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The story of an icon: exclusive exhibition of classic VW buses at the VW Bus Festival 2023

The international VW Bus Festival 2023 will be the fixed star of the VW bus universe for three days (23 to 25 June). With 6,000 participating vehicles, the festival is the largest VW Bus meeting of its kind. And not only that: the Classic Vehicles department of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles will be presenting more than 70 rare historic VW buses at the festival – there has never before been a larger exhibition of classic VW bus models. The highlights include “Sofie” – a T1 from 1950 with the chassis number 20-1880. “Sofie” is the oldest VW bus still registered in the world. Another highlight is the T1 Half-Track Fox – a climbing specialist for the high mountains of which there is only one left. This can be seen at the festival in the “Offroad” exhibition area. Another classic star is the “Plattenwagen”, which has been newly built by Volkswagen employees (some of them already retired) using original parts from the 1940s. This platform truck is a kind of prototype for the Volkswagen Transporter models.

The fact that the VW bus was often ahead of its time is demonstrated by a T2 with an electric drive from 1978. One of the major icons of the VW bus world is the T3 California – the firstgeneration of camper vans that still turn holidaymakers into globetrotters up to the present day. A fourth-generation Multivan syncro, which completed the legendary Panamericana route from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in a new record time in 1999, also awakens a desire to set out on life’s epic journeys.

The historic camper vans and the T2 Electric bridge the gap into the world of today. After all, there will of course also be current VW buses at the VW Bus Festival ( The new models at the exhibition include the entire range of camper vans – consisting of the latest Caddy California, the California 6.1 and the Grand California based on the large Crafter. The current Multivan eHybrid will drive to the festival with a partially electric drive, while the ID. Buzz Pro2, ID.

Buzz Cargo and – as a European premiere – the new ID. Buzz3 with long wheelbase are on the road as all-electric vehicles.

As an appetiser to the automotive history of the VW Bus Festival 2023, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is giving a detailed preview of four of the classic vehicles on show at the meeting: the T1 Half-Track Fox, the T2 Electric, the T3 California and the Multivan syncro record-breaking vehicle.

The T1 Half-Track Fox: The history of the T1 Half-Track Fox began in May 1962. Back then, it was produced at the Hanover plant as a “normal” T1 and sold to Austria. There, it was transformed into an Alpine specialist in the hands of a Viennese Volkswagen mechanic. The Austrian converted the VW bus into a T1 with four axles – two of them fitted with a chain drive mechanism and two steering the vehicle with twin tyres. This is how the most off-road-capable VW bus ever came about. The designer of the Half-Track Fox was called Kurt Kretzner. Historic sources say he was a keen skier. He noted that in the mountainous regions of Austria there was a scarcity of vans with good off-road capabilities. He wanted to change that. The inventor spent over four years designing and building his mountain climber.

Under the orange-painted body of the VW bus, the Viennese tinkerer installed a steered twin axle at the front with twin coarse-tread 14-inch tyres and another twin axle with chain drive at the rear. As a result of the dual front-axle steering, the turning circle was just 6 metres – so it could almost turn round on itself. An automatic limited-slip differential ensured evenly distributed forward traction even in deep snow. The T1 drew its power for this from its 31 kW/42 PS flat engine with a capacity of 1,493 cm . The Half-Track Fox had a top speed of 40 At the end of 3 km/h. 2018, the Half-Track Fox came into the collection of the Classic Vehicles department of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. It was restored there and painted in a largely original orange colour. Matt orange, in fact – the intention being back in the day that the Half-Track Fox should be immediately recognisable in the snow-covered countryside.

The T2 Electric: The Classic Vehicles department of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles will electrify the VW Bus Festival with a roadworthy VW electric van based on the T2. In doing so, the classic vehicle specialists will be essentially presenting the predecessor of the ID. Buzz. A retrospective: in 1970, Volkswagen set up a development division in Wolfsburg that designed the first electrically powered Volkswagen. In 1972, the company showed a prototype in the form of a pick-up with an open load bed. Shortly afterwards, small-series production of the VW electric van began, which was offered not only as a pick-up, but also as a bus and panel van. It was the start of a fleet trial.

