GRAN TURISMO CAR REVIEWS

1962 Volkswagen Samba Bus (Type 2)

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blue_bus.jpg

SPECS

Year: 1962
Class: Van
Type: 4-door minibus

Host: GT5
Country: Germany


Price: $72,250

Construction:

Length: 168.9" // Width: 68.9" // Height: 76.4"
Wheelbase: 94.5"
Overhang: 6 feet 3 inches
Track: 53.7" [F] 53.5" [R]
Ground Clearance: 9.5"
Weight: 2,414 pounds

Steering: unassisted worm & roller
Turn Radius: 39 feet

Layout: rear engine / rear-drive
Tires: 6.40 x 15
F. Suspension: trailing arms, torsion bars
R. Suspension: swing axle, torsion bars

Brakes: Drums
ABS? no

Engine: 1.2 liter OHV  flat-4
Construction: light alloy block & heads
Aspiration: natural
Fuel Syst: 1 single-barrel carb
Valves / Cyl: 2
Bore x Stroke: 3.05 x 2.52"
Compression: 6.60:1

Tested HP: 32 @ 3,500
Tsd. Torque: 58 @ 2,000

Credits per HP: $2,257.81
Pounds per HP: 75.44
Pnds per Torque: 41.62
HP per Liter: 26.8

Idle: 750 // Redline: 3,750 // RPM Limit: 4,000

Transmission: 4-speed manual
Differential: open type

0-60 mph: 42.817 seconds
0-100 mph: ha ha
0-150 mph: 420 seconds. ;-)

400 M: no test
1 Kilom: no test

Top speed at Redline
1st: 16 mph
2nd: 31 mph
3rd: 49 mph
4th: 70 mph @ 3,250 rpm

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-----------------EXTERIOR / HISTORY---------------


It's been called many things: "Bus", "Transporter", "Type 2", "hippie mobile", "slowpoke", "Kombi", "Splittie"....and so on. For those of you out there who remember the VW Bus, who grew up with the VW Bus, it may seem odd to see one in our videogames. I admit I was completely shocked the Bus actually made it into GT5. On the other hand, who hasn't said at least once, sarcastically or seriously, "Gee, what would it be like to RACE one?" Well for the right price, now we can.

Perhaps you were "under the influence" at the time...perhaps you were just curious. The VW Bus is certainly a curiosity. Anyways, now it's time to find out what it would be like...not just to drive a Bus around, but actually RACE it! We've got a rare opportunity here, as I'm sure the Bus has never appeared in a videogame, and certainly not a racing one. So let's get ready.

The Volkswagen Bus began its life as the "Type 2". There were five versions of the Type 2. The one in our games was code named "Type 2 T1". There was a Type 2 T2, Type 2 T3 (a.k.a. the Vanagon), and so on. These versions extended on throughout the decades: from the '50s to the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s. The Type 2 eventually used a water-cooled engine, but it is interesting to note that air-cooled flat-4 engines prevailed for a long, long time, far after they were outdated by other makes.
 
 But wait, was there a Type 1? Yes there was. The "Type 1" was the infamous VW Beetle, a goofy, funny-looking car which oddly began its concept stages and production during Europe's darkest days. The Type 2, on the other hand, was created after World War II was over. I'm not going into this huge history here, but basically the Bus was created on the Beetle's platform (both vehicles being rear engine / rear-drive). That's all for this review.   

....Well okay, maybe just a little history. ;) Here goes.

The Bus was invented in 1949 by some Dutch dude. He was inspired by sleek-bodied European street trolleys of the time, and wanted to make a gasoline-driven vehicle which aped these trolleys. It would ride on pneumatic tires, though, instead of rails.

As the story goes, Ben Pon (that's the Dutch dude's name) sketched his new design on a napkin. Amazing...amazing what people did before computers, eh? Anyways, the very first Transporters (they weren't known as Buses yet) were strictly utilitarian vehicles, made for hauling stuff around.

Ben (or somebody over at Volkswagen) had the early idea to make this design aerodynamic, in an effort at better wind resistance. Since the Type 2 would be using the Type 1's puny engine, they must have surmised they'd better try and make the best of its meager power. As it turns out, wind-tunnel testing eventually garnered the Type 2 even better aerodynamics than the Type 1! One of the original prototypes for the Type 2 had a drag coeffcient of 0.75 (quite truckish), but they managed to get this down to 0.44 ... amazing feat for the late '40s. Type1/Beetles rated at 0.48. Despite this, the Type 2 still suffers occasionally. You'll possibly notice aerodynamic drag if you so happen to take the Samba Bus (as I did) to the World Classic Car Series at Circuit de Sarthe. Down those straights, the Bus really has problems trying to build speed, until it's drafting behind another car that is.
    

