Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Article from September 2004 issue of Hemmings Motor News

This article originally appeared in the SEPTEMBER 1, 2004 issue of Hemmings Motor News.

It is a funny sight on modern roads, this twentieth-century Conestoga wagon. It moves with a blatty metallic ringing, which combines with the whine of reduction gears, the wind whistling through sliding-pane windows and the drum-like flapping of a canvas enclosure. We're talking about Volkswagen's 1962 Single Cab Pick Up.

Known as a Type 2 Transporter, it was introduced in early 1950 and was one of the most advanced commercial vehicles of the time due to its frameless unit-body construction, which had more than 10,000 welds.

Because the Transporter was derived from the Beetle, VW engineers purposely shared their mechanical components as much as possible for supply simplicity and reduced costs. The four-speed manual transmissions and air-cooled boxer four-cylinder engines (1,200-, 1,300-, and 1,500cc's) powered both vehicles through 1967, which was the Transporter's last year with split-windshield styling. Despite being chronically underpowered, the Bus and its variants' curb weights were kept down, and VW engineers equipped them with reduction boxes. These boxes contained two extra gears on the ends of both rear axles that reduced the transmission's final drive ratio to a basement-level 5.73:1; this allowed for a respectable 3/4-ton payload capacity but limited top speed to 50-65 mph, depending on engine size. The Beetle also donated its basic four-wheel independent suspension with enclosed torsion bars, suitably modified for heavy-duty use.

Both Volkswagen models underwent a gradual metamorphosis, evolving only as engineering refinements or safety regulations decreed. The medium-sized Transporter proved popular for both commercial and private use. The box-on-wheels could be had as a basic panel van, a work/personal Kombi van with removable seats (1950), a deluxe "Samba" bus that seated eight (1951), and in 1952, as a Single-Cab truck (a factory-built three-door Double Cab would follow in 1959). The VW Pick Up bed was lined with oak strips, earning the German nickname "Pritschenwagen," and designed as a platform with no wheel-arch intrusions. Its folding side and tail drop-gates gave the vehicle amazing flexibility for loading and hauling. The locking compartment under the bed, situated between the engine compartment and the cab, and popularly known as the "treasure chest," offered another 20 square feet of weatherproof storage. Single Cab and Double Cab Pick Ups could even be optioned with a bed-mounted metal and wood frame that was covered with a fitted canvas tarpaulin; and our test vehicle was so outfitted.

In ten years of production, the 1962 Pick Up had gained engine displacement, grown a full-length dashboard, new bumpers and DOT-appeasing lamps, received a better fresh-air ventilation system and minor sheetmetal refinements. These changes were all evident in owner Yiannes Einhorn's Dove Blue Pick Up. With its split windshield, Silver White "towel rack" bumpers and matching foot-tall VW emblem, it is instantly recognizable. The two-box shape and sparse appointments betray its utilitarian purpose: This is a work truck first and a collectible vehicle second. "I've driven it to the dump, to get wood for the workshop, and to bring home our Christmas tree each year," says Yiannes. "It's a seriously usable truck."

The canvas bed cover is in remarkable condition and adds a lot of charm and utility. The material is very heavy, with sturdy stitching (a red-colored stitch proves its authenticity) and sewn-in metal grommets and clips. The sides are easy to roll up and secure with the straps, and driving with all sides open allows for some rear visibility, as the tarpaulin has no windows. The reproduction tops available today don't incorporate all the original features, making this NOS canvas even more valuable.

Everyone is aware of the Transporter's storied past and widespread influence, but few know that VW built 38,118 Pick Ups in 1962. This truck's amazingly good condition is unusual, considering that it has remained in the Northeast all its life. The Massachusetts Port Authority bought it new as a part of their annual vehicle purchase in 1962, and it was used by the city of Framingham for three years.

"A lot of people who own old VWs don't even know they made these Pick Ups," Yiannes says. "I've been asked who did the bodywork, because people think that it was chopped from a bus, a homemade car." He feels that this lack of common knowledge just adds to the Single Cab's mystique and folklore. Unquestionable utility, unusual appeal and undeniable character make this VW a true original.


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