Simple, cleverly engineered and more practical than anything else on the road at the time, the T1 marked the start of a revolution in the commercial vehicle industry. Today, celebrating its diamond anniversary, the jewel in the commercial vehicles’ crown is one of the world’s biggest-selling light commercial vehicles, with variants such as the camper enjoying cult status across generations of owners.
The Transporter’s appeal remains unique. Over the years, the Transporter has helped millions of owners build businesses and fulfil dreams. From globetrotters to gardeners, beatniks to builders, the Transporter has become the default choice for many generations. And while the Transporter has evolved dramatically during that time – through five generations – the philosophy and vision that created the original still holds true.
In addition to mobilising a nation, the Transporter has also been the backbone of Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle business for the past six decades. From humble beginnings – just 786 were sold in its first year in the UK – the Transporter has been a driving force for Volkswagen. In 2013, UK sales of the Transporter reached 18,350 – a record figure that demonstrates the vehicle’s appeal is continuing to grow. Globally, total Transporter production stands at 11.5 million units.
The British connection
Long before the Transporter made its first appearance on UK soil, the idea for a load-carrying vehicle based on a Beetle platform came from Major Ivan Hirst – a senior British army officer placed in charge of re-commissioning the post-war Volkswagen factory. He ordered the creation of a flat-bed truck – dubbed the Plattenwagen – to move parts around the factory. The innovative truck soon caught the eye of visiting Dutch importer Ben Pon in the mid-1940s, who proposed the idea of a more developed panel van version.
From factory mule to global icon
While the idea of a Beetle-based commercial vehicle was enthusiastically welcomed by Volkswagen, it wasn’t until the late 1940s that the factory had the resources to put in into production. In a timeframe that would be unthinkable today, the T1 went from drawing board to production line in just 13 months. In 1954, having tested the water in Volkswagen’s home market, the Transporter T1 made its public debut at the Earls Court Commercial Motor Show.
Having quickly established its superiority over its rivals, the T1 became the template for light commercial panel vans, pick-ups and microbuses – selling strongly for 17 years.
Such was the brilliance of the original that the T2 that replaced it in 1967 retained much of its underpinnings. Even the boxy third-generation T3 that appeared in 1979 employed the neatly balanced, load-friendly rear engine layout of the original.
Indeed, it wasn’t until the fourth-generation T4 arrived in 1990 that Volkswagen switched to the now familiar front-engine, front-wheel drive layout. And just as the original had done in 1954, the T4 set new standards for refinement, quality and flexibility.
The fifth-generation Transporter (T5) appeared in 2003 and raised the bar even higher with an even bigger load area, broader range and a host of advanced new technologies.
Getting the job done efficiently and reliably has been at Volkswagen’s heart for the past 60 years. It’s a reputation for rugged reliability that has endured over the decades to make the Volkswagen Transporter one of the world’s biggest selling light commercial vehicles.