By on April 26, 2017

1968 VW Type II Transporter, Image: © 2017 Forest Casey

Pickup trucks are a stereotypically American product, right up there with blue jeans and barbeque. The best-selling vehicle in America for the past 35 years? Ford F-Series. And the pickup truck defines our needs as a nation, maximizing towing, luggage, and passenger capacities as much as possible at the lowest possible price.

But must a pickup wear an American badge for us to consider it a proper truck?

After seeing innovative trucks like this 1968 VW Type II Transporter, you can’t help but ask, “Why must these be so rare in America?”

1968 VW Type II Transporter, Image: © 2017 Forest Casey

Specifically, this Type II is a “Doppelkabine” (or “Doublecab”) model, M-Code number 265, indicating a left-hand drive model with a rear door on the right side. The truck’s bare bed (Type II beds are typically wood-lined) and immaculate paintjob are possible evidence of a recent restoration, though its interior leather and finishing hint it might be one of those rare, garage kept, unicorn trucks. No wonder the owner carries assorted traffic cones and employs The Club.

1968 VW Type II Transporter, Image: © 2017 Forest Casey

Volkswagen imported only 12,070 Type II pickups to America in 1968. Less than four years later, that number officially dropped to zero. Why?

A so-called “Chicken Tax” enacted by Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1963 subjected trucks imported to the U.S. to a 25-percent tariff. (TTAC previously documented the impact of this tax and the absurd lengths companies go to thwart it.) At least one Type II fan claims the U.S government established the tariff in retaliation to a German-imposed tariff on frozen chicken from America. The U.S. chicken tax is still in effect today, and likely won’t be repealed in our present “America-first” economic climate.

2017 Volkswagen Amarok, Image: Volkswagen

Ironically, the Type II Transporter’s descendent — the VW Amarok — is used as the poster child for interesting pickup varieties we aren’t allowed to purchase in America. A late-model Amarok initially purchased in Mexico City was recently listed for $40,000 on a website for VW Van enthusiasts. The listing was removed, likely due to difficulties with importing and registration. The resulting commentary was lively, possibly hinting at pent-up American demand for a German-built truck.

Special-option Type II Transporters, including Cherry Pickers and ladder trucks, Image: Volkswagen

If anything, the second-generation Type II (which debuted in the 1968 model year, same as today’s subject truck) was even more innovative and modular than today’s Amarok. Models could be custom-ordered from the factory with cherry-picker attachments, tilting beds, and fire truck-style ladders. The T2’s bed could collapse; the “Dropgate” gets its nickname from a transformable rear, useful for hauling items larger than a standard sheet of plywood. One wonders how differently the truck market would be divided today if the government had allowed brands like VW and Mercedes-Benz to compete equally for the last 54 years.

When I asked Richard Attwell, the founder of a popular VW Type II site, about the Chicken Tax, he replied it didn’t stop the flow of pickups completely. VW dealers could still import panel vans and pickups in small numbers for their own uses. But, in his view, the tax was “a huge deterrent” and “amounted to a subsidy,” for U.S. automakers.

Though it didn’t happen immediately, one positive impact of the tax was the surprising number of foreign automakers who built factories on U.S. soil. Forced to decide between an invariable 25% tax on every truck they import and the bundle of tax breaks, low-interest loans, and incentives that usually go with foreign investment, companies like Hyundai, Toyota, BMW, Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz decided to build, baby, build in America.

The most recent plant opened by a foreign automaker in America? That would be the Chattanooga Assembly Plant, opened by VW in Tennessee in 2011. VW initially intended the plant to produce the upscale Passat, but now it’s also producing the brand’s first large SUV, the Atlas. Surely, an American-made Amarok is a closer possibility than ever.

1968 VW Type II Transporter, Image: © 2017 Forest Casey

All photos by author, archival materials courtesy of VW Historical Archive and Dropgates.com.

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56 Comments on “Parked In Drive: 1968 Volkswagen Transporter Type II ‘Doublecab’...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    *drops fire cracker into hornet nest*

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    It’s a bit confusing… if the “Chicken Tax” was introduced in 1963, and this is a ’68, did the original buyer pay 25% tax on it?

    If that’s the case, that buyers were willing to pay a 25% premium from 1963-1968, why did sales dry up by 1970? What changed?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Dollar-mark exchange rates?

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      Part of the answer is that there were early workarounds to the Chicken Tax where if some part of the final assembly were carried out in the US then the tax was waived. One of the methods used to bypass the tax was to ship in the cab/chassis and install the bed on-shore. This led later to a huge upsurge in compact truck imports so the tax had to be expanded to make such importing more difficult. By the early 80s, it got to the point that it was “assemble here or else”, meaning nearly full assembly or at least major assembly of components such as mounting the cab, box and suspension to a near-naked chassis (also since then somewhat blocked.)

