Volkswagen Type 2 Microbu T2
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
In late 1967
, the second generation of the Volkswagen Type 2 (T2) was introduced. It was built in Germany until 1979
. In Mexico, the Volkswagen Kombi and Panel were produced from 1970 to 1994. Models before 1971 are often called the T2a (or "Early Bay"), while models after 1972
are called the T2b (or "Late Bay"). This second-generation Type 2 lost its distinctive split front windshield, and was slightly larger and considerably heavier than its predecessor. Its common nicknames are Breadloaf and Bay-window, or Loaf and Bay for short.
This model was fitted with a 1.6 litre 35 kW engine (48 PS; 47 bhp) DIN. The battery and electrical system was upgraded to 12 volts, making it incompatible with electric accessories from the previous generation. The new model also did away with the swing axle rear suspension
and transfer boxes previously used to raise ride height. Instead, half-shaft axles fitted with constant velocity joints raised ride height without the wild changes in camber of the Beetle-based swing axle suspension
. The updated Bus transaxle is usually sought after by off-road racers using air-cooled Volkswagen components.
The T2b was introduced by way of gradual change over three years. The first models featured rounded bumpers incorporating a step for use when the door was open (replaced by indented bumpers without steps on later models), front doors that opened to 90° from the body, no lip on the front guards, unique engine hatches, and crescent air intakes in the D-pillars (later models after the Type 4 engine option was offered, have squared off intakes).
Type 2 featured a new, 1.6 litre engine with dual intake ports on each cylinder head and was DIN-rated at 37 kW (50 PS; 50 bhp). An important change came with the introduction of front disc brakes and new roadwheels with brake ventilation holes and flatter hubcaps. Up until 1972
, front indicators are set low on the nose rather than high on either side of the fresh air grille – giving rise to their being nicknamed "Low Lights". 1972's most prominent change was a bigger engine compartment to fit the larger 1.7- to 2.0-litre engines from the Volkswagen Type 4, and a redesigned rear end which eliminated the removable rear apron and introduced the larger late tail lights. The air inlets were also enlarged to accommodate the increased cooling air needs of the larger engines.
the 1600cc Type 1 engine as used in the Beetle, was supplemented with the 1700cc Type 4 engine - as it was originally designed for the Type 4 (411 and 412) models. European vans kept the option of upright fan Type 1 1600 engine but the 1700 Type 4 became standard for US spec models. In the Type 2, the Type 4 engine was an option for the 1972
model year onward. This engine was standard in models destined for the US and Canada. Only with the Type 4 engine did an automatic transmission become available for the first time in the 1973
model year. Both engines displaced 1.7 litre, DIN-rated at 49 kW (67 PS; 66 bhp) with the manual transmission and 46 kW (63 PS; 62 bhp) with the automatic.
The Type 4 engine was enlarged to 1.8 litres and 50 kW (68 PS; 67 bhp) DIN for the chronicles_1974 model year and again to 2.0 L and 52 kW (71 PS; 70 bhp) DIN for the 1976 model year. The two-litre option appeared in South African manufactured models during 1976, originally only in a comparably well-equipped "Executive" model. The 1978 2.0 L now featured hydraulic valve lifters, eliminating the need to periodically adjust the valve clearances as on earlier models. The 1975 and later U.S. model years received Bosch L-Jetronic electronic fuel injection as standard equipment; 1978 was the first year for electronic ignition, utilizing a hall effect sensor and digital controller, eliminating maintenance-requiring contact-breaker points. As with all Transporter engines, the focus in development was not on power, but on low-end torque. The Type 4 engines were considerably more robust and durable than the Type 1 engines, particularly in Transporter service.
, for the 1973
model year, exterior revisions included relocated front turn indicators, squared off and set higher in the valance, above the headlights. Also, square-profiled bumpers, which became standard until the end of the T2 in 1979, were introduced in 1973
. Crash safety improved with this change because of a compressible structure behind the front bumper. This meant that the T2b was capable of meeting US safety standards for passenger cars of the time, though not required of vans. The "VW" emblem on the front valance became slightly smaller. Later model changes were primarily mechanical. By 1974
, the T2 had gained its final shape. Very late in the T2's design life, during the late 1970s, the first prototypes of Type 2 vans with four-wheel drive (4WD) were built and tested.
