VW declares quad-axle T1 van "most off-road-capable Bulli ever"
Think "most off-road-capable VW Type 2" of all time and the T3 Syncro probably flashes to mind, perhaps a modern-day aftermarket creation like the Terracamper Terock. Ask VW, though, and it broadens the conversation with a much rarer, lesser-known model named the "Half-track Fox." The one-of-a-kind machine serves as the subject of VW's latest restoration, and it's a true jaw-dropper. The van started life as a beautiful but standard 1962 Splitty before getting converted into something of a snowcat adventure van for exploring the heights and depths of the Austrian Alps.
One of the most unique examples in more than 70 years and seven generations of Volkswagen's much-loved Type 2 van, the Half-track Fox was born in May 1962 at VW's Hannover plant. It was delivered to its Austrian buyer and started life much like any other Type 2 of the time. After a short run as a standard T1 van, this particular example found its way to the workshop of Austrian mechanic Kurt Kretzner, who would soon turn it into something very different.
An avid skier, as the tale goes, Kretzner was discouraged by the lack of truly capable off-road vans, so he set about building his own. Instead of settling for mere four-wheel drive, Kresner added two axles, with the rear pair powering a homebuilt chain-driven track system with 13-in wheels. The two front axles with 14-in off-road tires were left to handle steering. The rear tracks distributed weight on soft ground, increased flotation and improved traction over snow and other off-road surfaces, while a limited-slip differential helped ensure that drive power pushed the vehicle onward, in the desired direction.
That drive power was delivered by the standard 34-hp (25-kW) 1.2-liter VW engine, and brakes were installed on each wheel. The rugged beast topped out around 22 mph (35 km/h), well slower than the 30-mph (48-km/h) speed of the red fox from which it borrowed its name and fiery orange looks.
"The new, ideal, easy-to-drive Half-track Fox that lets you safely and comfortably master all difficult terrain," read Krezner's promotional materials. "Snow, sand, stony ground, mountain meadows, small streams and woods can all be driven through in this vehicle. An ideal helper for everyone: mountain hut keepers, hunters, foresters, doctors, [and] maintenance engineers for ski-lifts, TV and radio masts, pipelines and the like."
Kretzner reportedly built at least two different units in the years leading up to 1968, stopping short of finishing the third. VW's restoration might be the only surviving example.
We'd like to think the Half-track Fox got up to some epic adventures in its day, perhaps logging world-record ascents up near-unclimbable Alpine slopes or shuttling skiers on first descent attempts on distant peaks. However, Volkswagen's intel indicates that the vehicle was rarely seen for the next two decades before being purchased by the Porsche Museum in Gmünd, Austria, in the early 1990s ... and it's not as though people would have missed it with that bright-orange paint.
After a couple changes of hands, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles took possession of the Half-track Fox in 2018 with the intention of a full restoration. It worked to get all the mechanicals back into like-new working order and stripped and repaired the body before repainting it a matte orange closely matching the original. Team members got to exercise some creativity on the interior, building a simple beech and pine wood space that looks like a cross between a ski shuttle, work rig and camper.
A unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity would not be squandered. Rather than simply sliding the gorgeously restored one-off into a museum, the good folks at VWCV Classic Vehicles showed their true love by setting it free in the powdery snow. And according to those who took part in the test mission this past February, the vessel demonstrated the exceptional hill-climbing capability for which it was conceived – the driver lost nerve and bailed out before the track drive was done pushing onward.
Volkswagen sums it up, "[Kresner] created what is probably the most off-road-capable Bulli ever to be seen on the mountain slopes of this world."
Hopefully, it will be seen again, on the slopes and as part of future VW exhibits.