      Basically, as workarounds were found, legislation was developed to block those workarounds. The odds are very slim, no matter who’s in the White House, that the Chicken Tax will ever be repealed.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The work around was to install locally made beds to an “incomplete vehicle”, not import the bed and the rest of the truck separately. In the 80’s if you did any travel on I5 between southern CA and Tacoma WA you’d see the trucks full of painted beds that were made in CA on their way to be mated up with the rest of the truck.

        • 0 avatar

          The funny part is, this “trick” of holding off on the assembly is still done today. Ford builds Transit Connect vans in Gölcük, Turkey, imports them into America as wagons with full rear interiors. Then a subcontractor strips out the interiors, the vans are shipped to dealerships and sold as cargo vans. When the U.S. Government tried to tax the Transit at 25%, Ford brought suit against them, arguing that their loophole use was legitimate. Same as it ever was: http://www.cit.uscourts.gov/SlipOpinions/Slip_op16/16-92.pdf

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    Anyone who was around at the time: How popular were pickups based on forward-control vans compared to conventional half-tons?

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      I doubt they were popular at all. I am too young to have first-hand recollections other than the Greenbrier we owned when I was young; but at a Greenbrier meeting awhile back I only one or two of them. According to Wikipedia:

      “A Corvair truck could be ordered as a “Loadside” or “Rampside”. The Loadside was essentially a pickup truck with a standard tail gate. The Loadside was only produced two years and is the rarest of the Corvairs; production totaled 2,844 in 1961 and 369 in 1962. The Rampside had a side ramp to be used for loading and unloading cargo. These were used by the Bell Telephone Company, because loading and unloading of cable drums was eased by the side ramp.”

      Again, according to Wikipedia regarding the Econoline pickup:

      “…Ford had projections for building more Econoline pickups than vans, but buyers preferred conventional body design and the forward control pickup version was 10% of 1961 Econoline production.[9]

      “The new Econoline van had almost 40% more load space than the typical 1/2-ton panel delivery truck of the time, featuring an interior load area 54 in (1,372 mm) high and 65 in (1,651 mm) wide with over 204 cu ft (5,777 l) total load space.[10] These closed van body versions were popular as service vehicles, such as with utilities like the Bell Telephone System.

      “In its first year, 29,932 standard vans, 6,571 custom Econoline buses, 11,893 standard pickups, and 3,000 custom pickups were made.”

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        “Forward control pickups? America did two: a Jeep in the late fifties(?) that lasted a couple of years, and the Corvair Rampside, 61-63.”

        The Jeep FC-150/170 (1956-65) weren’t based on vans, but the existing CJ-5. And besides the Corvair Rampside, there was also the Ford Econoline pickup (1961-67) and the Dodge A100 pickup (1964-70).

        [sorry this is in the wrong spot]

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Pickups, in general, weren’t popular in the slightest back in 1968 – unless you actually used one for real world work and dirty hauling. Vans, conversely, were starting to get popular (thanks to the Volkswagen Type II) but not too popular (given the short lived lives of both the Corvair Greenbriar), but were slowly growing in popularity – if they were American front engine, rear drive models.

      Forward control pickups? America did two: a Jeep in the late fifties(?) that lasted a couple of years, and the Corvair Rampside, 61-63.

      Any attempts to correlate the light truck market of fifty years ago with today is an exercise in futility. Remember, the El Camino and Ranchero were designed to try and make the pickup look respectable, as the real pickups sure weren’t.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        You forgot the Ford Econoline forward control pickup of 1961–1967; as I mentioned in my first post, Ford thought they would sell more of the pickups than the vans; but the opposite turned out to be true.

        • 0 avatar

          Also, one can’t forget the compact, forward-control Dodge A-100, official transportation of the A-Team. The A-100 also formed the base of one of the coolest custom vans of all time, the Alexander Bros.’ Dodge Deora: http://www.motortrend.com/news/c12-0509-dodge-deora/

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I remember seeing both the VW and the Ford/GM/Chrysler equivalents. As a kid, I had a pair of steel Ford Econoline vans which came well before the long-nosed versions that started showing up in the ’70s, as I recall. Forward-control was actually common, though rear-engine was the bailiwick of VW and the GM Corvair-based van and pickup.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    At the time, 1967-68, when the pickup in the photos was first sold, trucks were for utility/work use. The “my truck is bigger than yours Bro-Dozer” was a long way off in the future.
    The ‘chicken tax’ was in the price and usually not listed separately on the window sticker.
    Why fewer VW and other trucks? (Also factoring in that the “Mini-Truck” craze was still in the future) 1. Chicken tax 2. No V8.

