Classic/Member Ride: VW Transporter

A Volkswagen Transporter parked under the sunset

Darrel’s dream—from bland van to iconic head-turner. In the great pantheon of iconic Volkswagen creations, is there a place for today’s humble Transporter?

We mean the late model Transporters. Not the classics. Not the Kombi—the much-loved head-turner that delights adults and children alike wherever it goes, with its characterful front end and the charming putt-putt-putt of its engine. We’re referring to the functional, uninspiring workhorse that it eventually evolved into. From the T3 of 1979 onwards. The “bread loaf on wheels” Transporters.

Until very recently, we’d have suggested that for all the benefits of the Transporter— the reputation for quality and reliability, the versatility, the driver comfort, the fuel efficiency—no-one had ever bought one just because they loved the Transporter.

Turns out, we were wrong.

Meet Capricorn Member Darrel Sutton, director of UK Autocare in Wangara, Western Australia. Originally from the UK, Darrel specialises in the service and repair of European vehicles. But his particular passion is Volkswagens.

“I’ve always had an interest in Volkswagens, even when I had my workshop in the UK—the Volkswagen scene in the UK is massive,” he said. “I’d done a few conversions over there and I’ve done a couple of camper conversions over here, too. It’s a personal passion, not a work passion.”

In 2022, Darrel took himself off to an auto auction. He was in the market for a Range Rover. Somehow, he managed to come home with a 2018 T6 VW Transporter.

“It started life as one of those shopping trolley collectors from Coles,” Darrel said. “It had one of those big, red backs on it. It looked so ugly. I thought, ‘I can make something nice out of that. I want to make something really stunning that stands out’. Then I thought, ‘you know something; I’ll give it a crack!”

$11,000 later, Darrel was the proud of owner of perhaps the ugliest vehicle on Western Australian roads—one that would have struggled to have turned any heads unless it had run into the back of the vehicle in front of it. Things wouldn’t stay that way for long.

A Volkswagen Transporter facing forward, featuring stylish black wheels.

“I removed the Coles trolley carrier and it just became a cab chassis, then we fabricated the tray for it,” Darrel said. “The lower part of the tray is curved around—that’s all handcrafted by a local trader. I got it all bolted together and everything and then we put composite decking on the middle of the back, to complement the grey and black of the new paint. Obviously, I gave it a full respray in Tornado Grey.”

Darrel had a black rear roll bar handmade for the front of the bed, too, and added a smart-looking aluminium VW logo, which lights up at night-time.

The whole custom fit-out took about 10 months and $20,000. Darrel didn’t touch the two-litre turbo under the hood, but has plans to switch it out for an electric motor in the next couple of years.

“We’re just waiting for the correct motoring configuration for it, then I’ll take it off the road for another 12 months and we’ll work our way through that job,” he said.

Why spend all that time, money and care on such an ugly duckling?

“Just to turn heads as I’m driving around,” Darrel said.

And does it turn heads?

"You betcha. I get people hanging out of the windows, photographing it,” he said. “Last time I went to fill it up with fuel, I had about 20 people round it. So yeah, it really does turn heads. You get people flashing their lights, waving at you the whole time when you’re out in it.”

“People tell me they think it looks so cool, so ‘out there’. A lot of people think it's brand new. They think it’s the latest model of Volkswagen. They say, ‘Is that brand new? When did they bring them out?’ They honestly think it’s a VW-produced one, because the quality is so good.”

Very impressive. But, at the end of the day, it’s still just a Transporter, right? Turning heads is one thing, but surely nothing could elevate this historically bland van to the icon status of the Volkswagen “Gods”—the Beetle, the Kombi, the Golf? No-one could seriously suggest a VW T6 Transporter could win over the hearts and minds of the people to join the pantheon of the greats.

“I took it down to the Day of the Volkswagen at Whitfords recently where there were 200 vehicles, and it came fifth in it out of all of them,” Darrel said. “It was the people’s choice, so I got an award for that. There were hundreds of Kombis down there, hundreds. Some of them were Samba Kombis, which they’d spent $200,000, $300,000 on. So, to get a place above them was quite an achievement.”

Iconic, you might say.

A Volkswagen Transporter parked under the sunset

This article was published 01/03/2024 and the content is current as at the date of publication.