90 000 € for a shabby bus?
Samba is not a dance
„Paying 88 thousand € for a VW Transporter borders on insanity. I saw one a few years ago, in mint condition, not restored, which cost 30,000 and looked a lot better.”
This was a comment left on the article about the Mannheim vintage car market on the Hungarian edition of Totalcar Magazine. And let me just make this clear: the car in the picture he was referring to was no simple T1, it was a Samba. I’ll explain the difference soon.
The story of the Transporter began when a Dutch tradesman called Ben Pon started to sell Beetles outside of Germany. A year later, he was selling Porsches, too. Then he tried his luck shipping some overseas. You can imagine he didn’t strike a bad bargain. One day, while visiting the factory in Wolfsburg, he spotted the delivery vans used within the factory, fabricated from the parts of a Beetle, called Plattenwagens. Considering the situation he quickly drew this in his notebook:
You can probably guess the rest. Ben Pon presented his idea to the management of the Volkswagen, who gave it their blessing, having faith in the businessman known for his Midas touch. The first Transporter rolled out of the factory in 1949. Officially it was called type 2. Type 1 is the Beetle, type 2 is the actual Transporter which comes as T1, T2, T3 etc. The technological solutions, most notably the rear engine, air-cooling, torsion-bar suspension was adapted mostly from the Beetle. The original plans needed some alteration, though, due to the air resistance of the flat front which made the 30 hp bus almost useless. As curved glass could not be produced yet, there was only one solution left: to split the windscreen and bend the trunk into the plate. This became the distinguishing feature of the T1, often called Split Window (Zwilling in German).
In the beginning it was manufactured as a delivery truck called Panel Van (Kastenwagen in German), as a bus, and later pick-up versions with one row of seats called Single Cab (DoKa, short for Doppelkabine in German). The buses are usually distinguished by the number of windows: one type of T1 had 11 windows, another type, introduced in 1951, had 23 windows. The latter is called Samba. Its distinguishing features include the huge rag top, the 4 clear plastic windows on each side, and the Safari windows opening upwards. It was a DeLuxe edition with a chrome stripe running along the sides and the front, chrome bumpers, and a chrome VW logo. It also came with a radio.
The Transporters with the huge doors resembling those of a barn, aptly called Barndoors were made up until 1955. Following the subsequent redesign the engine lid became smaller, indicators got placed over the front headlights, the roof got its slight overhang, the Transporter received larger rear lights and an air-intake in the passenger compartment. A 13- and a 15-window version was introduced as well. A version called Samba was made of the latter, dropping the windows on the F-pillar. The models with more than 11 windows were available as a DeLuxe version, too. The T1 models made for the American market could be identified by their bumpers with an extra bar. In 1967, however, the T1 was replaced by the T2a, with similar technology, but a windscreen made of a single piece of glass, without the trunk, and a sliding door on the side.
And getting back to where we started from, how much does a type1 cost these days? Since it became a cult car as the symbol of the hippy movement, and the tuning of the air-cooled VW is popular the world over, it costs much more than the average vintage buses. Although it was made in large numbers, many of these Transporters had been worn out and discarded. Those that survived and have been restored cost somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 €. The ones in mint condition will set you back about 20-30 thousand € – except for the Samba, which is a particularly rare and desired version and, accordingly, costs well over 80,000 €.
Finally, a wonderful video of one the 17 right-hand drive Sambas: