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Throwback Thursday: The Sketch That Birthed The Volkswagen Microbus

This may look like a sketch your six-year-old nephew once proudly affixed to theFrigidaire’s front door. In actuality, it’s the sketch that birthed an automotive legend: the Volkswagen Microbus.

As Volkswagen’s official press release acknowledges, the Bulli concept shown earlier this week — along with the Microbus, Vanagon, and Eurovan, for that matter — may not have existed if it weren’t for the creative spark of one man nearly 64 years ago.

Dutch businessman Ben Pon was already a key figure in Volkswagen’s postwar history — by the early 1950s, he had not only attempted to import the Beetle to North America (an ironically unsuccessful venture, at least at first), but he was also one of Volkswagen’s largest dealers outside of Germany. Still, Pon managed to directly influence the creation of an all-new product.

During one of his trips to Volkswagen’s plant in Wolfsburg, Pon laid eyes upon the improvised transporters used by workers to ferry parts and materials around the facility. The oddball vehicles were based upon the Type 1 (e.g. Beetle) floorplan, but moved the driver to a raised perch above both the engine and rear axle. Doing so allowed a rudimentary load platform to be installed in front.

Pon apparently saw promise in the idea of a Beetle-based cargo hauler, as he set pen to notebook paper on April 23, 1947. Pon’s sketch — the scan of the original is shown above — essentially inverted the transporter’s design while wrapping it with enclosed bodywork. Both driver and front passenger were placed at the front of the vehicle, but the Bug-based engine was still tucked in the tail.

The idea wasn’t received well by the VW’s British officials at the time, but after new (German) management was instated, the idea was revived. A new chassis with an integrated ladder frame wasdeemed necessary to handle larger payloads, but Pon’s brainstorm essentially reached production intact. The Type 2 — colloquially known as the Bulli in Germany and the Microbus here in the U.S., entered production in May 1950 (the models shown here are prototypes from 1949) and the rest, as they say, was history. The vehicle (in van, wagon, and pickup forms) was as much an essential part in Europe’s post-war economic reconstruction as it was a part of America’s counterculture.

Is the new Bulli anything close to an innovative legend in the making? What would Ben Pon prescribe? You tell us, VW freaks. Send us your thoughts — positive or negative — via the comments section below.

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