In The News - For Good And Bad Reasons
The VW Kombi MicroBus was always in the news – mostly for good reasons but sometimes for bad. Everyone knew that the Kombi offered a capacious payload and was attractive to campers, surfers, delivery agents and almost anyone that wanted something a little different and economical to boot. But there were negatives, and arguably the biggest "safety scare" came from the inimitable Ralph Nader, who has set himself up as some sort of guardian protector of the consumer. Mr. Nader's criticisms were unfortunately based more on the hysterical reports of individuals than engineering facts and statistical figures. But he came up with a few new glib phrases to impress the public with the sincerity of the anti-Volkswagen campaign.
One of them backfired disastrously and threw the campaign into immediate disrepute: few people would be likely to accept a catchline that read "This is the vehicle most likely to get into an accident all by itself." But in Australia at least, the claims were greeted with some degree of support - from no other than Mr. N. Perrott, then President of the RACV who supported Nader's claims right down the line. He particularly emphasised his support for Nader's claims on safety and the challenge on the VW Micro Bus - very strange in view of the fact that Mr. Perrott owned one at the time he supported the claims. It is quite possible he felt unsafe in his own vehicle.
The likely reason the Mr. Perrott owned the VW Kombi MicroBus was that, like many other enlightened Australians, he had discovered the hard way that the only vehicle readily available on the local market to accommodate a large family safely was the VW Micro Bus. And thousands of Australians who tried to cram their families of six or more into regular full size sedans, long-wheelbase regular sedans, and American-type large sedans were discovering the limitations of this type of transportation.
The simple fact of big family motoring in the late 1960s and early 1970s was that no-one made a conventional sedan that was suitable. And more important from a safety angle, no-one even came close! The full size sedans of the time were the Holdens, Falcons, Valiants, Nissans, Crowns etc. They were licenced to carry a maximum six people including the driver. In NSW and Victoria it was completely illegal to carry any more than that, since a safety belt was mandated to be worn by every occupant and there were few exemptions. Although the long-wheelbase regular sedans such as the Statesman, Fairlane etc, along with full-size American sedans such as the Galaxie etc., were dimensionally larger, this did not increase the number of seating positions. Therefore they only accommodated families with up to four children.
As the law stood in NSW in 1971, every child over the age of eight was compelled to wear seat belts where fitted. But safety-conscious parents should be aware that children can be safely restrained from birth with specially designed restraint systems carefully graded for age groups.
However, safety experts in the motor industry and government research organisations advised that a properly fitted single lap belt (not lap-sash) fastened across the pelvic area was a satisfactory substitute when a correct harness was not available for children right down to the 18 months to two years age group. We figure they were thinking better that, than nothing. If you had a family of four or more children (statistics from the era indicate that there were almost a quarter of a million Australian families in this category), and you cared about their safety, you simply could not ignore a vehicle like the VW Kombi Micro Bus. It enabled you to strap-in six to eight children in the rear compartment in complete safety - still leaving the two individual front buckets for parents.
One Of The Safest Cars On The Road
And what about the actual safety of the vehicle? Forget the Nader sensationalism. The VW Micro Bus was undoubtedly one of the safest vehicles on the road back then. Like all commercially-designed vehicles it had a relatively high centre of gravity - but it also had an exceptionally high degree of handling and braking built in. On the open road the Kombi would not suffer excessive roll movement – quite to the contrary it was safe, stable and upright under the severest conditions. Like all rear-engined vehicles it was affected by cross-winds, but certainly not to a serious degree. The tendency to wander was slight and controllable - in fact a competent driver would have always been able to anticipate it. One of the most impressive features of the Micro Bus was its ability to handle any kind of surface. It was very happy in the wet - and would out-handle most cars.