All of this took place in or before 1949. A year later, the first civilian versions of the Type 2 appeared on the market. They featured a two-tone paint job with a nicer interior created towards passenger comfort. It was this model...the Microbus...that took the first step towards the Samba in our game. At the time, no other car company was making something as "radical" (for lack of a better word) than the Microbus. Citroen and Morris both had vehicles which could be called similar to the Microbus, but neither company's vans were as pleasing to the eye or as ready for the people's market as the Microbus. Somewhere north of 5,000 of these Buses were produced during this first year of production.   

Eventually, more and more versions of the Bus appeared: 1951 brought us the Westfalia, the first of Volkswagen's infamous campers, which would soon become the apogee of many a hippie. Westfalia is a seperate company from Volkswagen, specializing (apparently) in niceties. One could actually live in a Westfalia, as it came fully-equipped with interior furnishings ... eventually a small sink with portable water tank, a bed, a top which popped upwards (for more head space), a stove, etc. 

From 1952 thru 1954 things really diversified, as up to thirty different versions of the Transporter / Microbus  were offered. Ambulances, military vehicles, tour guide vehicles, hearses, fire-fighters, etc. During this time is also when the Bus was first exported to America, and we as a nation would never be the same afterwards. Lol.    

But wow, look at that price! Seventy-two large!?! Goodness! Is PD/Volkswagen serious? Apparently so. The original Buses (any version) sold nowhere near this price. Why is the Samba so expensive? 

Well it's because the Samba Bus happened to be the most luxurious version, and we get to have this top-line model in our game. Lucky us. I actually got a feeling of luxury while driving this Bus during the first Top Gear challenge. Like many others, I was getting pretty frustrated with this challenge, and decided to take a break. I looked around at the dashboard and spotless white interior, and started to imagine this silly vehicle showing up at a Barrett-Jackson auction. Sure, I could see it! The Samba could surely be priced this high to a collector; lesser vehicles have gone for much, much more. And wow, it sure looks spiffy in here! Is that a quartz clock on the passenger-side dash?

Turns out that is a quartz clock. I read on some website the Samba specifically had one. Back in the '50s and '60s (in case you don't know) such a nicety would be the equivalent of having a navigation screen or some other such computer gizmo in a car of today. Granted, the Samba Bus is not too nice...it's not over-the-top luxurious like a Bentley or a Benz, but it's obvious that the Samba Bus is also not one of VW's more utilitarian versions, either.

And gee, look at all those windows! There were many different "window" packages, depending which model and trim were bought. 11-window models, 13 windows, 18, 21. At peak, Volkswagen made a 23 window Bus in 1964 I believe. Twenty-three. Amazing.   

Despite its apparently cushy demeanor, the Samba Bus is not all that heavy. It tops the scales in GT5 at just 2,414 pounds. I haven't much information on how much a real-life Samba Bus weighed, but this area of poundage is close enough to what some other Buses have been tagged at.

So far as racing goes, there seems to be some possible problems, other than lack of power. During the Top Gear challenge, just look at how tall the Bus is for instance. This may in fact be the tallest vehicle to ever appear in a Gran Turismo game at a staggering 76.4"! It's got 9.5 inches of ground clearance, too, important since the Bus was in real-life often used for trails and bad roads. Despite its tallness, I have yet to see my Bus flip or get up on two wheels like I did in some light econobox recently as I cornered way too hard. 

So there's a big question mark. It seems those who'd bother to spend $72,250 (such as myself) are just a bunch of losers who are bad with money, right? That would seem to be the case. Seem being the word of interest here...

 
     
 

--------------------ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN--------------------


The amazing thing is that we actually can win some races in this oddity. Believe it or not, we can actually buy like...turbos....and headers for our Bus! And we can even remove the Samba Bus's catalytic converter in GT5 (even though it never had one in the first place in real-life). All of this falls under our "can do" list, amazingly enough. But for those who are unknowlegable about Volkswagens, they actually did have quite a racing history during the original Beetle's heyday. Since both models (Bus and Bug) shared the same engines, it's easily possible they could also share the same parts for racing.   

But still. As you're racing this thing, you'll possibly still be surprised early on. The first time your Bus catches up to traffic under its own power, you may be shocked. "What do I do now?" That's what I said to myself, I dunno about you..."Uh, wait, I was kidding about the racing bit! I didn't really expect I'd actually catch up to anyone! Hello?"  

It's just one of those moments where I found myself nervously laughing, but also just nervous, really. Wow, this thing actually can compete! The Bus is so unpredictable, so different from anything else in Gran Turismo so far, ever. It really defines its own rules in some ways.

But at first, uh....

