Due out for 2025, the electric Volkswagen ID. Buzz traces its roots to the emblematic split-window Bus released in 1949. We wouldn’t have the Buzz without the venerable Type 2, but we might not have Volkswagen of America at all without the Schulwagen used to train mechanics.
The first examples of the Volkswagen Beetle (which was officially called Type 1) that disembarked on our shores were privately imported. Max Hoffman, a successful Austrian businessman that played a significant role in bringing numerous European carmakers to the United States, began importing Volkswagen and Porsche models in the 1950s. Sales quickly grew, executives in Wolfsburg took notice, and Volkswagen severed its ties with Hoffman to establish its own American division. This endeavor was both tremendously expensive and tremendously complicated as it required establishing a dealer network and scattering warehouses of spare parts across the country, but it paid off. It’s part of the reason why Volkswagen survived while rivals like Opel, Peugeot and Renault ultimately crashed and burned here.
Founded in New Jersey in 1955, Volkswagen of America flew three service technician trainers from Wolfsburg to the United States to teach soon-to-be mechanics how to repair and maintain the Beetle and the Bus. It helped that both cars used the same basic drivetrain, which was built around an air-cooled flat-four engine. The brand also built a fleet of specially-equipped vans for a program called Mobile Service School.
Over the following months, the service technician trainers logged numerous miles in their purpose-built vans as they visited dealers across the nation to train personnel. They hauled around cabinets with tools and documentation, an engine, a four-speed manual transaxle, and a front axle, among other parts, and the Mobile Service School vans (called Schulwagen in German) were fitted with a bottom-hinged hatch.
Volkswagen’s fleet of training vans ultimately grew to 14 vehicles; the last photo in our gallery shows them parked outside of Volkswagen of America’s first office building. What happened to the vans after the program ended is anyone’s guess — with one exception. Lind Bjornsen, a collector, pulled what’s believed to be the only surviving Schulwagen out of a barn in Ohio where it spent 43 years. The split-window had led a rough life, it had notably been repainted 10 times and fitted with aftermarket rear lights, but Bjornsen recognized its rarity and restored it.
Delivered to Volkswagen of America in January 1955, the Bus was restored in merely five months with an eye on originality. Its drivetrain was rebuilt, the “Volkswagen of America” livery was repainted, and Bjornsen either sourced or built the missing training equipment. That’s one of 14 accounted for; if you ever spot a split-window Bus with a bottom-hinged hatch in a barn, field, or junkyard, you may have found another.