After more than 60 years in production. Volkswagen is finally preparing to retire the classic VW Camper finally and for good.
Originally designed in the late 1940s in post-World War II Germany, the Camper has been in production since 1950 and the vehicle’s storied history makes it the longest produced model in automotive history, according to Volkswagen. It has gone by several different names over the years, i
It became an icon of flower power in the U.S. in the 1960s when it – and the original Beetle became two of the hippie movement’s favorite forms of motorized transport. Sales of new Campers basically ended in the U.S. in 1979 when VW stopped building them at plants in Germany. However, the vans, with their distinctive shape and windows, are still prized by collectors and live on especially in Southern California where well-preserved Campers routinely can be seen roaming the region’s freeways.
It has lived on as more than a collectible in Latin America. While production of the VW camper ended in Mexico in 1996, the aging van has continued to roll down the line in Brazil, now the only country that still produces the classic VW bus
But there are plans to halt production there by the end of the year, company officials have confirmed.
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Over the years, the VW Bus represented a successful marriage of German engineering and the Brazilian lifestyle. More than 1.5 million have been produced in the country, where the VW Bus is the bread-and-butter vehicle for several generations of small businesses. A new bus costs 47,000 real, or around $19,700, making it the most inexpensive minibus on the market.
In Brazil, VW Buses are ubiquitous at weekly markets, as well as on construction sites, and they often double as mobile kiosks, ambulances and even hearses. In Rio de Janeiro, overloaded VW Buses travel up and down the hills of the city’s shantytowns and in the Amazon region they are used to transport tourists along muddy roads.
The last camper is expected to roll off the line in São Paulo because the vehicle is no longer up-to-date, now that Brazil will require all new vehicles to adopt modern safety features such as anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and airbags, features VW’s engineers could not fit into the Camper.
Whether Brazilians will open up to the newer and more expensive version of the old Camper now sold in Europe and other markets remains to be seen. VW has had mixed success, and has never regained the traction it once had in the United States market, even when minivan sales were at their peak.
The German maker has made any number of attempts to recapture the magic of its original Microbus, but unlike the Beetle remakes, it hasn’t found a successful way to go retro. It has shown several concept versions, most recently the Bulli prototype introduced at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, but despite initial enthusiasm, none have made it into showrooms.
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VW has also tried pairing up with a more successful minivan manufacturer, but the Routan, based on the Dodge Caravan/Chrysler Town & Country platform, has had limited success, at best. Whether the formal demise of the ancient VW Camper will finally spur a true replacement for the original minivan remains to be seen.
Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.