The year is 1969; the location is the United States; the atmosphere is buzzing with the energy one only finds when change is about to occur. There is a sweet stench in the air and everywhere you look, long-haired, brightly clothed people are cheering. Something catches your eye; what is that machine with its brightly colored flowers and peace signs on it that has its sliding door open to show off it’s house-like features inside. It is none other than the Volkswagen Bus.
When most people think of the Volkswagen Bus, it takes them back to the 60’s when Americans were traveling in them to peaceful war protests. These buses were a huge part of what is commonly known as the “hippie movement”, however, this is not where or how they started. In fact, the design for them was sketched nearly 2 decades before the “hippie movement” was ever heard of.
In 1947, a Dutch importer was visiting the German-based Volkswagen company to purchase their Type 1 Beetle. While he was visiting, he had the idea of turning the Beetle’s design into that of a transport vehicle. He sketched this idea on a napkin, but production of the actual vehicle had to wait for almost two years due to the maximum production already being done for the Beetle. Heinz Nordhoff finally released the first model of the VW Bus in 1949. The first design had an 1100 engine that was in the rear and was called a “workhorse” because it could haul a horse 15 hands high; this model was built for hauling, not comfort. There were only two model options that year, the Kombi and the Commercial. In 1950, another model was built, called the “mini bus” or “microbus”, that offered two-tone paint, higher-quality upholstery and was built more to transport passengers instead of cargo. In 1951, the Deluxe Microbus or the “Westfalia” model was built that was like a camper or a house inside of a van, and it was the first to place the driver in front of the front roadwheels. It became very popular with younger people. This was also the year that the ambulance model was first built. It offered the fuel tank in front of the transaxle, a spare tire behind the front seat and added “tailgate doors”, which all became standard options from 1955-1967.
In 1952, the first Transporter VW Bus was sold in the United States. This is also the year that the new 1200 engine was introduced. Between 1952 and 1954, over 30 versions of the bus was made, ranging from the ambulance to campers to delivery trucks. In 1959, a newly designed 30kW engine was debuted exclusively on the VW Bus; it failed and all of the ‘59 models were recalled and had their engines replaced with an updated version of the 30kW. In 1963, bigger engines were offered as options and the sliding side door became a standard option. This is also the year that the buses got a new classification as a station wagon to avoid tariffs. President Johnson put a 25% tariff on all imported “light trucks” from Germany and France because they had put a tariff and restriction on chicken imported from the United States. The new classification helped keep the buses coming into the United States, but post-1971, the buses were rare finds. In 1967, the buses got bigger engines again, VW did away with the “splittie” style windshield in place of a bay window windscreen, and the electrical system received an overhaul. Models after this year are considered the most reliable.
In 1968, the Germans stopped producing the Type 1 model of the VW Bus, though Brazil continued to produce it. The Germans opted to build a Type 2 model which had a 1.6L 35kW DIN engine, though it proved to be inefficient. The body of the vehicle became more rounded, which was well-embraced, and the interior was celebrated for the inclusion of a sofa bed, pump sink, rear-facing seats and an icebox. In 1971, a 1.6L 37kW engine with dual intake ports and front disc brakes were standard options. From 1972-75, the Type 4 motor was introduced and honed and the interior boasted more sofa beds, bright plaid upholstery, and gas stoves and refrigerators were options. From 1976-79, cabinetry was added behind the drivers seat along with a swiveling passenger seat. This was the last year before the VW Bus was renamed the Vanagon and VW Camper.