There’s something about the Woodlands, TX, where I currently live, that makes it a bit of a mecca for obscure old vehicles. They seem to be mostly hidden away in garages and behind gates, but occasionally one will suddenly materialize out of the deep woods, like a shy bunny, and then disappear again. Equally occasionally, I have my camera ready for one of these elusive creatures. Case in point, this rather nice ’69 Volkswagen bay window (T2a) pickup, snapped as it clattered by the car wash where I was a giving my old Subaru one of its rare baths. Given that the owner apparently has a thing for air-cooled, rear-engine trucks, wonder if he’s got a Corvair pickup at home as well?
New for 1968 and replacing the original split-window Transporter variants, this model was powered by a 1600cc engine putting out a stonking 47 HP. The single-cab pickup was one of four “commercial” body styles offered in the US that year, and probably the second most rare (after the double-cab version, which I don’t remember ever having seen on a domestic road). As far as I can tell, very few T2a truck versions were sold in the US after 1971: the infamous “chicken tax”, adding a 25% penalty tariff to foreign-made trucks, was a fairly effective sales killer.
I couldn’t find sales figures specific to VW pickups imported to the US, but it appears about 54,000 Type 2s of all styles were imported in ’69 and the pickup versions were likely a small fraction of the total. With only about 34,000 of the T2a pickup versions sold worldwide that year, I guess it’s no wonder if these don’t turn up on the road very often.
Speaking of shy bunnies, at least once the enchanted Woodlands has also coughed up an example of another VW foray into light trucks, in this case a 1981-82 VW pickup (or Caddy for the non-Yanks among us). Look closely and you’ll see it’s towing a trailer full of landscaping equipment, so it’s a bona fide worker, still earning its keep.
Obviously based on the series I Golf/Rabbit, and built at VW’s short-lived Westmoreland facility in New Stanton, PA, gas-engine models came with a 1600cc (later 1700) in-line four, good for 78 HP, and with a 1500cc diesel available as an option. The ‘LX’ emblem haphazardly stuck to the rear quarter panel identifies this as the deluxe model, with extra chrome and a slightly fancier interior.
About 75,000 Rabbit-based pickups were built during the model years 1980-82, so one supposes these are not quite as rare as ’60s Type 2s. They are still infrequently seen in this part of Texas, however, especially in as decent shape as this one appeared to be. I owned a ’75 Rabbit, and while it remains one of my favorite vehicles of all time for its handling and drivebility, it had a well-deserved reputation for rust-through and general flimsiness.
Now, if I had only had my camera ready for some of the other unicorns I’ve seen here, like a Citroen DS, or Aston Martin DB2, or…
Although still very rare sightings in the US, I’ve been seeing more Doka’s (DO-ppel KA-bin or double cab) VW pickups here in the last few years. Maybe the 25 year rule or just trendiness. Rabbit pickups don’t seem to multiplying however, and most that I see both look and sound rattle-y (diesels).
I did see a double cab version several times back in the early 1980’s. I never saw it on the road but often parked in front of an abandoned gas station (different position now and then so I know someone was driving it) in Geronimo, Texas on State Highway 123 between Seguin and San Marcos. I’m sure the landscape has changed greatly since then and the old station and VW is probably long gone. It was indeed a unicorn.
I lived in Beeville in the early 80s, and I sometimes hung out at Spark’s garage there with another guy from my Navy squadron. I thought we knew ALL the water-cooled VWs in that area, but don’t remember seeing that pickup.
I always thought Rabbit pickups were kind of neat, but unfortunately the seats have almost no rearward seat travel….so, at 6 foot 4 I don’t really fit in one.
Was the truck in Geronimo water cooled? I thought it was air-cooled like the rest of the Type 2s. Judging by its appearance I thought it was built in the late 1960’s. The front was just like a Microbus of that time.
Beeville is just 100 miles down the highway from Geronimo. I got the impression this particular VW didn’t stray far from home but it could have made that drive with no trouble based on its appearance as I remember it.
It was painted an off-white – almost gray which had begun to chalk a bit.
