Volkswagen’s E-Bulli concept is 2020 tech in a swingin’ ’60s mumu

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While we have an undeniable soft spot for the original engines found in old Volkswagen vans, there’s a certain appeal to swapping the clattery flat-four for a quiet (and torquey) battery-electric powertrain. Volkswagen knows this, which is why its commercial division—appropriately named Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles—has unveiled yet another converted concept, developed in collaboration with the german EV restomod shop eClassics: the new E-Bulli. Based on a 1966 VW Transporter Samba (T1), the E-Bulli is the latest in a bevy of vintage vans to receive a 21st-century shot in the arm.

First, a backgrounder on the Bulli moniker: The original VW van was supposed to be called the Bulli in Germany, but a tractor company objected to that usage, so VW christened the first model the Transporter instead. But the Bulli nickname caught on, anyway, and with such strength that many folks refer to T1 (first-gen) buses as Bullis today.

The E-Bulli packs a 45-kWh lithium-ion battery beneath the floor, which VW claims is good for around 124 miles of range. The motor is one of the latest units from Volkswagen, and provides 82 hushed horsepower, about double the 43 horses that the original boxer engine offered. Torque more than doubles, vaulting from 75 lb-ft in the boxer to an instantaneous 156 lb-ft thanks to the electric motors. All this extra juice means the new E-Bulli can keep up at highway speeds, with an electronically limited top-speed of 80 mph.

The chassis, too, has been upgraded with new multi-link front and rear axles with adjustable shocks and coilover struts, as well as disc brakes and a new rack-and-pinion steering system.

e-bulli concept 1966 classic with 2020 electric drive shifter
e-bulli concept 1966 classic rear electric plug

e-bulli concept 1966 classic trunk lid electrical parts

The range is reasonable for what’s essentially a city delivery vehicle, but the E-Bulli isn’t about the numbers. It’s all about the cool factor, and between the folding fabric roof, the killer paint job, and matching retro-modern interior, this reborn bus has personality shining out of its many windows.

Volkswagen says the interior has been “sensibly modernized,” which means that VW designers and engineers made an effort to retain a practical roster of old-school tech, albeit with modern flair. An analog speedometer sports a small LED inlay to show charge levels, but it still fits the overall aesthetic inside, as does the wood floor. If only the same could be said of the gearshift, which is directly out of a modern VW product. The shift pattern does have a selection for regenerative braking.

The cost of such a conversion? For a turnkey example that doesn’t require you to provide your own donor T1 van, you’re looking at roughly $70,000 (£64,900). According to the eClassics site, the package can also be purchased as a components set and applied to any donor T1, T2, or T3 vans as well. Those kits start at roughly $57,000 (£52,500). 

According to a VW spokesperson, the E-Bulli will be offered as a Europe-only product, and interested American buyers would have to approach the eClassics shop on their own. No doubt this would be a sweet way to dip one’s toes into #vanlife, but tech lovers specifically might do better to wait for VW’s I.D.Buzz—the all-new, ultra-modern version of the VW Bus—which is slated for production in 2022. For now, the E-Bulli is a tasteful blend of classic Vee-Dub vibes and modern engineering.

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