The VW Microbus, the forerunner of the modern minivan, was last sold in the U.S. in 1979. It was discontinued largely because the old design did not meet toughening safety and emissions standards.
Volkswagen kept building the vans in Brazil for developing markets where neither emissions nor safety standards are much of a problem, and the old design and tooling enabled VW to sell the van for many years at a reasonable price and profit. The Microbus was built for 63 consecutive years, and in Brazil for 57 years. But even in the South American market, standards have risen. VW is moving on.
The Last Edition will be sold only in Brazil for 85,000 Brazilian reals ($35,637) and comes with a certificate of authenticity from VW and a numbered plaque on the dashboard identifying it as one of the final 600.
The original Microbus was built on a modified platform from the original Volkswagen Beetle, the basic design of which dates back to the mid 1930s. Like the Beetle, the van's engine was in the rear. The Microbus that ends production in Brazil, known as the T5, had been changed along the way with a new platform.
The Microbus originally came equipped with an air-cooled 1.2-liter flat-four engine mounted in the rear that produced 28 horsepower. But by 2005 it was running with a 1.4-liter water-cooled engine. The new inline-four makes 78 horsepower using gasoline and 80 horsepower using pure ethanol
As delightful as the design is, the Microbus's biggest weaknesses has been safety.
As delightful as the design is, the Microbus's biggest weaknesses has been safety. The driver and front-seat passenger sit out ahead of the front axle, and have no protection in a head-on collision. Still, they are collector's items: A fully restored 1975 Microbus was recently offered on Ebay for $21,000.
Since the German launch in 1950, VW has sold 6.2 million Microbuses. Along the with the Beetle, the Microbus was key to VW's post-war ascent and provided livelihoods for thousands of German people recovering from the destruction of many towns and cities in World War II.
The Microbus was a U.S. counterculture icon of the 1960s, and its best-selling years here were in the 1970s, selling about 70,000 annually in that era.
VW has had other vans, but none has achieved the popularity of the Microbus. VW presented a Microbus concept at there Detroit Auto Show in 2001 on the heels of launching the New Beetle. Too expensive to build, the project was shelved. In 2011, VW took another stab at recreating the Microbus spirit in the Bulli concept van. That project has not been approved either.
VW sold the Routan minivan in the U.S. until this year. But that van was a rebadged Chrysler Town & Country with the Volkswagen name on it, just to give VW dealers a van to sell. It was not successful.
All good things come to an end. But even after it stops rolling off the line, the Microbus will live on as one of the most iconic vehicles of all time.
See a gallery of the Microbus here.
David Kiley, Editor-in-Chief of AOL Autos, is also the author of Getting The Bugs Out: The Rise, Fall and Comeback of Volkswagen in America; John Wiley & Sons, 2001.