    Also the drawings in the article show a 1967 or older VW truck, note the split windshield.
    VW AFAIK created the ‘crewcab’ pickup in the 1950s.
    When I worked at a VW dealer, in the 70s, we sold a few panel vans which came with a seat in the back to get around the ‘chicken tax’. This was removed so the van could transport flowers, dry cleaning, etc.
    The dealership had a 1972 VW pickup with a upper rack on the bed to deliver body parts to other repair shops.
    Did not last very long. 1972-1974 VW transporters had a horrible dual carburetor setup that was difficult to keep synchronized and wore rapidly. Among other problems. Fuel injection came on ’74 California vans with auto trans and all in 1975. That and hydraulic cam followers, in 1976 cured most troubles, but pickups and panel vans were gone as new vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The chicken tax had nothing to do with the low numbers of these that made it to the US, just like those panel vans you mentioned being able to seat more than 3 passengers qualified it as a passenger vehicle.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I don’t think this vehicle was ever fitted with leather upholstery from the factory; and the exhaust isn’t stock either. Still, a nice ride.

    The Subaru “Brat” also was a mini-pickup that had two seats mounted in the bed, to avoid the “chicken tax.”

    Regardin “pwrwrench’s” comment about the dual carb setup. At the time, it was quite common for various British sportscars and Porsche to run dual carb setups in stock form. (Most American multicarb setups were custom.) There was a tool called a “uni-syn” that facilitated adjusting these by measuring vacuum. Wasn’t so hard. The hot setup for dune buggies, post 1972 (when the standard VW engine went to dual-port heads) was two Holley “bug spray” carburetors, one for each cylinder bank. I didn’t find them particularly problematic.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Actually the Uni-Syn measures air flow, not vacuum which is created by the restriction of flow.

      • 0 avatar
        TR4

        You’re correct in that the Uni-Syn does not measure intake manifold vacuum. However, it creates a small vacuum itself which then raises the ball in the glass tube. When using it you adjust a cone shaped venturi restrictor to center the ball on one carb, then check the other carb(s). For a more complete description see:

        http://mgaguru.com/mgtech/carbs/cb135.htm

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          I know how the Uni-Syn works, used one many times working at the only shop in town that would touch a British car other than the guy that just did Jags. I was also pretty good at just using a piece of vacuum tubing held up to my ear and in front of each carb.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      I agree, no way is this original. Two-tone paint, two-tone seats and interior panels, leather, and of course the wheels are all wrong. Typical show-and-shine over-restoration, albeit rather tastefully done in period-correct colours and blissfully not slammed to the ground like so many shiny and loud but undrivable wrecks out there.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I agree that the wheels and the exhaust are not stock; as I recall the exhaust would have a transverse muffler visible underneath the bumper with a single pipe on a 90% bend straight out of the muffler. The wheels would have been plain, white, steelies.

      On the other hand, the interior looks quite stock in both two-tone color and the vinyl-looking upholstery. If this is leather, somebody went to extremes to make it look as factory as possible. And about the colors: That two-tone white over sea-foam blue was very, VERY common. They needed the white roof to help keep the interior cool considering most of them didn’t have AC installed and any color other than white just soaked in the heat of summer. I don’t remember seeing any Type 2 (or its immediate predecessors) in monotone and an all-white paint job was very rare, as I recall–if they ever offered one at all.

      The beetle, fastback and squareback, however, were almost never two-toned and tended to all be in subdued colors with the exception of some bright yellow or green shades where I lived. I also saw blues, but almost never any reds.

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        Two-tone on vans: yes, I agree, plenty of those, but they were all windowed vans in deluxe trim — in the US however, that’s pretty much all you got, as hardly any plain-jane Kombis or panel vans made their way overseas. (In Europe, most Type 2s were monotone.)

        Two-tone on pickups: nope, not from the factory, neither inside nor out. There never was such a thing as a factory deluxe-trim pickup (or panel van for that matter).

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s a link to a 1968 sales brochure. Leatherette seating was offered standard from the factory. You’re correct to say the fancy wheels and exhaust were not stock: https://www.thesamba.com/vw/archives/lit/68commercials.php

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        Leatherette yes, but not two-tone. Note the monotonality ;-) of all the vehicles in the brochure, inside and out, even the Kombi (windowed van). That’s what the commercial Type 2s looked like.