On dirt surfaces, it refused to skitter sideways or tramp and the rear engine gave it good uphill lugging ability. Because of its superior traction and good ground clearance it could be driven into areas that beat most cars. Its obvious drawback was a lack of performance - although strictly speaking the Kombi could not be termed under-powered. Steep hills were usually climbed at around 40 mph - but once you topped the crest you could charge downhill at 80 mph or more. The 0-60 mph figure was abysmal when compared to nearly all other cars – but if you used the available performance carefully, you could get the best from the Micro Bus. The main points to consider when driving the Kombi were to
- Hang well back and judge the overtake run-up perfectly. Sitting too close to the car in front will shorten your run-up space to such an extent as to make overtaking dangerous. It is never that way if you hold back a little.
- For hill climbs and uphill corners make sure you judge your own approach speed rather than relying on the car in front, you can both make it over the top of the hill in the same time.
-You needed to train yourself and use the gearbox properly – and liberally – to get the most out of the engine. And even when pushing the Bus along, you could log 30-40 mpg economy - up to twice the return from a regular sedan.
Get behind the wheel of the Microbus and you would find all the controlswere well-designed and beautifully light to use. The steering was effortless - even for parking - and the stoppers were the straightest in the business. Some operators believed it to be one of the best vehicles available for heavy traffic. Despite its apparent bulk, it was light and manoeuvrable even for a woman. It had a tight turning circle, excellent visibility all round, and that high driving position meant you could plan your way through the trickiest traffic situations while car drivers sat below you confused and uninformed about what's happening up ahead. Today this is the domain of the oversized 4x4’s being used as school drop-off and pick-up vehicles. On the open road the Kombi’s ride on 2nd grade Australian roads was excellent – particularly on quiet cross-plies. Even when punished, the Kombi was gentle on tyres, cheap to insure and run and maintenance was a breeze.
It well may be that nobody called the Micro Bus a performance machine. The problem was that the VW Transporter range was designed as a series of commercial vehicles. The Micro Bus was part of the range and therefore did not have the performance options of a normal car. The horizontally-opposed 1600cc four, in the back of the VW was a long lasting unit but it did only produce 60 horses. It had to push 3031 lbs along, so the diff ratio at an incredible 5.375 to 1 was vital. This reduced the top speed to 67 mph and a head wind would reduce this figure further. But in the city you didn’t notice the lack of performance. It was very difficult to engineer a car to be substantially faster to 20 mph than its neighbour. Because all vehicles are virtually equal at this pace, the VW would keep up with the pack.
The apparent size was enough to ensure your right-of-way and the aforementioned high /driving position made it easy to see the developing traffic situation. But in fact the size of the Micro Bus was an illusion. It was shorter than the then current Jaguar XJ6 or BMW 2800 and only 6ft wide, which was narrower than the HQ Holden. But there was no denying that it was tall - at 6 ft 4.4 it was a full two feet higher than the HQ Monaro. There was a lot of glass in the Micro Bus and visibility was excellent. With the two exterior mirrors there were no blind spots. The commercial ancestry of the vehicle was all too obvious from the driver's seat. It had a real "truckie" driving position with a near horizontal steering wheel and very upright pedals. But that driving position never limited BMC Mini sales.
The truth was it was a comfortable position with lots of leg and elbow room. The gearstick was a little too far forward with the seat well back - making the driver stretch a bit. But the driver was provided with reasonable instrumentation and warning lights and a good array of knobs and controls - all within easy view or reach. The horn button in the centre of the wheel controlled an authoritative honker instead of the traditional old VW beeper. The indicator stalk also included headlight flasher and dipswitch and it was well positioned. The driver could also reach both the ashtray and radio controls with his seat belt fastened.
Behind The Wheel
The handbrake pulled out of centre dash and was light and easy to operate. Keyed into the driving position were big wipers that covered a satisfactory screen area despite the fact that the pivot points hadn't been switched for right hand drive. Headlights were excellent on high or low beam - right to the top of the vehicle's modest top speed. When the Micro Bus was thrown around, there was very little body roll. Its handling was initial plough-on understeer with the tail coming out into oversteer as the forces built up. But that was very hard going. The engineers at Wolfsburg had arranged the suspension
so that it had a "fight oversteer" stance under most sideways loadings. The suspension
was independent all round - twin cranked trailing arms with ball joints in front and a double joint axle with three-point trailing links at the rear. A torsion bar supplied the springing and telescopic shocks dam road reaction. The front had a stabilizer. All this added up to pretty sophisticated suspension
and it really worked on the road. The other big safety aspect of the vehicle was the brakes. They were magnificent. We recorded stops of 0.95g deceleration - wet or dry. The brakes did not lock-up and were not prone to fade. Pedal pressures for normal town use were a low 20 lbs. average.
