Remembering the Kombi.
Our tribute to the van that shaped our world - and to those it saw off on the way.
As production of the Type 2 ends, let us not forget that the Transporter was born out of necessity, as were its rivals of the time. Europe cried out for cheap transport - not only to mobilize the population but to rebuild the infrastructure - they really needed cheap yet reliable Bulli's (meaning workhorse)...
1945 - 1946
Post-war light vans tended to be scaled down "two or three box" versions of pre war models, or they were derived from smaller cars, as this Dagenham built 30hp 7-seater Fordson Illustrates.
Fiat rejuvenated their pre-war 508 -1100 range, which included car based light commercials - the 1100 Furgoncini (van), Camioncino (pick-up) and Giardineiera (stationwagen). Versions of these were built under license in France by Simca, as the Simca 8. They were replaced in 1953 by the more modern 1100N, which was also built in Germany by NSU-Fiat (partners since 1927) and Steyr in Austria.
Citroen of France were first off the blocks with a new model. Debuting at the Paris Motor Show, the H Van was built on the pre-war Traction Avant front wheel drive monoque chassis. The characteristic ribbing on the body allowed for a lightweight yet strong construction that when coupled with its 1628cc and 1911cc engines from the Traction Avant and later DS saloons, gave this van, in both short wheel base and long wheel base forms, payload capacities ranging from 850kg to 1600kg. 478,743 were produced in France and Holland until production ended in 1981, to make way for the Citroen J5 version of the Fiat Ducato and Talbot Express.
Preceding the Transporter by a couple of years was the front wheel drive Tempo Matador. The range grew through the 50's to include Wiking 1, Rapid 1 and Matador 1 with a common restyled front end. 1963 saw the Tempo Matador become the Hanomag Matador E which morphed into the 1971 Mercedes L-series vans The 1950's range (including a Rapid Westfalia camper) was powered by a front mounted VW air-cooled engine which was replaced in 1957 by a more powerful 1500cc British Motor Corporation 'B' series engine, growing to 1600cc (the M16) in the 1960's. This 1600cc BMC engine continued alongside a Mercedes diesel engine through to the 1977 LT sized Mercedes L208 van.
The Morris J was basically a forward control one-box body on a pre-war ladder chassis with a Morris Oxford 1476cc side valve engine and 3-speed gearbox. In 1952 Austin and Morris merged to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC), but it wasn't until 1957, when the J grew into the JB with its 1500cc ohv B-series engine, that an Austin sister - the 101 - emerged, which looked basically the same, apart from the radiator grille. The range was replaced in 1960 with the J4, which itself was replaced by the conventional front-engined, rear wheel drive Sherpa in 1974.
DKW's front-engined front wheel drive 3-cylinder, 2-stroke Karavan / Luxus Bus had superior performance over the VW, but with it's extra weight, fuel economy was hit hard. The DKW (Dampf Kraft Wagen - Steam Driven Car) Schnellaster F89L concept, together with the Tempo Matador, may well have been the inspiration for the Transporter. Being part of the Auto Union, which included pre-war Audi, Horch and Wanderer marques, DKW's badge was the familiar four fings that we see on Audi's today - hence the term Audi bus. The group was snapped up by Mercedes in 1958, and passed onto VW in 1965, when all of the two-stroke models were phased out.
The Peugeot 202 / 203 based D3A was launched in October 1949 to replace the Q3A and updated by the D4A in 1955 when the range split into petrol and diesel versions. The D4B came in 1960 only to be replaced by the Peugeot J7 in 1965. It is notable by its 1400kg payload capacity and in 1954 a 14 seater minibus was launched.
1950 - 1951
Full scale production of the "T1" started at Wolfsburg on March 8th 1950 at a rate of ten a day.
Available from late 1951, the Deluxe Microbus and 23-window "Samba" are acknowledged as the first popular and practical MPV's - the Samba with its famously distinctive rear corner windows (until 1963, when the larger tailgate was introduced) and the characteristic skylights and full length Golde fabric sunroof.
A Diesel Transporter?
