The Volkswagen Microbus may be an icon of the 1960s, but it continues to roll on in other parts of the world. However, that will end in 2014, when Microbus production finally ends due to new safety regulations in Brazil, the only country where the Bus is still sold.
According to Autocar, the last Microbus will roll off the assembly line on December 31, 2013, the day before new laws requiring driver and front passenger airbags, and anti-lock brakes, in every new car sold in Brazil. Obviously, this aging hippie doesn’t have any of those features, and upgrading it would not be practical.
Still, the Microbus has had a pretty good run. Launched in 1950 and officially called the Type 2, it was originally intended as a van version of VW’s Beatle. The first versions used the same air-cooled boxer-four engine as the Beatle, but 2012 models use a water-cooled 1.4-liter four.
The Microbus became a success, and spawned several variants including a cargo van and a pickup truck. Whatever form it takes, it’s shape is still recognized as a cultural icon.
The version currently on sale, called the Kombi, is actually based on the facelift Volkswagen did in 1967. It scrapped the original’s chrome stripe in favor of a square front end and wraparound windshield. It was produced in Germany until 1979, and has soldiered on in South America since then.
As cool as it is, the Microbus’ time really has come. Retro looks can only get you so far when you’re propelled by 79 horsepower and 92 pound-feet of torque, which is all the 1.4-liter engine has to give. Coupled to a four-speed manual transmission, it gets the Microbus to 62 mph (100 kph) in 16.1 seconds, and to a top speed of 80 mph.
The Microbus has reached the limits of 1950’s engineering, so perhaps VW could replace it with something totally new. A compact van would be a useful tool in an urban environment, as the current Microbus and modern alternatives like the Ford Transit Connect are.
If Volkswagen combined the practicality of a small van with some retro styling, like what its designers cooked up for the 2011 Bulli concept, it could have a trendy “lifestyle vehicle on its hands.” The Mircobus may have reached the end of the road, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop.