This guide has been drafted for the 23-window Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus, often referred to as the “Samba” bus or “Alpine” bus (depending on the market). For simplicity, this vehicle will be referred to as the “Samba” or "Deluxe Microbus" throughout this guide. The guide outlines the features of the Samba from March 1955 – July 1958, which among enthusiasts is regarded as a series which embodies several changes distinct from the pre-March 1955 “Barn-door” bus, and subsequent changes from August 1958 onward. Follow this link for information on the pre-March 1955 Samba bus.

Although the 1955 – 1958 vehicles are dealt with in this guide as a distinct series of the Samba bus, many changes to the vehicles occurred within these years, as Volkswagen didn’t necessarily wait until a new model year to introduce alterations. Many features of the 1955 - 1958 model were carried over from the pre-1955 Samba bus, and certain features were added or changed depending on the vehicle’s year and market.

The prices asked for genuine 23-window Samba buses are very high, with significantly higher prices paid for early, original and low production vehicles. As a prospective purchaser or restorer, it is essential to have an understanding of the various features which distinguish the year models in order to determine a vehicle’s authenticity and originality. This guide provides information with respect to the visual clues, relevant codes and unique features applicable to the original Samba bus within the specific production period noted.

Production numbers and period of manufacture:

Production of the post barn-door buses commenced in March 1955 and the series targeted in this guide concluded in July 1958.

Year Production Numbers
1955 2195
1956 2072
1957 3514
1958 4342

Note: the above production numbers have been confirmed on several online sources. However, the accuracy of these figures cannot be guaranteed. It has not been confirmed whether these production numbers refer to calendar year or production year figures.

Please note, this guide has been written based on a variety of online sources and enthusiast input. You should not rely on this guide to make any purchasing decision and we make no representation that all information is accurate. You should always seek independent professional advice when looking to purchase a unique car. If you have additional information, photographs or corrections you believe need to be made to this page, please contact us by clicking the button at the top of this page, or comment below.

1. Exterior Features: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)
  • 23 individual windows in total (5 windows on each side, 4 skylights each side, 2 front and 1 rear (openable) safari windows, 2 rear pillar windows. The central rear window in the Deluxe was also larger than in other models in the bus range.
  • All windows were made from regular cast glass (as opposed to the previous barn-door model where plexiglas rear corner and skylight windows were applied throughout most years).
  • Vinyl "Golde" sunroof. This was standard on the Deluxe (optional on other models).
  • Polished aluminium ornamental band with central red stripe runs around the body from the front of the vehicle, under the window line and around the back. A separate band of the same style runs along the rocker panel (lower sill panel), and polished bands with black rubber bumper strips were applied to the bumper bars. These features were unique to the Deluxe Microbus.
  • Side-opening passenger double-doors. These were applied to one side of the vehicle only (left side for RHD vehicles, right side for LHD vehicles).
  • The front roofline of the post-March 1955 models was extended to slightly overhang the windscreen (the previous model roofline joined flush with the windscreen panel).
  • Revised engine door design from March 1955 (smaller than that applied to the 1951 – Feb 1955 model). Therefore, the nickname "barn-door” was no longer used.
  • March 1955 onward buses had 9 engine vents/louvers (versus 8 on the earlier barn-door model). The vents were also slightly shorter than the vents on the barn door model.
  • Slotted 15” x 4.5" wheels were applied, which are believed to have been originally fitted with 180 / R15 cross ply tyres. Wheels were produced by either Lemmerz or Kronprinz, and were smaller than the wheels applied to pre-March 1955 models (which were 16" diameter). See "Mechanical Features" in this guide for further details.
  • Wheels were originally painted chestnut brown. They were dressed with chrome plated hubcaps and wheel trims.
  • Tail light style depended on the vehicle’s market and its build date. There are several important differences between tail lights and indicators/semaphores in the different markets and years, and therefore we have outlined those differences in detail in the next section of this guide.

Note: A large number of changes occurred to the Samba bus from August 1958 onward. Those changes will be dealt with in a separate ID-guide.

2. Lighting differences: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)

Front lighting:

  • European models had symmetrically fluted headlight lenses and non-sealed headlight beams.
  • US models had sealed beam headlights, and were fitted with clear outer lenses with outer edge fluting only.
  • US models featured the "Bullet" front indicators from 1956 onward (following the dropping of semaphores/trafficators). 1955 and early 1956 US model buses were fitted with semaphores/trafficators. 
  • European models were not fitted with front indicators, but retained the semaphores/trafficators throughout all years in this series.

