The Volkswagen Van is one of the most iconic vehicles ever made, and ever since its conception it has gone through a number of different unique styles and looks on the path to its modern appearance.
When the VW Van was created it instantly became a design icon, not only because its visual appeal is instantly recognizable but also it was the first of its kind: a camper van that you could live in as a sort of home-on-wheels.
The Volkswagen Van was first imagined in the 1940s, but it would gain its popularity and its groovy hippie associations in the 60s. Art deco in its aesthetics, it resembles an airplane or a train more than a car with the blunt, sweeping v-line front and large VW emblem.
It is a favourite vehicle of surfers in the USA and Australia because it allows them room to fit their surfboards and other accessories. It was also a popular car during the hippie movement of the 1960s, which inspired many psychedelic multi-coloured paint jobs.
Creation of the VW Van
The idea for the VW Van came to Dutch importer Ben Pon in 1947, as he made a few sketches of a “box on wheels”. Heinrich Nordoff, general director of the Volkswagen factory at the time, liked the sketches and began tests.
The front was rounded to make it more aerodynamic and also more face-like and endearing. After several years of tests and refinements, the first VW Transporters rolled off the production line in the factory in Hanover in 1956. People have been enjoying this practical van ever since that day.
VW Vans on the silver screen
It is now one of the most easily recognized vehicles, and is frequently referenced in popular culture. Shaggy, Thelma, Daphne and the gang on “Scooby-Doo” drove around a Mystery Machine that looked very much like the classic VW Van. The vehicle also appears in Forrest Gump when Jenny joins the hippies during Forrest’s service in Vietnam. The mysterious DHARMA initiative in the groundbreaking television series Lost used VW Vans, which were found by the main characters years later in the jungle and brought back to life. Kevin Costner drove cross country in a VW Bus to kidnap James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams.
In the Pixar film Cars, the character of Fillmore is a laid back hippy used VW Van. Used in many films as a symbol of hippie or surfer counterculture, the VW van has made many cameo appearances in TV and Hollywood.
Different styles throughout the years
The VW Van has evolved over the decades since its first release. The official name of the VW van is the “Type 2”, with Type 1 being the famous Beetle. The first version was the Transporter, and it had the split front windshield and side doors.
The original had easily enough room for six people or 1,600 pounds of cargo. The first design variation on this original model was in 1967 when the front windshield had the split removed and the spare tyre was placed on the front of the vehicle.
The next variation after that brought the VW Van closer to what we think of as the modern minivan. It was wider, and the windshield was inclined instead of flat. These inclined windshield models, produced after 1979, are known as “wedges” and the previous flat-fronted vans are called “bay window models”.
Moving on into the 1980s and 90s, many changes continued as the engine power grew and the look evolved. In the 2000s, Volkswagen also began making variations on the van such as para-transport, shuttle and police wagon styles.
Although the outside look of the van has evolved, Volkswagen state that they have only really made one van for the last several decades, just with a few variations and upgrades.
The Volkswagen Van will always be a classic, and it will continue to evolve with us into the future.