A short history of the Volkswagen T1

Updated by Beulah | 20th November 2019

It’s been over 70 years since Volkswagen introduced a van based on the their first car (the Beetle) and today the Volkswagen T1 has become a symbol for freedom, creative expression, and the best of classic car design. Here to explain our ongoing love affair with this most iconic of camper vans is classic car expert Sander Houdel.

Where it all started

To understand the success of the Volkswagen T1, we have to go back to the beginning. The van was invented by Ben Pon, the first Volkswagen importer. Pon saw an improvised parts-mover in Volkswagens factory in Wolfsburg powered by the engine of the Volkswagen Beetle. The so-called ‘plattenwagen’ couldn’t be used on public roads because the driver sat on the back of the vehicle, on top of the engine. This is where Pon saw a great opportunity to address the large demand for such a vehicle in Europe. And so he drew up a rough sketch of the T1 in his agenda, creating a round shaped van with the engine in the back and the steering in the front. Based on his sketch, Volkswagen designed the Transporter between 1947 and 1949 and showed 4 prototypes to the public.


The T1 is produced in several variants. The most sought after T1 is definitely the Samba van - with its 23 windows and sunroof, it is certainly the most luxury variant. Sambas were painted in 2 colours, but the upper colour would always remain white. Interestingly, it was originally meant to be a van to tour the Alps in. With such an iconic design that people can associate with feelings of nostalgia and exploring new places, it’s no wonder that the T1 is still popular today.

Durability and exclusivity

Many T1s, even first generation ones, are still on the roads today because they were built to last. And that’s just what they did. One particularly durable version of the T1 is the Westfalia. They subcontracted the modifications to the company Westfalia-werke who equipped the T1 with various fold-out seating arrangements for sleeping, curtains, sink, table and storage. Only around a 1,000 Westfalias of the T1 where made. The exclusivity keeps them popular with VW enthusiasts and collectors. And because of its durability, for those who want to camp in vintage style, the Westfalia is still able to serve its original purpose.

Business vans

For business use, Volkswagen made commercial and pick-up variants with a lot of space. These vans are still very desirable to small entrepreneurs these days. The few that have survived have become food trucks or vintage-style advertisement vans like the one below.


The T1 is nowadays one of the most valuable Volkswagen vans in the world because of its cult status and reliability. The most valuable T1s are the Samba vans because of its rarity. The most expensive Volkswagen T1 auctioned at Catawiki was a nice original 1965 Volkswagen Samba Deluxe sold for €95,000 shown in the picture below.


Check out our latest Volkswagen auction or register as a seller with Catawiki.

Discover more Classic Cars | German Classic Cars | Volkswagen

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