Postwar Germany was not a particularly happy and vibrant place by all accounts. It is best shown in black and white with working class people trying to put the war behind them. There were restrictions on what types of vehicles could be produced, and they leaned toward small, inexpensive, and utilitarian. The Beetle was perfect. However, there was much work to be done, and work vehicles were needed as well. Within the VW factory, a modified version of a Beetle was being used as a shop truck. In 1947, a VW dealer in Holland, Ben Pon, sketched a van based on this shop truck and in 1948 VW decided to build it. In 1949, the first ones rolled off the production line. The van was named the Transporter, but was basically a panel van on Beetle running gear.
Ben Pon’s SketchThe van was a hit, and VW introduced passenger variations with rear seating, and side windows. In 1952, VW introduce the Single Cab truck. It was a brilliant combination of several vehicles in one, and it responded to a variety of demands. It was a truck with interior storage behind the seat and under the bench seat. It was a pickup truck with a large bed. It was a flatbed truck with the sides of the pickup bed folded down. It had storage beneath the pickup bed as well. It was like some primitive 1940s version of a Transformer. Not long after, in response to a requested customized version with a larger cabin by coach builder Binz, VW contracted with them to produce the Double Cab. They later took production in-house in 1958.
The applications of the single cab and double cab could fill a book (in fact there are many books on the transporter and variants just check Amazon). Just about everything was attached to the bed from cranes to firefighting equipment. The engines were known for torque, but not power, and with the aerodynamics of a small building, they were all about work. Today, there is a thriving enthusiast community for all of the transporter variants and they are no longer cheap. Single cabs and the much sought after double cabs are certainly included. I apssed ona double cab several years ago because it was in rough shape, and too large to fit in my garage. I’d like a do-over, please. I have been looking for a panel van for several years (in fact the motor in the 914 was originally destined for a Bus project), but they are hard to find in the east, and when you do, they are more rust than metal. The west is the place to go, but those I like are out of budget range.
So why would someone want a loaf of bread with a 40hp engine ? Well first because one of my earliest automotive memories is viewing the world from the third seat of our family’s VW Bus. Second, because they have an air/oil-cooled horizontally opposed engine. Third, because today one pulled into the parking lot a few spaces down. The owner was just on a run to the hardware store to get some plywood in his 1958 single cab. He has no idea how many times the odometer has turned over, but he thinks 2 or 3. He says it leaks some oil. Everyone within eyesight wandered over and smiled. It is not a show vehicle, or a rat bus, or a modified hot rod bus, or a Sunday driver. I have seen this vehicle before. It is an almost stock single cab with current plates, inspected and insured, and still doing what it was built to do 52 years ago. I wonder how many work vehicles are still operating 50 years later ? I’m not sure many of the current ones will be. No, it was not for sale, but he told me that if he ever did decide to sell it, I would be the 43rd person in line…..