Happy birthday Bulli!
On March 8, the beloved Volkswagen (VW) “Bulli” celebrated its 65th birthday. Officially known as the T-series, nearly 11 million vehicles spanning five generations have been produced and sold worldwide. With the latest generation, the T6, being launched later this year, Bulli is a vehicle that certainly needs no introduction.
Its 65-year story is a fascinating one, though …
Visiting the VW plant in 1947, Dutch car importer Ben Pon noticed a simple flat-bed vehicle. The basic idea of this vehicle inspired him to sketch the outlines of a Transporter, with Beetle DNA, on a sheet of notebook paper. Four prototypes – two panel vans, a kombi and a small bus – were presented two years later by VW plant manager Heinrich Nordhoff.
The engine (1 131 cc producing 18 kW at 3 300 r/min) and axles were from the Beetle. Instead of a central tubular frame, the bus was fitted with a unitised body mounted on a ladder frame chassis.
The bus could transport up to eight people, and the two rear rows of seats could be removed, with just a few hand movements, to free up space for around 750 kg of payload.
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 and recklessly.”
Alfred Haesner, Head of technical development of VW GmbH from 1948 to 1952, proclaimed: “This type of commercial delivery vehicle can be used for all branches of business, for rush deliveries and freight, for example: as a small bus, a special purpose vehicle, postal vehicle, ambulance or mobile station.”
By the end of 1950, 8 001 Transporters had been built in Hall 1 of the VW Wolfsburg plant (ten per day). Thanks to its affordability and ability to transport anything and everything, demand was enormous.
At the 1951 automobile exhibition in Berlin, Germany, VW showed off a bus with a camping box – opening the Transporter up to an entirely new market. Within four years, the 100 000th Transporter came off the production line and the range spanned 30 different models. Despite daily production of up to 80 vehicles, the plant could handle no more. So, in March 1956, the first “Made in Stöcken” (Hannover) Transporters came off that new assembly line.
“The production launch of the T1 represented the beginning of a decades-long success story that has lasted right up to today,” says Eckhard Scholz, chairman of the brand board of management of VW Commercial Vehicles.
“There is always 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 work related to trades, retail or service businesses, family or recreation,” he adds.
A birthday milestone to remember!