Almost everyone has a story with a Kombi, Volkswagen itself knows that. No one denies this fact, and you have probably traveled or met someone who went to the coast in a Kombi. Its story is fascinating!
No other vehicle ever produced has as many stories to tell as this utility, and today we will talk a little bit about it.
Kombi’s project began to be drafted in Wolfsburg (German city known as the headquarters of Volkswagen, VW) shortly after World War II. The factory was not fully restored from the many damages caused by the bombers.
Since a British officer of the occupying forces, Major Ivan Hirst, the German engineer Alfred Haesner and the Dutchman Ben Pon liked the Kombi, the idea of a revolutionary and effective vehicle was born. It could be considered the world’s first minivan.
The Name ‘Kombi’
Kombi, in German, Kombinationsfahrzeug, means “combined vehicle” or “multipurpose vehicle”.
In many parts of the world, the Kombi is known as: Transporter, Type 2 and Combi.
What few people know is that this name is a Brazilian nickname, a reduction of the original German name.
Birth in Germany
Ben Pon envisioned a lightweight cargo vehicle using the Beetle’s mechanical set on its back.
The first prototypes were called Type 29, with linear fronts. However, they were discarded for damaging the aerodynamics in the tests.
The first sketches of Pon in his notebook were made in 1947, giving rise to a great success.
In 1949, Kombi began to be produced in Germany. It had a monobloc type body (one of the first cars with this body), reinforced suspension and air-cooled motor of 1.1 engine of 25 cv power.
Before its official launch, VW highlighted the main feature of the utility: being the driver at the front and the engine accommodated at the rear, whether empty or loaded, this would not affect the weight distribution.
VW also highlighted to the press the vehicle’s biggest advantage: the weight of its payload was placed between axles, which ensured an excellent mass distribution between the front axle and the rear axle.
However, the great defect was the unstable stability, even with some adjustments to make the suspension firmer. The noise level was high because of the air motor, since it had no acoustic coating.
Arrival to the streets
On March 8, 1950, Kombi first went out on the streets, named Transporter – a name that was stamped on its body only in 1990.
There were two models: Kastenwagen, with three side windows and removable seats and Microbus, with three windows but still with fixed seats.
It was in 1952 that the Pick-Up model came up. It had a great cargo area, room for slightly smaller volumes between the bucket and the lower deck.
Although the Kombi was already in the market, on September 2, 1953, it arrived in Brazil and began to be assembled by Brasmotor (in the future it was renamed Brastemp).
The model was imported in CKD – Complete Knock-Down (dismantled) and mounted in another shed, in the Ipiranga neighborhood.
Having the plan to nationalize the vehicle, the government of the president at the time together with the GEIA (Executive Groups of the Automobile Industry) and VW began the construction of the factory in 1956 in São Bernardo do Campo, São Paulo.
In 1957, the Kombi had 50% of the pieces produced in Brazil. However, the factory would only be officially inaugurated in 1959.
In the early 1960s, the Kombi won the 6-door version (nowadays one of the rarest versions among collectors) in the luxury and standard settings. From the second semester on, it started to have transmission with all synchronized gears.
They also incorporated some changes, such as the fuel marker on the dashboard and the end of the bananinhas de sinalização (small stems colored with a bright orange at the tip).
Line 63 has had remarkable changes, such as the addition of two more windows on both sides and on the rear bends, as well as larger glass in the rear.
The Kombi received a new engine in 1967, a more powerful one. It was 1500 cm3 with 44 horsepower. It then had its 12-volt electric system and a stabilizer bar in the front suspension for better control.
The wheels went from 15 to 14 inches.
Already being a success in other countries, in the same year the Pick-Up version of simple cabin arrived in Brazil.
Also, in 1967 the Kombi minibus arrived in Brazil; it was a strange version of six doors. There is still a copy of it providing services to a hotel in Águas de Lindoia, São Paulo.
In 1970, a very useful option for the dirt road arose. The brake differential blocked a wheel that was not spinning firmly for transfer of force to the other wheel that had contact with firm ground.