        Two-tone? Chrome, even? Deluxe Microbuses and Westfalia campers are excused. All others need not apply.

        • 0 avatar

          I agree. I can only speculate as to the cost of this extensive restoration. The upholstery work on those matching two-tone seats alone…

          • 0 avatar
            Ermel

            I agree, the paint and upholstery work look great, both in quality and in taste. I wouldn’t want a fake deluxe crewcab (I prefer original specification), but as far as fake deluxe crewcabs go, this is a nice one. (Except for the wheels.)

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      We purchased several MGs that ran poorly, synced the carbs, and voila, just fine. Both had been written off by mechanics more familiar with V8s & 4-barrels.

  • avatar
    ChesterChi

    Regarding the chicken tax – you’ll be amused to hear that the Germans are more opposed than ever to allowing the import of American chicken.

    They refer to it as “Chlorine Chicken”, because apparently the last step in a slaughterhouse is to rinse chicken in cold water containing 3 ppm (0.003%) of chlorine dioxide. In the hysteria around the proposed TTIP trade agreement, fake-news spreaders of various stripes acted as if this was going to require mandatory consumption of “chlorine chicken”.

    Meanwhile, the same disinfectant solution is being applied to lettuce in Germany but no one cares.

    • 0 avatar

      Holy molé, what an image! Thanks for letting us know. Chlorine doesn’t sound like a tasty additive, but honestly, the idea of killing a chicken here, freezing it, shipping it thousands of miles, thawing and eating it doesn’t sound appetizing no matter what disinfectant you use.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Glad to know that Americans aren’t the only ones who are easily panicked by using scary words to describe innocuous things.

      • 0 avatar

        I mean, I may be one of those impressionable Americans who is scared of consuming chemicals, but if the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sets an advisory for max consumable levels of Chlorine Dioxide, I wouldn’t want to accidentally drink more than that. Only 5% of water utilities still use Chlorine Dioxide to clean water. Its other main use is in the lumber industry to bleach wood pulp. If you want to trust your water utility to provide perfect water, go ahead. Personally, I’ll reach for the Brita.

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      Some Germans are also kind of picky when it comes to antibiotics, genetically modified ingredients, and hormones in their meat. They’re even stricter when it comes to beer. Yet some believe, sitting in hot springs cures all sorts of nonsense. Science in flux.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    The Amarok is not the Type 2’s descendent — that would be the Transporter T6, which in Europe is of course available as a pickup truck (and panel van, and kombi, and anything else you can think of really). There’s a direct lineage from Splitty (T1) via Loaf (T2, as shown) and Vanagon (T3) to the front-engined Eurovan (T4) and its successors. They are even all made in the same factory.

    The Amarok is more of a successor to the Rabbit Pickup (Caddy in Europe) by way of the Taro (Toyota Hilux badge-volkswagenized), albeit much larger than either.

    • 0 avatar

      Okay, @Ermel, I can kind of see your point, but by your logic, if T1 > T2 > T3 > T4 > T5 > T6 without influencing any subsequent models, then your VW Caddy would follow the same lineage (Typ 14 > Typ 9K > Typ 2K), without any Amarok offspring. The fact is, with its body-on-frame construction, the Amarok shares more in common with the ladder frame Transporter than it does the Golf-based Caddy. Thanks for reading and I appreciate your comment.

      • 0 avatar
        Ermel

        Is the T5/T6 pickup actually a body-on-frame vehicle? I was under the impression that at least the front end was identical to the van, i.e. integral body? Not sure about this, though.

        I discounted the Seat Inca- and VW Touran-based Caddy vans from my admittedly flawed Caddy family tree because they are, well, vans, not pickups. To me, the succession Rabbit Pickup -> Taro -> Amarok just feels right.

        (Also discounting the Skoda-based Caddy Pickup here, I admit. Actually that 1990s stuff was all just thinly veiled third-party stuff — Seat, Skoda, Toyota –, but at least the Taro had character :-)

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      I said something similarin a post that dod not appear.

      Amarok is more of a car than the Transporter Many Transporters are used on worksites in Europe
      All European Pickups are derivatives of Vans; not standalone designs

      • 0 avatar

        I was always taught (except in cases of extreme modification) to classify a car based on its chassis first. The VW Amarok is a traditional body-on-frame truck. It has leaf springs at the rear – similar in concept to the suspension on a horse-drawn carriage.

        I acknowledge that the Amarok does have a nice, car-like interior, but the fact is that it is a truck.

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          @Forest Casey,
          The Transporter in that case is a Van. Unlike standalone models like the Amarok, and the F150, which are BOF with car like qualities . Transporters are primarily work vehicles. In fact the Transporter is the most prolific Van every built.
          @ Forest Casey, I said car like, not that they were cars.

