People love cars for countless reasons. Some of them love unleashing massive horsepower when a stoplight turns green. Others are addicted to the thrill of extreme cornering. Some love the aesthetic appeal of a gorgeous automobile. Others desire the tactile comfort of a fabulously luxurious ride.
Owners of the Volkswagen Transporter - a.k.a. the Type 2, the Kombi, the Microbus, and "the hippie van" - are a more sedate bunch. Their vehicles aren't particularly quick, nimble, beautiful, or opulent. But whether it's spec'd out as a pickup, cargo van, or, as it's most commonly known, a Microbus, VW's plucky people mover is very versatile and incredibly fun.
Not long after the birth of the iconic Beetle (or Type 1), Volkswagen engineers began developing a decidedly more utilitarian vehicle. The first prototype Transporter used a standard Beetle platform, but the production Type 2 unveiled in 1949 featured more robust construction, with a ladder frame supporting the Bug's engine, basic suspension components, and wheelbase. And just as the Beetle became a beloved international icon, so, too, did its rectangular descendant.
Innumerable people have comfortably crossed whole or partial continents in VW vans. Hollywood has immortalized the Microbus in movies such as Little Miss Sunshine, in which the entire Hoover family takes one from Albuquerque to Los Angeles, and Field of Dreams, in which Kevin Costner drives from Iowa to Boston to track down James Earl Jones.
Real people have epic Transporter stories, too. For instance, in early 1958, our design editor, Robert Cumberford, was studying philosophy at UCLA, having left the General Motors design studio the previous year. He and some friends decided to travel to Mexico over the summer, so Cumberford traded his sleek Porsche 356 Super coupe for a brand-new boxy Microbus that could fit the entire crew. Alas, all but one of his party backed out of the adventure, but Cumberford and a female acquaintance went ahead with the plan anyway, after swapping the rear bench seats for a double mattress. From Los Angeles, they wandered through Mexico and along its west coast as far as Mazatlán before continuing on to Mexico City and then all the way to Baltimore, Maryland, where Cumberford dropped off his companion. But that wasn't the end of the trip: Cumberford ambled (at a top speed of about 50 mph) back to California, where he retrieved the rear bench seats, moved to San Francisco, and promptly sold the van. Aside from a brief reprise in 1976, Cumberford says, "I haven't driven a Microbus since, and I have absolutely no desire to ever get into one again. But it was fun fifty years ago."