A couple of days ago, our pals over at the Car Design Archives Facebook group posted a fascinating and mysterious picture of an odd little truck, and tagged us specifically. They were right to do so, because this image is fascinating, especially when you know just one bit of information about it: that truck started life as an amphibious WWII Volkswagen Schwimmwagen.
While it was by no means uncommon for wartime Volkswagen-derived vehicles like Kubelwagens to be repurposed for civilian use after the war, it was extremely uncommon for the amphibious versions, the Schwimmwagens, to be used this way. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it before.
The reason, I think, has to do with the car’s construction. Where a Kubel had a simple, militaristic body just bolted onto an otherwise pretty standard VW Beetle chassis, which meant it could be easily removed and replaced with something more suited to personal or commercial use, the Schwimmwagens were built, as you may guess, more like a boat.
Sure, the drivetrain was normal, easy-to-repair-and-maintain air-cooled VW stuff, that boat-like body was one big piece of steel, and as such would be extremely difficult to adapt into something else.
And yet, here’s one that seems to have been. Here’s what Olivier from Car Design Archives had to say about it:
Here is an oddity I randomly found in the archive of the German federal picture libray, that should please our friends from Jalopnik!
This VW Schwimmwagen was found in 1945 in Eastern Saxony (in the future southern GDR) and then modified as flour truck for the Koban Mill in Neschwitz-Weidlitz.
It remained in service until 1961.
Now, at first, this thing looks nothing like a Schwimmwagen, but on closer inspection, I can see it. It appears that some fairly skilled person cut off most of the upper hull of the Schwimmwagen, making room for doors and building out a whole hood, roof, and cargo bed, adding some very rectangular suicide doors and fenders, which were likely sourced from another car.
I made a best guess as to how this was built in that little diagram up there—I suspect the cargo box sat on a cut-down rear hull, with the engine below the cargo box, and pulling air from some sort of vents on the side that we can’t see here because of the open door.
It looks like that “grille” at the front is just some sort of ribbed material, and perhaps that hood opens up to reveal a front trunk?
I’m not exactly sure what the body additions were made of—it could be thin sheet metal, though it sort of looks like the Weymann technique, which was common in that era, and used a sort of artificial leather fabric stretched over metal or wood framing. The matte quality of parts like the hood and the almost “upholstered” look of the panels, with what appears to be piping, makes me think that perhaps it’s at least part Weymann in construction.
I suspect that no attempts were made to keep the car seaworthy, since, as a flour truck, it likely didn’t have a lot of need to ford rivers or tear down estuaries or anything like that.
The Schwimmwagen was the most mass-produced amphibious vehicle ever, with over 15,000 made. The war took their toll on them, though, and only 189 are known to have survived the war. Many more Kubels were available, which also makes this so odd, especially since if you found a surplus or abandoned Schwimmwagen, most people would want to keep the amphibious qualities intact.
But, this flour mill must have known what it was doing, since they kept this thing going and working for over 15 years after the war ended.
I’ve never seen anything quite like this, so, I wanted to share it with you, because I know how much you love flour trucks. You’re welcome.