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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Volkswagen's forbidden 4x4 Bus was developed to tame the dunes | Hagerty Media

Had it been built, Volkswagen's experimental four-wheel-drive Transporter would be celebrated by enthusiasts and adventurers as the holy grail of bay-window Buses. It remained a prototype, one executives initially wanted nothing to do with, but the miles it logged dune-hopping in the Sahara had a lasting influence on Volkswagen's lineup.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/volkswagens-forbidden-4x4-bus-was-developed-to-tame...
27 REPLIES 27
Air_and_Water
Detailer

Well, as a lifelong VW enthusiast you've shown me something that VW did in their heyday (okay, the waning days of their heyday) that I wasn't previously aware of.

That's a bitchin' Bus, but the semi-auto trans is something I would've avoided in a production model. I don't think it would take the punishment doled out in the real world, but as the article implies that may just have been to make a small run of prototypes viable.

Oh, and many, many Buses were used in places only 4WD vehicles went in spite of their 2WD underpinnings. They're very tough and have the best traction of any 2WD vehicle ever built, especially climbing hills when the rear tires are loaded even more than usual.
CoolToysTV
Pit Crew

Totally agree it is great to learn about something "new".  I am a bus fan and I have never owned a bus.  I just look at them from the Jeep with a bit of envy every morning I go surfing.  I did have a lego bus that I got for Christmas that sat in my office, until a two year old grabbed it from the shelf.  Now it is in a box waiting for a lego restoration.

Rockem
Intermediate Driver

Seems to me that there a lot of auto companies that say "If I knew than what I know now" a lot more prototypes would have been produced.
CoolToysTV
Pit Crew

The funny thing is, we all want one today, but would it have really sold then?  That is the question for every prototype that was never built isn't it?

Lightning1
Detailer

Type 2 VWs struggled to move in 2wd. I had a westfalia that barely kept up with highway speed on flat ground (the hills around Yuma were done at 35mph). Now add 4wd!!! You need more than that little 1600 or even the 2.0 L to move it. But what a great idea if you could get more power, you could get to a camping area more secluded.
Tim
Instructor

Top speed in the regular Microbus was 68mph. That's floored, all-out max in the best conditions. Add a friend or more, their stuff, the slightest headwind or incline and I can see why you were doomed. 😄 That extra 400+ pounds on the 4WD version probably meant the 2.0 was needed just to keep it comparable to the 2WD Microbus.

Still, had this been planned during the initial design, I'll bet it would have been a pretty popular option. An alternative to the Broncos and Scouts of the day.
DougL
Intermediate Driver

Everyone carried a brick to put on the gas pedal for "cruise control" on the highway.
61Rampy
Advanced Driver

I did! Ski trip to Vail from Chicago, 1975 or so.. Tons o' crap in back. 45 uphill, 65 downhill. Freezing cold both in and out, and that's WITH a gas and hot air heater! Put the brick on the gas and still got there and back.

Vanagon_Man
New Driver

Great article. Thanks for digging this up and producing such great material. Nothing like the original “Bulli”. See you on the road !
Passitbob
New Driver

My girlfriend in the late 70’s had a 1969 bus. Rebuilt motor with a few more h.p. than stock, shocks with springs over them in the rear and Firestone town and country snow tires. That thing was amazing in the mountains out west. We went up many 4Wd trails that only had 4x4 trucks and Jeep’s on them. Very capable in rough terrain. Slow but it would go. Wish I still had that bus but very glad that my girlfriend is now my wife of 42 years.
DavidHolzman
Detailer

You married well!
Passitbob
New Driver

Thanks. Lucky guy.

tonyjustin
Pit Crew

It appears the 4X4 bus story just goes to prove the old saying - If you have to axe, you can't afford it. Sorry. Lame joke.
stevecobb45
Detailer

For me in this case, a gas axe would be called for. Done with VW's after diesel Rabbit & all the expensive problems. No help from VW on the run-on diesel problem that almost killed me either. Sooner have a Yugo powered Ford.
JimSi
New Driver

MY wife and I and anther couple took a photo safari in Kenya in 1980. Our guide hauled us around in a VW Bus (2wd). Went from lodge to lodge on main roads. Once in the parks wandered around in the bush in the Bus (offroad, sort-of) looking for big game.

