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History of the Volkswagen Bus: 1949 to Present

Oct 25, 2012

Volkswagen Bus History

The Volkswagen Bus: A Historical Journey

Ever heard of the first minivan ever created on Earth? Well, the Volkswagen Bus might not be the first, but it's certainly an iconic contender, especially in the realm of microbuses.

Picture this: a big box sitting atop the reliable Beetle chassis. That's essentially what the Volkswagen Bus is – robust, sturdy, and eternally iconic. Its genesis dates back to 1949 when the original design of the first generation cemented its status as an emblem of this vehicle model.

Following the resounding success of the Beetle in the market, Volkswagen found itself in a strong enough position to venture into creating the second model, which came to be known as the Bus Type 2. Interestingly, this bus was developed sans the input from Ferdinand Porsche, the mind behind the original Beetle. So, who took the reins of this design evolution?

Let's delve into the historical development of the Volkswagen Bus design to uncover the intriguing story behind this beloved vehicle.
More Than a Ride: The Volkswagen Bus Experience

(Volkswagen Bus: Forget speed. The Volkswagen Bus was about the journey. It carried families, dreams, and entire lifetimes on the road. This iconic vehicle wasn't just transportation, it was a symbol of adventure and freedom. Experience a legend reborn with the new electric ID. Buzz. (Volkswagen ID Buzz: [2024 VW Microbus ID. Buzz Is Coming])

First Generation (T1)

1949 Type 2 Transporter Cargo (Prototype)

Sporting a 1100cc engine, air-cooled just like the Beetle, early versions of the Volkswagen Bus boasted a modest 25 horsepower. This pioneering vehicle was officially launched to the market on March 8th, 1950.

1950-1960 Type 2 Kombi

From 1950 to 1960, the Volkswagen Bus maintained its foundation, powered by a 1100cc engine delivering 25 horsepower. It wasn't until 1951 that the first passenger microbus was introduced, offering two variants: the Kombi and the Deluxe, marking a significant expansion of the model's lineup.

  • In 1956, a notable upgrade occurred under the hood of the Volkswagen Bus, with the engine size increasing to deliver 36 horsepower at 3700 rpm and an impressive 56 pounds-feet of torque at 2000 rpm.

1960-1967 Type 2 Microbus

During this transformative period, the Volkswagen Bus underwent significant enhancements, both in features and power.

  • 1960: The interior saw a notable upgrade with the introduction of real split front seats, creating a narrow aisle for easy movement within the bus. Front-seat riders also began utilizing the side door for entry and exit, rather than front door were climbing over those high wheel arches. This marked the inception of the walk-through design.
  • 1961: On the engine side, a substantial improvement unfolded as the 1200cc engine now boasted 40 horsepower, enhancing the overall performance of the Volkswagen Bus.
  • 1963: Another milestone was achieved with the introduction of a 1500cc engine, reaching its zenith at 53 horsepower at 4200 rpm, providing a considerable power boost to the iconic vehicle.
  • 1966: The air-cooled engine continued its evolution, growing to 1500cc and delivering 44 brake horsepower. The bus now had a safe cruising speed of 55 mph, with the potential to reach an adventurous, albeit unsafe, 70 mph.
  • 1967: A major safety improvement came in the form of a dual-circuit braking system, where front and rear brakes were independently pressurized hydraulically. However, a hydraulic circuit issue prompted Volkswagen to recall and redesign the system for a fixed version.

Throughout the period spanning from 1950 to 1967, the Volkswagen Bus retained its classic design, with only minor modifications, such as changes in lights, indicators, bumpers, mirrors, and various passenger door and window variations.

Notably, 1966 and 1967 stand out as the golden years for the split window Type 2, representing the pinnacle of its design and functionality during this era. These years are often regarded as the zenith from a modern perspective for the classic Splitty.

Second Generation (T2)

1968-1972 Early Bay (T2A)

From 1968 to 1972, the Volkswagen Bus underwent a significant transformation, transitioning into what is known as the Early Bay (T2A) model. While still based on the rear-engine Beetle chassis, this iteration emerged larger, sleeker, and more potent than its predecessor.

Gone were the multiple window designs of the past, replaced instead by expansive windows on the front, rear, and sides, marking the end of the iconic split window era. Passenger variants bid farewell to the dual doors, opting instead for a single right-side sliding door. The overall look evolved, with a flatter front end featuring stronger bumpers and improved headlamps, though some lamented the loss of the previous model's distinctive character.

Despite these changes, the second-generation VW Bus maintained its trademark upright driving position while incorporating enhanced front crush space for improved crash protection.

Under the hood, all second-generation Type 2 models were equipped with the latest Beetle's 1600cc engine, generating 57 horsepower at 4400 rpm and torque at 3000. While horsepower saw an increase compared to the first generation, so did curb weight, resulting in similar performance metrics. The second-generation Volkswagen Bus didn't outpace its predecessor, with a 0-60 mph time of around 37 seconds and a top speed of 65 mph remaining unchanged.

1973-1979 Late Bay (T2B)

Between 1973 and 1979, the Volkswagen Bus entered its Late Bay (T2B) phase, following the earlier Early Bay (T2A) era. This generation is often referred to as the Bay window models, encompassing both the T2A and T2B variants. While the fundamental design remained consistent, there are distinct style differences between the two. Models before 1973 are typically identified as the Early Bay (T2A), while those produced after 1972 are recognized as the Late Bay (T2B). These distinctions serve to highlight the evolutionary progression within the Bay window lineage of the iconic Volkswagen Bus.

Third Generation (T3)

The Third Generation T3 1980-1992

Larger and heavier come with more squared and less rounded styling. Why do I call the third generation the last generation? Because this generation is still on the same base, same layout with a rear engine and rear-wheel drive so the T3 was the final generation of rear-engined Volkswagens.

  • 1986, a larger engine 2109cc with water-cooled and high-tech traction-enhancing all-wheel drive (4WD) option, known as the Syncro was released.
  • 1986-1992, where all Syncro's has been built at Puch in Graz/Austria.
  • More details about Syncro.

Fourth Generation (T4)

The New Generation T4 1993-2003

The introduction of the T4 generation from 1993 to 2003 marked a significant shift in the design of the Volkswagen Bus. Departing from its traditional rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, the T4 embraced a modern front-engine, front-wheel-drive configuration. This updated layout not only enhanced handling and maneuverability but also allowed for more efficient use of interior space, making the T4 generation a notable evolution in the history of the Volkswagen Bus.

Fifth Generation (T5)

The Current Generation T5 2004-present

The current generation of the Volkswagen Bus, known as the T5 and marketed under the popular names Multivans and Caravelle, made its debut in Europe towards the end of 2003. Serving as a direct successor to the T4, it carries forward its predecessor's distinctive looks and versatile utility.

However, Volkswagen faced cost-related challenges, resulting in the absence of the T5 Transporter from the United States and Canada markets in any form. In response, Volkswagen introduced the Volkswagen Routan, a passenger minivan based on Chrysler LLC's Dodge Caravan, to cater to North American consumers. Nevertheless, the T5 Transporter continues to be available in Mexico under the Eurovan nameplate, maintaining its presence in select markets despite the geographical limitations.

+ In Mexico, the Volkswagen T2 Kombi and Panel were produced from 1970 to 1994.
+ Volkswagen has factories in Brazil and he's still make and producing T2 (VW Kombi) so far, until right now ^_^. (Update)
+ South African production of the T3 continued, for regional market only, until 2002.
+ And I am still waiting for new Volkswagen Microbus at 2014-2015, and I hope this not rumors.
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