Any original paint, signwritten Commercial VW is a desirable vehicle today. Add in the catchword ‘Barndoor’ and the stakes don’t get higher, they go stratospheric

The Barndoor Single Cab is a rare beast today, and much cherished by VW enthusiasts across the globe.  Produced from August 25 1952 until the end of February 1955, fewer than 16,000 Barndoor-era Pick-Ups were built, so finding one in any condition today is no mean feat.  To put that into context, whilst there were indeed plenty of Split Screen Pick-Ups built from March 1955 until production of the Split Screen series ceased in July of 1967 – a total of 375,669 to be precise – the amount of Barndoor-era Pickups account for less than 5% of the total production of Split Screen trucks.

” treated the whole underside and treasure chest area to some detailed prep and top coat “

But what’s all this Barndoor-era fuss, I hear you cry? Well, like any classic car marque, the earliest production models tend to be the most desirable, mainly due to their quirky little details that get collectors all hot under the collar.  Barndoor Buses are no exception to this and, despite being crude and even more rudimentary than later Splits, are full of character and charm.  Essentially, the earlier the Bus, the more basic it was from the factory.  Volkswagen constantly improved production methods over the years, modifying and changing components they felt weren’t up to scratch.  Even in the relatively short span from 1950 to 1955 there are hundreds of little amendments and changes that keep today’s part number freaks on their toes.

Time of the month

Across the entire VW Transporter range, things changed dramatically in March of 1955.  Production of the ‘updated’ range of Transporters commenced on the first day of the month.  The VW stylists gave the Transporter a makeover, while the engineers pushed for numerous general modifications, perhaps the most obvious being changing the size of the engine compartment lid from gigantic – hence the term Barndoor – to one about half the size.  It was lighter, easier to produce, yet still considered adequate for the job.  Another significant change to the Transporter’s profile was the addition of a ‘peak’ to the roof at the front of the vehicle, with the addition of fresh air intakes for the cab.  It is these two changes that fundamentally define pre- and post-March ’55 Volkswagen Buses – except a Pick-Up, of course, which never had space for the huge Barndoor engine lid in the first place.

As I mentioned at the beginning, production of the Pick-Up didn’t begin until mid-1952, even though there was great demand for VW to introduce a Pritsche (German for Pick-Up) to its range.  The reason for the delay was the massive re-tooling required to build it.  But once offered for general sale, the Pick-Up quickly became a success and accounted for approximately 20% of annual Transporter sales. Countries far and wide ordered them in their droves, and both individuals and companies soon put them to use on farms, building sites and general purpose shop use, often with signwriting and logos advertising the company’s name, and the services they offered.

Tech Info:
Barndoor Single Cab

  • BODY: Stock 1954 Barndoor Pick-Up
  • ENGINE: Later 1600cc Type 1 twin port
  • GEARBOX: VW Beetle swing axle with 4.125 ring and pinion
  • SUSPENSION: Type 1 dropped spindles, straight-axle conversion
  • WHEELS & TYRES: Stock ’66 Beetle 15-inch steels; 155/60-15 fronts, 185/65-15 rears

Which brings us nicely to our feature Bus here, an original paint (well, mostly…) 1954 Pick-Up with its original signwriting advertising an erstwhile tyre company from Luleå, Sweden.  Known amongst UK Barndoor aficionados as the ‘Dunlop truck’, this Bus had done the rounds before ending up in Simon Kerr of Absolute VW’s hands.

Originally imported by Graham at FBI VW well over a decade ago, the Bus passed through the hands of Jim Merrin, Dean Barton, Tom Verney, Di Watkins and Buzz Burrell before reaching Simon.  It was Buzz, however, who did most of the work to put the Bus back on the road, so we’ll concentrate our efforts on him.  Buzz: “When I got the Bus, it was a rolling project.  Previous owners had done bits here and there – the lower front panel, inner and outer sills, crossmembers and outriggers had all been replaced at some point, but it was a long way off being roadworthy.

“To make things easier for myself, I cut the old load bed off and removed the top bed top hats. This allowed me to access the lower floor area within the span of the treasure chest [the lockable compartment beneath the load bed on a Split Pick-Up].”  Whilst Buzz was in the thick of it, he replaced all the jacking points, the lower floor, the top hats for the top bed and did some major repairs to the bed bulkhead area.  He then turned his attention to the cab floor and replaced that, along with the wheelarch ‘dog legs’, using new panels made by Rick at Schofields.  With the load bed still off, he then treated the whole underside and treasure chest area to some detailed prep and several coats of 2-pack satin grey top coat.  Once all was cured, he carefully stitched on a new load bed, already painted on the underside.

Buzz, being a long-term VW nut, understood the value of the mostly original paint and signwriting.  “I wanted to preserve the patina as much as I could.  This meant I had to be very careful when welding and blending in paint.”

Buzz then turned his attention to the running gear.  “The Bus already came with Type 1 dropped spindles and brakes on the front and a straight-axle conversion at the rear, so it sat at a respectable height.  I didn’t really want to mess with its stance, so I just rebuilt all of the brakes with new items from Machine 7.” Whilst he was at it, he also treated the Pick-Up to a dual-circuit master cylinder and, with the help of Ian Merchant, a new set of rigid brake lines.

” the Pick-Up now cruises nicely at motorway speeds “

For motivation, Buzz kept the later 1600 twin-port engine that came with the truck.  “It seemed to run fine, so I serviced it and spruced up the tinware with a few coats of paint,” he told us.  He also fitted a four-into-one merged header and modified a Beetle turbo muffler to fit the Bus.  Matched to a 1970’s Beetle 4.12 final drive gearbox, the Pick-Up now cruises nicely at motorway speeds without being overstressed – most certainly not something you could ever say of a stock Barndoor Bus!

Inside the cab of any Barndoor Split there is little in the way of creature comforts.  There’s a bench seat, some door cards and kick panels and that’s about it.  The only trim was a bit of vinyl on the seat.  Buzz tackled the door and kick cards, making new items and covering them in a beige vinyl, but for the seat he turned to Pip Kingdom at Devon Custom Trimming.  She restored the seat to its former glory, covering it in the same beige vinyl as the door cards.

Undeniably cool

With that, the Pick-Up was technically ready for the road again.  An MoT and subsequent registration meant Buzz could finally start enjoying the fruits of his labours, which he did all summer of 2014, using it for trips to the beach and the like.  However, it soon became apparent that, whilst the Pick-Up was undeniably cool, it just wasn’t practical for families and Buzz has a wife, Marion, and two daughters (Holly, 11, and Ellie, 7,) who also enjoy Volkswagens.  Trying to cram four people into the front of a VW Pick-Up was never going to happen, so the decision was made to move the Pick-Up on and enjoy their Barndoor Kombi with Westfalia Camping Box interior instead.  Poor souls!

Happily, this story continues on a good note as the Pick-Up is now in daily use at Absolute VWs and has had a little makeover, although not paint-wise.  It has been slammed further and now sports Der Steiner Rad wheels, a four-inch narrowed beam and has been tubbed to allow tyre clearance at the front. A steering box raise is also on the cards, as is a big motor.  Sounds like fun to me!


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