Three weeks ago while on my way to Calgary I passed a Type 2 pickup being on a trailer. I have no idea what year but it was in decent shape and also white in colour. No auctions have been held in my neck of the woods this month so I assume the Type 2 I saw was destined for restoration.
They were not very common where I grew up but I do recall seeing the occasional 4 door pickup.
There are several Dokas in the Portland OR suburbs, including some grey import Syncros. There are also several Rabbit pickup survivors since we don’t have a rust problem.
I like the idea of a diesel Rabbit pickup to troll the bro truck guys, because it’s a diesel pickup.
Yup Ive seen quite a few (relatively speaking) in the area. The rabbit p/u’s are high in numbers here too. Low rust issues and high concentrations of VW fans are the likely culprit.
A Caddy repowered with 2.0T or TDI would be cool. But any T3 Syncro would be my pick. Stuffed with a Subaru 2.5 turbo and some off-road goodies it’d be a helluva ride.
I got stuck behind one of the VW Pickup Diesels yesterday morning – a nice Yellow & Rust colored one. Quite loud for how slow it was 🙂 This was the first one i’ve seen in the Allentown area in years – most rusted away long ago.
Agree about the woodlands. Probably see a lot of this stuff because of discretionary income and the requirement to park indoors if you want to keep it. Spent 10 years living there before I divorced and sought freedom in the boondocks east of Conroe.
Wish I still had the garage I left there. About all I miss.
The same can be said for my old stompin’ grounds in Kingwood. Only place I’ve ever seen a ragged-out DeLorean used to deliver pizza. One of my ex’s teaching colleagues drove a different Corvette to school each day. She had five to pick from, all C3s and C4s in nice “daily driver” condition. IIRC she and her husband also owned a trailer queen Bloomington-quality ’67 big block coupe.
There’s a few double cab T2s around here, right in my neighborhood. But then this is an old VW magnet.
Who bought these trucks new back in the day in the US? Every VW dealer had at least one of them, as a parts chaser. That probably accounted for the single biggest source of these. I wonder if the dealers could somehow get around the chicken tax?
Yeah, they are fascinating vehicles and cute as the proverbial button, but I guess cute doesn’t cut it where working trucks are concerned. Setting aside the tax issue, I always liked the idea of the fold-down sides but I’ve got to think that the high floor (and the resulting high CoG when loaded) would present problems in day-to-day use.
I guess something like either the T2a or Rabbit P/U is unlikely ever to come back, being just about the opposite of the faux-Kenworth styling that everyone seems to want in a light truck these days. While researching this article, I noted that VW apparently isn’t very interested in marketing its Amarok here, even though it comes off closer to the typical Yank-style pickup than these earlier models.
If big trucks have a setup like that, then why not the smaller ones ? A Volkswagen T2 pickup truck is a commercial vehicle, to haul cargo, just like the big one below. They’re not designed to set speed records on windy roads.
By the way, with the sideboards folded down, the bed of a VW pickup is so low that even a 12 year old kid can (un)load it easily.
Funny you said that, because there was a Kenworth truck which used a VW cab – the K150-300 series. The cabs were the old VW LT (the next size up from the T) made in Brazil…
Quite right. Here’s a VW LT35 single-cab Pritschenwagen. Indeed, the next size up from a VW T single-cab pickup.
Coming up next, the LT35…
We had a bunch of these in our fleet for a few years , I knew they were Brazilian , didn’t know they were V.W. Cabs .
When new every one had some problems with the diesel engines that required the entire timing chest to be removed , after that they were stellar trucks , hard working , reliable and economical but Management only remembered that first year when every single one spent two weeks in the shop so they all got salvaged out quickly , someone got a hell of a deal on nearly new trucks dirt cheap .
I suspect they got around the chicken tax (baked into the MSRP…mmm, baked chicken…) by not “selling themselves” the truck or ever titling it until it was resold, just running it on a dealer plate the entire time they used it.
Tax was probably applied to retail not wholesale but twincab VW utes are about here and in OZ a friend years ago bought the first I ever saw for the engine his van had blown its guts out again and buying a complete car was the easiest way to fix it I towed his ute the last 70kms with my 68 van his twincab had a 1800 suitcase engine same as his van not the earlier uprite 1600 which I had.
