Volkswagen T1 – the beginning…..

The venerable T1.  So what is the history of this van that started it all?

Nicknamed the “Splittie”, “Bulli” or “Microbus” this van was to be a revolution just like its then stablemate the early Beetle.  It had an enviable production run from 1950 right up to 1967.  The “Splittie” name comes from its distinctive split front windscreen.  “Bulli” is German for Ox and this is widely rumoured to be the name VW strongly considered before luckily dropping it in favour of the blander “T1”.

Using the VW 1131cc air cooled engine from the ultra-reliable Beetle for the first 3 years of production and then later on a 1192cc air cooled unit, it showed a natural progression and people were quick to jump on board the “people’s camper”  (please don’t make reference to that expression by the way, it’s one I made up and I’d hate it to be used anywhere!).

For the first 6 years it was built in Wolfsburg, Germany and production was quite slow to start with (about 10 a day!).  In 1956 production moved to a brand new factory in Hanover which had about 4,500 employees.  Production reached somewhere around 250 vehicles per day before VW shut it all down and transferred to Brazil.  This happened in 1967 and Brazilian models are sometimes unofficially known as “T1.5”.

Cruelly nicknamed the “Barndoor”, campers made until 1955 had a huge cover over the engine.  Officially these were called the T1A.  The T1B models don’t have this beast of a cover and look nicer if you are a design purist.  The barndoor models are very sought after so some people incorrectly call post 1955 models by this name to inflate their prices.

T1C models started in 1963 and have a wider door at the rear.  Importantly, they also increased the cargo capacity from 750kg to a (metric) ton and dropped in a better 1.5 litre engine.

The T1 has a huge VW logo at the front, one that even a Beastie Boy might think twice about wearing round his neck…..

Production stopped in late 1967 in Germany but carried on in Brazil right up to the mid seventies.  The quality of these vans is often considered to be lower than the German-built variants by many people.  They can command high prices though and I have noticed the trend over recent years to refer to these buses by the number of windows they have.  A customer of mine has a “23 window Samba” which is valued higher than I paid for my last house…..

If you’re looking at one of these T1 vans, they can carry up to 8 people but the engines can be relatively underpowered.  Handling and fuel consumption are pretty poor too but at the end of the day, that’s not what you’re buying into with one of these classics.

Rarely do these come up at auction but when they do they fetch astronomical prices. I owned one back in 1993 and, while it was a superb example, it was hard to live with compared to modern variants. When I sold it, it was a genuinely sad day, but the money went to buy a better camper that only lost out on character. It was way more capable everywhere else.

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