  • avatar
    RS

    Pickup truck layouts all look the same now (for lots of reasons), but finding a way to style in novel utility features seems to be impossible or they just lack the desire to tackle it because the conventional pickup layouts are selling.

    It would be interesting see utility bed pickup trucks sold here like they do in Australia.

  • avatar
    turf3

    The main forward control pickups were the VW; Ford Econoline, Dodge A100, and Corvair Rampside (and the rare Loadside variant).

    The best of the Americans was the Rampside, as the Ford and Dodge were way too front heavy and handled terribly as a result. The Rampside with the rear engine handled very very well. Its downside was inability to take 4 x 8 sheet goods flat due to the engine hump, although you could buy a level load floor accessory – but then the ramp didn’t work. Also, some dingus failed to make sure the tail gate was a clear 48″ wide; it was something life 46 1/2″. The super ultra bitchin’ feature, however, was the ramp, which I used hundreds of times for heavy stuff. Put it on a two wheeler and up into the bed you go! I carried a cord of wood home in my Rampside once. The Loadside was a bad idea, as it was impossible to reach the bottom of the bed without the ramp.

    I don’t know why there isn’t a minivan with a ramp.

  • avatar
    operagost

    Well, Ford and Chevy once sold the Explorer Sportrac and Avalanche here… and they’re gone. I think there’s a reason.

  • avatar
    spamvw

    Looks to be imported from elsewhere on the 25 year rule, Note it has no side marker lights (law in 68).

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      In fact;
      .
      1968 and 1969 Typ II’s only had reflectors, illuminated marker lamps were not required until the 1970 model year .
      .
      Also, the ” tilt ” option means a canvas cover over the bed like a Conestoga wagon ~ they never had any tilting beds .
      .
      Most here don’t realize that all Typ II’s from 1961 . were one tonners .

      Before that they were all 3/4 ton rated .
      .
      This is a nice old truck but in no way ‘restored’ as restored means ” AS NEW ” and nothing else .
      .
      The first 1,000 or so crew cab Typ II’s weren’t made by VW and had a ‘Suicide’ typ third door, they sold nearly instantly and VW redesigned the third door and produced them in the Hannover plant .
      .
      -Nate

  • avatar
    CobraJet

    I don’t know my VW’s, but the factory drawing in the text looks like the earlier version of the pickup. I remember in about 1962 one of these pickups was t-boned in an accident right near my house. The VW flipped on its side and the driver was ejected and killed. All of us kids in the neighborhood heard the crash and ran down there. Something I won’t ever forget.

    • 0 avatar
      Ermel

      Yes, the brochure shows Type 2 T1 “Splitty” vehicles. They weren’t precisely safe in handling nor crashing, being more or less a single-layer box of sheetmetal welded to a ladder frame — but I dare say that being T-boned and flipped sideways in a contemporary F-100 or whatever while not wearing a seatbelt wouldn’t have been too good for your health either.

      The T2 “Breadloaf”, which this ’68 was the first model year of, is a much safer vehicle though. Even more so from ’73 on, when it received the front crash deformation structure behind the bumper — that one even kept up with the cars of its time with regard to structural safety. But even the pre-’73 wasn’t too shabby at that — I can testify having survived impact into a tree at some 30 mph unharmed and with the van even restorable. They’re safer than they look.

  • avatar
    RHD

    A British friend of mine once quipped that a successful date in the back of a VW mini-pickup was a Taro Root…

    It is kind of strange to see a Toyota pickup with a VW logo on the front. I wonder if they went for faux authenticity by installing a white headliner with black dots.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Why does VW build cars in the US and Mexico? What compels them, and why would the Amarok be different with or without the chicken tax?

    If you say the Amarok would sell in numbersd too low to justify a Mexico build, then what would be the point anyway?

    • 0 avatar
      Salzigtal

      Mexico had/has steep import tariffs. IIRC the VW PA assembly plant opened because the Dollar vs. Mark kept fluctuating and Rabbit prices kept wandering up and down, hurting sales.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    BTW :
    .
    Dual carbys DON’T EVER GO OUT OF ADJUSTMENT .
    .
    I used to tune up multi carby VW’s for the SMOG tests in the 1970’s , by ear, not hard until your hearing goes bad .
    .
    I always get a laugh out of people who claim carby problems when _they_ caused all the problems .
    .
    ‘Carburetor’ is a -French- word meaning ” LEAVE IT ALONE ! ” .
    .
    =8-) .
    .
    -Nate


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