Yeah. That's right. We've got a boxer-type air-cooled engine which has nothing near the power or our modern boxer-engine Subarus. This thing is embarassingly slow. I have vague memories of being in a Bus as a kid, getting carpooled to school, and it just barely being able to keep up on the highway. And that Bus was a '70s-era Bus. Engine sizes during the 1970s ranged from 1.6 to 2.0 liters...power ranging up to about 70 hp at the most. The Bus in our game, on the other hand, only starts with (gulp) 32 hp @ 3,500 rpm. Yikes.

There's a surprising amount of torque available in comparison (especially with upgrades). What this means is this engine (no matter how slow) always at least MOVES with some vigor, but this also assumes the driver has the tach needled in the correct range of RPMs.

Notice: not only is this 1.2 liter engine slow, but it's also finicky. It's almost just like a cat that acts like its hungry (making lots of noise), but when you feed it, all a sudden it acts like it doesn't want to eat anymore, staring up at you as if you're the one at fault. The flat-4's power & torque only apply into a very strict area of revs, which range from the high 2,000s to the mid 3,000s (depending on upgrades). The actual power-curve is spikey, too. There are really only about 500 to 750 RPMs of useful revving material, depending on upgrades, before things start to feel sluggish again. This means if you're revving not only too low, but also too high, all a sudden you'll be losing speed. Automatic transmissions are a really, really, REALLY bad idea. 

And speaking of the transmission, Volkswagen supplied the Samba Bus with a 4-speed, amazing in that era of 2 and 3-speeds, but the Bus's 4 is a very close 4-speed. Feels taller than it is, actually, but this is simply an illusion caused by the a huge lack of power, and also lots of dead-zone on the tach! I've found the stock 4-speed useful at a few slower, complex-type tracks with a lot of corners, but if any sort of a straight is involved (a Grand Valley straight, for instance) the full-custom tranny is not only recommended, but required. Actually, the FC box is just about mandatory, even at some so-called technical tracks. You might as well just buy it if you're going to take the Samba Bus even moderately seriously.            

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---------------CHASSIS / HANDLING-----------------


It's really hard to be cool when racing a Volkswagen Bus. Oh sure, they were considered "cool" by many countercultural types. Hippies, stoners, and punks topped this list long ago. Isn't it sort of amazing that it was once cool to own a really slow vehicle? That was the VW Bus for ya. It was a "cool" vehicle because it was easy on gas, was often easily customized (professionally or badly!), and had lots of room for friends. And despite the game Van's price, it was also relatively cheap. But other than all of these reasons, something about the Bus was just cool. It's got its own way, man. Far out. 

...Unfortunately, this sort of coolness does NOT carry over to the tracks! Weak torsion bar-type springs all around, plenty of weight transferrence, and that rear-engine layout make everything difficult.

When I bought this Bus, I had a bit of money saved, and immediately took it to GT5's European Classic Car Series. Bad idea. After losing race after race (making 9th place tops at Madrid) I decided it might be a good idea to actually take the time to learn how to drive this vehicle. I made several 10 to 30 lap races at Circuito de Madrid Mini in Arcade mode, learning and virtually studying the Bus's quirks. I had confidence this non-racing vehicle could be successfully raced, and that confidence eventually payed off, but first I had a HUGE learning curve to deal with. Anyways, you're now going to benefit from the fruits of my labors!    

It helps to remember these three simple rules when driving a Samba Bus so far as cornering goes. These rules are especially true for tighter areas like that Top Gear track, but can also apply to Madrid or Cote d'Azur, or even some tracks with larger cornering areas like Grand Valley and Suzuka.


(1). Brake in a straight line with little (if any) steering input.

(2). Keep steering light on entry for a moment, just after brakes are off.

...
If there's any sort of sudden pivotal movement after braking (and initially steering) you may  need to counteract with a little countersteer immediately. Or at least drive the Van a moment longer in a straight direction, even if this direction is placing us closer towards a wall. This can help avoid any possible slides or spins. 

(3).
When approaching mid-corner...brakes now off for a moment or two, all a sudden you can now steer more forcefully.

(4). Plant the gas. All of it. As soon as you can.
Only with a Stage 2 or 3 turbo will there be any turbo lag and/or wheelspin, although this can easily be tamed.  


Well, that's four rules, not three, but you get the picture. Easy in, much more forcefully out.

I'm finding the Samba Bus  can be braked into corners pretty late, especially lower to medium-speed areas, even when there's a lot of power involved (well...as much power as we can afford). I'm often passing other Ai cars while I'm braking! Granted, the Bus is never really going that fast to begin with, but still. Those brakes always feel pretty solid, even with ABS turned off. But the key? Just make sure you're going in a fairly straight line before braking.

