Volkswagen T1 Kastenwagen_cAfter all the hulla balloo on the Marlinspike Estate, Thomson and Thompson had arrived in a Citroen 2 CV to investigate the matter. While Professor Calculus was taking a walk a van passed him by. This particular vehicle went on to become an icon and one of the most versatile and loved vehicles in the world. It was a Volkswagen Type 1 Kastenwagen or panel van.

In 1947, Ben Pon, who was the Dutch importer of Volkswagen was at their factory. There he came across a contraption built by the workers to ease their effort of moving heavy parts from one part of the factory to other. Ben Pon came up with an idea to build a vehicle which had full forward control, a boxy body and a rear engine. This idea was converted into the Volkswagen Transporter, which later went on to sell more than a million vehicles in various avtars. This vehicle filled a gap in the European automobile scene. Volkswagen T1 Kastenwagen_2The gap for a simple and robust multipurpose and highly flexible vehicle which was cheap to make and run. With reconstruction of Europe in full swing in the aftermath of World War II, there was a huge demand for such a vehicle. A demand which was fulfilled by the troika of innovative vehicles like the Land Rover Series 1, the Citroen 2CV and the VW Transporter.  This was exactly the vehicle which tradesmen, retailers and small and medium business were looking for.

These vans used the engines and axle from the Beetle, but used a unitary body supported by a ladder frame chassis instead of the Beetle’s central tubular frame. These vans were, over their lifetime offered in a number of body shapes , these were:-

  • 4/5 door panel vans.
  • 4/5 door minibus.
  • 2 door pickup.
  • 4 door pickup.

They were popularly known by many names like:-

  • Volkswagen Bus.
  • Volkswagen Camper.
  • Volkswagen Kombi.
  • Volkswagen Delivery Vans.
  • Volkswagen Micro Bus.
  • Volkswagen Pickup.
  • Volkswagen Transporter.

VolkswagenT1 Kastenwagen_4These vans were manufactured in Germany and Australia from 1950 to 1967 and in Brazil from 1950 to 1975. The vehicle shown in the Tintin book “The Calculus Affair” used a 1,131 cc (69 cu-inch) air cooled flat four cylinder boxer engine. This engine produced 24 BHP at 3,000 rpm and 68 N-m (50 lb-ft) of torque at 2,000 rpm. The engines were rear mounted and turned the rear wheels to move the vans. These vans were introduced with a load carrying capacity of 750 Kg.

VolkswagenT1 Kastenwagen_5The first transporters could accommodate 8 people. There were two rear seats for the passengers which could be removed by one person to convert it into a load carrier. This vehicle also started the trend of putting the driver over the front wheels in commercial vehicles. The initial prototype had very poor aerodynamics with a Cd of 0.75. However, experiments in the wind tunnel and design changes in the form of a split wind screen, and aerodynamically shaped V-line roof helped reduce the Cd to 0.44, which was better than the VW Beetles 0.48.

VolkswagenT1 Kastenwagen_3

In the US, the vans and mini buses are popularly known by the number of windows they have ranging from the 11 window to the 23 window. A very popular model was the Samba Bus which had 21 windows including the skylights and a huge sky roof. It was designed specifically for carrying passengers and was very popular with African safari operators because of the all round visibility provided by the large number of windows.

During the hippie era in the United States, these vans became a major counterculture symbol because of a number of reasons:-

  • Firstly, they could carry a number of people along with their camping gear, cooking supplies, extra clothing, do-it-yourself carpenter’s tools etc.
  • Secondly, they made a “statement”, their boxy, utilitarian shape made them everything that the American cars of the day were not.
  • Thirdly, used models were incredibly cheap to buy and a majority were hand-painted.Ironically, the pre-1956 vans are now a hot collector’s item with fetching prices in five figures in dollars.

Volkswagen T1 Kastenwagen_1The T1 was followed by the T2, T3, T4, T5 and T6 which is the “International Van of the Year 2016”. Also, a project concept has been initiated by VW known as the “T1 Revival”, this is a retro looking van which attempts to relive the era of the T1.