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The idea for the Type 2 is credited to Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon, who drew the first sketches of the van in 1947. Although the aerodynamics of the first prototypes were poor, heavy optimization took place at the wind tunnel of the Technical University of Braunschweig. The wind tunnel work paid off, as the Type 2 was aerodynamically superior to the Beetle despite its slab-sided shape. Three years later, under the direction of Volkswagen's new CEO Heinz Nordhoff, the first production model left the factory at Wolfsburg. Unlike other rear-engine Volkswagens, which evolved constantly over time but never saw the introduction of all-new models, the Transporter not only evolved, but was completely revised periodically with variations referred to as versions "T1" to "T5," although only generations T1 to T3 (or T25 as it is called in Ireland and Great Britain) can be seen as directly related to the Beetle (see below for details).

Early Volkswagen T1 split window microbus, 23-window (left) and 21-window right()

The Type 2 was among the first commercial vehicles in which the driver was placed above the front wheels. As such, it started a trend in Europe, where the Ford Transit among others quickly copied the concept. In the United States, the Corvair-based Chevrolet Corvan cargo van and Greenbrier passenger van went so far as to copy the Type 2's rear-engine layout, using the Corvair's horizontally-opposed, air-cooled engine for power. Except for the Greenbrier and various 1950s-70s Fiat minivans, the Type 2 remained unique in being rear-engined. This was a disadvantage for the early "barndoor" Panel Vans, which couldn't easily be loaded from the rear due to the engine cover intruding on interior space, but generally advantageous in terms of traction and interior noise.

T2 Bay window bus

Another trend that the Type 2 may not have started, but that it certainly gave momentum to, is the use of nicely-trimmed commercial vans as people carriers. This first took hold in the United States in the 1960s, aided by tongue-in-cheek advertising by the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency.

During the hippie era in the United States, the Bus became a major counterculture symbol. There were several reasons: The van could carry a number of people plus camping gear and cooking supplies, extra clothing, do-it-yourself carpenter's tools, etc. As a "statement", its boxy, utilitarian shape made the Type 2 everything the American cars of the day were not. Used models were incredibly cheap to buy — many were hand-painted (a predecessor of the modern-day art car). Some Bus enthusiasts (especially for antiwar activists) would replace the VW logo with a painted peace symbol up front. Since that time, however, the original 1950–1967 Type 2 (primarily the pre-1956 barn-doors) has become a highly sought after collector's item.


bus, split window, bay window