There can be some steering input (enough to weave the Bus this way or that as it avoids traffic) but the best defense is to steer lightly. The front-end gets very grabby quick under braking! The front-end gets extremely grabby if that old-fashioned worm & roller type steering is too strong on entry, as any of you who have tried the first Top Gear challenge can certainly attest.

The good news is there's virtually no understeer on entry, unless you really screw up braking. But you still gotta be careful. Tire squealing on entry is a great symptom to listen for. If there's any tire squealing, anything more than some occasional mild chirping, you need to let the Bus take a wider path next time. Lots of tire noise could just as well equal an easy spin.

But once those brakes are off, all a sudden there's now virtual total freedom with that steering! Crank it tight, and the Bus usually follows this command with ease. The Bus was known for its tight steering angle in real-life, by the way. The driver's position over the steering mechanism, as well as a lack of a true front hood helps.      

When leaving turns, floor the gas. Only with Stage 2 or 3 power (and no limited-slip installed) will there be some tirespin. Often, the gas can be floored early, too, while the steering is fully cranked mid-corner. If there's too much of a chance of that rare wheelspin showing up, you can still at least start giving a smaller amount of fuel early, assuming you don't want to do a really cool burnout! The chances of the rear-end losing traction (even out of tight areas) are just about zilch, assuming the steering angle has so far been perfect, with no red tire indicators. Like I said, with full Stage 2 or 3 power, there is occasional wheelspin, but this can easily be tamed with a limited-slip device, or just careful throttle control.  

Just remember: under braking, lots of weight is suddenly on those front wheels since (when stock) those front-end torsion bars only rate at 2.4 kg/mm. This is why the front-end suddenly gets so grabby. Mid-corner, the Van takes a moment or two to "balance" itself, so that this weight is now getting transferred back to the rear somewhat. This is why we can't steer immediately. Once this moment or two is past, the main weight of this Bus is now over those rear wheels again, guaranteeing lots of traction.   

And the really neat thing about the VW Bus, so far as racing goes, is that after awhile, you can start to feel kinda cool! Especially once you get more and more confident! I've found myself purposely getting a little sideways into turns at times...letting the entire van lose some of its stability...but then expertly getting it all back with a flick of steering and a well-timed nudge of throttle. Sliding, light drifting, even understeer can be played with to make things more exciting. Eventually, I started to wonder why I was ever having problems getting this luggard to handle; it's actually kinda fun once I got the hang of it. 

Driving the Van starts to get addictively fun after a while! Add a little Grateful Dead to the playlist, and it almost feels like the real thing!

....Just don't drink the Kool Aid.... ;0

  

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PROS----------------------------------------------------------

1). What a novelty. A surprise, too. I never would have thought the VW Bus would ever make it into any sort of racing game!

2). Actually quite a challenge to race. And yes, it can win some too.

3). An amazing amount of power can be added via turbo & permanent upgrades, too. I didn't expect I'd be able to mod the Bus much past 100 hp (if that). Instead, it can top 200.

4). Gotta love that air-cooled boxer engine sound!

5). It's a Premium vehicle, which means it's heavily customizable visually. And just look at that interior! For us enthusiasts, this is a Pro, although many may see it as a Con.

6). Surprisingly decent straight-line braking action.

7). Understeer is rare. Rear-end traction is often guaranteed, so long as the Bus gets lined up correctly mid-corner.
 

CONS--------------------------------------------------------------

1). Costly. Geez, it is costly for a vehicle that barely has any power.

2). And it costs a LOT of credits to get this one rolling properly during some of GT5's Beginner Hall events.

3). No matter what the upgrade of power (full Stage 3 turbo + full Stage 3 permanent engine mods) this vehicle not only still feels slow, it is slow! 

4). Stock 4-speed gearing seems useful at first, but considering it steps outside of its best power-range often, it actually needs replacement as soon as the driver can afford a full-custom box.  

5). Yeah. Range of power is very spikey. Look at the dyno results page. Get too far away from the "spike" area, and the Van is seriously losing speed.

6a). Clumsy. Difficult to keep from spinning, yet also difficult to point.

6b). The rear-end can overtake the front in a flash, even for a virtually experienced driver who's "seen it all". No you ain't seen it all! Not if you're about to take your first spin in a Samba Bus.

6c). Grabby front-end steering under braking.

7). Its mere size and clumsiness makes the Bus prone to occasional attacks from the Ai.

8). Sleek aerodynamics for a '60s-era van, yet still there's a high drag coefficient, which limits ultimate speed no matter how much power is being used.  

9). No roof cam? Okay. Only bumper, cockpit, and a follow cam are offered.   

10). "Does this lunkard really belong in a racing game?" some of you may ask. It's hard to argue back with a "yes" while keeping a straight face.



Published: February 25, 2011 

Far out, man...