As Volkswagen’s ID.Buzz continues to develop behind the scenes, we’re diving into the history of one of the world’s most iconic vans. Here’s how the VW bus story unfolded!
The one-of-a-kind Volkswagen bus has had several names throughout the years. Kombi, Type-2, Vanagon, T2, Westy, Transporter, Microbus, and HippieMobile, just to name a few. With that many names, it probably doesn’t surprise you that the Volkswagen bus is well-loved all over the world. So how did the world’s most iconic van come to fruition?
The first design of the VW bus was created in 1947 by a Dutchman named Ben Pon who was the first to import Volkswagen vehicles from Germany to the Netherlands and the United States. Pon witnessed VW’s Plattenwagen, a front-loaded car parts carrier, in action while visiting the Volkswagen factory and realized that creating a vehicle from the Plattenwagen’s design would make great use during the Post-war recovery. While touring the factory, Pon sketched out the first-ever design of the VW bus inside his notebook. Volkswagen remained too busy to put much effort into using Pon’s design inside the factory, but VW began to work on bringing Pon’s design to life over the next two years.
VW finally got around to creating a prototype version, the Type 29, of Pon’s design in 1949, but the company soon realized that the prototype wasn’t strong enough as a workhorse using the regular Beetle chassis. This led to the implementation of a ladder frame underneath the van. The design was finalized after completing a wind tunnel test to cut down on the amount of drag the van experienced while driving compared to the Beetle.
By November 12, 1949, the first eight models were released to the public. Volkswagen designed each model for a different set of needs: a pick-up truck based off the Plattenwagen, a “people-mover” with fixed seats, a dedicated cargo van, and a “people-mover” cargo van with removable seats known as the Kombi, or combination vehicle. All eight of these models are considered part of the Type-2 series. By 1954, over 100,000 Type-2s were on the road in Europe.
Over the next few years, the Type-2s would remain relatively the same. Volkswagen would only upgrade the engines slowly over the years from 1,200 cc to 1,600cc as they progressed similarly with the VW Beetle.
In 1951, the first-ever collaboration between Westfalia and Volkswagen came to be with the help of a British Army officer who wanted to turn a vehicle into a home. This officer wanted a vehicle that could allow him to travel around West Germany after the war to keep surveying and observing the area he had been stationed in during World War II.
Westfalia at the time was only known for its carriage building but decided to take a stab at the project by converting a Volkswagen bus to fit the officer’s needs. Instead of the regular sliding door, Westfalia split the side door into two and implemented foldable furniture to make going from van to home easy.
The first Westfalia-Volkswagen bus featured a folding table, a couch, ruffled curtains, a sideboard, and a roll-front cabin. The traditional vintage-style patterns started here with a checkered-pattern theme lining the walls and furniture.
And thus, van life was born.
The second generation of Volkswagen bus was known as T2s. This era of Microbuses started production in 1967 and no longer featured the split window that Type-2s were known for. By 1973, the second-gen buses offered a 1,700 cc engine and automatic transmission, opening Volkswagen’s market to more drivers than ever.
By the 1980s, Volkswagen changed the overall shape and feel of the VW bus. The Vanagon, as it’s known in America, entered the market with a new bigger, boxier feel. Westfalia and Volkswagen continued to innovate in their collaborations by bringing a pop-up camper top to Vanagons which made them the ultimate nomadic ride.
Vanagons were the last of the rear-engine buses as Volkswagen began changing with the times to make cars safer. Volkswagen would make a push away from putting drivers and passengers over the front area crumple zones to come up with their biggest design change yet.
In 1992, VW took a swift turn to meet industry safety standards and sent into production what many know now as the Eurovan. This van was no longer powered by a rear engine and rear-wheel drive, but by a front-engine and front-wheel drivetrain. The exterior design landed somewhere between the traditional box van you’d see today mixed with a curved front face that modern-day Volkswagens are known for.
Pop-up camper tops were still popular with Westfalia and Volkswagen Eurovans, but with the new design came a higher price tag. Because the Eurovan was so much more expensive, the fourth generation of Volkswagen bus wasn’t seen on the road too often.
Volkswagen stopped importing Microbuses to the U.S. shortly after the Eurovan was completed. Though the Microbus continued into its sixth generation in Europe, VW bus fans in the U.S. were cut off after the fourth-generation leaving many drivers wanting more.
2013 was the last production year for “Last Edition” Microbuses. The last editions were Brazilian-made Kombis with the original water-cooled engine. VW made 600 last edition models before calling it quits.
With Volkswagen bus lovers begging for a reboot, the company finally got the message and showed the world what had been behind closed doors for the last several years. An all-electric ID.Buzz was announced in late 2017 to bring all the nostalgia of the Type-2s together with a new futuristic way of driving.
The VW Buzz still bears the bread loaf shape of the original buses, although sleeker and safer. This model will feature wide-open spaces for passengers, high-tech and modern features, and a range of 270-340 miles all on battery power.
Will Volkswagen start a new era of travel again in 2022 when the Buzz hits showrooms worldwide? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Never had the world seen a vehicle that looked like what some claim to be a loaf of bread. The van was designed with the air-cooled engine in back to bring the sleek front-end design to life. Because the engine sits in the rear, Volkswagen was able to create a flat chassis that gave drivers a chance to sit front and center over the front wheels, while also providing enough space for more passengers to move about and stretch their legs.
With this kind of space, the VW bus has endless uses and was eventually developed as commercial and military vehicles, too. No car on the market could move as many people, as much gear, and as much fun as the Microbus did at the time of its origination. Still today, the iconic design and capabilities of the VW bus are revered all over the world for its individuality.
The VW bus is more than just a van. It became a way of life for many during the 60s and 70s. From camper van to party bus, Volkswagen delivered a vehicle that is capable of hard work and play which had never been experienced before their invention. The VW bus became the ultimate ride for music festivals and rallies, which eventually led to its name the HippieVan.
But hippies weren’t the only VW bus lovers, families and outdoor fanatics took to the bus early on to bring a version of home with them on the road. The Westfalia collaborations are still the most prevalent of VW buses in the U.S. and can be seen on the road looking for adventure all across the country.
People not only loved the VW bus for its functionality, but also for its character and personality.
Thankfully, Volkswagen has decided to continue with its iconic tradition of the Volkswagen bus. With any updates or upgrades, there will be growing pains and hecklers, but for the most part, people are excited to get behind the wheel of their favorite van again to relive memories and create more of their own. Here’s to the new era of the VW bus. We can’t wait to see what happens next.
What do you think about Volkswagen and its iconic Microbus? Would you buy the new model in 2022? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think.