was simple enough to spawn a long list of variants, from vans to campers to pickups to family-haulers we’d characterize as minivans today.

Volkswagen has long tried to recapture the magic of the Microbus with a series of funky retro concepts; it claims that its most recent one, the electric ID Buzz, is actually headed to production. If it's as simple, flexible, unpretentious and low-key fun as the original, it might be as warmly received as the original. But we can’t imagine that it will ever surpass it. 

Read about the development of the VW bus, and our test drive of a 1965 panel van variant, in the excerpt from the May 27, 1996, issue of Autoweek below.

Autoweek May 27, 1996 -- 1949-66 VW Transporter history and drive

(5.01 MB)

Graham Kozak

Graham Kozak - Graham Kozak drove a 1951 Packard 200 sedan in high school because he wanted something that would be easy to find in a parking lot. He thinks all the things they're doing with fuel injection and seatbelts these days are pretty nifty too. See more by this author»

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