The system on the Kombi was driven by a lever under the driver’s seat.
A major change differentiated the Kombi from Brazil from all versions of the world. In 1976, they mixed a little of the European Kombi with the Kombi sold in Brazil, being born a unique version.
New front with single windshield, same front doors of the European version that allowed to lower the glasses with crank. The engine turned 1600 with simple carburetion. Servo-brakes were introduced, and the suspension was modified, becoming more modern than the one of the Beetle.
It has received “new” panel, used in European models, with new instruments, as well as “new” steering wheel and bumper.
Simple carburetion was replaced in 1978 by double standard carburetion for all models. Besides that, wheel hubs and reduction boxes were replaced to introduce the homocinetic joints.
Brazilian Kombi in the 80’s
In 1981 the Pick-Up version double cab and diesel engine was the news.
The engine was 1600 water cooled, which led to the Kombi to adopt the radiator on the front, with a larger grid “jumping” forward. Later, protective gear for the grille appeared.
For greater safety, the Kombi received disc brakes on the front wheels in 1983. Another modification was the drilling in the wheels, with more centralized 5 holes. In addition to other changes, the 3-point belt, headrest and changes in the parking brake lever were added.
For many years the Kombi remained unchanged, and due to change in the legislation of control of pollutants, in 1992 it received a catalyst in the exhaust system to reduce the emission of pollutants.
Due to the legislation, it was necessary to add other items such as laminated windscreen, for greater safety in case of breakage. Some items have become optional such as rear defroster, green glass and sliding side windows.
Five years later, the change that did not come in the 1970s arrives in 1997. Finally, the sliding doors were introduced in the Brazilian Kombi, as well as larger side and rear windows.
The ceiling has gained 11 centimeters inspired by the Mexican version (1991).
Again, due to the changes in the air pollution control program, in 1998 it received multipoint electronic injection in the air engine. This improved the power, consumption, handling and regulation of the engine.
In the same year the Carat version was launched. It had exclusive items such as velvet seats, lined interior and 7 seats: 2 individual in the front, 2 in the middle and 3 in the last seat.
The Kombi Carat was called “luxury Kombi”, but the model lasted only for 2 years in the market.
In the years 2000, the edition Kombi Pick-Up was finished.
Silver Series Kombi
The last year of the Kombi with air engine was in 2005, for not meeting the specifications of the air quality law. In honor, VW launched the Silver Series Kombi, limited to 200 units, all in silver color.
It had green glass and degrade windshield, rear defroster, seats with differentiated lining and various exclusive items.
VW was looking for a solution to replace the air engine. In 2006, the solution came in the water-cooled 1.4 engine, derived from the Fox/Polo engine.
In 2007 it turned 50. VW released a version with only 50 units. It had exclusive white and red paint, skirt style and blouse, plus several unique items. Green glass, degrade windshield, defroster, seats with differentiated lining, tinted taillights and tilting windows.
The 50-year-old Kombi is considered one of the rarest versions ever.
After 56 years, the Kombi is no longer produced in Brazil. Due to the mandatory installation of ABS brakes and double air bag, it was not able to house the air bag properly, or at low costs, leaving the production line in 2013.
Kombi Last Edition
To mark that moment, VW launched the Kombi Last Edition. Initially there were 600 units. Then the production was doubled to 1200 units, all of them with an identification number in the panel. They had blue and white paint and had exclusive items: curtains on the windows, white-striped tires and striped lining on the seats.
The “Last Desires of the Kombi” campaign marked the end of its production, receiving 7 awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014.
Among the marketing actions, a website has gathered stories about relationships between people and the model. There are more than 300 stories that will become a book.
The DKW van, known as the F89 Van, was based on an earlier version (F89), launched in September 1949. It had more straight lines than the Kombi, engine and wheel drive in the front and four-speed gearshift.
There were two options of motorization: two cylinders with 700 cm3 of displacement and 22 cv of power, mounted in the transversal, and, 3 cylinders with 900 cm3 of displacement and 32 cv of power, but mounted in the longitudinal.
