Volkswagen Bus T2 - Complete History

In Europe, the new 2nd generation Volkswagen Transporter made its debut with model year 1968. Over the next several years, it makes its mark on street scenes across the globe. At first, it is just exported, but starting in 1971 production commences in Mexico and from 1975 in Brazil, where it undergoes unique developments up to the year 2013 – which are very different to those introduced in Europe.

The second generation of the extremely successful Transporter is launched with the model year 1968. Visual characteristics of the vehicle, which has been completely redeveloped, include a modified front end with lower set turn indicators, large side windows, standard sliding door and wrap-around panoramic windscreen. Technical features include lower maintenance front suspension and parallel trailing link rear suspension.

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Unchanged is the aircooled flat four-cylinder engine at the rear with an initial 47PS, which is now built lower, thereby, creating more cargo space above the engine compartment. The VW T2 is also 160mm longer than the previous model. This increases cargo space behind the front seats to five cubic meters.

Significant progress is also made in relation to safety. Based on American requirements the Transporter is made tremendously safe in a crash. “All seats can be equipped with lap belts. The front seats and outer seats of the rear seating area can also be delivered with shoulder belts or combined belt and shoulder belts,” states the first owner’s manual from 1967. With its complex technology and ample safety measures, such as a newly developed safety steering column, the Volkswagen T2 Transporter differs significantly from other contemporary commercial vehicles. More than ever, it is more of a spacious sedan than just a transporter. “The new Volkswagen Transporter – like a passenger car,” is how it is worded in a Volkswagen press release, and with good reason.

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This makes the Transporter an ideal platform for camping vehicles. Only one detail proves troublesome – the spare wheel is in a recess at the left rear of the boot space which restricts the bed dimension in the basic layout of that time which uses a folding bench seat. Different conversions take different approaches. For example, the wheel may be concealed by a large plaid patterned fabric or a teak wood cabinet may be built over it and a flat tire supplied that can be pumped up in emergencies. The simplest solution is to mount the fifth wheel at the front of the vehicle.

The Americans, in particular, are enthused by the compact recreational vehicle from Germany. By 1968, averages of 100 campervans are built daily. In the 1970s, Westfalia achieves a milestone in terms of basic cabin layouts with its “Berlin” version. The layout with a left-side kitchen unit, right-side bench, central seating option and pop-top roof is still used today.

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Larger modifications, primarily related to safety, are introduced. Starting in model year for example, disc brakes became standard equipment for the front wheels. Just one year later, the rear lights taken from the T1 are replaced by larger multi-chamber lights. That also results in changes to the side panels and the wheel wells. In addition, the engine compartment ventilation intake is enlarged at the D-pillar. Starting in autumn the deformation element installed at the front to protect occupants in case of a frontal collision leads to a redesign of the front end.

Model year 1973 was also the starting point for what is known as the T2b, whose flashers now lie above the headlights and whose front bumper is no longer equipped with tread plates for entering the vehicle. Previous models of the second generation Transporter are known as the T2a.

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Visual changes to the Volkswagen T2 are marginal over the next several years. However, the VW T2 is the frontrunner for many development themes resulting from the oil crisis. Volkswagen pursues two alternative concepts: natural gas and electric drive systems.

The first concept is quickly rejected due to the low efficiency of its gas turbine – it never passes the prototype phase. The latter is created in cooperation with Siemens, which supplies the motor. The necessary energy comes from a set of batteries that is installed in the vehicle floor. Equipped in this way, the Transporter with a top speed of 80km/h has a maximum driving range of 80km. And with a power of 44PS, it is no less powerful than its petrol-powered counterpart.

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Initial ideas about a hybrid drive are also entertained that would only require eleven batteries and use a much less powerful electric motor. Another prototype is created in the mid-1970s that is around ten years ahead of its time in foreshadowing a later production implementation – a handful of manually built vehicles with all-wheel drive are made in Wolfsburg without causing any sort of stir. The end of German production in 1979 is marked with an especially well- equipped, limited edition T2. The “Silverfish” came with a standard blue interior, large sliding sunroof and many other features from the options list. Eventually, a 70PS two-litre flat engine and an automatic gearbox make their appearance.

