So far, so good for ol’ Sofie. Seventy years ago, on August 7, 1950, the first-generation (T1) Volkswagen Transporter rolled off the production line at Germany’s Wolfsburg plant and into a life of service. After a breakdown in the 1970s, the Dove Blue panel van had more down time than she probably wanted, but Sofie is better than ever after receiving a much-deserved restoration in time for her 70th birthday. She’s the world’s oldest street-legal VW bus in existence.
S/n 20-1880, part of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles collection in Hanover, Germany, since 2014, was in the original wave of VW Type 2 Transporters, which went into full production in March 1950. Five months later, the Bulli, as Type 2s were nicknamed, was delivered new to Hildesheim and, as a commercial vehicle, became a vital contributor in Germany’s post-WWII “Economic Miracle.”
For 23 years, the Transporter—powered by a rear-mounted, air-cooled, 1100-cc boxer four—dashed here and there in Lower Saxony before being sold by its commercial business owner and heading into early retirement. The bus changed hands several times from 1973–92 before it was purchased by Tonny L. in Denmark. When Tonny inquired about the bus, he learned that it possessed the lowest chassis number known at that time, which sealed the deal.
Tonny brought the tired bus—which was then showing 100,000 kilometers on the clock—home in the bed of a truck. After sitting idle for 19 years, the bus needed plenty of TLC, but Tonny went to work and got her running again. He also named her Sofie in a nod to the first T1 (Beetle) delivered to Denmark, which was also named Sofie.
Tonny began restoring Sofie in 2000 and finally completed the work in 2003. Together the two traveled 20,000 kilometers (12,427 miles), mostly to take part in Bulli meets throughout Europe. As the two grew old together, Tonny realized it might be time for him to pass Sofie on to someone else in a better position to take care of her. One thing he refused to do was sell her into a private collection, however, a situation in which she could not be appreciated by the general public. So when Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles inquired about the bus after receiving a tip from none other than the Crown Prince of Denmark, it seemed like a match made in heaven.
Not that it was easy for Tonny. After back-and-forth negotiations, Volkswagen says that Tonny decided, “I’d therefore prefer to sell Sofie to you, where she’ll still be able to make people smile … I know that she’ll fare best at home.” He was right. Sofie receives the royal treatment wherever she goes and continues to make people smile.
Sofie celebrated her 70th birthday with fresh oil and a birthday cake topped with seven spark plugs. Here’s to seven more decades.
Report by hagerty.com