The Volkswagen 'Bulli' Transporter - one of the most recognisable classic vehicles in the world
While most would be retiring at the age of 65, one of the most recognisable vehicles in the world is still going strong.
The first VW Transporters – affectionately known as the ‘Bulli’ – rolled off the production line in March 1950 at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, with 10 being manufactured each day. What would become a Hippy icon in the 1960s started life in 1947 as a pencil sketch; the Dutch car importer Ben Pon saw a simple flat-bed vehicle at the Volkswagen plant and, taking it as a basic idea, he sketched the outlines of a Transporter with Beetle DNA in his notebook.
Two years later Volkswagen Plant Manager, Heinrich Nordhoff, presented four prototypes: two panel vans, a kombi and a small bus. Nordhoff promised that the Transporter would be as uncompromising and robust as the Beetle: “These vehicles won’t be handled with kid gloves, rather they will be treated roughly”, he said. Designers used the engine and axles of the Beetle, but instead of a central tubular frame of the popular family car, the bus had a unitised body that was mounted on a ladder frame.
The 1.1-litre engine produced 24.5PS at 3,300 rpm and could transport up to eight people – the two rear seat rows could be removed easily to free up load space for around 750 kg of payload. Alfred Haesner, Head of Technical Development of Volkswagen from 1948 to 1952, said: “Accordingly, this type of commercial delivery vehicle can be used for all branches of business, for rush deliveries and freight, e.g. as a small bus, a special-purpose vehicle, postal vehicle, ambulance or mobile station.”
By the end of 1950, 8,001 Transporters had already been built. Demand was enormous, especially since its affordable price made it an attractive option to tradesmen and retail businesses. It quickly became an export hit as well. Four years after its production launch, the 100,000th Volkswagen Transporter came off the assembly line in Wolfsburg in 1954.
By this point there were 30 different models of the vehicle. Daily production in Wolfsburg was at 80 vehicles but it couldn’t produce more because the plant was already filled to capacity with Beetle production. It became clear that the Transporter needed its own plant and in 1956 the Hannover site was opened and production switched. Today a total of 11 million T-series vehicles spanning five generations have been produced worldwide.
Dr. Eckhard Scholz, chairman of the Brand Board of Management of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, said: “The production launch of the T1 represented the beginning of a long success story that has lasted right up to today. “In the past, as well as the present, there is market demand for extremely reliable, versatile and individual vehicles. We deliver them in top quality and precisely tailored to every need – whether the vehicle is for trades work, a retail or service business, family or recreation.”
Production of the new generation model, the T6, launches this year.