A brief history of the hippie van
The Volkswagen van is an “old-school” icon from the 1960s counterculture – the Beatles, love, peace, anti-war, pro-women and all things free – to road trips, surf culture and wildlife safaris. This friendly and fun-loving van is considered to have its own personality and most South Africans will always remember the VW Kombi as a familiar face on the roads since the mid 1950s. This vehicle definitely deserves a tribute for being one of the most popular in automotive history – a trusty steed not to be forgotten.
The Volkswagen Type 2 – also known as the Transporter, Kombi and Microbus – was introduced by the German automaker as its second car model following the Type 1 – also known to many as the Beetle.
The Kombi’s simple inception came to be after the Plattenwagen was engineered; a flatbed truck based on a Beetle chassis and built from VW parts. It was designed shortly after the Second World War to move supplies and parts around the Wolfsburg factory in Germany, and proved to be a very useful vehicle.
Improved versions were subsequently made to the same flat-bed design. Ben Pon, a Dutch importer for Volkswagen, then came up with the idea to move the cab forward, fitting it with a more powerful VW engine and a split windshield.
The first prototype for the iconic VW Transporter was born in 1947 and introduced to the world in 1950. After its initial production, sales went from strength to strength and by 1954, plans were well underway to open up another factory in Hanover, Germany.
This very first generation of the VW Type 2 was produced from 1950 through to 1967. Mechanically, the Transporter was basically the same as the Beetle up to 1970, sharing many sets of parts, which kept costs down. With its engine at the rear and passengers placed up front over the axle, the payload was perfectly balanced.
The first Kombi touched down in Cape Town in 1952 and its excellent suspension and above-average ground clearance made the vehicle an instant success. In 1955, the decision was taken to manufacture it locally. At the time, it was sold for a price of R1 348 and had a 1 200 cc engine producing 27 kW of power.
The Kombi was loved by South Africans for its generous space facilities and its ability to go anywhere and everywhere. Its interior allowed for modifications such as beds and fridges and its exterior allowed for roof racks – the ultimate appeal for surfers.
A series of second-generation Transporters, known as Bay Window Transporters, was launched in 1967 and produced in Germany until 1979. This second generation van was designed with safety and comfort in mind and was much heavier and larger than its predecessors.
In 1975, the VW Fleetline was released in South Africa as a budget alternative to the German models. It was only in production for a year, comprising of parts from both older and newer Transporter versions.
The era came to an end when the classic round-shape buses were phased out in 1979, as they were replaced with the newer, square-shaped Microbus. This model, known to many as the Caravelle, became the third generation of Transporters.
The legacy of the VW Transporter – as one of the most loved and treasured vehicles of all time – will always live on. Thanks to Volkswagen for over 60 years of transporting memories and adventures!