Although not a specific Transporter study, Project 508 was a VW commission given to Porsche during 1951 to investigate the merits of a diesel engined Beetle. A Beetle and a Transporter were used to test the 4 cylinder engine - lessons learned from this allowed Porsche to develop the 3-piece crankcase for the 1.3 and 1.5 litre engines fitted to later 356's. Although economy gains were huge performance was decidedly lack lustre with a 0-60 mph time of 60 seconds - in the Beetle! Subsequently, a two stroke diesel was developed and used in the Porsche tractors of the late 1950's and early 1960's.
Inspired by Westfalia's 1951 "Campng Box", VW offered Westfaliawerke the rights to build a camper version of the T1 that would be sold through their network in strategic markets the world over. Westfaila were also given charge of most of the special order body construction for the EU market. In spite of it's deep involvement with VW, Westfalia built camper versions for Tempo and Ford - as well as cabs for Mercedes Unimogs, various trailers and towbars.
The first serious competitor to the Transporter, in terms of production numbers, was Bedford's CA of 1952. The range also included a Dormobile camper - The Walter Martin elevating roof was even used by Westfalia on their camper van conversions. Dormobile was a generic name for Motor Caravans in the UK, until the early seventies when Caravanette took over. Now we just call them Campervans! The Australians call them Kombis - CA's were available in export markets, such as Australia, with 6-cylinder engines.
Hot on the Bedford's heals was the British Thames 400e of 1952, with its 1.7 litre Consul and higher powered Zepher-4 engines, phasing out the early Fordson (which soldiered on until 1957, by the way) and the 1953 Ford FK1000 or Ford Koln, which was renamed Taunus Transit in 1961. The larger engines in these vehicles must have made many of their rivals seem under powered...
Exports of Beetle and Transport CKD kits from Wolfsburg to Brazil start.
As mentioned earlier Westfalia also produced a Motor Caravan on the Tempo Rapid platform (initially powered by VW engines).
The front wheel driver Romeo Autotutto launched at the 1954 Turin Motor Show -simply called Romeo. Romeo 2 came in 1957 (and also built under licence in Spain) and Romeo 3 in 1966 which was later called the A12 Furgoncino (van) / F12 Autocarro (light truck). It's 1290cc engine was the forerunner to the famous Alfa twin-cam and an unpopular 1160cc two-stroke supercharged two-cylinder diesel was replaced by a conventional Perkins unit. The Romeo was replaced by the Fiat Ducato / Talbot Express based AR6 in 1981. "Microbus" or MPV versions were called "Pomiscuo" and there is at least one known survivor.
The 1954 to 1950 Lancia Appia Furgoncini, was launched purely to take on the Fiat 1100 with its 1100cc V4 engine and rear wheel drive.
By October 1954 100,000 VW Bulli's had rolled off the Wolfsburg production line.
Beetle and Transporter CKD kits are exported to Australia.
With demand for both VW models constantly outstripping supply, production capacity was soon reached at Wolfsburg. On March 1st 1955 Dr Heinz Nordoff ceremoniously laid a foundation stone at Hanover - now the home of the Transporter. The first model rolled off the line on April 20th 1956.
Beetle and Transport CKD kits are exported to South Africa.
The 1956 - 1967 Morris J2, also known as the Austin J2 and Austin 152, was a 15cwt monocoque van, pick-up, minibus and chassis-cab. As with the JB, Morris and Austin versions had different radiator grilles. The 1500cc B-series engine was upgraded to 1622cc in 1961, when it was re-designated "J2-M16" - a diesel option was also offered. In late 1967 this van grew into the larger higher capacity 250 JU; the payloads of the J4 were uprated to 14cwt and 8cwt rationalising BMC's van range to just two models. Each Austin Morris car range had a van derivative as well, so all bases were well covered.
The 1956 633c Fiat 600 Multipla was available from the factory as a 4-seater weekender with a fold down bed, a 6-seater people carrier or a taki. It became the 600D when the engine was enlarged to 767cc which later became the 600T. A popular purchase scheme whereby a new car could be paid off within two years ensured the Multiplas success, together with a myriad of versions from the various Italian stylists, and an Abarth version! The 600 was replaced in 1965 by the boxier 850T, which matched the 600's floor with the 850 saloon's independently sprung rear axle and engine becoming the 903cc 900T in 1976 (which ceased production in 1985).