It weighed around 1000 kg and carried up to 750 kg, or a maximum of 8 passengers. Its maximum speed was up to 80 km/h.
The brand also offered models such as Pick-up, Combi and Bus, the latter focused on transportation of passengers.
On the Roads
In the United States, on the dragster tracks, several Kombis showed up.
They were equipped with original “super poisoned” engines (Boxer of Porsches or adapted with V8 engine). The race track was straight and there was a lot of smoke in the start-ups.
There have been Kombi races in Brazil in the 1970s, both in Rio de Janeiro and in Cascavel, in the old dirt track.
In the 50s and 60s, the Kombi had several competitors, among them: Austin J4, Fiat 1.100T, Peugeot D4B, Renault Estafette, and Tempo Matador.
In the United States there was the Chevrolet Covair and other vans of the group. However, the engines of the American models had high fuel consumption, making our darling an isolated option.
In Brazil, in the 90’s, models such as Sonnervig’s Furglaine and Ibiza from Souza Ramos were Kombi’s competitors, but none of them even threatened it.
A Thousand and One Utilities
Several newspapers and magazines came in Kombis. Other segments also used used the van: aviation, Post Office, press, soft drinks, army, etc.
In Europe and in the United States, it was even used as a motel.
Because of its size, it seemed to be the ideal vehicle to the police. There was room for more detainees, and it was more comfortable than the C-1416 (GM).
The first school transportation in Brazil from the 60’s to the 80’s was the Kombi.
Nowadays, it is common to see food-trucks, especially customized and exclusive kombis. It also common to see Kombis as motorhomes.
Not even the “Old Lady” Kombi escaped nicknames. For its famous driving position so far ahead, the most famous phrase is that “the bumper of the Kombi is the chest of the driver”.
For its bad stability and consequently rollovers, it became famous the expression “Jesus is calling”. Because of the peculiar shape of its body it is also known as “loaf bread”
The models with two colors, one at the top and one at the bottom, in the models from 1950 to 1960 are known as “Skirt and Blouse”.
The split windshield models produced up to 1975 were the origin of the nicknamed ‘Little Owl Kombi’ since the headlights looked like the bird’s wide eyes.
Not even the Pick-Up model went unnoticed. It is popularly known as ‘Goat’ because the rear ‘jumped’ like a goat when it had no load.
The Kombi and the Hippies
In the 60s and 70s, the Kombi was adopted by the hippies, who abandoned their city life and went to live as nomads.
Today it is part of an aesthetic of that era, since the hippies did psychedelic works all over the vehicle, using colors and drawings that refer to the counterculture. It appears in illustrations, retro photographic shoots, clips of psychedelic rock revival bands, tattoos and T-shirts.
The Kombi is no longer a collector’s item. Nowadays it is a target of enthusiasts and exporters. As more than 1.5 million units were manufactured (1957-2013) and there was no successor, the model has high demand in the market of used cars.
Brazil has become a kind of supplier of Kombi abroad. There are companies specialized in the purchase and import of Brazilian copies all around the world.
It continues being a very used vehicle for work: transport of merchandise, public services and even mobile stores.
Several manufacturers of toy miniatures have already produced the Kombi. The Maisto manufacturer has it in the 1/24 and 1/40 scales, both in the model ‘skirt and blouse’ (two different colors).
The manufacturer Matchbox had been dedicated to the Kombi since the 1960s. The 1964 catalog already had the Camper model.
In 1996, the famous Hot Wheels launched the Kombi dragster, which even has an airfoil.
And the Brazilian factory Estrela made the model in iron in the 60’s.
Even with all its defects, the Kombi is remarkable. Many people have stories with a Kombi and that is why it became one of the most beloved utilities by Brazilians and people around the world.
Hi! My name is Scott Mills and I'm the VW Bus Guy. I travel to Brazil to find and restore Kombi Buses (the Brazilian name for VW Buses).email@example.com