- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

Not all air-cooled Volkswagens were Beetles.

The platform on which the Beetle sedan and convertible were built was so versatile that it also was used to support the Karmann Ghia sports car and the VW Microbus as well as the Kombi camper.

VW's early version of a pickup, the lesser-known Transporter, was built on that same platform. The three-passenger Transporter essentially was a Microbus with the top half behind the front seat cut off.

Besides the usual hinged tailgate at the rear, which could be lowered, the innovative folks at Volkswagen designed the drop-gate sides of the bed to perform in the same way as the tailgate.

Not all air-cooled Volkswagens were built in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The 1969 Volkswagen Type 2 Transporter was built in Hanover on Dec. 9, 1968. It was a single-cab model with left-hand drive, a 40-horsepower engine, manual four-speed transmission and U.S. exhaust control pickup.

All Transporters were painted a solid color, this one was lotus white. The wheels were painted cloud white before the 7.00 x 14-inch tires were mounted. The upholstery was dark beige while the tool compartment beneath the bed, accessible from either side, was painted light beige.

The Transporter, built to U.S. specifications including sealed beam headlights, a speedometer in miles per hour, backup lights, rear-window defroster and vent windows, left the factory Dec. 13, 1968, on its way to Heishman's Volkswagen dealership in Arlington.

There it sat on the lot for about 6 months until July 10 when it was sold to the Lee Volkswagen dealership in Springfield as the dealership's parts delivery truck.

Before that occurred, however, the dealership decided to enhance the appearance of the bare-bones Transporter.

The top of the cab, wheels and bumpers were left white, while the remainder of the 14 1/2-foot-long vehicle was painted a Microbus color Elm Green. The Spartan, monochrome basket weave vinyl interior was replaced with a two-tone interior also from a Microbus light sand and khaki brown.

A full-gauge instrument panel from a deluxe Microbus was installed, as well as all the chrome trim found inside and outside on the top-of-the-line Microbus.

After years of faithful service delivering parts for the dealer, the deluxe Transporter was sold to a Manassas man with restoration in mind.

Despite the new owner's best intentions, the Transporter sank up to its axles in mud while awaiting restoration that never came.

The next owner took the Volkswagen to the Shenandoah Valley where he brought it back to drivability and then gave it to his teen-age son to serve as a daily driver, a task it survived.

With the son going off to college in 1997, the father wanted him to drive there with more than 40 horsepower at his command. Consequently, the Transporter was put up for sale.

That's when John Williams, broadcast production director for the U.S. Senate Television Department and a long-time Volkswagen fan, bought the unusual 6-foot, 5-inch tall truck and had it trucked home. He then drove it the next 2 1/2 years the way it was. "I was the most popular guy on moving days," he recalls.

The original engine with 61,000 miles on the odometer was in the Transporter when it was purchased by Mr. Williams.

In the spring of 1999, Mr. Williams decided the time had come for a total restoration. He selected Ace German Auto in Woodbridge, Va., to tackle the restoration of Inga, the name he gave the truck.

The frame of the 2,370-pound Microbus was in excellent condition, but typical areas of rust such as the doglegs ahead of the front wheels and the rocker panels were cancerous.

Thankfully, Mr. Williams said, "The Holy Grail of VW pickups was intact." He was referring to the three drop gates, each one 14.8-inches high. "They are impossible to find," he comments.

The floor of the 5 x 8-foot bed was bent and bruised from its parts hauler days, as was the floor of what Mr. Williams calls the "Treasure Chest," the compartment under the bed. The Treasure Chest is the width of the truck and is 51 inches from the front to the rear and 13.4-inches high. It is accessible through one door on the right. An extra-cost option is a door on the left.

Mr. Williams was able to track down the correct patterned corrugated sheet metal to replace the warped floors of the bed and Treasure Chest. The bed has 29 ribs in the metal.

"Because of its unique history, I chose not to return Inga to the way she had left the factory, but as I found her that day in the valley with Elm Green paint and a two-toned interior," Mr. Williams said. "Otherwise, I have tried to bring her back to as stock as possible."

Besides cosmetic fixes, the 96.6-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine was replaced. The new one, Mr. Williams reports, "still delivers 40 whopping horsepower."

Although the speedometer is prepared to record speeds up to 90 mph, the owner's manual lists both the maximum and top speeds as 65 mph. The truck is supposed to get 23 miles per gallon.

With a near vertical steering column the truck steers like well, a truck, with 2.8-turns of the steering wheel lock to lock.

Upon attaching VW mudflaps Mr. Williams proclaimed the restoration complete in December 2001, two-and-a-half years after starting the project. Just before Christmas he enlisted the aid of several friends to go with him to Woodbridge. The plan was that his friends in their cars would surround him in his truck as the caravan motored up Interstate 95 to Alexandria.

The appointed day dawned in a pouring rainstorm. Nevertheless, all of his friends arrived to do their duty. Thankfully, one of them had arranged for a truck to come and haul the freshly restored VW home.

It was a homecoming befitting a truck named Inga.

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