Local Beetle and Transporter production starts in Brazil on 2nd September 1957.
Triumph launched the 10cwt (1/2 ton) Standard Atlas with 1630cc / 2138cc petrol engines, aping the Morris J2. On Leyland's take-over of Triumph in 1961 the range was upgraded to the Leyland 15 (15cwt = 3/4 ton) and Leyland 20 (20cwt = 1 ton) with a 2260cc diesel. Scammel grafted the twin-wheeled Scarab tractor unit to make the Scarab 4 - the majority of production was snapped up by South African Railways. On Leyland's 1968 absorption into the British Motor Holdings, the range became superfluous as it competed against the BMC van range. Production switched to India where it was produced by the Standard Motor Company until the late 1970's. Its diesel engine was exported back to Britain for the FX4 London Black Cab.
The 1958 front wheel drive Renault Esafette nicknamed "Le Cheval" or "The Petit Panel" in the States, which was launched with an 850cc ohv enginer (600kg payload), which grew to 1100cc in 1961 (800kg payload) and 1300cc in1968 (with up to 1000kg payload) where it stayed until 1980 when it was replaced by the Trafic. It was available in short and long wheel base forms in standard height or high-top and bus versions were offered in standard or deluxe trim. The Estafette is labelled as Renaults answer to the bigger Citroen H and Peugeot D4A, but with its smaller engines and payload Renault clearly filled a niche in its patiotic home market.
Local Beetle and Transporter production starts in Australia.
Perhaps inspired by the Fiat 600 Japan embraced the minivan in 1959 with the 356cc Kurogane KB, quickly followed by the Subaru Sambar, Daihatsu Hi-Jet, Honda Acty, Suzuki Carr - some familiar names we know today.
Lancia replaced the Appia in 1959 with the forward control 36.5bhp, 1100cc V4 engined rear wheel drive Lancia Jolly. The Jolly itself grew in 1963 to become the physically bigger 1500cc / 1800cc Flavia based, front wheel drive Super Jolly, which had twin headlamps and was notable for its cast aluminium floor. Production ended in 1970 - and sadly only a handful survive.
The Rootes Group introduced the 1500cc Commer PA. In 1961 the engine was enlarged to 1600cc and then to 1725cc in 1965. Production started in Iran in 1962. Chrysler took over Rootes in 1967 and the van became the Commer PB / Dodge K / Fargo F, changing again in 1974 to the Dodge Space Van. Peugeot took over in 1978, and a last minute reprieve from a large British Telecom order saw limited UK production last until 1983, when it was replaced by the Talbot Express version of the Citroen (also owned by Peugeot by then) Fiat, Peugeot joint venture van.
The East German 992cc 3-cylinder two-stroke Barkas B1000 remained virtually unchanged throughout its 30-year life, although German reunification saw the old DKW derived Wartburg two-stroke being replaced by a 1300cc Polo engine in its final years. The model shown here is the last Barkas B1000/1 to emerge from the factory in April 1991.
In the United States Chrysler, Ford and General Motors traditionally preferred to build vans and pick-ups based on their cars ranges - it was not until 1961 that they hit back against the Transporter's runaway success with two models that shared the T1's wheel base dimension. The rear engined Chevrolet Corvair FC, (Forward Control) range of panel vans, pick-ups and buses, later to become known as the Corvan, was America's answer to the the Volkswagen. They shared the 2.3 litre 80 bhp flat 6-cylinder air-cooled engine, (which later grew to a 2.7 litre 180bhp turbo charge engine - one o the first production turbo charged engines) and chassis with the rear engined Corvair. The model show above it the novel Rampside Pick-up but the range included 6 and 8 door "Greenbrier" luxury bus models.
These people carriers are credited to be America's first "minivan" - their term for MPV and were also available with a dealer installed Camper Kit. The range was short-lived because Ralph Nader wrote in his book "Unsafe at any speed" that they (the Corvair cars) were inclined to be unpredictable handlers, stepping out in the wet or if their tyre pressures were out by even the smallest amount. The pick-ups were dropped in 1964 and the Greenbrier followed a year later, both being replaced by conventional model by 1965.