 

Rear lighting:

  • US models had plastic "bubble" or "domed" circular tail lights which were double filament, serving as a tail light and indicator. Additional reflectors were also applied to the US models underneath the tail lights.
  • US models were also fitted with a single brake light which was located in the centre of the engine lid. Those were applied to US models until the 4th April 1957 (up to chassis number 246,963). From 5 April 1957 (from chassis 246,964 onward), the rear central brake light and separate reflectors were dropped, and slightly larger flat round glass tail lights were introduced (retaining the double filament, serving as tail lights, brake lights and indicators).
  • European models were fitted with ‘Flat’ circular tail lights with a single third brake light placed in the centre of the engine lid. Those tail lights were single filament with integrated reflector. As European models relied on semaphores / trafficators, no indicator lights were applied in those markets. Also, no separate reflectors were applied to European market cars.

 

3. Interior Features: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)

The following features were present on the 1955-1958 Deluxe Microbus.

  • One interior colour was available on the Samba between March 1955 and August 1959: a two-tone light brown over cream vinyl trim. This is officially referred to as “Light Brown” (Code: 76), and was applied to the seats as well as the door cards / side interior panels.
  • Beige/cream cloth covered the internal aperture pillars and panels (from the base of the windows and above).
  • Like earlier models of the Deluxe Microbus, black rubber floor lining was fitted standard, with a light grey carpet applied to the luggage area.
  • 1955 saw the introduction of the full-width dashboard with newly revised layout and instrumentation. This dashboard incorporated a full width storage tray underneath, with instrumentation as shown in the images, and optional Blaupunkt radio.
  • A new two spoke steering wheel replaced the earlier 3-spoke wheel from March 1955. The wheel retained the Wolfsburg badge in the centre.
  • Unique dashboard features of the Deluxe included the chrome ashtray lid, chrome rear-view mirror and speedometer bezel. The deluxe also featured ivory coloured dash knobs and steering wheel (as opposed to black on other models in the range).
  • Fresh-air box ventilation system was introduced as standard on the Deluxe model (an option for all other models).
  • A front bench seat was standard on the Deluxe. However, walk-through split seats were available as an option.
  • The spare wheel compartment was moved from the rear of the bus to behind the middle of the front bench seat (integrated in the front seat bulkhead). If the walk-through separate/split front seats were optioned, the spare wheel was placed at the left side of the luggage compartment (see images).
  • The middle seat in the bus now had 4 legs (rather than 6 legs as applied to the pre-March 1955 bus). Buses could be optioned with a full-length middle seat or a 2/3 length seat.
  • The passenger footrest (bar) was eliminated in buses from March 1955 onward.
4. Paint Colours / Codes: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)

Prior to August 1958, the Deluxe Microbus was only available in one colour combination. Alternative colours to this combination were not offered until after August 1958. The colours available on the Deluxe from 1955 - July 1958 included:

  • Upper paint colour: Chestnut Brown (Code: L73)
  • Lower paint colour: Sealing Wax Red (Code: L53)

 

Paint code location:

Microbuses produced prior to October 1958 did not have an M-plate, and no paint code is printed or stamped anywhere on the vehicle. Finding codes is largely irrelevant for the 1955 - 1958 Samba, given that it was only available with the two-tone combination.

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5. Chassis Number & Body Number: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)

Chassis plate and stamping:

The VIN/chassis plate is located on the back right side of the engine bay (on the firewall/bulkhead). The chassis plate can be decoded in the following way:

  1. Typ (type): Numbers 2/24 or 2/25 were applied to the Deluxe Microbus. 2/24 means the full width middle seat applied, and 2/25 means a short / two thirds length seat was applied. Note, the two thirds length seats are extremely rare on early Microbuses, but became more common after 1959.
  2. 'Fahrgestell Nr' (chassis number): This is the unique chassis number of the vehicle. For cars built from 1955 - 1956, this will include a -20- prefix, followed by a 6-digit number. The -20- prefix was dropped during 1956, and subsequent chassis numbers will simply be 6 digits. 
  3. 'Baujahr' (build year): This should conform with the chassis number chart below.

