Few light commercials can lay claim to legendary status. With over 11.5 million produced to date, Volkswagen’s iconic Transporter is one of the exceptions and that is why we are inducting it into What Van?’s Hall of Fame.

It is sometimes forgotten that Transporter can trace its roots to a British army officer.

Put in charge of reviving Volkswagen production in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Major Ivan Hirst came up with the idea of creating a flat-bed truck based on a Beetle platform. Dubbed the Plattenwagen, it was employed to shuttle parts around the factory.

The humble load shifter caught the eye of Ben Pon, VW’s Dutch importer, who suggested that it should be developed further and turned into a van that could be sold to the wider public. In April 1947 he sketched out his idea and presented it to VW’s management.

An initial batch of eight T1 Transporters was produced in 1949. The fledgling van made its exhibition debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1950 – the year volume assembly began – and its UK public debut in London at the Earls Court Commercial Motor Show in September 1954.

Such was the soundness of its basic design that the T1 remained in mass production  for 17 years, succeeded by the T2 in 1967 and the T3 in 1979. Intriguingly, the Brazilians were still building T2 as late as December 2013, with 1.5m examples rolling off their line.

All three vans had one thing in common; their engines were mounted at the back. In the case of T1, T2 and the early T3s they were all air-cooled and petrol powered; the first diesel engine, a water-cooled 1.6-litre shipped over from the Golf car and with a modified torque curve, did not appear until 1981.

Not until 1990 and the advent of T4 did Transporter switch to a front-engine/front-wheel-drive layout. It was an arrangement that was of course emulated by T5 when it debuted in 2003 – it promptly received What Van?’s Van of the Year Award.

Over the years Transporter has been sold as a van, a people carrier and as a pick-up with capacious under-floor lockers. It has been produced as a double-cab pick-up too, as a camper van and with four-wheel-drive.

A particular favourite of the author’s was the limited-edition T3 Tristar double-cab 4×4 pick-up which boasted various extras including a roll cage and bull bars.

Any self-respecting hippy who wanted to head to Kathmandu to seek enlightenment did so in a Transporter microbus and the same vehicle was favoured by Australian back-packers eager to trek around Europe.

Why? Because Transporter was – and is – astonishingly reliable and can soak up a surprising amount of punishment thanks to its rock-solid build quality. Service it regularly and it will clock up a phenomenal mileage without complaining.

As a consequence it is not surprising that it has received our Used Van of the Year award too.

Over the years Transporter has got bigger as well as better. While T1’s load cube was a maximum 4.6cu/m, today’s T5 is up for grabs with up to 9.3cu m of carrying space.

Gross payloads are up too, from a maximum of 750kg in the early 1950s to 1340kg depending on which model you select.

Power is up as well. While the most the first T1 could muster was 30hp from its 1.2-litre petrol engine, T5 is on offer with a 2.0-litre TDI diesel that can pump out up to 180hp; six times as many horses.

So will the Transporter T6 be just as impressive as its predecessors when it debuts in 2015? We wouldn’t bet against it.