The first VW dealership I worked for in 1974 had a ’68 Bus Pickup for a parts delivery truck. Put lots of miles on it, drove from Sunland to City of Industry every day to pick up parts order’s from the old VOA warehouse. Later in the ’80’s another dealer had a gas Rabbit pickup as a delivery vehicle, drove it a few times. Friend had a ’81 Diesel 5 speed pickup, drove from it from Santa Maria to Big Bear for a wedding, it ran great and used little fuel, Would really lay down a smoke screen if you floored it, which was pretty much standard procedure to keep up with traffic. Remember starting it up in 20 degree weather and it blew out a huge black cloud of smoke, didn’t see the big biker dude who was next to the tail pipe as it fired up. After I told him I was a friend of the bride, (he was also there for the wedding), he just smiled and said, no problem dude.
One time with the ’68 single cab in for service work, the used car department loaned me a ’61 double cab split window to drive to Volkswagen’s warehouse. As Paul states, all the dealer ships would use these or Buses, at the warehouse you would see dozens of these single and dual cab pickups there, each with the dealerships name painted on the side. They worked great, you could lower the side and a fork lift would load the engines and transmissions on the bed, you would flip up the side after it was loaded and put all the small parts in the large storage compartment below the bed floor. It was interesting getting on the freeway loaded down with a couple of engines and a few cases of coolent, you were going about 35 MPH when the on ramp ran out of road. One time the ’68 was in for service so I borrowed a used car from the dealership to got to the VW warehouse, it was a ’61 split window crew cab bus. It had new paint and tires, and the asking price was $3250 in 1974. Would have been a good investment! We had an inventory clear out in the parts department in 1975, and the VW district rep threw all the old ’50’s and ’60’s parts in the dumpster. There were new ’25 HP cylinder heads, Type 3 Karmann Ghia clock and speedo heads. All the old sheetmetal was bashed in with a hammer so it couldn’t be reused. Filled my ’66 VW bus with all the parts from the dumpster, and sold them to an indepenent VW shop for $400.00. I hate to think what they would be worth today, selling them on e-bay.
What is your power and your maximum speed
As stated in the text, quoted values are 47 HP for the T2a, about 78 HP for the gas-engine Rabbit. No idea on top speeds, but I wouldn’t expect them to cut a blistering pace.
The Typ II for 1968 was full of one year old bits making them a PIA to restore properly .
They were rated at one ton making them rather good work trucks , I need to carry Motocycles so not for me , a sad thing as I liked the ’68 ~ ’71 Typ II pickups a lot .
Other than the load height, they could do that
The Type 2’s look pretty slick without those corrugated drop-sides.
In the early ’80s, when I was in high school, my drafting teacher had a late ’60s VW single cab pickup. He replaced it with a Vanagon version of the same thing, complete with custom license plates that read “one n only”
The VW Type 2 is a beauty in all of it’s iterations. I would be very happy with any of them, though I have a preference for the bus, especially the Westy. My school principal drove a VW single cab when I was in second grade, about ’67/’68.
I also like the Rabbit pickup with the diesel engine, even though it is FWD. Back in the day, I remember seeing them with camper shells on them, and that is probably what I would have done with one. Those old VW diesels got incredible mileage and a very long range. Nice for cross country travel, and you could sleep in the back. There are a lot of them, both trucks and cars still around today, being run on used french fry oil.
I don’t remember the last time I saw a Type 2 or Rabbit pickup – lots of good old Ontario road salt took care of most of them. I’ve seen an old black Type 1 double cab putting around Toronto, as well as an ’80’s vintage double cab. A few years ago I came across a ’59 single cab awaiting restoration. The body was pretty solid, especially when you consider that it sat for 25 years – there was moss growing around the 1977 plates. I emailed the owner a few pictures, and I imagine there’s a few winters worth of work getting it roadworthy.