An abundance of Corvair engines an automatic gearboxes made for a popular Tyep 2 upgrade in the 1960's and early 1970's. The performance versions of the Corvair cars lasted until 1967, when they were replaced by the Camaro to take on Ford's Mustang which itself was Ford's answer to the turbo-charged Corvair Monza (otherwise known as the poor mans Porsche).
Also introduced in 1961 was the first generation Ford Econoline, or E-Series. This range lasted until 1967 when it was also replaced by a large conventional two box design.
October saw the 1,000,000th model emerge from Hanover.
The so-called Chicken Tax (25% import duty) had an immediate impact on van pick-up exports to the United States from France and Germany. The Microbus, however, continued to be marketed and sold as a car.
The larger tailgate on Hanover sourced T1's meant the famous Samba rear corner plexiglas windows had to go - however they remained on South African Fleetlines until 1975/6 and Brazilian Kombis until 1997.
The slant 6-cylinder Dodge / Fargo A100 cab-over-engine lasted almost unchanged to 1970. The range included the Sportsman Equip camper and formed the basis of some famous drag racing trucks.
"Unsafe at any speed the designed-in dangers of the American Automobile" was a publication by lawyer Ralph Nader, which heaped much scourn on the safety of all the unconventional rear engined, swing-axled motor vehicles of the time - and there were many, from European manufacturers (Fiat, Renault, Simca and Hillman - not just VW) and the American arm of General Motors, who made the rear-engined Corvair and Corvan.
Meanwhile in Europe...
VW brought Auto Union from Mercedes, which included the pre-war Audi name instantly giving VW the 2-stroke DKW F102 models which were rebranded as Audis - the F103 - and given new overhead valve 4-stroke engines of Mercedes origin. (VW also brought NSU in 1969).
The US market was also the first to get the 44hp 1500cc engine giving a top speed of 65mph over 59mph for the previous 34hp 1200cc engine (56mph for the previous 30hp 1200cc incarnation, which had a lower compression ratio). The sliding door was introduced as an option for the panel van in 1965 - South African Fleetlines continued with the hinged double side door as did the later Brazilian Kombi.
The Peugeot J7 replaced the D4 in 1965. It could be had with petrol or diesel engines with a choice of weights 1400kg or 1800kg. It was updated to the J9 in 1980 which evolved into a small bus chassis, once the J5 Ducato Eurovan became popular.
Both the Thames 400E and Taunus Transit were replaced by the 1965 Ford Transit.
The Corvan's replacement was the Chevrolet Sportvan / GMC Handivan which in 1966 formed the basis for the first successful Hydrogen powered vehicle, inspired by NASA technology. General Motor's first attempt was with the Corvair car, but it was simply too small - as can be seen below the fuel cell tanks, batteries and other paraphernalia entirely fill the rear of the van. Although the trials were a success, the programme was fraught with danger. One exploding tank spread debris over a 1/2 mile radius and the costs were astronomical making the project unviable. The research van can occasionally be seen as a static display at various museums across America.
The replacement of the Handivan saw General Motors follow Ford by stepping up a van size.
1967 - The T2a
Launched in August the 2nd generation Type 2 hit the ground running with the second millionth leaving the Hanover production line during the following year. In answer to Ralph Nader it's double jointed "IRS" driveshaft design gave a lower floor and cenre of gravity. Together with the stiffer body, ride and handling characteristics were greatly improved over the old swing-axle, although oversteer could still be an unwelcome distraction on a rainy day. Three years of development also resulted in a useful gain in interior space and better access via the larger doors carried over from the T1. The larger glass area and single "Bay" windscreen along with engine air vents in the window line brought the shape bang up to date. The line-up was largely unchanged with the exception of the Deluxe Microbus, which initially became the Clipper L. Pan American Airways took exception to the use of the name and promptly sued VW. Hence the top-line bus merely became known as Station Wagen in the US and Microbus elsewhere.