Comfort was well taken care of - with a good ride over any surface, and adequate seating for everybody. Interior trim could be roughly described as about Holden Kingswood standard, although there were certain variations. Front seat passengers had very durable, hard rubber floor matting which was continued through to the "main cabin". Families who wanted a little more luxury could get a cheap, durable set of carpets whipped up by third-party suppliers. But all passengers were generally well cared for. Those in the front had full heating, with through-flow ventilation and individual dashboard swivelling outlets. There was additional foot-level ventilation from special vents on the front bulkhead, and you were certain of getting cool air since there was no engine out front. There was a big front glovebox (not lockable) and the passenger had a grab handle available. The sun visors, finished in the same attractive perforated PVC material as the hood lining, swung down to give good protection from low sun booming through the big screen. The front cabin was lit by a conventional ceiling lamp when the cab doors were opened.
Because of the abrupt-front design, the brake and windscreen washer reservoirs were built into the front bulkhead. Easily-removed inspection panels enabled instant servicing - in the case of the washers, the compressed air reservoir which powered the system had to be replenished with a normal tyre pump. Between the bucket seats was a walkway to the rear cabin - ensuring that the threat of physical duress could instantly be added to any vocal discipline of errant children occupying that area. And the rear seat occupants erre treated to the same generally high accommodation standards as the front. The hood lining continued right to the rear tailgate - reducing boom and adding to the cabin appearance. Seats were well angled and quite comfortable - even for long trips - chiefly because legroom was good.
Apart from a swivelling quarter vent, there were no opening windows in the rear compartment - which ensured children couldn’t get their arms out. However, the glassware was deep and extended well back to give all occupants a good view of what was going on outside. Armrests were fitted in all positions, plus roof grab handles. The squab of the seat position nearest the sliding door on the front bench could be unlocked and canted forward to allow access to the rear. The huge sliding door could also be locked from the outside. The two big rear benches could be arranged to face forwards but the front bench could be fitted to face backwards - or removed entirely.
This was achieved simply by unbolting floor retainers gripping the tubular seat legs - a five minute operation. The rear bench could also be removed in a longer unbolting operation. And the rear seat occupants were treated to the highest heating/ventilation standard available on any car short of an absolute luxury machine. An ingenious ducting system carried the through-flow air system through the tubular front seat ducts that incorporate armrests into separate rear seat controls on the back of the front seats.
As well as these, two separate heat ducting systems operated at floor level - giving the rear seat occupants the opportunity to enjoy a warm cabin with fresh-air. The multiple control system provided for individual hot air channels behind driver's and passenger's seats, plus a central ducting system channelling air down the centre of the cabin. The final area of the rear compartment was the luggage storage section behind the final rear bench. It had as much room as the average car boot although it also accommodated the spare wheel in its big plastic casing. This was easily removed for replacement - the jack and tools were located under the front bucket seats.
Additional features were towing hitches supplied front and rear, indexed fuse box under the dashboard, petrol filler hidden behind a side panel, and single key system for all operations. The engine was generally accessible for routine service - although the battery, hidden away in the right rear sidewell - was awkward to check and fill. The Kombi had an extremely high standard of finish, its durability was proven and its go-anywhere potential was beyond question - aided by the air-cooled engine. It was one of the most economical vehicles on the road to operate, cheap to insure and very low on service cost and warranty claim. Its design flexibility meant it converted instantly from family transporter to commercial commuter and the imaginative owner found it adapted quickly to suit any purpose.
It was low on performance but high on safety. It had a little built-in prestige, but modern social patterns that give unexpected prestige to unconventional vehicles all but elevated its status to the point where it was socially acceptable as family transport - even desirable.