1949 has always been touted as the first year of the VW Type 2 Transporter. It was the year production started, but you won't see too many of them at the next VW meet. According to some sources, they only made about eight buses in 1949, and they were mostly used for promotion purposes.
A lot of you have probably seen the now famous sketch of Ben Pon. he is one of the two gentlement in that most famous photo of the first Volkswagen Beetle imported to the United States being unloaded off a ship in New York harbor. That photo was taken in 1949.
It seems that Mr. Pon was in Wolfsburg a few years earlier making arrangements to export VWs and noticed a strange looking vehicle that some of the factory staff had put together to move around heavy parts. It was based on a Beetle chassis, with a large flat platform for the cargo. The driver sat in the rear, over the engineon the early "transporter."
This got Ben's creative juices flowing the next year, April 23, 1947, during a meeting with British Colonel Charles Radclyfe, who was the current "overseer" of the VW factory during this post-war rebuilding period. It was at this meeting that Ben made his now famous sketch. A box on wheels, with the eninge in the back and the driver in the front. What a concept!
Of course it would take a couple of years before the first Type 2 would roll off the assembly line that that wasn't until November, 1949. The first thing to do was to get the factory up and running and back into the hands of the locals. This took place on January 1, 1948, and the new boss was Heinz Nordhoff.
Prior to this date, there had been more "transporter" proponents than just Ben Pon. There were some early Porsche designs floating around and a real cool looking prototype panel delivery had been developed back in the KdF days. However, it was Mr. Nordhoff who, some time during 1948, approved the project to develop the first Type 2 prototypes, and they looked a lot like Ben Pon's sketch.
During the research and development period, the Beetle chassis was looked at, but rejected because it was not strong enough for the load this new commercial should be capable of hauling. A new chassis was designed using two steel beams going front to back, with five smaller cross beams. Bolt on a beefier front end and a Bug tranny and engine, build a box over it and away you go... almost. The Wolfsburg engineers wanted more ground clearance and they only had 25hp to work with, so they incorporated a pair of reduction gearboxes from a wartime Kubelwagen. This gave them the height and gearing they needed.
During the early part of 1949, several prototypes were build, but I've only seen pictures. The Wolfsburg Museum has a 1949 on display, but those that have checked it out say it appears to have had some modifications later in life.
Mr. Nordhoff personally introduced the VW Type 2 on November 12, 1949. The most distinguishing features on the '49 are the protruding headlights and the external fuel filler. I am assuming that the photographs supplied courtesy of Wolfsburg Warehouse are those of an early 1949 prototype or productio model. Two of the changes made on the final prototypes were to slant back the windshields and give the roof line a slight "V" shape in the front. This was to cut down on drag. They needed to lessen the drag factor to improve gas mileage.
Top of the door hinges were lower on the doors than later models and the rear air intake vents run vertical instead of horizontal. The spare tire is stacked to the right of the engine. These first buses did not have a rear bumper.