After 63 years of service, the Volkswagen T2 is about to cease production, bringing the final curtain down on one of the most iconic vehicles of the 20th century.
Launched in 1950 and based on the same platform as the equally iconic Beetle, the Volkswagen T2 Transporter Kombi has remained in production in some part of the world ever since, whether as a simple panel van, a pick-up hybrid or in its best-known incarnation as a camper van.
Known affectionately as the Bulli, microbus, minibus, kombi, PÃ£o-de-Forma (Portuguese for bread loaf), RugbrÃ¸d, (Rye Bread in Danish), Kleinbus (mini bus in Finnish), hippie van, Volksie Bus (South Africa), Danfo (Nigeria) or VW camper, it has remained synonymous with surfers, backpacking Australians and the 1960s counterculture that swept the U.S. and Europe and to this day is one of the few vehicles of the 20th century (along with its little brother the Beetle) that is universally recognized.
Originally built in Hanover before moving to Australia, Mexico and Argentina, it is currently solely manufactured in Brazil, where growing affluence and increasing calls for road safety measures mean that it will no longer meet the country’s road regulations when, in 2014, all new vehicles must feature driver and passenger airbags and an ABS braking system.
So old is the car and its inner workings that it is simply not cost-effective to make these changes — in fact, it would be cheaper to build an entirely new vehicle. All of which means that the last ever camper van will roll off the Sao Bernardo do Campo on Dec. 20.
Yet it is a testament to its simple design — based on form following function — that it has survived for so long and that over the last 63 years it has inspired as many imitators as it has political movements or lifestyle fashions.
VW’s camper van attracted a legion of fans in the U.S. in particular, where the ‘Chicken Tax’ — a 25 percent levy introduced on goods imported from France and Germany in the 1960s in retaliation for Europe’s decision to tax American chicken importers — priced the VW beyond many people’s reach, but didn’t stifle demand. In fact the tax helped to ensure its cult status, and continued demand means that second-hand examples still command a high price.
Over the years, a string of customization and tuning companies worldwide as well as a niche publishing industry and a host of merchandisers have built their businesses purely on modifications and accessories for the vehicle.
Numerous European import/export firms, for instance, have built a business out of shipping Brazilian examples into Europe, exchanging the engine for one that meets European regulations and selling them either directly to the public or to autobody builders who convert them into camper vans. And although production of new models will come to an end this year, expect a surge in demand for secondhand, modified and vintage examples.
For those that yearn for vintage, iconic cars over the identikit vehicles that fill showrooms and city streets today, there is still one alternative. The Land Rover Defender. The world’s first proper off roader, launched in 1948, is still in production, some 65 years later. However, just like the VW camper van, it is starting to fall foul of increasing safety and environmental legislation and as a result also is set to cease production, but not until Dec. 2015.