If you've aways wanted an old VW Microbus but felt it was just too stylish, too German, and too fast, boy are you in luck. Because it looks like an Austrian company named Palten-Diesel made a pretty close diesel Microbus knockoff that would be perfect for you.
Volkswagen's iconic box-on-a-Beetle-pan was introduced in 1950, and the Palten-Diesel bus seems to be from 1954, with production actually starting, in Spain, in 1955. The design is so close to the early VW bus that I'd feel pretty comfortable making the now-very-irrelvant accusation that Palten most likely directly copied the VW design.
The proportions and fundamental layout are all pretty much a dead ringer for an early "barn door" style Type II. The Palten buses are a bit cleaner and less ornamented than the Volkswagen, with its trademark giant cyclopean badge and two-tone paintwork, but if you look at the two side-by-side it's hard to deny the similarity. The pickup version even seems to have the same under-bed storage locker as a VW Type II pickup had.
The Palten bus did pre-figure the future development of the VW in one key way, the use of a one-piece windshield, which VW wouldn't employ until 1968.
The drivetrain of the Palten bus, while residing there in the same place back behind the rear axle, is pretty different. Instead of the early VW's screaming 1200cc 30HP flat four, the Palten used a Diesel V-twin, about 1020cc and making a far more manageable 20HP. I'm sure for those early bus customers whose biggest complaint was that those 30 fire-breathing berserker horses were just too much power to handle —launching the bus from a standstill to nearly 60 in something well under a minute — this diesel near-clone must have been a godsend.
I don't think too many of these were made, and I've only heard rumors of one possibly still existing. I'd never actually heard of the Palten-Deisel bus before, and I have to admit, I'm pretty fascinated. There's something about these sorts of knockoff vehicles that are really interesting. Was it actually a blatant copy, or is this an example of convergent evolution, two sources independently finding the same way to common solution to the problem of basic commercial transport?
Lots of companies were making similar vans and trucks at this time, so perhaps this was the same idea? For some reason, I'm more inclined to go with copy for this one. Even vehicles clearly inspired by the Type II — like the Corvair-based Greenbriar vans made some pretty significant changes.
Or, maybe they were just filling a niche? If VW wouldn't offer a Diesel option, someone should, right?