Bulli Indeed: 30 HP Sambas Ferry Full Loads Of Tourists Up Austria’s Highest Alpine Pass

The superb Alpine pass photo we spent hours poring over last week was curiously lacking any VW Buses, that pack ass of the Alps in the fifties. Well yes, there was that VW Pritschenwagen shouldering that big boat up the mountain. But in that era, every morning swarms of VW Sambas with their panorama windows and sunroofs scooped up tourists from their pensions and hotels, and headed for the high passes, with all of 30 hp (net, not that inflated 36 gross). I stumbled on three scenes from the parking lot on the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest pass road, at 2504 meters (8215 feet). And there’s a slew of them in each one, including my favorite black-over-red (my father called it burnt tomato soup) paint scheme. Of course, that’s not all…

Thirty miles (48 km) and 36 curves kept the little air-cooled mills working hard. I tried equally hard to find a source that gave the gearing and maximum speed in each gear, but failed. Top speed was 90 km/h (55 mph) on a billiard table top, so you can make your own assumptions about the intermediate gears.

I’m going to say the top picture is the oldest one, as the black-on-red scheme went out in? 1958? 1959? Hey, there might even be some 34 hp (40 hp) Sambas in the lower pictures. Speed demons.

Just for the sake of my endless love of google images, I checked to see what this looks like today: how’s this for sign of the times: the parking lot is now pedestrian only, and the glacier is a pathetic shadow of its former self. But I bet the tourists got up there lots faster. Progress.