30 years of Bulli

Everything to zero. With the T4 series, Volkswagen reinvented the Bulli. At least almost, because Germany's most popular multi-purpose vehicle of the post-war period was to preserve its basic values. And so the VW T4 had a front engine, front or all-wheel drive and an unusual temperament, but also all useful talents

Was that still a real Bulli? No boxer engine, no box-shaped, iconic front design, no rear engines, the Volkswagen T30 introduced 4 years ago apparently broke with almost everything that companies, families and activists loved about the most popular German vans of the post-war era. Even VW CEO Carl Hahn found it difficult to radically turn away from the legendary rear engine concept, as he later confessed in his memoirs. But the increasingly fierce competition - particularly from Ford Transit and the Mercedes Vans - required a rethink towards an even larger, almost unmanageable variety of variants, including at Volkswagen. This zeitgeist brought the new traction head concept for the fourth Bulli with a front engine and front-wheel drive, two different wheelbases, three payload classes, four-, five- and six-cylinder engines, optional all-wheel drive and over 20 body concepts. Around two million Volkswagen T4s later it was clear: Even with the new concept, the Transporter could do everything that made the Bulli so fascinating. Not only the California for the leisure company of the 1990s, the family-loving Multivan and the ultra-expensive Caravelle Business confirmed the T4 in its role as the most iconic panel van, against which the competitors were only able to achieve respectable successes, and the "Nutzis" were successful as before.

It is the globally popular German icon among small vans, because the Volkswagen Transporter, affectionately known as the Bulli, first brought authorities, trades and families in the Federal Republic into motion from 1950 and then all five continents. Not to forget his role as a pioneer of recreational vehicles and as a popular symbol of the hippie and flower power generation. All of this as a beetle-based construction and up to the third generation with the sound of boxer engines. But then came 1990. The wall between East and West had fallen, Germany was reunited and the GDR two-stroke Bulli Barkas rolled into the museum. At the same time, Ford, Mercedes, Fiat, Renault, Peugeot and Citroen pushed their way onto the market with ever wider range of vans, for the time being without endangering the position of the VW van dynasty with its particularly car-like driving characteristics. Nevertheless, it was clear to VW boss Hahn that the time had come for a technical revolution in the Bulli.

Successful in America

Hahn acquired crucial van expertise early on as Head of Volkswagen of America. In 1961 he succeeded in making the small, weakly motorized and by no means cheap VW T1 the favorite of American families, which outstripped the strong US models at the time and thus co-founded the family van segment. Around 30 years later, under Hahn's leadership, Volkswagen dispensed with the unique selling point of rear-engined rear-wheel drive vehicles. Instead, the fourth generation of the Bulli, developed by chief designer Karl Nachbar, was supposed to bring the quantum leap to front-wheel drive - a change that was comparable to the change from the Beetle to the Golf. In fact, the T4 was not only about profound technological changes and a completely new front design, but also about the question of whether the new Transporter would continue to stand for that unique attitude to life that made the Bulli desirable until then and made collectors and enthusiasts pay the highest prices.

That is why Volkswagen tried to reconcile the hardcore community of the veteran rear-engined Bulli with a T3 Limited Last Edition a year and a half after the introduction of the new one. Everyone else was enthusiastic about the new Bulli concept right from the start. With innovations such as all-round independent wheel suspension, increased passive safety thanks to the longer front end, comparatively powerful engines and an unrivaled dense network of body and equipment variants, including comfort features that were not yet taken for granted at the time, such as air conditioning, the fourth generation of the VW van filled the VW order books at one go that reminded some market observers of the furious start of the first Golf. While Chancellor Helmut Kohl was upset by the supposed phenomenon of the leisure society and preferred a Mercedes-Benz S-Class as a company car, Volkswagen reinvented the California as a fresh universal genius for wanderlust addicts and the Caravelle for company bosses who appreciated luxury without a star. Above all, the spirited five-cylinder TDI direct-injection diesel engines available from model year 1996 and a VR150 petrol engine with 204 kW / 6 hp with up to 150 kW / 204 hp secured the overtaking lane for the previously rather leisurely Bulli. The T4 was the first European transporter to scratch the 200 km / h sound barrier, a record that was noted by Vmax fetishists at the time.

