Iconic is a much over-used word, but it’s hard not to apply it to the Volkswagen Transporter, a vehicle that has been in production for seven decades and that has come to be loved by millions. Yes, the VW Transporter has reached its 70th birthday and whether it has been used for shifting stuff or heading down to the beach for a spot of camping and surfing, it’s a vehicle that has featured in many people’s lives.
Early models have achieved the status of cast-iron classics, and with more than 13 million examples built since let’s take a look back at every generation of this lovable Vee-Dub. But first we should just explain that the first three generations were known as the Type 2 (the Beetle was the Type 1), but when VW officially adopted the T platform strategy, they were retrospectively named the T1, T2 and T3. Still with us? Good, then let’s get cracking…
Type 2 (T1)
Arriving in 1950 – production started on 8 March – and soon gaining the ‘Splittie’ nickname thanks to its windscreen design, the first model would be available in a wide range of styles from van and pick-up to the now highly prized Samba – officially the De Luxe with skylight windows that were apparently perfect for Alpine touring. And then of course there was the famous camper, produced by Westfalia. Thanks to an 1100cc air-cooled engine managing just 25hp, performance was best described as modest but it was improved over the years and an upgrade in 1965 brought a larger 1500cc unit making 44hp. Production ended in 1967 after around 1.5 million had been made.
Bay Window (T2)
Larger and heavier and losing the distinctive split windscreen, the second generation was launched in 1968 and introduced all manner of improvements. Becoming known as the ‘Bay Window’ or ‘Bread Loaf’ a sliding side door was now standard, while handling was improved by the adoption of independent rear suspension rather than the previous swing axles. Offered with more powerful 47hp 1.6-litre and 68hp 2.0-litre engines, 1971 saw the addition of front disc brakes with larger rear lights and flared wheel-arches introduced the following year. And there was even an electric version. The Bay also introduced campers to the delights of the pop-up roof. It later gained water-cooled engines, with production continuing in Brazil until 2013.
Type 25 (T3)
Boxier and arguably less stylish than earlier iterations, the version also known as the Type 3 appeared for 1980. It offered more space but was still powered by air-cooled 1.6- and 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines, with a water-cooled diesel engine offered from 1981 and water-cooled petrol units with 60hp or 78hp arriving the same year. Available in a wide range of body styles, a major update in 1985 brought numerous improvements and now buyers could even have their Transporter with four-wheel drive; the Syncho was built by specialists, Steyr. German production ended in 1992. However, it continued to be built in South Africa for another ten years or so.
Launched in 1990, the T4 marked a notable departure from the earlier generations and was the beginning of the modern version we know today. Featuring monocoque body construction and available for the first time in both short and long wheelbase forms, the engines were now at the front with drive from the wide choice of petrol and diesel engines – including a punchy VR6 and frugal 2.5 TDI – going to the front wheels. The traditional character may have been lost, but this was now a far more modern driving experience. Once again, buyers could choose from a wealth of door configurations and body styles including vans, single and double-cabs and the popular 9-seater Caravelle.
Essentially an evolution of the T4, the new model went on sale in 2003 and brought even greater levels of comfort, performance and efficiency. It was still hugely spacious and practical, of course, and the California camper variant was the perfect way in which to escape from it all for a few days. Dreams of holidays aside, buyers were treated to plenty of modern safety tech while the wide choice of engines were paired with a 6-speed manual or VW’s clever DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox. A facelift in 2009 freshened things up as well as introducing cleaner common-rail diesel engines. The four-wheel drive 4Motion system was handy, too. Around 1.7m would be built in all.
Arriving in 2015 the T6 introduced sleeker looks and was packed with even more features and technology. The petrol and diesel engines were usefully more efficient, and they were improved further with the launch of the revised T6.1 which went on sale in 2019. The engines now met the latest Euro 6d emissions standards, the exterior styling was tweaked, and the cabin benefitted from the likes of digital instruments and a touchscreen infotainment system. There was plenty more driver assistance technology, too. It’s all a far cry from the simplicity of that first Type 2, but a fitting way to celebrate an amazing seventy years.
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