There’s something about seeing something familiar in an unexpected, unfinished form that I’m an absolute sucker for. When that something is old air-cooled Volkswagens, multiply all that by whatever the number equivalent of a creepy moan is. Today I have two larval Type 2 Microbus styling concepts to share with you, because, let’s be honest: I’m crazy about you.
This first concept I first saw on the fantastic Car Design Archives Facebook group, but the source for that was this German VW Microbus site. What it seems we’re looking at here is a 1960 design study known as EA114.
This study would have been part of one of the first real attempts to update the original Microbus design, which dates from 1950. This one seems to pre-date the development of what would become the second generation of VW Transporter (what VW tended to call the Type 2 internally).
There’s a lot that’s interesting about this concept. It’s described as the “Heckmotor mit Lufteinlässen an der Front” which means, roughly, ‘rear engine with air intakes in the front,’ and, yep, you can clearly see a bunch of air intakes on the lower edge of the front facia of the bus.
It’s interesting – getting air to an air-cooled engine at the rear is tricky, especially for a big box like the Type 2. In a Beetle, air is captured as it flows over the roof, but that doesn’t really happen on a bus. The first generation just used vents at the lower rear sides, and the T2 second-gen bus had sort of ear-like ‘scoops’ at the D-pillars. Pulling air right from the front and channeling it to the rear seems like a pretty good idea.
Also interesting here is the hood-like flap on the front used to house the spare tire in a sort of narrow, vertical trunk. It was pretty common for Microbus owners to mount the spare on the front, to free up room in the cargo area at rear and add a bit of very welcome crash protection, too.
It makes sense that VW would have at least tried some more formal way of integrating the tire, and I think this is a great way to do it. I love the idea of some kind of little frunk on the nose of the Bus for a tire and maybe some tools or the jack and some jumper cables and stuff; it could really help de-clutter the cargo area, and, yes, let the other car at least hit that tire before your knees.
This prototype also has sliding doors before they became available, and the indicator light position seems close to the later 1968 Type 2 design as well. In a lot of ways, this seems like a better direction than where the Type 2 ended up in 1968, but I suspect it was also more costly, and maybe those air channels didn’t test well, or they determined they’d be rust traps or something. Who knows?
The other image here is a design study from later in the Type 2's life, sent to me by Eberhard Kittler, of the Volkswagen Foundation museum in Wolfsburg.
It’s pretty clearly a study for what would eventually become the Vanagon, but it still has a lot of the T2 bus in it as well. This one dates from 1975, and the Vanagon (also known as the T3) design was released in 1979.
What’s interesting is that the rectangular recessed area that contains the headlights is here, but does not contain an air-intake grille, like the Vanagon does.
There is a fresh air intake above it, below the windshield, as on the T2 buses, but here the indicators are inset into it, with groves mimicking the intake vents.
This one is very clearly on its way to Vanagon-hood, just a bit less rectilinear, but the general shape and proportions seem close. I wonder when that central front rectangular area gave someone the idea that it should have a black plastic grille in it, making the Vanagon share a corporate face with the first-generation Golf/Rabbit.
I love seeing these familiar designs in their larval stages, and wondering how dramatically different our would would have been if, say, Microbus owners had a little trunk to stick their spare tires and tools.
I’m guessing the world would be all but unrecognizable.