Every Volkswagen car has a story, but not all have a historic significance quite like the Volkswagen Fridolin. Originally known as the Type 147 Kleinlieferwagen, the oddly tall wagon has become a rare collector car but was once a common sight on German and Swiss roads – as a sign that the mail was on its way.
In the early 1960s, the German Postal Authority asked Volkswagen to build a bespoke vehicle for transporting mail and packages. Previously, the agency had been interested in the Goggomobil transporter, a miniature SUV that was widely popular at the time, but after a test run decided to look for a larger, more reliable and more efficient alternative.
The Postal Authority approached Volkswagen with a list of specific dimensions and capabilities for their official postal vehicle. Their specifications included an extensive cargo capacity, a payload of at least 750 pounds, and two sliding side doors to allow for easier access.
To meet their needs, VW offered up a custom prototype that included parts from several existing air-cooled Volkswagen models: the engine and transmission from the Beetle, the chassis from the Karmann Ghia, rear body elements from the Type 2 Microbus and headlight assemblies and hood design from a Type 3 Notchback.
Weighing in at over a ton, the postal authority was satisfied with this user-friendly utility van and it went into production at Westfalia-Werke in 1964. More than 6,000 models were built until production ended in 1974.
Impressed by the vehicle, the Swiss postal service ordered just over 1,000 vans to be used by their postal service, but not without some modifications. The Swiss version of the Fridolin had different interiors, additional windows, a larger engine, front disc brakes and exterior mirrors on the front fenders to provide better visibility.
Although the Fridolin was state-owned and operated for a decade, its nickname and the meaning of the name remains unknown. One rumor says the “Fridolin” name came from a Volkswagen worker who affectionately exclaimed it looked like a coworker with that surname. Another rumor suggests it’s similar to a German word for small boy or child.
As postal vehicles lead hard lives and weren’t often viewed as worth preserving, less than 200 of these models remain in existence. That’s made them prized collectors’ items, and even Fridolins once considered junk have been restored to driving condition.
The Fridolin was unusual, but in some ways its extreme usefulness foreshadowed the minivans and SUVs of today.