I’ve always been attracted to the VW pickups. No wonder since my first dozen or so vehicles were all VWs. I worked for a VW dealership as a teenager. They had an ’82 diesel 5 speed for a shop truck. Had to floor it to get anywhere, but it was still a hoot, About eleven years ago I acquired a rusty beater ’80 model pickup with the 1500 diesel and the four speed for $150. It lasted through the summer, going up and down the Cajon pass at a blistering 50mph. Alas, one day the vacuum pump came loose (they were in the spot where the gas-powered version had it’s distributor). The low oil-pressure light came on and I knew I was doomed. Filled it up with oil and continued on, terrible noises complaining as I crept up the pass. Around the first bend and she had had enough. A thick cloud of billowing black smoke masked all four lanes of the northbound I-15 as I rolled to the side of the road. Fun while it lasted.
As for the T2 trucks, the best one I drove was a former dealership parts truck. When the dealer closed, the service managers kept the service department open as an independent. The 1971 Single cab was equipped with factory front disc brakes. It stopped three times better than the drum braked ’68 bus I normally drove.
Thanks for the multiple memory lane throwback happiness.
CC never ceases to amaze me with their insight on vehicles that I didn’t even know existed. The T2A I have never seen before. Even though I’m not much of a VW fan, it’s nice to know that these things were made. I can only imagine how many survived after all of these years.
Not many. Air cooled VWs have a tendency to rust. I have owned 3 Bugs, and they all had rust, especially the floor and heater channels. And the trucks were pretty rare compared to the van/bus. I have seen very few Type 2 trucks
Very cool trucks. While a Caddy repowered with a 2.0T or TDI engine would be cool, any T3 Syncro pickup would be my pick. Of course Id likely scrap the sketchy wasserboxer in favor of a turbo 2.5 Suby engine. Set up with some offroad goodies, it’d be a unique and fun rig.
Im also baffled by why VW doesn’t federalize the Amarok. From everything Ive seen, its a great truck. I like the crewcab/shortie bed setup, and a torquey TDI engine is the hot setup for a 4×4. There’s a big hole where the compact/midsize pickup market used to be. GM’s soggy twins are a total no go for me, and no Toyota from ’86 on (IFS suspension) has ever impressed me.
I thought the same about the Amarok, but at the risk of stating the obvious, I’m not sure VW will be bringing any new models into the States for a while. Unless, as a light truck it’s easier to meet emissions standards. Hmm ….
Also, the Amarok seems like a good execution of a conventional BOF RWD/4WD truck. But that’s not necessarily why people buy VW’s in the US; conversely, many truck buyers wouldn’t even look at a VW.
Never heard of an Amorok until today. Looked it up and it seems a lot like the Honda Ridgeline. Would be interested in one of those, except that they seem pretty spendy and the bed is too short to be of much practical use.
+1 to MoparRocker74 regarding the Colorado / Canyon twins. Both a pretty low value per dollar proposition according to the MSRPs I’ve seen.
The Amarok is nothing like a Ridgeline, it is similar to the Colorado/Canyon etc, a 4×2 or 4×4 full-chassis pickup with separate bed, and also comes in regular cab/long bed layout. The bed is a little larger than the GM twins and I think all other competitors in that it has 4′ clearance between wheel arches.
Here it is for those who wonder. Used by tradesmen, farmers and skier dudes here in Austria – not cheap by any means (starts at €26K).
That looks just like any other modern crew cab truck to me. Not cool in the way the old air cooled Type 2 trucks and the Rabbit diesel’s were. To me any air cooled VW is cool. I would love to get another bug, or maybe a bus, but I would have to get rid of something I already have.
I almost bought a new single cab short bed Colorado, but I waited one year too long. Before I knew it they had been discontinued. Not interested in the new ones. They don’t even offer a single cab.
Funny how these are viewed in different countries. Here in Austria (as well as in Israel, where I grew up) they were nothing more than workhorses and there were quite a few of them about. Now of course even here they are collectors items and whereas not as expensive to purchase as the T1, they are not exactly cheap anymore. Ironically many are done in Cali look even though I doubt any was done like this in Cali back in the day…
There’s a fair amount of Rabbit pickups here in RVA; my old neighborhood had at least 3 of ’em as residents and I’ve seen more around town. T2 pickups? There, not so much. I don’t even think I’ve seen one. And I’d think finding a bay window like the featured truck rather than a split window would be even more of a rarity since they weren’t sold for long before the tax went into effect.