VW won the hearts of collectors. The best first-generation Ford Econoline would be hard pressed to bring $10k, even with $5k in pennies in the back

The Type 2, as its name suggests, was the second variant of the VW Beetle (Type 1), using the same running gear, and was introduced in 1950. Multiple types, as well as “specials,” were always offered, ranging from panel van to camper and even fire engine. The Type 2 can justifiably lay claim to being the world’s first minivan and its first “people carrier.”

The original 1,131-cc, 25-hp power unit was enlarged to 1,192 cc in 1953, and power was upped to 40 hp in 1959. This particular Type 2 Microbus has the 1,493-cc, 50-hp power unit, optional from 1962. In 1967, the biggest visual change occurred when the original split-windscreen design was replaced by a smoothed-out Type 2 version with single windscreen. Though these so-called “bay-windows” have their devotees, the “splittie” is the true collectible.

All “splittie” variants are highly sought after, and at the top of the tree comes the Sunroof Deluxe minibus version with rooflights and a canvas panel known as the Samba. Here we have a 21-window version with its eight roof lights, which has been subject to a meticulous restoration to original specifications, retaining its charming hinge-opening windscreen panes and period pushbutton radio. The only apparent deviation is a pair of modern speakers discreetly set into the kickboard trim panel. Sambas had 23 windows until 1963, when the rear door was widened and the two rear corner rear windows deleted as a result.

This Samba was mechanically and bodily restored in 2007-08 (total project cost including acquisition was reportedly $116,105), and the owner describes it as cosmetically excellent, except for the headliner, which is “original and good,” while he rates the engine and transmission as very good. Indeed, he put his faith in this immaculate left-hand-drive “splittie” by driving over from Paris a couple of weeks before the sale.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1964 Volkswagen Type 2 Deluxe
Number Produced:1,960,542 (1st gen.); 200,325 (1964 only)
Original List Price:$2,675 (1964)
Tune Up Cost:$100
Distributor Caps:$10
Chassis Number Location:Plate riveted to bulkhead in engine bay on upper right
Engine Number Location:On crankcase generator boss
Club Info:Vintage Volkswagen Club PO Box 1016 Springdale, AR 72765-1016
Investment Grade:C

This 1964 Volkswagen Type 2 Microbus Deluxe sold for $38,517, including buyer’s premium, at H&H’s Buxton, England, auction on April 16, 2009.

Volkswagen’s second sensation, the Type 2 van, got off to a rudimentary start as a Beetle-powered flatbed parts mover within the Wolfsburg plant in the late 1940s. Ben Pon, the Dutch marketing genius who eventually made Volkswagen an American household word, got the vans into production. Two years after premiering in Europe, they were first sold in 1952 in the U.S. market, in both Standard and Deluxe trim.

It took a few years to catch on in the States (although they were immediately popular in Europe), but by the late 1950s, they were a force to reckon with. So much so that by the time our featured vehicle was built (which was also the year of highest Type 2 production), the Detroit Big Three were building competitors.

Counter-culture icon

Both Chevrolet and Ford fired the first salvos in 1961 with the Corvair 95 and Econoline, respectively. While the Corvair was the purest competitor-with basically the same rear-mounted, air-cooled six found in the Corvair cars-it was the Econoline that won the war. This was due mostly to its more conventional (in the U.S.) water-cooled 6-cylinder mounted in the front, courtesy of the Ford Falcon. Right out of the gate, it sold well (especially to the Bell System, becoming their standard service truck), and the Econoline is one of Ford’s oldest currently used nameplates.

As for the VW Type 2, it wasn’t so fortunate. While it became a counter-culture icon of the 1960s-and official Dead Head fleet vehicle-subsequent changes in the platform saw further erosions in sales, until the Vanagon-the last rear-engine van (with a water pump in it, for heaven’s sake)-was discontinued in 1991.

All in all, history will show that while Ford might have won the sales race, it’s the Volkswagen that won the hearts of collectors. The best-condition, lowest-mile, first-generation Econoline would be hard pressed to bring $10k, even with $5k in pennies in the back to keep it from burying its nose in the pavement on an emergency stop.

Corvair Greenbriers are starting to fare better, as well sorted ones can do over $10k. Yet this is after decades of being $50 to $1,500 fodder (a decade ago, this author was paid $50 by an owner to take a running example). On top of that, collectors outside of North America neither know nor care about them… unlike the Type 2.

While occasionally referred to as a Samba, that is an unofficial nickname used for a 21- or 23-window Deluxe Microbus with a sunroof in Europe. In the U.S., this was officially a Deluxe Station Wagon. Volkswagen sold commercial derivatives of the Type 2 alongside their multi-seat Microbus brethren, Beetles, and Karmann Ghias. Those early Volkswagen dealers had a large range of Type 2s Microbus to sell. At the lower end were the pure truck Transporters-single- and dual-cab drop-side pickups, plus the Panel Vans with five or seven doors (double cargo doors on each side) but no side windows. Next up the hierarchy is the Kombi, which was a delivery van equipped with easily removable second- or third-row seats-being a combination of both a passenger or cargo van-and with eleven windows.

The dedicated passenger vans were offered in two trim levels. The Standard was essentially a plusher Kombi, with rear interior trim panels, a headliner, and three rows of seats for seven to nine. Top of the heap was the Deluxe, with full side windows (15 total windows until 1963, then 13 in 1964, when the rear hatch was enlarged and the two rear corner windows that were exclusive for a Deluxe were discontinued).

Top trim level a key part of the sale price

In the U.S., Deluxe VWs also had the folding sunroof and eight small skylight windows in the roof as part of the package (making them 23-windows, then 21-windows post-1963), while in Europe these were options. A Standard or even a Kombi could be ordered with a sunroof as an option globally; however, they did not have the eight roof windows. Being the top trim level was a major factor for this example’s strong selling price.

Since a Type 2 Microbus can pull better money than a commensurate Type 1, lethargic performance and anemic heat-best described as an asthmatic squirrel breathing on your ankles-can’t be the reason for the price differential. Nope, it’s the reverence as a 1960s counter-cultural icon that does it. Nevermind that a $35k restoration would never have been seen at a Grateful Dead concert, and who cares that it has to be downshifted to get over a speed bump. It’s a rolling piece of ’60s art.

The strong price for this Type 2 Microbus Deluxe during our current economic climate might seem a bit out of whack to some. However, this sale seems to be about right to me. While we have seen some cooling in first-gen Type 2s, we also see very strong prices-even increases-on the best-condition cars of all types. Being a top-notch restoration to its original Euro-market configuration, this one is truly an investment-grade machine that has global appeal and staying power.

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