When the first VW Bus generation went into production in 1950 no one at VW knew that they had a world icon in the making. This humble yet unique bus captured the hearts and passions of people all around the world. It would become the face of Woodstock, used on album covers, be featured in films and was the first “mobile home” for laid back travelers. It would later inspire the creation of online communities who share love for this Classic VW Bus like BusLifers. Believe it or not the idea of the VW Bus was invented by Ben Pon, a Dutch businessman, who wanted a functional vehicle to haul cargo. He created the bus based on the successful Beetle by VW with a simple sketch on a napkin that would soon become a world phenomenon.
The first VW Bus generation was nicknamed “The Splitty” for its split front windshield and could hold up to 9 passengers with only 25 horsepower, capping out at 59 mph. It was originally built for the curvy, narrow German roads where this wasn’t a problem, but as it was exported it was clear just how slow the bus actually was. The bus didn’t get exported until the mid-1950’s where the success skyrocketed, being embraced by all travelers and becoming the icon of the American counterculture movement in the 1960’s. It was nicknamed the “hippie van” in the U.S. and was used to embrace peace and love in anti-war rallies. VW buses were affordable, easy to fix, large enough to live in and a peaceful rebellion, all a young person’s dream at that time. The engine is set in the back of the bus which makes for a magical view sitting in the front seats, it feels as if you’re part of the scenery. The production of the VW Bus started in Mexico and Brazil as well in 1950’s.
The first evolution of the VW Bus happened in 1967, and was nicknamed “The Bay”. The split windshield was removed and there were some upgrades in the engine and its electronics. It also had a bigger body that could carry more. This was followed by “The Bay Camper Bus” shortly after, which was very similar but with a different window design. It was during this time that it really took off as a mobile home or camper for travelers. This model also is what served as an inspiration for some other companies to finally create some competition, none of which would take off like the VW Bus. Brazil was the last country to continue producing this VW Bus until it sadly came to an end in 2013 when they couldn’t keep up with the safety standards that are required.
Following were the models T3, T4 and T5. The T3 was created in 1979. It was larger and heavier and took away the round edges which were replaced with square. The T4 moved the engine to the front of the bus in 1990 and the T5 followed in 2003. None of these models had quite the effect of the “The Splitty” or “The Bay”. They couldn’t quite hold up to the reputation of their ancestors who even today are incredibly popular and still being bought and traveled in all over the world. The VW Bus Community is a large one, the love of the vehicle bringing together like-minded people who attend annual VW Bus Events to celebrate and meet fellow BusLifers which you can find here .
The latest VW Bus generation is the T6. The T6 had an entire dashboard makeover and some tweaks to the back of the bus’ exterior, other than those changes it was just a step up from the T5 model. Latest generations are still not as beloved as the classic T1 and T2 models. Don’t worry though! Last year VW officially announced that a VW Bus is coming back in 2022 with look similar to its predecessors. The new bus has a similar look to the T1 and T2 models with a modern and sleek take. They want to make it “the iconic car of the electric age”, creating a fully electric microbus that will create a whole new generation of microbus fans. The new bus will be complete with tons of cargo space, a front trunk and a bay windshield.
This iconic bus became to represent freedom. After almost 70 years of being around they are still seen all over the world with a strong following of people who spend their time camping, exploring and living in them. Traveling becomes an entirely different experience when you’re sitting behind the split or bay windshield looking out at the long stretch of road ahead of you. You still see it today on the side of beaches with surfboards thrown on top, or setup for camp with chairs and a bonfire already going. It started out as a workhorse and ended up as a symbol of nonconformity for open minded wanderers everywhere. We all owe a lot to this simple, incredible bus with a face that tells a million stories and represents something different for every person who has ridden in one.