Born out of necessity, the type 2, VW transporter or 'Splitty' is a simple yet modern and elegantly designed light commercial vehicle. Known as a van here in the UK, bus everywhere else, VW’s box on wheels was hugely successful in Europe, the UK and the America’s. Eventually becoming a global success back before the phrase had even been coined.
Right from the start it had several names, but now it’s best known in the UK as a Splitty or Split Screen Van. This is due to the 'split' in the front screen. This is actually a vertical metal window frame at the centre of the vehicle holding two flat plates of laminated glass. This feature is not exclusive to the type 2, or even Volkswagen. it’s a characteristic of the era when bending laminated glass was much more expensive than it is now.
The Split Screen Van story starts way back in early 1947. The type 1 Beetle was in production and Major Ivan Hirst was running the owner-less Volkswagen works in the British-run sector of occupied Germany after WW2. During visits to the VW works, Dutch VW agent Ben Pon had seen the crude transports (based on Beetle or Kubelwagen mechanics) used to carry parts around the works. In April he drew his famous sketch showing a possible mechanical layout of a new type of transporter. Major Hirst saw the potential but it wasn’t until Heinz Nordhoff was appointed as Chief Executive of VW in 1948, and the beetle had brought in some needed money, that the project could move forward. Post-war Germany clearly needed such vehicles to aid in its rebuilding.
The type 29 evolved through 1949 with various prototypes and pre-production models being made. The type 2 transporter, a panel van, was officially launched in March 1950. The Kombi and Microbus came along in June of the same year. A back window became standard in 1951 and in April of that year the special deluxe model or 'Samba' was launched. August 1952 saw the introduction of the pick-up or single-cab, before then it had been a special order model. But here in the UK we had to wait until 1953 before we saw the first official imports and a UK market RHD transporter.