If ever a car was typecast, it was Volkswagen’s Type 147 Kleinlieferwagen — or Fridolin as it came to be known.
The Fridolin was a van built especially for the German postal service, Deutsche Bundespost, back in the 1960s.
It was once a common sight on German and Swiss roads, a sign the mail was on the way — but these days is rare and collectable.
In the early 1960s, the German Postal Authority was in the market for a vehicle for transporting mail and packages.
It had been using Goggomobil’s Transporter TL van, ordering more than 2000 between October, 1957 and November, 1965 — but was looking for something larger and more versatile.
The Postal Authority approached Volkswagen with a list of specific dimensions and capabilities for its official postal vehicle.
It had to have an extensive cargo capacity, payload of at least 340kg and two sliding side doors to allow for easier access.
To meet their needs, VW offered a custom prototype that included parts from several existing air-cooled Volkswagen models.
They included the 1200cc engine and transmission from the Beetle, chassis from the Karmann Ghia, rear body elements from the Type 2 Microbus and headlight assemblies and hood design from a Type 3 Fastback.
Weighing in at more than a tonne, the postal authority was satisfied with this user-friendly utility van and it went into production at Westfalia-Werke in 1964.
More than 6000 models were built until production ended in 1974.
Impressed by the vehicle, the Swiss postal service ordered just over 1000 vans to be used by their postal service, but not without some modifications.
German airline Lufthansa also ordered a few for use at airports.
The Swiss version of the Fridolin had different interiors, additional windows, a larger 1300cc 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 co-worker 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 were not 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 succeeded by the Volkswagen Caddy commercial vehicle which is still in use today.
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