Below the chassis plate, the chassis number is stamped into the body of the vehicle. The number stamping should match the chassis plate. The locations of the chassis plate and numbers are detailed in the images.

Year of manufacture Chassis # and notes
1955 # 20117903 - 20137605
1956 20-137606 > 191466. On April 19th 1956, the last Type 2 was built in Wolfsburg (Chassis 20-178-004). From then on, the new factory in Hannover began production. 1956 also saw the change in chassis numbers (no more '20' prefix was applied).
1957 191467 - 191466
1958 271676 - 371275

 

Body number:

The body number is located on the bulkhead behind the front seat. However, on pre M-plate vehicles (such as this series of the Microbus), this had no interpretable meaning other than being sequential, and was purely an internal production reference number.

6. Engine Number: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)

Engine number:

The engine number is stamped on the front generator mount, easily visible after opening the engine hatch.

Engine numbers from 1955 - 1960 should begin with a 2, 3 or 4, followed by a 6-digit unique number (See images). Unfortunately, the engine number is not listed on the chassis plate, and without obtaining a 'birth certificate' from Volkswagen, it is difficult to determine whether the engine is in fact original to that specific vehicle. In addition to checking whether the engine number is consistent with the above format, date stamps on the engine can also assist, as outlined below.

 

Engine Case Date Stamps:

Date stamps were cast into the block and can be found in two locations:

  • On the left hand side of the generator stand (right hand side case half).
  • Next to the oil pump (left hand side case half).

The stamping contains 3 groups of digits that refer to the production date of the engine.

Group 1: Day of the month

Group 2: Month

Group 3: The first is the shift number of the day, and the second digit refers to the year the engine was produced.

For example: "4 - 7 - 46" would confirm the 4th day of the 7th month (July), and the 4th shift of the 6th year (i.e. 1956). This can then be compared to your chassis number data to confirm whether the engine approximately aligns with the vehicle's build date.

 

7. Mechanical Features & Specifications: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)

Mechanically, the Deluxe Microbus was identical to the other buses in the Volkswagen range, and had the following features:

  • 1192cc flat-4cyl air cooled engine (carried over from the previous generation). The engine was fitted with a Solex 28 PCI carburettor and produced 22kW (30 bhp).
  • 4-speed transmission (carried over from the previous generation). Synchromesh was applied to gears 2, 3 and 4 only.
  • The fuel tank in this series was repositioned over the gearbox (behind the engine / in front of the rear seat bulkhead). On earlier “barn-door” models, this was located on the left hand side of the engine. 
  • From the 1st March 1955, the Microbus Deluxe used slotted 15” x 4.5” wheels (1" smaller than the previous generation). Two wheel types were fitted, including:
    • crowsfoot style wheel. These wheels had three raised sections around each lug hole on the face of the wheel. (See images). They were produced by Lemmerz, and had a “Lemmerz” stamping inside the rim (i.e., under the tyre).
    • Flat lug: These wheels did not have the raised sections around each lug hole. They were manufactured by Kronprinz. There are not believed to be any relevant stampings on these wheels.
  • No original tyre brands could be found during our research. The closest radial to the original spec is 205/175R15, which most owners now apply. 
  • 4-wheel drum brakes were applied. However, it is not uncommon to see disc brakes retrofitted.
  • Swing axel rear suspension.
8. Original Documentation / Promotional Material: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)

We have started collecting several examples of original brochures / advertisements for the Deluxe Microbus, and the intention is to display these here for historical purposes.

If anyone has copies of early documentation, such as brochures, advertisements or specification sheets, please contact us so we can display the information. 

Please note, all documentation placed here is not owned by Classic Register, and is for historical reference and educational purposes only. Upon request from any original copyright owner, the material will be removed. 

9. References: 1955 - 1958 Volkswagen Deluxe Microbus (Samba Bus)

The following sources, among input from many owners and enthusiasts, have contributed to the creation of this page. If you have any further information you believe can be added, please let us know by contacting us or commenting at the base of this page.

http://www.rkmotorscharlotte.com/

http://www.vintagebus.com/

http://www.thesamba.com/

http://www.barndoor.dk/BDtypes.html

http://www.bustopia.com

https://blog.hemmings.com

http://www.pre67vw.com/

http://www.type2.com/