The Volkswagen Transporter is celebrating its 65th birthday, although its conception goes back to 1947 and owes everything to Dutch car importer Ben Pon…

WANDERING AROUND the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany in 1947, Dutch car importer, Ben Pon, saw a flat-bed vehicle tucked away in a corner and drew a simple sketch combining a flat-bed truck with the styling of a VW Beetle. Or so the legend goes…

Two years later (1949), Volkswagen Plant Manager, Heinrich Nordhoff, presented four prototypes: two panel vans, a kombi and a small bus, saying: “These vehicles won’t be handled with kid gloves, rather they will be treated roughly.”

To keep costs of the Transporter down, engineers used the engine and axles from the Beetle. 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 18kW at 3300 rpm. The bus could transport up to eight people and the two rear seat rows could be removed easily to free up load space for around 750kg of payload.

Volkswagen transporter turns 65

Production began on 8 March 1950, in Hall 1 of the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, and 10 vehicles were being turned out each day. By the end of 1950, 8001 Transporters had already been built. But demand for the robust Transporter began to outstrip supply, so production was increased and just four years later the 100,000th Transporter rolled off the line (1954).

But it was in 1951 that the real ‘revolution’ occurred, when Volkswagen added a camping box to a Transporter bus – the notion of work and play in a vehicle became a reality and when ‘hippies’ discovered the thing and headed to India driving them, well, its fate was sealed and it quickly headed towards becoming a motoring icon.

Volkswagen transporter turns 65

In 1954 there were 30 different variants of the Transporter and daily production at Wolfsburg was 80 units per day. Production was at maximum capacity, especially with the Beetle also being produced out of the same facility. 

Construction of a new plant began in 1955 at Hannover-Stöcken, and the plant was built from the ground up in just one year. In March 1956, the first “Made in Stöcken” Transporters come off the assembly line.  Today, a total of 11 million T-series vehicles spanning five generations have been produced worldwide.

Volkswagen transporter turns 65

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.”

The Transporter story continues this year with the launch of an all-new Transporter T6. It will likely be available in Australia in 2016.


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