END OF AN ERA: VW’s classic Type 2 Kombi has finally been discontinued due to the latest round of health and safety automobile manufacturing rules and regulations. Image: DAVE FALL
ANCHIETA, Brazil – Earlier this year silence fell on the Volkswagen production line that for nearly 35 years continued to manufacture the company’s celebrated classic-style Kombi, aka, people carrier, that’s still seen (and heard) in quite sizeable numbers on South African roads.
Once built in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape it was left to the Brazilian VW factory to uphold and continue building the iconic bus that SA’s David Kramer (complete with red vellies and guitar) would immortalize in his own style of TV adverts while singing about ‘Riding in a Volksie Bus.’
The VW Kombi can trace its roots back to the late 1940s when Hollander Ben Pon, a Dutch Volkswagen dealer, observed the factory line workers using a stripped down Beetle chassis to carry parts up and down the production line.
Sketching a drawing on the back of a cigarette packet of basically a tin box on wheels, had the engine rear-mounted (as per the celebrated Beetle), with the driver perched over the front wheels to maximise the interior space needed to carry an extended family, goods – or both.
The Kombi (initially nicknamed Bulli, a Dutch word for workhorse) would go on to become a hit the world over for 63 years.
Since the first one rolled of the production line in Wolfsburg, Germany, more than 3.5-million Kombis have been sold around the world – with close to 1.5-million of these from the South American plant in Brazil.
Sturdy mechanicals, practicality and competitively priced, the flat-four, air-cooled Volksie bus was available in nine-seater minibus style, van or transporter guise – the unique-to-South-Africa AutoVilla version (camper style) can still be seen on our roads in plentiful numbers.
Apart from the above derivatives the VW factory in Uitenhage happily produced school buses and ambulances for municipalities up and down the country, along with high-roof versions (usually for ice-cream vending) and pick-ups while importing posh Caravelle and Westphalia versions with seemingly endless, aftermarket goodies and trick engines that even included a V6 conversion available up on the Highveld that was guaranteed to pull the family caravan (with speedboat and mini 4x4) down to the coast in record time.
One unusual boast for all Kombis was its ability to carry a one-tonne payload, despite weighing only a little more itself. Factory engines fitted down the years grew in size from the original 1100cc fitted to Pon’s creation to hefty water-cooled 2.1-litre units found in the final model line-up – and others between – that came off the production line earlier in the final year, 2014.
As the VW plant in Anchieta finally closed down the Kombi line it signified the end of the longest, continuous, automotive production of any vehicle – anywhere in the world – and not because of a slowdown in sales, either – rather because safety regulations precluded the Kombi range from being continued due in the main to the lack of anti-lock brakes and airbags – two requirements rightly found necessary in today’s motoring world.
Jochen Funk, director of sales for VW Brazil told Wheels24 readers: “The Kombi was designed more than 60 years ago so it would not be possible to put an airbag and advanced ABS brakes into the vehicle. That’s why we now have to stop production.”
The evergreen Volkswagen Kombi was loved by many and signals the passing of an era that can never be replaced.
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