For many, the words ‘Volksie Bus’, ‘Kombi’ or ‘Microbus’ might conjure up images of David Kramer, red vellies and a Kombi pulling the broken-down Volstruis Fire Department truck up a gravel pass. Others might be transported back to following an ice-cream van down the road, chasing the endless summer in a rusty old split-window with surf boards, beach holidays, a ride with St John Ambulance or the slog to school with classmates. There is one more tag we can add now – that of a collectable classic, fit for a spot in your weekend fleet.
It is not surprising we all have a Kombi memory when one considers the idea was born in 1947 and South Africa started assembling the Volksie Bus 57 years ago. Classic VW Transporter desirability has taken off with certain of these humble people movers topping the sales charts and proving that well-preserved daily commuters are just as much of an investment as many of the fancy exotics and sports cars – and sometimes more. Emotion and nostalgia step in, transport us back in time and tug at the heartstrings. Kombi (short for kombinationskraftwagen, which translates to combined-use vehicle) must be the poster car for this phenomenon.
It all started back in 1946 when Dutch VW importer, Ben Pon, visited the Beetle (Type 1) plant in Wolfsburg. While in the factory, he noticed a cobbled-together part-carrying vehicle in service, and immediately figured that it would be better to use a Beetle-based item as a workhorse. On a doodle dated April 1947, he proposed a Beetle pan-based item with driver seated right up front and a payload of 690kg. Good on paper, but when built in prototype form it proved not rigid enough. Out went the idea of a Type 1 pan and in came a ladder chassis and monocoque body. This prototype, although the same wheelbase as the Beetle, proved decent in the flex department, however the slab-fronted cab-forward van body displayed the same aerodynamic qualities as a brick at a coefficient of 0.75. Wind tunnel testing saw the likes of a split-windscreen and vee-shaping the roofline improving matters to 0.44, enough for VW’s CEO Heinz Nordhoff to give the new Type 2 model the go-ahead.