With more than 70 rare historic Volkswagen buses to be displayed at the international VW Bus Festival 2023 later this month, Van Life Matters takes a look at four stand-out classics.
The T1 Half-Track Fox
The history of the T1 Half-Track Fox began in May 1962.
Back then, it was produced at the Hanover plant as a “normal” T1 and sold to Austria.
There, it was transformed into an Alpine specialist in the hands of a Viennese Volkswagen mechanic.
The Austrian converted the VW bus into a T1 with four axles – two of them fitted with a chain drive mechanism and two steering the vehicle with twin tyres.
This is how the most off-road-capable VW bus ever came about.
The designer of the Half-Track Fox was called Kurt Kretzner. Historic sources say he was a keen skier.
He noted that in the mountainous regions of Austria there was a scarcity of vans with good off-road capabilities.
He wanted to change that.
The inventor spent over four years designing and building his mountain climber.
Under the orange-painted body of the VW bus, the Viennese tinkerer installed a steered twin axle at the front with twin coarse-tread 14-inch tyres and another twin axle with chain drive at the rear.
As a result of the dual front-axle steering, the turning circle was just 6 metres – so it could almost turn round on itself.
An automatic limited-slip differential ensured evenly distributed forward traction even in deep snow. The T1 drew its power for this from its 31 kW/42 PS flat engine with a capacity of 1,493 cm .
The Half-Track Fox had a top speed of 40 At the end of 3 km/h. 2018, the Half-Track Fox came into the collection of the Classic Vehicles department of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.
It was restored there and painted in a largely original orange colour.
Matt orange, in fact – the intention being back in the day that the Half-Track Fox should be immediately recognisable in the snow-covered countryside.
The T2 Electric
The Classic Vehicles department of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles will electrify the VW Bus Festival with a roadworthy VW electric van based on the T2.
In doing so, the classic vehicle specialists will be essentially presenting the predecessor of the ID. Buzz. A retrospective: in 1970, Volkswagen set up a development division in Wolfsburg that designed the first electrically powered Volkswagen.
In 1972, the company showed a prototype in the form of a pick-up with an open load bed.
Shortly afterwards, small-series production of the VW electric van began, which was offered not only as a pick-up, but also as a bus and panel van. It was the start of a fleet trial.
One of the participants: the City of Berlin.
They purchased seven electric VW buses.
One of them was a T2, produced in 1977 and licensed on 14 April 1978 to Berlin Municipal Transport Services.
A battery changing station was set up in Berlin where the empty battery unit could be exchanged for a fully charged one within five minutes.
This was possible because the rechargeable battery integrated under the load bed could be pushed out.
As an alternative, it was possible to charge the lead-acid traction battery via an interface in the back of the vehicle.
In addition, the van already had a recuperation system on board 45 years ago.
The energy content of the battery was 21.6 kWh, enough for the electric VW van to cover distances of up to 85 kilometres.
Propulsion was provided by an electric motor with a continuous output of 16 kW/22 PS. With this power on board, the 2,170 kg van achieved a top speed of 75 km/h.
The T2 Electric was the nucleus that set off a development process that drove generations of engineers to try to create an electric VW bus for mass production.
But for decades the suitable battery technology for this was lacking. Today things are different.
The T3 California
The California is one of the most successful camper vans in the world – an automotive attitude to life.
Its history began in 1988 with a special model based on the third Transporter generation.
Jointly developed with Westfalia and built there in the German town of Rheda-Wiedenbrück, this first California was unveiled at the Caravan Salon in Essen.
At the exhibition, the new California T3 could not and did not want to hide the fact that its concept exploited the proven layout for technology and equipment of the Westfalia Joker.
The special model initially produced in a limited edition visually differentiated itself from the Westfalia Joker models through the large bumpers of the exclusive Multivan Carat.
The California could be ordered in the two colours Pastel White and Marsala Red.
The seats and rear bench seat were upholstered in light grey velour.
The interior designers also showed style awareness with the white-grey and very clear kitchenette adapted from the Joker.
At a price of DM 39,900, the California cost roughly DM 10,000 less than the Westfalia model and, as a result, became an instant bestseller – in the first year alone, Volkswagen sold 5,000 units.
As an alternative to the pop-up roof, the first California was also available with a high roof and large panoramic window.
While the high roof offered advantages in continuous rain and at low temperatures, the pop-up roof scored with the lower overall height of the California (2,080 compared with 2,610 mm), so that it was able to fit into practically every private garage and many public car parks.
The Multivan syncro
The name Panamericana not only stands for the adventurous route between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego, but also for a world record drive that Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles completed in 1999 with drivers Andreas Renz and Matthias Göttenauer.
With the series-production fourth-generation Multivan syncro, the team needed only 15 days, 14 hours and 6 minutes for the 22,880 kilometres between Prudhoe Bay in Alaska and Ushuaia in Argentina.
The short journey time for the long distance qualified the team for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records and made it clear that the all-wheel drive VW bus is the perfect companion for all globetrotters.
The record drive undertaken by the Multivan syncro was the final impetus for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles to design even more powerful all-wheel-drive vehicles.
The record-breaking VW bus with the registration number “WOB AZ 152” thus became the initial spark for the development of the all-wheel-drive Multivan PanAmericana models.
After a long absence, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is now exhibiting the world tour VW bus for the first time at the VW Bus Festival.
The completely newly built up Multivan syncro will be on show in the “Offroad” theme area together with other all-wheel-drive models.
In the pavilion of the Classic Vehicles department of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Göttenauer will give a live illustrated talk and describe the record journey of back then.
One thing is certain: thanks to the more than 70 classic vehicles on show, a visit to the VW Bus Festival 2023 is also a journey through 73 years of VW bus history.