Happy B-Day to the Volkswagen Minibus and Transporter! Work Van Legend Turns 60 in UK This Year

 Happy B-Day to the Volkswagen Transporter

We’ve been pretty down on VW USA this year. Can you blame some pushback from automotive media here in the US in the face of the two-year delay on the Golf 7 arriving on our shores?

The first GTI’s are arriving in VW dealerships now, but these are from Germany. The bulk of the line is still months out, at the earliest.

The Jetta makes me cringe when I see it on the road, and the new US-market Passat is looking less-good every single day.

These old products are priced at the tippy-top of each of their respective model classes. The Passat 3.6 front-drive carries a $36,000 base price. The GTI is pushing past WRX dollars and fully into WRX STI price levels.

These is a bitter pill to swallow, and one that requires the cars themselves be technically excellent – far superior to any competitor. This might have been the case previously, but is emphatically not true today in 2014. The Jetta is a dog, the Passat is big but cheap and nasty to drive. It is lose-lose for VW USA, and the sales charts show it in stark relief month after month.

But the genius of the VW model lines is not all doom and gloom in small regional European markets like the UK.

Oh yea. I said small and regional regarding the UK market, because that is what it is. A tiny market.

But the UK and English hands guided the bombed-out VW Lower Saxony factory back to life after WWII, when the zone fell into British stewardship.

Legend has it …. that all that was left of the factory in LS was the intellectual property. Blueprints of cars, stored elsewhere.

Virtually everything else was destroyed by Allied bombers. The English returned the factory to the West German state of Lower Saxony, which still controls nearly 30-percent of VW stock to this day.

One brilliant concept rose from these ashes: the Transporter van. It almost single-handedly started the compact work van market, and that legacy continues today 60 years later.

Charming context of the VW minibus and transporter van from VW UK below.



  • First Transporter launched at the Earls Court Commercial Motor Show in 1954
  • Over 11.5 million Transporters built to date
  • From 786 UK sales in 1954 to 18,350 in 2013 – enduringly popular with British business
  • The van which helped build Britain and launched a million road trips

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.

Simple, cleverly engineered and more practical than anything else on the road at the time, the T1 marked the start of a revolution in the commercial vehicle industry. Today, 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 camper enjoying cult status across generations of owners.

The Transporter’s appeal remains unique. Over the years, the Transporter has helped millions of owners build businesses and fulfil dreams. From globetrotters to gardeners, beatniks to builders, the Transporter has become the default choice for many generations. And while the Transporter has evolved dramatically during that time – through five generations – the philosophy and vision that created the original still holds true.

In addition to mobilising a nation, the Transporter has also been the backbone of Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle business for the past six decades. From humble beginnings – just 786 were sold in its first year in the UK – the Transporter has been a driving force for Volkswagen. In 2013, UK sales of the Transporter reached 18,350 – a record figure that demonstrates the vehicle’s appeal is continuing to grow. Globally, total Transporter production stands at 11.5 million units.

The British connection

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 global icon

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 its superiority over its rivals, the T1 became the template for light commercial panel vans, pick-ups and microbuses – selling strongly for 17 years.

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.

Indeed, it wasn’t until the fourth-generation T4 arrived in 1990 that Volkswagen switched to the now familiar front-engine, front-wheel drive layout. And just as the original had done in 1954, the T4 set new standards for refinement, quality and flexibility.

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.

Getting the job done efficiently and reliably has been at Volkswagen’s heart for the past 60 years. It’s a reputation for rugged reliability that has endured over the decades to make the Volkswagen Transporter one of the world’s biggest selling light commercial vehicles.  To watch this evolution in action, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si97Yroyaq0


Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.

He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.

Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.

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