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Little Classics News: 4 July 2014

VW Transporter Celebrates 60 Years in Production

VW Transporter Celebrates 60 Years in Production

This year marks a significant milestone in the history of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles: sixty years ago, the first ever right-hand drive Transporter arrived in the UK.

Volkswagen Transporter T1

Simple, cleverly engineered and more practical than almost anything else on the road at the time, the T1 marked the start of a revolution in the commercial vehicle industry. This week, celebrating its diamond anniversary, the jewel in the commercial vehicles’ crown is one of the world’s biggest-selling light commercial vehicles, with variants such as the classic camper enjoying cult status across generations of owners.

Volkswagen Transporter T1

The Transporter’s appeal remains unique. Over the years, the Transporter has helped millions of owners build businesses and fulfil holiday dreams. From globetrotters to gardeners, beatniks to builders, the Transporter has become more of a cult than a vehicle. Today, even though five generations later it is a very different vehicle to the classic camper, the VW remains the same.

Humble beginnings

Volkswagen Transporter T1 Flatbed

Just 786 were sold in its first year in the UK. However, long before the Transporter made its first appearance on UK soil, the idea for a load-carrying vehicle based on a Beetle platform came from Major Ivan Hirst – a senior British army officer placed in charge of re-commissioning the post-war Volkswagen factory. He ordered the creation of a flat-bed truck – dubbed the Plattenwagen – to move parts around the factory. The innovative truck soon caught the eye of visiting Dutch importer Ben Pon in the mid-1940s, who proposed the idea of a more developed panel van version.

From factory mule to classic icon

Volkswagen Transporter T1

While the idea of a Beetle-based commercial vehicle was enthusiastically welcomed by Volkswagen, it wasn’t until the late 1940s that the factory had the resources to put in into production. In a timeframe that would be unthinkable today, the T1 went from drawing board to production line in just 13 months. In 1954, having tested the water in Volkswagen’s home market, the Transporter T1 made its public debut at the Earls Court Commercial Motor Show.

Having quickly established itself, the T1 became the template for light commercial panel vans, pick-ups and microbuses – selling strongly for 17 years.

Volkswagen Transporter T1 at work

Such was the brilliance of the original that the T2 that replaced it in 1967 retained much of its underpinnings. Even the boxy third-generation T3 that appeared in 1979 employed the neatly balanced, load-friendly rear engine layout of the original.

It wasn’t until the fourth-generation T4 arrived in 1990 that Volkswagen switched to the now familiar front-engine, front-wheel drive layout.

Volkswagen Transporter T3

The fifth-generation Transporter (T5) appeared in 2003 and raised the bar even higher with an even bigger load area, broader range and a host of advanced new technologies.

In another 60 years will be collecting and hankering after the T5 as much as we all love those original split screen T1s? We’re not sure they will have the same appeal, but we can’t deny VWs ability in trying.


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