Volkswagen is celebrating a big birthday this month with the 70th anniversary of its iconic Transporter, also known as the "Bulli", or the Kombi... or the Microbus. A lifespan of 7 decades is the longest production run for a commercial van, ever.
The first Transporter rolled off the assembly line in Wolfsburg, named the Type 2 (Beetle was Type 1), and to date more than 13 million have been sold across six generations, some as commercial vans, others as family leisure vehicles. And these days, a classic VW Kombi is also a desirable classic and are regular attendees to SentiMETAL Gatherings.
What's in a name?
On 11 November 1949, Volkswagen revealed to the media a hand-built transporter prototype with a panel van design. It didn't have a name yet, but in the same year, Volkswagen tried to register the name “Bully” with the patent office. Unfortunately, another company had already secured the rights. Regardless, VW paved the way for public use of the name, quickly modifying the internal VW name of "Bully" to "Bulli". The unofficial name of the transporter was born. But it would take more than half a century for Volkswagen to finally obtain the patent rights for the trademark in 2007.
The arrival of the T2
It was really in the period of the T2 (1967 to 1979) that the Bulli's iconic status was cemented, with the help of a little rock & roll. In August 1969, musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan wrote history in Woodstock, and Pete Townshend of The Who composed the legendary rock opera “Tommy”. Three days of peace & music in Woodstock at which the most famous of all VW Bus photos was taken: of the “flower power T1” with a couple on its roof.
Now without the typical “V” of the T1, but with a curved windscreen (“baywindow”) and an air intake grille beneath it, the T2 however remained instantly recognisable. The T2 now had a sliding door as standard. At the Hannover plant itself, 2.14 million vehicles were built until it was replaced by the T3 in 1979.
Production continued far longer in South America and South Africa. The VW plant in Sao Paolo definitely holds the record for the longest production period: The last 1,200 units of the T2 – the “56 Anos Kombi – Last Edition” – were built end of 2013 at Volkswagen do Brazil.
Then comes T3 and David Kramer
For many South Africans it is the T3 that is most memorable, due in a very large part to an advertising campaign featuring local legend David Kramer and his rooi veldskoene.
The T3 hit the world stage in 1979 and continued in production in Germany until 1992, and also introduced for the first time the more luxurious Caravelle. South Africans loved this van so much that production continued here until 2005! Overall production reached 1.4 million units for this generation of Bulli.
Still popular today
Because of continued production of the T3, South Africans never really got to fall in love with the T4 (engine moved to the front), but as of T5 we were in step with Europe again and today a T6 is a very desirable, upmarket family vehicle.