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Volkswagen Restores Rare Half-track Bus Built for Alpine Duty

First built in the 1960s, the obscure half-track was recently restored by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.
Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles

Volkswagen has just completed the restoration of a highly unique T1 bus the likes of which you’ve never seen before. The rare half-track vehicle was built in the 1960s, and had languished in obscurity in the following decades before it was rescued and refurbished by the German automaker.

The so-called ‘Half-track Fox’ started life as a 1962 VW T1 van. The vehicle came into the hands of Austrian mechanic Kurt Kretzner, who set about turning it into something better suited to alpine driving duties. Kretzner’s goal was to produce a van that could readily tackle tough mountainside terrain while still being easy for anyone to drive.

Kretzner pursued this goal with a half-track design. Aluminum tracks with rubber blocks were fitted to two axles at the rear running 13″ wheels. This provided good forward drive on snow, mud, and slushy terrain, thanks to the low ground pressure of tracks versus traditional drive wheels.

Meanwhile, two steering axles at the front fitted with dually 14″ wheels would allow the vehicle to turn much the same as a regular van. This provided the benefits of tracked drive without requiring the driver to learn how to operate a skid-steer vehicle that operates like a tank.

The Half-track Fox maintained the standard T1 engine of the time. That meant a 1.2L flat-four good for just 33 horsepower, driving the rear tracks through a limited-slip differential which provided for even forward progress in low-grip conditions. Top speed was just 35 km/h (21 mph).

Originally, Kretzner planned to sell examples of the half-track. The vehicle was intended to be “an ideal helper for everyone: mountain hut keepers, hunters, foresters, doctors, maintenance engineers for ski-lifts, TV and radio masts, pipelines and the like,” according to sales literature prepared by the mechanic.

However, only two half-tracks were ever built, with at least one example surviving to the present day. Rarely spotted over the years, the Half-track Fox turned up in Vienna in 1985, before landing at the Porsche Museum in Gmünd in the early 1990s. The vehicle later ended up in the hands of the Bullikartei e.V., a group formed to celebrate the original VW bus, or Bulli as it is known in its native Germany.

The group attempted to restore the vehicle, starting in 2005, but logistical issues frustrated the effort. At the end of 2018, the half-track was passed to the Classic Vehicles division of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, which set about bringing it back to original condition.

The body shell was fully stripped, recoated, and given a fresh orange paint job, chosen originally to stand out in the alpine environment. The mechanicals were similarly repaired and refreshed as well. The interior was an opportunity for the restoration team to get creative, as there were no real records of the vehicle’s original layout. Fresh beech and pine element were installed inside along with provisions for tools and other gear suitable for alpine conditions.

Once completed in February 2022, Volkswagen took the half-track out in the snow to put it through its paces. The test drive revealed surprising uphill capability, with the Half-track Fox often capable of climbing slopes well beyond the nerve of the driver behind the wheel.

It’s a fun vehicle, and certainly counts as one of the more obscure and unique VW buses out there. We’d love to see more half-tracks, particularly out on the California dunes. However, with the price of original VW buses sitting up in the stratosphere, we’re unlikely to see too many chopped up and modified anytime soon.

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