We could talk all day about iconic cars. In fact, we often do. Iconic aircraft? We can reel off a good list of those, too. However, when it comes to truly iconic light commercial vehicles which are also design classics then surely there’s only one – and that’s the original ‘split-screen’ Volkswagen Type 2.
It would be remiss not to mention at this stage the Ford Transit, which could reasonably claim to be the best light commercial vehicle by a number of important measures, and the Citroen H-Van which also has a strong following for its quirky looks. But as a piece of classic design they’re both playing second fiddle to the VW.
The original ‘split-screen’ Type 2 ceased production in 1967 and none of its descendants has quite commanded the same following. It was with this in mind that Volkswagen produced the Microbus concept in 2001. Somehow it managed to instantly evoke the Type 2 despite being different to look at in almost every way. Power came from the potent 2.8-litre VR6 engine (a bit of an improvement over the original Type 1’s 25hp flat-four!) and there were such luxuries as electric sliding doors and a 7-inch video screen. Despite these differences the internet was soon awash with impressions of how the custom VW fraternity would modify the Microbus (above).
Great news came in 2003 when Volkswagen announced that it was to be built, although it decided against the idea in 2005. Then in 2011 it announced the Volkswagen Bulli which was a kind of scaled-down replica of the Microbus concept. Again, VW fans primed themselves for a charge towards their local dealership, armed with cash deposits. But sadly this time there was no hint of the Bulli being built and both it and the Microbus were consigned to the ‘what if …’ files.
What’s most impressive though – and a compliment to the Californian design studio that produced the Microbus concept 13 years ago – is that I reckon you could still launch it today and it would be a hit. Here’s hoping VW puts a successor to the original ‘split-screen’ into production one day …