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Outside of Germany, the Volkswagen T2 is initially built at Volkswagen do Mexico, located in Puebla and founded in 1964. In 1971, four years after production of the T2 begins in Hannover, the Kombi and Panel versions, which are nearly identical in design to the German versions, come off the assembly line in Latin America. The only modification is to the compression ratio of the familiar 1.6-litre flat engine due to local petrol quality. It is reduced to 6.6:1, reducing power from 50 to 44PS. This puts the Mexican built VW T2 on the same power level as the previous T1 model that was once built in Europe. In future years the Volkswagen T2 remains part of the Mexican production program in this version with minor product improvements.

The first special body of the VW T2 is created in Brazil. Back in 1957, first generation of Transporter, the T1, was built in the newly erected plant in Sao Bernardo do Campo, near Sao Paulo. In 1975, some production is switched over to the newer “T2”. This model takes on a special position in the Transporter model range of the time. Unlike in Mexico or Germany, in Brazil the T2 is built with the side walls of the T1 – which can be made out by the small side and rear windows and engine air intakes above the rear wheel housing as well as hinged side loading doors to the rear cargo space. This special type quickly leads to the designation T1.5. In Brazil, however, the 1.6-litre engine has the same power as in Germany. At 50PS, and now with significantly better running gear, the Buses for the South American market can reach top speeds of over 100km/h. Two years later, a dual carburettor version is produced with 56PS.

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In the early 1970s, Volkswagen attains record sales. There is a booming export business to North America as well as to markets in Latin and South America. While the export rate to “the country of unlimited possibilities” grows to over 70,000 units, the Brazilian plant announces record production of 66,280 vehicles in its own country. Even the much smaller market in Central America posts sales figures of well over 10,000 Buses annually.

Drivers of this development, besides its low purchase price, are the popular hippy movement, which adopts the VW Bus as its own banner vehicle and the high sales figures for campervans that travel across the “pond” from Germany. For Karmann, that was reason enough to set up its own production in Brazil. Starting in 1979 and continuing for ten years, Karmann-Ghia do Brazil produces the Karmann Mobil campervan that was already familiar in Germany as the Gipsy, under the name Safari. For a time, an ambulance created by the company is even produced.

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The first non-European advanced development of the vehicle arrives on the Brazilian market in 1981. Along with the dual cab that is adopted into the program, a diesel engine also makes its way into the rear depths of the vehicle. The water- cooled diesel comes from the Wolfsburg engine range; it has 1.6 litres of displacement and develops 50PS. Unlike the engines in the Golf, Jetta and Passat, it is mounted vertically.

Designs for some of the necessary peripheral add-on components come from the T3, which is offered with this diesel engine in Germany during the same time period. In addition, other modernizations are introduced that had long become accepted in Europe and in Mexico. Examples include front disc brakes, safety belts and a revolver-grip parking brake lever under the dashboard. The new steering wheel from the T3 adds a contemporary component. But both the diesel engine and the dual cab enjoy little popularity in Brazil. Just four years after their introduction, both options are deleted from the program.

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Over the next several years, there are no noteworthy further developments. Various improvements make their way into the Brazil-produced vehicle, and most are related to growing domestic motor vehicle regulations. For example, a catalytic converter is installed in the 1990s. And there are now standard head restraints on the front seats. For model year 1988, all models get a water cooled, in-line engine from the passenger car range. The 1.8-litre four cylinder engine produces 75PS and can be made out by a distinctive black front radiator grille that is used regardless of the body colour. Also included at this time are the black plastic bumper bars of the Mexican T2. The well-equipped top Caravelle model launches in this year too. It is equipped with seven seats, serves primarily as a people mover and features a number of other details such as reading lights and interior side trim panels.

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A larger modernising upgrade comes in 1991. All buses built in Mexico get an elevated roof. Just around 20cm of additional interior height simplifies moving around the rear cabin significantly. A new rectangular dashboard made of black plastic is introduced for the driver. Similar to the design of the T4, two round instruments provide information on the installed technology – the speedometer on the left, an optional tachometer on the right with coolant temperature gauge, and a fuel gauge. To simplify maintenance, there is now – similar to the T3 – an “engine bonnet” on the cargo floor. In the depths beneath, there is no longer any carburetor, rather an electronically controlled fuel injection system with electronic ignition. Maximum engine power increases to 80PS. The gearbox remains the same. A fifth gear is never offered over the entire production period.

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In 1994, and after just around 254,000 Buses are built, T2 production ends in Mexico. All production systems are transported to Brazil and are set up there. For Brazilians, this represents the launch of the “pure” T2, which is now sold under the name Nova Kombi and of course has a higher roof but with a metal bumper bar. Unlike its Mexican counterpart, the old, familiar flat engine with 1584cc displacement is still employed at the rear.

At first, it still features two single carburetors, but shortly thereafter the aircooled engine gets a Bosch MP9 fuel injection system and produces 58PS at 4200rpm. Its maximum torque of 111Nm is available at 2600rpm. The top model is the Carat whose design features are also adopted from Mexico. As a classic seven-seat vehicle, the Kombi Carat is advertised as the ideal vehicle for recreation, family and business.

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Equipment features include sliding windows in the middle of the vehicle, fabric seat upholstery, carpet flooring, vinyl side wall trim, head restraints on all seats, green tinted window glass, vanity mirror in the right sun visor and a document compartment in the left sun visor.

Only the Pick-up and the Furgao (Panel Van) are still being produced in the old design. However, a decision is made to phase out the Pick-up for model year 2000. Similar considerations are given to phasing out the alcohol-fuel version of the flat engine that produces an ample 67PS but whose build rate was under two percent.

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The Brazilian production systems are renovated in 2002. This renovation results in the Furgao being phased out as well and ends the era of the T1.5. From now on, the only vehicles remaining are the pure T2 models as a standard Kombi (Window Bus and Panel Van), Kombi Carat (seven-seater), Kombi- Escolar (School Bus) and Lotacao (twelve-seater).

In December 2005, the Prata special model that is limited to 200 vehicles marks the end of the aircooled engine. The engine was used in over 27 million vehicles in the two high-volume model series, the Type 1 (Beetle) and Type 2 (Bus). Not included in this figure are the many smaller series compared to typical Volkswagen volumes, such as the Type 3, Type 4 and the Karmann models, or the numerous industrial engines, new replacement engines and replacement parts.

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The Prata differs from its series siblings in such aspects as its Silver Light Metallic body colour and green windows with tinted windscreen. In addition, the colour Grey Cross is used for the front end grille, bumpers and frames for the headlights. At the rear, the Prata can be made out by its standard rear fog lights, rear window heating and badge. Inside, the badge appears on the dashboard and on the side of the speedometer. Other changes to the interior include the new upholstery for the bench seats in vinyl and “Malharia Colmeia”, the trim on the bootspace lid and the sliding side window on the left side.

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The aircooled engine may be dead but the vehicle is not: from 2006, there is a Kombi with a 1.4-litre watercooled four-cylinder engine. Compared to the flat engine, the in-line engine produces 80PS at 4800rpm with alcohol or 78PS at 4800rpm when petrol is used. Maximum torque in petrol operation is 123Nm, and it is 125Nm when ethanol is combusted; each of these values is reached at 3500rpm. In subsequent years, the T2 is produced nearly unchanged at a production volume of around 25,000 vehicles annually. But the end of the T2 is already looming. More stringent motor vehicle rules for safety and emissions set the model year 2013 as the end of production. The second generation Transporter, the T2, is retired after 45 years and global production of around 3.9 million vehicles.

The special Last Edition series, built in September 2013, represents the final point of Kombi production in Brazil after 56 years of uninterrupted manufacture. The special edition offers exclusive equipment details. The body paint of the Last Edition is blue and the roof, roof pillars and bumpers are painted white. Just under the windows, a white decorative strip runs around the sides and rear of the vehicle. The wheels and hub caps are also white. White-wall tires lend a nostalgic note to the vehicle.

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The windows are tinted, and the rear window has electric heating. On the sides, special decals identify the vehicle as a special series. “56 anos – Kombi Last Edition”. Above all, this applies to the identification plates on the dashboard with limited edition serial numbers from 1 to 1200. The instrument cluster also has a special screen printed design, which adopts the traditional design of the Kombi with the speedometer in the middle and the fuel gauge on the right side.

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The MP3 sound system is illuminated by red LEDs and has auxiliary and USB inputs. Inside, there are curtains made of blue fabric with an embroidered Kombi logo. The seats are upholstered in two-tone vinyl, as are the interior door panels and boot space cover. The floor of the passenger compartment and boot space has carpeting. The roof liner is upholstered in “Stampatto” fleece material. This is the last T2 ever to be produced.

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