One of the participants: the City of Berlin. They purchased seven electric VW buses. One of them was a T2, produced in 1977 and licensed on 14 April 1978 to Berlin Municipal Transport Services. A battery changing station was set up in Berlin where the empty battery unit could be exchanged for a fully charged one within five minutes. This was possible because the rechargeable battery integrated under the load bed could be pushed out. As an alternative, it was possible to charge the lead-acid traction battery via an interface in the back of the vehicle. In addition, the van already had a recuperation system on board 45 years ago. The energy content of the battery was 21.6 kWh, enough for the electric VW van to cover distances of up to 85 kilometres. Propulsion was provided by an electric motor with a continuous output of 16 kW/22 PS. With this power on board, the 2,170 kg van achieved a top speed of 75 km/h. The T2 Electric was the nucleus that set off a development process that drove generations of engineers to try to create an electric VW bus for mass production. But for decades the suitable battery technology for this was lacking. Today things are different.

The T3 California: The California is one of the most successful camper vans in the world – an automotive attitude to life. Its history began in 1988 with a special model based on the third Transporter generation. Jointly developed with Westfalia and built there in the German town of Rheda-Wiedenbrück, this first California was unveiled at the Caravan Salon in Essen. At the exhibition, the new California T3 could not and did not want to hide the fact that its concept exploited the proven layout for technology and equipment of the Westfalia Joker. The special model initially produced in a limited edition visually differentiated itself from the Westfalia Joker models through the large bumpers of the exclusive Multivan Carat. The California could be ordered in the two colours Pastel White and Marsala Red. The seats and rear bench seat were upholstered in light grey velour. The interior designers also showed style awareness with the white-grey and very clear kitchenette adapted from the Joker. At a price of DM 39,900, the California cost roughly DM 10,000 less than the Westfalia model and, as a result, became an instant bestseller – in the first year alone, Volkswagen sold 5,000 units.

As an alternative to the pop-up roof, the first California was also available with a high roof and large panoramic window. While the high roof offered advantages in continuous rain and at low temperatures, the pop-up roof scored with the lower overall height of the California (2,080 compared with 2,610 mm), so that it was able to fit into practically every private garage and many public car parks.

The Multivan syncro: The name Panamericana not only stands for the adventurous route between Alaska and Tierra del Fuego, but also for a world record drive that Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles completed in 1999 with drivers Andreas Renz and Matthias Göttenauer. With the series-production fourth-generation Multivan syncro, the team needed only 15 days, 14 hours and 6 minutes for the 22,880 kilometres between Prudhoe Bay in Alaska and Ushuaia in Argentina. The short journey time for the long distance qualified the team for an entry in the Guinness Book of Records and made it clear that the all-wheel drive VW bus is the perfect companion for all globetrotters.

The record drive undertaken by the Multivan syncro was the final impetus for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles to design even more powerful all-wheel-drive vehicles. The record-breaking VW bus with the registration number “WOB AZ 152” thus became the initial spark for the development of the all-wheel-drive Multivan PanAmericana models. After a long absence, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is now exhibiting the world tour VW bus for the first time at the VW Bus Festival. The completely newly built up Multivan syncro will be on show in the “Offroad” theme area together with other all-wheel-drive models. In the pavilion of the Classic Vehicles department of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Göttenauer will give a live illustrated talk and describe the record journey of back then. One thing is certain: thanks to the more than 70 classic vehicles on show, a visit to the VW Bus Festival 2023 is also a journey through 73 years of VW bus history.

Tickets: Day tickets for the VW Bus Festival 2023 are only available online on the official festival website at The ticket price includes all exhibitions, concerts, events, children’s programme, a parts and accessories market and the GVH local transport ticket. On Friday, the ticket for adults including evening programme costs 10 euros. The ticket on Saturday costs 15 euros and includes a long concert evening. Children and youngsters pay just 5 euros, kids under six years old are free.

The line-up for the three-day festival is impressive. The programme starts on Friday evening with the premiere of the road movie “BULLILOVEstories – the film” and concerts by Pat Burgener as well as Bosse and his band. This is followed on Saturday by the long concert evening with Die Fantastischen Vier, Rea Garvey and Zoe Wees. The festival programme also includes a large parts and accessories market and the “Show & Shine” competition. In this competition, a jury will choose the coolest VW buses and their owners in various categories on Friday and Saturday and present them to visitors. Those who want to see the festival from higher up can take a ride on the big wheel. A large number of VW food buses will also provide the community with food and drinks. Kids will also enjoy themselves: the Bulli Kids Club will be open during the whole weekend with countless activities on offer – from a giant sandpit and trampoline through to the soccer court of the Hannover 96 football academy.

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