This VW Type 2 ‘Binz Bus’ Is A Rare Form Of Transporter
Photography by Ted Gushue
We’ve been sharing Matt Jacobson’s Volkswagens like his Squareback, 23-window Bus, and Type 34 Ghia for some time now, and as the collection’s continued to evolve, we’ve been consistently happy to learn of each addition to the group of vintage air-cooleds in various degrees of much-appreciated originality, patina, and preservation. This time is no exception, and this is no ordinary Transporter.
Ted Gushue: At this point it’s safe to say you have a longstanding relationship with classic VWs, but what is it about this one that drew you in?
Matt Jacobson: The Binz double cab is kind of the holy grail of early first generation VW Transporters. The production numbers were really low; I’ve seen estimates in the 250 range, total. Production stopped in ’59, so this is one of the last ones, and I was lucky to find this excellent example in a local collection.
TG: That does sound quite rare, only more so in this condition too. Can you tell me more about Binz? Who were they, and when did they start doing this work?
MJ: Binz was a Stuttgart-based coach builder that was known for their work converting Mercedes into ambulances, hearses, and military vehicles. They built some some pretty amazing Mercedes wagons in the 1950’s, one that you and I ogled one early morning in Pomona—they did coachwork that included some great Mercedes 200 and 300 series Fintail wagons in addition to the more utilitarian products.
Their work seems—they are still in business—to be predominantly service-oriented, and there was clearly a need for a double cab VW Transporter as a commercial vehicle in the late ‘50s. So much so that VW started building their own double cab Transporter in ’59. But Binz did it first.
TG: At this point, how many can there be left on the road?
MJ: They seem to indeed be pretty rare, as you would imagine an inexpensive commercial vehicle in during that time would have had a tough life. As a utility vehicle, they were driven and used hard. These were work horses more often than not.
This bus was originally delivered to St Louis, MO, and then sold through a dealer in North Platte, NE. You can see the dealer badge on the left rear still—it’s hard to imagine how this survived Nebraskan winters and remain as intact as it is today. Of course, this car has been well maintained, and it appears as if the 55K miles on the odometer are original. I have a lot of the original receipts and ephemera for this car too, including the “birth certificate” from VW.
TG: It surely must be one of the cleanest around, but what’s it like to drive?
MJ: The ’59 Binz Bus shares the Beetle’s 36hp engine, but it’s a significantly heavier and bigger vehicle—so, it’s not fast. The first time I drove it, I thought I had the E-brake on. Turns out I didn’t.
However, on the split-window Transporters, VW used what they call “reduction ‘boxes” that allowed the small 36hp motor to power the Transporter, even carrying a heavy load. These give the Transporters a lot of low-end torque, at the sacrifice of top-end speed. They’re pretty genius, and even with this engine, the reduction boxes (beefed up gearbox) allow me to pull up some pretty steep hills in Manhattan Beach. People who swap them out are sometimes bummed to have lost the torque.
I’ve read on the VW boards how much they were an integral part of the engine/gearbox combo that allowed these early Transporters to be used for real work—like hauling cargo and still being able to climb some pretty serious grades.
TG: You mentioned a few plans for the truck to earlier: is there anything in particular you’d like to do to it?
MJ: I’ve been thinking about adding hoops and a canvas canopy over the bed, but, I’m in no hurry. My one safety indulgence is seat belts, and the Binz currently is without those. So that’s the first modification I’ll likely do. In terms of performance though, I want it to remain stock, as it was.
TG: Right on.