Don't skimp on comfort

As the agile and comfortable Caravelle VR6, the VW even outclassed newly developed vans such as the Mercedes V-Class launched in 1996 in comparative tests. But there was even more, as the leather-lined VW Caravelle Business office vehicle showed, which, including modern communication equipment and comfort features, cost almost 120.000 marks and was therefore on the road at Mercedes S-Class level. The motorized California holiday apartment could also be converted into a luxurious second home if required, and like other T4s with an optional long wheelbase and all-wheel drive. Westfalia delivered a total of around 2003 California by 39.000, with a variable pop-top roof or a feudal high roof including alcove, with a good "Berlin" floor plan - that is, a kitchen and cupboard block opposite the sliding door - or as a cult special model - long life expectancy always included. This is evidenced by the many California survivors who are now given the chance to receive an official H license plate for vehicles at least 30 years old.

But the Karmann motorhomes and the rare Kamei ClubVan conference vehicle also consolidated the aura of the T4, not to mention the family-friendly Multivan, which, as a special “Last Edition” model in 2003, marked the end of this Bulli generation. The main business was also the commercial vehicle variants with the T4. Whether at the police, the armed forces or at construction sites and weekly markets, with courier services or handicraft businesses, the T4 did its job in almost countless specifications. After all, it was available from the closed box for little money to the spacious Doka as a tipper or as a chassis with cab and space for custom-made bodies. Including a so-called Happy Face, which adorned the VW from 1996. What was meant was a radiator grille whose lower corners should lift up like the corners of a happy person's mouth. In fact, the successful fourth Bulli gave the serious cool faces of the competition no opportunity to grin, which is why it remained in production for a proud 14 years, longer than all other VW vans. Only one thing the newly conceived T4 failed: to top the cult status of its predecessors.

In brief

Chronicle Volkswagen Transporter:
1950: Start of production for the first VW Transporter in Wolfsburg
1955: Heinrich Nordhoff decides to build a new transporter plant in Hanover, which, like the Wolfsburg parent plant, is located on the Mittelland Canal. The foundation stone was laid on March 1st, and what was then Europe's largest production hall went into operation for a year. For the first time over 50.000 VW vans are delivered in one year
1957: The van rolls off the assembly line at Volkswagen do Brasil SA in September
1964: The first generation of the Volkswagen Transporter had its best year with 188.947 units
1967: The Transporter T2 appears and replaces the first Bulli (total circulation 1.833.054 units) with improved road holding, increased comfort and a top speed of 110 km / h. A total of 1979 million second-generation vans were sold by 3,5
1979: The newly introduced T3 breaks with the round front and looks angularly into the future. Despite a ton of payload, the new Transporter retains the character of a passenger car, made possible by its front independent wheel suspension. Boxer engines with water cooling followed, as did diesels with and without turbochargers. 3 million units will be delivered in twelve years of T-1,3 construction
1982: Air-cooled engines discontinued in Europe after 30 million units, but production continues in South America. In this country, newly developed water-cooled 1,9-liter boxer engines make their debut
1985: The first Volkswagen Transporter with all-wheel drive bears the name Syncro. It is equipped with a viscous coupling for variable power distribution between the front and rear axles. At the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, VW is showing the spatial concept of the Multivan, which will go into series production three years later
1986: The six millionth Transporter (T1 to T3) is delivered, making the Transporter world champion in its class
1988: Market launch for the VW California
1990: As of January 6, 1990, the pre-series of the fourth-generation transporter rolled off the production line in Hanover. The press presentation and public premiere for the VW T4 will take place in September. It has been completely redesigned and will be offered in two wheelbases and three payload classes. After more than 40 years, the engine changes from back to front. The transversely installed, water-cooled in-line engines drive the front wheels for the first time. 1990 Volkswagen T2003s are produced in the period from 1.860.000 to 4. Three petrol engines (1,8- and 2,0-liter four-cylinder and 2,5-liter five-cylinder) and two naturally aspirated diesels are available for the market launch. The following important variants are available for the T4 during the production period: Transporter as a station wagon with up to nine seats, flatbed with double cab, flatbed with simple cab, panel van, chassis with cab, Caravelle as a large-capacity limousine with up to nine seats and interior similar to a car Equipment, Caravelle Business with six seats, leather upholstery and other high-quality equipment as the most expensive Volkswagen model up to the market launch of the Phaeton, Multivan as a six-seater leisure and family MPV, Multivan Allstar or Classic with higher quality equipment, California or California Coach as Motorhome, California Exclusive with fixed high roof, from Karmann the motorhomes Cheetah, Colorado and Gipsy and from Kamei the conference mobile Kamei ClubVan based on Caravelle etc.
1992: New are California Coach, California with different wheelbases, California Club and California Tour, all with their own interior layouts and facilities
1993: The Volkswagen T4 makes its debut as a Syncro with all-wheel drive technology, instead of being built in Graz at Steyr as before, all Syncro are now built in Hanover. The T4 Syncro is equipped with the same chassis as the front-wheel drive, so, unlike the T3 Syncro, it does not have increased ground clearance and thus loses its off-road capability
1994: On the 150th anniversary of Westfalia, the California Highway edition, limited to 500 units and sought after by fans, makes its debut with an aerodynamic high roof without alcoves
1995: The California Exclusive offers a new lifestyle and luxury
1996: Major facelift for the VW T4. To distinguish them from the commercial vehicles, all California, Multivan and Caravelle have a modified front section with even clearer car attributes. In addition, white instead of yellow flashing lights and a new radiator grille in the so-called "happy face look" (the lower corners of the radiator grills should lift like the corners of the mouth of happy people) characterize the facelift. On the engine side, the 1996 model year saw the first TDI turbo-diesel for the Transporter series in the form of a 2,5-liter five-cylinder direct injection unit. Also new is a six-cylinder 2,8-liter VR6 with 103 kW / 140 PS
1998: The new top-of-the-line diesel engine is a 2,5-liter five-cylinder TDI with an output of 111 kW / 151 hp
1999: The most powerful six-cylinder petrol engine (VR6) with 150 kW / 204 PS is presented. The top version is identified by a red "6"
2002: With the special model California Freestyle, Volkswagen presents a final edition with a run of 2.500 units. For the 2003 model year, the Multivan will go on sale as a special Last Edition model
2003: The Volkswagen T4 gradually retires from production. Global end of production for the Volkswagen T3 in summer. The Volkswagen T5 celebrates its market launch, as California it made its debut in April at the Leipzig fair AMI
2020: The Volkswagen T4 turns 30 and is therefore a candidate for the official H license plate


Volkswagen T4 (1990-1992) with 1,8-liter four-cylinder petrol engine (49 kW / 67 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1990-2003) with 2,0-liter four-cylinder petrol engine (62 kW / 84 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1990-1996) with 2,5-liter five-cylinder petrol engine (81 kW / 110 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1996-2003) with 2,5-liter five-cylinder petrol engine (85 kW / 115 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1996-2000) with 2,8-liter VR6 petrol engine (103 kW / 140 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1999-2003) with 2,8-liter VR6 petrol engine (150 kW / 204 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1990-1995) with 1,9-liter four-cylinder diesel (44 kW / 60 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1992-2003) with 1,9-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel (50 kW / 68 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1990-1998) with 2,4-liter five-cylinder diesel (57 kW / 78 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1997-2003) with 2,4-liter five-cylinder diesel (55 kW / 75 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1998-2003) with 2,5-liter five-cylinder TDI diesel (65 kW / 88 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1996-2003) with 2,5-liter five-cylinder TDI diesel (75 kW / 102 PS),
Volkswagen T4 (1998-2003) with 2,5-liter five-cylinder TDI diesel (111 kW / 151 PS)

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