As one of the forerunners of the modern cargo and passenger vans, the Type 2 gave rise to forward control competitors in the United States in the 1960s, including the Ford Econoline, the Dodge A100, and the Chevrolet Corvair 95 Corvan, the latter adapting the rear-engine configuration of the Corvair car in the same manner in which the VW Type 2 adapted the Type 1 layout.
An ambulance model was added in December 1951 which repositioned the fuel tank in front of the transaxle, put the spare tire behind the front seat, and added a "tailgate"-style rear door. These features became standard on the Type 2 from 1955 to 1967. 11,805 Type 2s were built in the 1951 model year. These were joined by a single-cab pickup in August 1952, and it changed the least of the Type 2s until all were heavily modified in 1968.
Apart from these factory variants, there were a multitude of third-party conversions available, some of which were offered through Volkswagen dealers. They included, but were not limited to, refrigerated vans, hearses, ambulances, police vans, fire engines and ladder trucks, and camping van conversions by companies other than Westfalia. There were even 30 Klv 20 rail-going draisines built for Deutsche Bundesbahn in 1955.
Certain models of the Volkswagen Type 2 played a role in a historic episode during the early 1960s, known as the Chicken War. France and West Germany had placed tariffs on imports of U.S. chicken. Diplomacy failed, and in January 1964, two months after taking office, President Johnson imposed a 25% tax (almost ten times the average U.S. tariff) on potato starch, dextrin, brandy, and light trucks. Officially, the tax targeted items imported from Europe as approximating the value of lost American chicken sales to Europe.