The birth of the VW Type II bus! Dutch importer Ben Pon noticed that the motorised trolleys used to transport parts around a VW Factory in Wolfsburg, Germany were made from a stripped down Beetle chassis and running gear.
This lead to his inspirational sketch, on the 23rd April, of a beetle-based van, slightly resembling a box on wheels!
Heinz Nordhoff took on this idea a year later when he took over as chief executive of Volkswagen and the first VW van was launched at the Geneva Motor Show in November 1949.
Production began on the 8th March at a rate of 10 vehicles a day. For the next four decades, the basic design remained the same and around five million buses were produced over that time. The Type II with its rear engine and ‘box on wheels’ body, filled a much needed gap in the market. With its uncomplicated design VW was able to turn out 90 different body combinations over the first five years. Variations included buses, pick-ups, fire engines, ambulances, beer wagons, ice cream vans, milk floats, bread vans and the well known and loved camper.
The Split. 1949 – 1967
Volkswagen produced the first generation of VW buses in the form of split screens. These ‘splitties’, which earned their name from the split windscreen, also sported a sweeping v-line front. They had a rear air-cooled engine that was simple and reliable, initially boasting just 25 bhp!
The microbus was introduced, with its famous two-tone paint, improved upholstery and the big cast-aluminium ‘VW’ logo.
The introduction of the Westfalia, whose name came from Westfalia-Werke, the contractor that built the vans, located in the Westphalia region of Germany. The VW camper van proved immensely popular with many features added about this time, including a longer dashboard with radio and clock, and chrome trim on the body.
The single cab pick-up appeared and in 1954 the engine size increased. About 30 versions of transporter were available, including a delivery van and ambulance. Four years later saw the introduction of the double cab pick-up. In the meantime, production of the VW bus had moved from Wolfsburg to Hannover.
The wide-bed pick-up trucks became available on special order and the high roof delivery van was also produced. Flashing indicators also replaced the semaphore.
Engine size increased to 1500cc from the original 1200cc, and the sliding side door became available as an option.
Marked the end of an era with the conclusion of split screen production, with 1,477,330 buses in the marketplace.
The Split-screen was replaced by the ‘early bay’. The style of the bay was a radical rethink, with major suspension changes and engines now being fitted with a stabilising ‘back bar’. A one piece windscreen and wind down windows also added to the changes – in fact just about every mechanical part and body panel was replaced!
The introduction the ‘late bay’. This saw the ‘wrap around’ style bumpers replaced with a square style; front indicators moved up to the new grille, and with the option of larger engine sizes (1600cc, 1700cc, 1800cc and 2000cc) the buses became far more reliable.
The late bay also introduced a range of safety features including improved brakes, a crumple zone and a reinforced passenger cell.
late bays were converted into campervans by various firms such as Devon, Viking, Danbury, Dormobile and Westfalia. Each offered different interior configurations for sleeping, storage and cooking as well as various types of roof. These ranged from straight up vertical pop tops, to front, side and rear hinging.
The last bay was produced. This also marked the end of the famous VW air-cooled engine as the next generations of campers would have engines that were water cooled.
First Class Campers only supply late bay campers for hire, with their radically improved reliability and safety features.