Volkswagen began manufacturing the Beetle-based Bus — known internally as the Type 2 — in March 1950, but the vast majority of early examples were mercilessly driven into the ground and scrapped. The oldest-known registered Bus is a Dove Blue panel van named Sofie that celebrates its 70th birthday today. August 5.
Wearing chassis number 20-1880, Sofie was delivered new to a buyer in Hildesheim, a city in the north of Germany that's not far from Volkswagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg. It spent 23 years delivering various goods on the picturesque and often narrow roads that snake through the region. After retiring from delivery duty, it changed hands several times between 1973 and 1992, but Sofie's significance as one of the first Buses built was either undiscovered, ignored, or both; at the time, it was merely an outdated cargo hauler with little appeal to the average buyer.
Meanwhile, VW Bus variants were becoming sought-after collector's items. Although it was still in Germany, Sofie ended up catching the attention of a Danish collector who bought it sight-unseen after uncovering its chassis number and, consequently, its build date. It had been off the road for 19 years, and time had taken its toll, so its proud new owner started making it roadworthy again. Sofie was treated to a full, three-year restoration in 2000 and later spent years traveling to various enthusiast meets across Europe, where it won numerous prizes.
Volkswagen says Sofie's owner felt he was getting too old to continue traveling around Europe, and he hated the idea of keeping his pride and joy in his garage and only driving it a couple of times a year. After unsuccessfully searching for the van's next caretaker, he ended up selling it to Volkswagen in 2014. It has been part of the carmaker's heritage collection since, and it's a common sight at events across Europe. When it's not traveling, it's often displayed in one of the two fascinating museums the company operates in Wolfsburg.
Thankfully, Sofie was restored with an eye to originality, so it's still powered by an air-cooled, 1.2-liter flat-four that generates 25 horsepower at 3,300 rpm. Bolted to a four-speed manual transmission, the engine allows the Bus to reach 60 mph if it's given a long enough stretch of tarmac. And, like every pre-1955 model, it stands out with an engine lid that stretches from the bottom of the back end to the belt line, meaning it has no rear hatch.
Although Volkswagen hasn't revealed what's next for the world's oldest Bus, it's reasonable to assume we'll see more of it in the coming years as the company prepares to launch the production version of the ID.Buzz concept. It will borrow numerous styling cues from the 1950 original, but it will be electric and considerably quicker.
Production of the modern-day Bus — which doesn't have a proper name yet — is scheduled to start in 2022. Whether Sofie will still be the oldest-known Type 2 by the time its spiritual successor enters production depends on what collectors unearth in the coming years. Remember, every example built during the first five months of production is missing as of writing. While the Bus was mass-produced and mass-destroyed, it's not too far-fetched to speculate (or, at least, hope) an older one is sinking into a damp forest, or gathering dust in a forgotten barn.