Once, while watching a pride of lions several hundred feet off the park road (un-improved), I wonder what we'd do if the Bus got stuck. Of course it didn't .

That trip cemented my admiration for the VW Bus
Tim
Instructor

Interesting story. Seems like it was the right idea, just the wrong implementation.

Yes, vehicles are heavier now, but I can't imagine how Gustav had any fun in a 4WD Microbus with only 50 horse power. Zero to sixty in never. The extra drive train components and skid plates probably put curb weight near 3,000 lbs. He must have had the patience of Job. The later prototypes with a 40% boost in power must have seemed like race cars to him. 😄
georgeh
Pit Crew

I was shown around a mountainside vineyard in Stellenbasch, South Africa, in 1994, in the owner's 4WD baywindow van. He didn't make any comment on the uniqueness, just the convenience of 4WD in the steeper rows of grapes.
uweschmidt
Detailer

Hey how about a diesel generator in the rear and an electric motor in each Wheel?
MATTMERICA
Instructor

I love any story where the Euros bring the 'Merican to fix things
mfp4073
Intermediate Driver

Thank you for the super photos of the precarious off road stuff. I love the tailpipe routing. First thing that comes to mind is the old expression (think and plan ahead). great article!
Beestly
Intermediate Driver

That bus would have sold like bananas in the inland northwest U.S. IF AND ONLY IF VW would have added a dual Weber 1800cc with about triple the HP. Stock VW busses can’t get out of their own way. No need to change the wheel wells. Just drop that engine and drivetrain 4 inches and put huge tires and flares on it.

Maestro1
Instructor

Ronan, very interesting and I didn't know anything about this! I have seen but not driven a 4 wheel
drive in Chicago. Only one. Years ago.
I have driven a Samba across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco in heavy cross winds which was pretty exciting.
Stay well.
wahip
Pit Crew

We had a '71 Westfalia for years and crossed the country at least 3 times. One trip took us to Mammoth Mtn in the Sierras for a winter ski trip. With 10-12" of stock ground clearance and the weight of the motor over the drive wheels, we were able to traverse around 10" of snow getting up to our lodge and then used the bus going to and from town that week with few issues. While 4WD might have offered some additional traction, driving all 4 wheels, (especially with a parasitic auto trans) would have sapped even more precious power, not a good trade-off. Snow tires are key.
GaryT
New Driver

South Africa VW manufactured a 4x4 version from around 1990, until I think 1992 ... it was called a VW Combi Syncro ... was quite good offroad 🙂
61Rampy
Advanced Driver

Back in the mid 70's I had a 67 split window VW bus. My best friend had a 68. I had a 1500 with 53 raw, blazing horsepower, he had the big block 1600 and a whole 57 horses, but more weight. We went out on the Kennedy Epwy to race. We started at about 40 mph. We floored it. Being so slow, I figured he would blow by me, but Wait! I've got a door on him! We head to O'Hare, racing side by side. We went about a mile or two. I won by that same door length I got at the start. Speed at the big end? AT MOST, 70 mph. Speed limit was 65. Had we passed a cop, he would have yawned. And, yet, that was one of the most fun races I ever had!
61Rampy
Advanced Driver

Forgot to add: if that 68 body style had been offered in 4WD, I would have seriously wanted one!
acooper529
Intermediate Driver

Very cool, iconic and all that. Having worked on these back in the day, all I wonder is how you would keep it from rolling over on anything but fairly level terrain and at slow speeds? The pictures sort of implies that they were intending to go 4-wheeling with it? And of course the bus and beetle already had awesome traction (say like out in the Jersey Pinelands) with just standard RWD, right?. The beetle would even "float" across most big "rain induced" puddles on the sand roads... usually.