Q: Greg can you tell me a bit of the history of Volkswagen pickup trucks, specifically the Transporter 4WD units? They were really nice pickups but very, very rare. If I remember, they were 4-door models, too, but I never saw one at a VW dealership but I always saw those neat VW Campmobiles.
— Gary L., Oregon
A: Gary, not surprisingly you never saw any Transporter pickups at the VW dealership because these unique and rare 4WD pickups were never made available in North America. However, I did see one in pristine condition recently at the Bloomsburg Nationals car show I attended this past August.
As for history, VW has been producing pickup trucks since the early days on the “Micro Bus” chassis, known later as Kombis, Campers, Flower Child Buses and in many different window and panel designations. These early VWs are identified as “T-platform Type 1” models all the way through today’s Type 6 platform vehicles.
The initial T-platform began in 1950 and lasted through 1967. It included all those original Micro Buses, and then later in 1967 a brand new generation Type 2 arrived, which included the re-designed VW Campers. The air cooled engine was updated in 1972 with a more powerful option.
A note on the campers: The Westfalia company was the official camper conversion company that worked with VW to produce its campers. Between 1951 and 1958, some 1,000 VW Camper conversions were built by Westfalia. In 1959, new models were added and then evolved into pop up tops, attachable tents and more amenity based options.
This second T-Platform generation lasted until 1979 and then in mid-1979, VW introduced its new generation that lasted through 1992. It included the Transporter SYNCRO 4WD pickup you ask about and the newly designed VW Vanagon vans and campers. Still sporting the air cooled engine, these Vanagons were very popular units while the 4WD Transporter trucks were very rare in North America and probably arrived under the special import designations or perhaps later as classical vehicle designations.
Three more van generations followed, with water cooled engines appearing in 1983. To this day when we speak of Volkswagen Transporters, it is usually 99-percent of the time about the Micro Buses and Vanagons as opposed to the Transporter pickup trucks.
Not surprisingly, VW currently builds an awesome pickup that is still unavailable in North America called the Volkswagen Amarok. It’s a great looking midsize built on the traditional body-on-chassis full frame. It is available in single or double cab designs with 2WD (rear) or 4WD traction. There was talk in 2014 that the Amarok would be made available in the U.S., however one of the two engines available was a turbo-diesel and we know the problems VW went through with its diesel MPG concerns so the idea was put on the back burner. Notable is a new VW Atlas Pickup Concept that debuted at the NY Auto Show in March. Built on the new Atlas platform many feel the Amarok with the 3.0-liter V6 is the better choice to compete in the North American market while the Atlas Pickup will remain a concept.
Back to the VW Transporter pickup truck I saw in person.
The beautiful ’90 VW Pickup was indeed a 4WD Transporter of crew cab, 4-door design with the SYNCRO all-wheel drive unit. These Transporters come with a rear window that is removable to access the bed or a slide-in camper. The aftermarket slide-in campers of the day offered room to sleep four or six, a full kitchen and everything needed for a fun weekend of camping. For power, a VW 2.4-liter water cooled 4-cylinder mates to a 5-speed manual transmission, the latter standard on the 4WD pickup models as both axles lock up for optimal traction.
In ending, nearly 13 million VW vans of all shapes and sizes have sold worldwide, something the manufacturer can be very proud of. To this day, I’m a sucker for any type of VW Van or Bus.
Thanks for your question Gary. If you see a VW Transporter SYNCRO pickup on the highway, you are indeed viewing an extremely unique and rare vehicle.
— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and GateHouse Media.