FOND MEMORIES: The instantly recognisable shape of one of the first Volkswagen Transporters. Image: Newspress.
• From workhorse to legend
• Notepad sketches base for success
• 11-million T-series sold worldwide
HANOVER/WOLFSBURG, Germany - Some retire at the age of 65 – but this one is just getting started! Production of the first Volkswagen Transporter began 65 years ago and the ‘Bulli’ is still going strong in 2015.
The first units were built in Wolfsburg before production started at a new facility in Hanover in 1956. This date was also the beginning of a unique automotive love story: today the entire model series has attained cult status.
Hippy or tradesman – everybody is driving a Transporter.
It all began in 1947 with a pencil sketch: Dutch car-importer Ben Pon saw a simple flatbed vehicle at the Volkswagen plant and, taking it as a basic idea, sketched the outlines of a Transporter with Beetle DNA in his notebook.
Two years later VW plant manager Heinrich Nordhoff presented four prototypes: two panel vans, a kombi and a small bus. He promised that the Transporter would be as uncompromising and robust as the Beetle: "These vehicles won't be handled with kid gloves, rather they will be treated roughly."
Designers used the engine and axles of the Beetle. Instead of the central tubular frame of the popular family car of the time the bus had a unitised body on a ladder frame. The 1.1-litre engine produced 18kW at 3300rpm.
The bus could transport eight people and the two rear-seat rows could be removed easily to create load space for around 750kg of payload.
The head of technical development of VW from 1948-52, Alfred Haesner, said: "Accordingly, this type of commercial delivery vehicle can be used for all branches of business... as a small bus, a special-purpose vehicle, postal vehicle, ambulance or mobile station."
Production began on March 8 1950 in Hall 1 of the VW plant in Wolfsburg - 10 a day. By the end of 1950 8001 Transporters had been built. Demand was enormous, especially since its price made it an attractive option to tradesmen and retail businesses.
The unique vehicle quickly became an export hit. VW buses could simply transport anything and everything: rubble and debris, mortar and building stones, breakfast rolls and beeswax, cigars and newspapers.
A VW bus with a camping box made its appearance in 1951 at the automobile exhibition in Berlin. The delivery van with a rear engine suddenly held the promise of an entirely different type of travel. For the first time, it travelled over the Alps. Later, it was driven to India when hippies discovered the ‘Bulli’ for themselves.
Four years after its production launch the 100 000th Transporter left the assembly line in Wolfsburg in 1954. There were 30 models, daily production was 80 vehicles but it couldn’t produce more because the plant was already filled with Beetle production.
It became clear that the Transporter needed its own plant.
Construction began in early March 1955 in Hannover-Stöcken and the plant was built from the ground up in one year. In March 1956 the first "Made in Stöcken" Transporters come off the assembly line. This was the beginning of a future symbol of the ‘economic wonder years’.
By today (2015) 11-million T-series vehicles across five generations had been produced worldwide.
The chairman of the brand board of management of VW Commercial Vehicles, Eckhard Scholz, 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 – trades work, retail or service business, family or recreation."
...AND THE OTHER PRODUCTS
Production of the new generation model, the T6, launched earlier in 2015. Along with the T-series, the Hannover-Stöcken plant also produces the Amarok bakkie. The successful California recreational vehicle is built not far away in Limmer. Around 12 200 people are employed at the Hannover business site of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.
The Poznan plant in Poland (5700 employees) produces the Transporter and the Caddy and another plant is being built in nearby Wrzesnia for the new Crafter.
Today, about 19 500 people work for the VW Commercial Vehicles brand.
ERA BEFORE ROBOTS: The start of all Volkswagen cult status. Image: Newspress / VW