Monday, October 13, 2008

Brief History of the VW Bus II

The first generation of Volkswagen buses were built from 1949 to 1967, and are known as split-window buses or 'splitties'. Buses built after 1967 are known as the 'bay window models'. Where these offspring may lack the personality of the originals they feature modifications including winding windows and a top speed of 80mph. After 1979 more modern versions were developed and these became known as 'wedges'. For the original Type II devotees the charm was lost and the cosy vw camper had become a bungalow on wheels.

The splitties sported a split windscreen (obviously) along with a sweeping v-line front and a large VW emblem. These buses were 170 cubic feet (about 4.8 cubic meters) in volume and were spacious enough to hold a 15-hand horse. The vw bus had the engine and axles of the Beetle but had a unitary construction supported by a ladder frame instead of the central frame platform. The payload was roughly 750kg and the engine had a cubic capacity of just over 1100cc with an output of 18kW at 3300rpm (very low!). The terms 'ladder frame' and 'central frame platform' refer to the construction method of the chassis. The ladder frame is two longitudinal parallel girders or beams upon which the suspension, engine, transmission etc are mounted (hence the name).

The VW bus is good for carrying direct loads. The handling is poor, partly due to a lack of torsional stiffness so it performs badly when cornering. The central frame is made of a central spar with ribs to which the engine, suspension, body and so on are attached. The load carrying capacity is not high, but the torsional stiffness inherent in the design ensures that the handling is good. This contributed to the poor handing of VW Type IIs but also explains their usefulness as transporters.

The VW Transporter can carry up to eight people and the two rear rows of seats can be removed in order to transport greater loads. As the design was so elementary, Volkswagen turned out 90 different body amalgamations over the first five years. These variations included buses, pick-ups, fire engines, ambulances, beer wagons, refrigerated ice-cream vans, milk floats, mobile butchers shops, bread vans, mobile grocers, ordinary delivery vans and the more familiar camper (the last variation).

50 years from original production, VW buses are as popular as ever, and they are enjoying a renaissance among the surfing community (as well as others). Presumably this is because they offer copious space to store boards, equipment and friends along with a cool sense of freedom. The Volkswagen bus owner must be prepared to frequent second-hand specialists for parts and to spend a great deal on fuel (expect no more than 25 miles to the gallon) but the rewards are great. There are also numerous customisation opportunities including lowered suspension, tinted windscreens, adding a V8 engine and the groovy paint job.

There are now plans afoot to develop a new generation of bus in the same vein as the new Beetle. Called the Microbus, it is to include a table with games console and Internet access and a camera at the rear above the license plate. The actual engine spec and performance have not been released.

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