VW Camper Wagon - The first utilitarian Wolkswagen
One of the most popular and well known Volkswagen vehicles ever built is the VW Camper Van. Its history goes back to the end of World War 2, when a British Officer by the name of Major Ivan Hirst, had been assigned to supervise the VW production plant in Wolfsburg.
According to VW archives, in order to speed up the process of moving parts along the production line at this massive building, production management used a stripped down Volkswagen with a wooden platform to move parts around. This transporter VW's transcended its utilitarian use at the factory when in 1947 Dutch VW importer Ben Pon sketched his idea of a van based on an all Type 1 Beetle platform. The idea was taken seriously by VW engineers and only two years later two years later the idea was presented at the 1949 Geneva Motor Show.
It is a popular belief that most successful ideas are simple one, and the concept behind the VW Bus is as pure and simple as it can get. The VW Bus started off as a box on wheels, a pretty big box at that with 170 cubic feet of cargo space.
The initial concept was so flexible and practical, that during the following five years, VW would produce ninety different body combinations, from refrigerated ice-cream vans; delivery vans; baker bread vans; florists vans; veterinary mobile vans; beer wagons; butcher shops; mobile grocers and more. Of course then came the government service oriented vans such as: police wagons; ambulances; fire engines and postal delivery vans. Last but not least in its historical importance, came the camper vans.
The first big customer for the camper vans was the United States market. In the mid fifties, they bought VW Campers with dinky sinks and cozy cookers; it was the home away from home, the open road. By the year 1963 Americans had purchased 150,000 of these camper vans.
Sales success of the camper vans continued and in 1967, the "splittie" (the split windshield model) was replaced by the bay window model. Whatever personality the VW van lost by the windshield change, it gained immensely in refinements in many other areas. The bay window model made VW a success and by 1975, the Hanover plant had produced 4 million of theses vehicles; quite an achievement for a vehicle that started life as a "box on wheels".
As the model continued its evolution, different choice of engine sizes were available, including the 1600cc, 1700cc, 1800cc and the 2000cc engine.
By 1979, the personality of the original VW camper began to change, and at the risk of offending T25 owners, we must say that the cool, comfy and trendy camper became a bungalow on wheels. Whatever the opinion of any critic, it certainly could not have looked that bad, as they sold 5 million of these "bungalows".
Conversions - In 1951, the German coachbuilder Westfalia was the first to take a Volkswagen a turn it into a "Mobile Home". The original steps included a double be, a stove and some cupboards, but refrigerators were rarely installed in those days. To increase headroom, elevating roofs were offered.
The mid fifties and early sixties saw almost everybody starting a conversion business for the VW Van, and many amateur entrepreneurs had a go at it also, beginning the cult that eventually grew by leaps and bounds as the "hippie culture" evolved.
The so-called "hippie van" became a major counterculture symbol. There were several reasons for this among them: The van could carry a number of people plus camping gear and cooking supplies and extra clothing. For small business owners and independents it could carry a lot of carpenter, gardener or plumber tools, and so on.
On the more "statement" angle, the VW van was boxy and its utilitarian shape the Type 2 was everything that the American Car Market of the Day was not. Used models were incredible cheap to purchase and many were already hand-painted (a predecessor of the modern-day art car). Some Bus enthusiasts, especially for anti-war activists, would replace the original big VW logo on the front and replace it with a large "peace symbol" on the front.
Even today, the original 1950-1967 Type 2's are highly sought after as collector's items, particularly the pre-1956 barn-door units.
Following you will find photographs of some of the Museum's exhibits in this category, as well as photos taken at various Volkswagen shows in Puerto Rico, to illustrate the popularity and variety of themes that display the owner's individuality of expression. This individuality is at the heart of Volkswagen's Type 2 creation.