Volkswagen’s hippy camper van reborn for the electric era
Image credit: Alamy
The vehicle of choice for the dreamers and wanderers of the world, there is nothing that compares to the old VW camper van. 50 years after the Summer of Love, Volkswagen has unveiled a successor aimed at the future.
It’s 1967 and hippies are going to San Francisco with flowers in their hair. Ideally they will be going there in a VW camper van, although probably not a new one as in those days a new one would cost around £1,200, or £15,200 in today’s prices. Our band of hippies would therefore be travelling in a ‘Splitty’ – named after the split windscreen that was part of the design of the VW T2 camper van from its inception in 1949. 1967 was actually a momentous year for VW camper fans as the Splitty was replaced by the Bay, with a single bay window, which was retained until production ceased in 2013.
One source of confusion is that there was never a T1 camper van. The T1 was actually the Transporter 1, the Beetle or Bug as we grew to know it. The original T2 was based on the same 1131cc, 24hp engine and chassis as the Beetle but these were too flimsy and were soon replaced by a 1192cc, 30hp version.
Although other camper vans were available, it was the VW T2 that became the style icon – the motorised embodiment of a free-and-easy lifestyle. It featured in many films including ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ and ‘Argo’, but the ultimate hippy van was surely the Mystery Machine that carried Scooby-Doo and chums from one adventure to another. Although not specifically a VW, the Mystery Machine, which made its debut in 1969, is generally regarded as a cartoon version of the Microbus.
A van of this vintage would now cost in the region of £30,000, which is a lot to pay for a vehicle that is fundamentally slow, uncomfortable and a financial drain. All of which is insignificant if your goal is to have the right image.
VW campers have evolved over the intervening years. The latest version fitted out to suit the bohemian lifestyle is the California Ocean, which in many ways is the opposite to our 1967 T2. It is well fitted, comfortable and reliable. However, it is still pricey at £52k and, far more importantly, has lost the image that used to inspire those whose most treasured possessions were long hair and a surf board. Its outward appearance has all the charm of a plumber’s work van. Which brings us to the future, as glimpsed at the 2017 Detroit Motor Show.
ID Buzz was the second member of the all-electric ID family announced by VW, the first being a compact hatchback of similar dimensions to the Golf, and subsequently an SUV called ID Crozz was announced that is comparable to the Tiguan. The hatchback is scheduled to hit the market in 2020 with the Buzz to follow a couple of years later.
Both electric and autonomous, the Buzz could not be further away from the 50-year-old Microbus, but on first look there is no questioning its design DNA – a homage to the classic T2. Klaus Bischoff, Volkswagen’s head of design, said at the launch: “If you imagine this car on the road, you can also imagine the stir it would cause and the heads it would turn – that is part of its appeal. It is also about establishing a unique design language for our electric vehicles and allows our customers to show the world they have made a clear decision for responsibility and sustainability.”
It has full four-wheel drive and achieves 0-60mph in a very sporty five seconds, but the top speed is governed to 99mph. More futuristic features include the ‘Car2X’ capability to communicate with other piloted and autonomous vehicles, while intuitive voice control provides an interface to controlling your own vehicle. Advanced augmented reality can project “astonishingly realistic” images seemingly several metres in front of the vehicle. The battery charges wirelessly by induction. For manual operation the touch-sensitive steering wheel contains most of the controls. This retreats into the dashboard in autonomous mode.
“It radiates friendliness and offers functions that other [vehicles] don’t have,” concluded Biscoff. “There is an enormous amount of interior space and an incredible amount of flexibility. You can sleep in this car, you can go on vacation with it. The Bug and the Bus are the beloved icons. We have reshaped these icons in a futuristic way.”
The ID Buzz has an environmental message that should appeal to a new generation of hippies and environmentalists and perhaps the design will strike the right chord, too.
Top speed 99mph (limited)
Range 370 miles
Acceleration 0-62 in 5s
Acceleration 0-62 in 23s (claimed but practical experience suggests twice that figure!)