Like all of these little two-door sedans of the era, it had a four-speed manual transmission so I learned how to use a clutch. I also learned the importance of timing your entry to freeway traffic when you were powered by a 36-horsepower engine. A decade later I bought my own used Bug. I also owned an early model of what we called a “Camper.” There were many variations built on the same basic Volkswagen engine and truck chassis. Having an icebox, folding table and back bench seat that made into a bed, my camper seemed very practical for a young man in his twenties. For me it was much more desirable than the “Bus,” even the top-of-the-line models with all those windows.
Several years ago I had one of those “if I only knew then, what I know now” moments when attending a Barrett-Jackson auction in Reno, Nevada. The first day of these auctions always has some bargains—interesting, affordable vehicles that aren’t Concours-ready, but can be attractive purchases as “daily drivers.” Maybe nostalgia for the VW bus era could be indulged for five or ten thousand bucks, my brother and I speculated. Fat Chance. A very nice example went for around ten times that latter figure. It likely was a 23-window model, the rarest of the breed.
Collector ardor for these VW buses has only increased in subsequent years. Checking internet sources this morning, I learned that a 23-window can now fetch around $200,000. An apparently pristine example will be among the offerings at a televised Barrett-Jackson auction next month. Whether you’re really in the market, or just want to jog some of your own memories, we think you’ll enjoy David Neyens’ article below.
Get On The Bus: This Restored 1959 23-Window Has All the Magic
by David Neyens
Soon after the end of World War II in Europe, enthusiasm quickly built among Allied occupation authorities and the local German people for the return of the former KdF-Wagen plant in Wolfsburg to automobile production. Quickly, its only civilian product to date, the Dr. Ferdinand Porsche-designed “People’s Car,” was renamed the Volkswagen Type 1 as the launch product of the newly renamed Volkswagenwerk AG. The economical and sturdy Type 1, yet to gain its enduring and endearing “Beetle” moniker, was also a natural starting point for additional models.
In 1946, British Major Ivan Hirst of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers sketched an improvised Type 1-based parts mover. Built with the driver/operator at the rear and a wide, flat cargo platform up front, it was known at the factory as the “Plattenwagen.” While on a Type 1 buying trip, Dutch VW importer Ben Pon was inspired by the factory’s curious little utility vehicle and, as early as April 1947, drew the first generally acknowledged rough sketches predicting the boxy, forward-control Type 2 Transporter. While initial trials were based upon a stock Type 1 platform chassis, Type 2 Transporters would utilize a much stronger chassis and rigid unit body in contrast.
With the appointment by British authorities of Heinz Nordhoff to take over the operation of the Volkswagen factory, the company was now on a rapid growth trajectory and Wolfsburg quickly morphed into the world’s largest automobile factory under one roof. Beginning with eight Transporters displayed publicly by late 1949, production was slow at first, since all-out Type 1 production was the highest priority at Wolfsburg. A growing success bested only by the Type 1 inspiring it, the Type 2 was developed by 1948-49 into a pop-top camper by Westfalia and later into the dual-purpose “Kombi” combining passenger seating and cargo space. In 1954, Volkswagen brochures listed no fewer than six Transporter models of various useful configurations, often further adapted by owners for special purposes – even improvised bubble-top mobile air traffic control units! By 1956, Transporter production accelerated significantly, with a move in 1956 to a new dedicated plant in Hanover.
Sales in the crucial American export market were spurred by the print and TV advertising campaigns produced during the 1950s and 1960s by the “Mad Men” at Doyle Dane Bernbach. Celebrating the Type 2’s unconventional looks and practicality, these humorous ads poked fun at virtually every one of the era’s new-car clichés. The fun, full-dress “Samba,” sporting two-tone finishes, generous windows (21 or 23) all around, plus strings of rectangular windows on both sides of the roof and a sliding canvas sunroof, was initially intended for Alpine sightseeing. In America, it was marketed alternatively as the “Station Wagon,” “Microbus,” “Deluxe Microbus” or simply “Bus,” aimed at intelligent, upwardly mobile suburban families seeking a practical, economical and easy-to-maintain family vehicle. Fun and cheeky with a decided counterculture vibe, Transporters of all types, including Deluxe models, soon assumed cultural-icon status as vehicles of choice for the “flower power” counterculture of the late 1960s-early 1970s and beyond.
One of the star early consignments on the 2020 Scottsdale Auction docket is Lot #1304, a captivating 1959 Volkswagen Deluxe 23-Window Bus, which will be selling with No Reserve. Refreshing in a distinctive Mouse Gray and white two-tone livery over matching upholstery, it is the handsome product of a painstaking restoration that was completed over a seven-year timeframe. In addition to twin original swing-out “Safari” windshields, outstanding features include semaphore turn signals, New Old Stock (NOS) bumpers and a correct “VW” front emblem, plus the stock-type locking steering column. Power is delivered by Volkswagen’s iconic air-cooled “flat-4” engine and 4-speed manual transaxle, with fuel delivered by period-correct Okrasa carburetors. In addition to body-color steel wheels mounting bright “VW” scripted hubcaps and smart whitewall tires, period accessories include rear cargo retaining bars, a rare swing-open rear window, a roof-mounted luggage rack and running boards.
Captivating on all levels, this 1959 Volkswagen 23-Window Bus is a wonderfully restored example with undeniable presence that will certainly draw admirers wherever it goes.
For a look at all the vehicles on the 2020 Scottsdale Auction Preview Docket click HERE.