While you may know it as the VW Minibus, “Vee-dub,” or some other name, the iconic VW Kombi may be seeing the end of a 60-year production era, but will still be sought after throughout the world.
It looks as though the market for VW buses for sale will only get fiercer now that the iconic VW “Kombi” has ceased production as of December 31, 2013 at the world’s only remaining factory in Brazil. Safety legislation specifically surrounding requirements for anti-lock brakes and passenger airbags, which cannot be retrofitted to the 60-year-old design, will send the factory’s Kombi workforce to other parts of the plant building other VW models.
History of the VW Bus
It is known by many names throughout the world but most often called a Microbus here in the U.S. Officially known as the Volkswagen Type II (the Beetle was the Type I), the Kombi is one of the oldest, if not the oldest motor vehicle in continuous production. Having first appeared on the scene in 1950, there are more than 10 variations of the Type II. The Kombi is actually one variant produced at VW factories between 1949 and 1967.
The origins of the Kombi go back to Dutchman Ben Pon, a VW importer that sketched out the now iconic design from seeing the beetle chassis that German VW plant workers used to transport parts around the factory. Its official debut came in 1949 at the Geneva Motor Show. Built first in Germany, high demand around the world led to the Anchieta VW plant in Brazil adding the Kombi to their assembly line in 1957.
They first came with the distinctive split windshield design referred to by Kombi aficionados as the ‘Splitty.” This was followed by the “Bay Window,” which was made for the U.S. market from 1968 to 1979. More models followed through to the production shift from Germany, Mexico, South Africa and finally Brazil where health and safety laws finally caught up with the beloved vehicle.
VW Bus Nicknames
The name Kombi comes from the contraction of the German language name Kombinationsfahrzeug, which translates roughly to ‘combination cargo passenger vehicle.’ It is known as “Combi” in Mexico City where it is a vital part of the public transportation system. In Peru, it is called “Combi Asesina” (Murdering Combi) nicknamed for the recklessness of bus drivers in the South American city. Some give it nicknames based on its distinctive shape such as “Pão-de-Forma” (Breadloaf) in Portugal and “Rugbrød” (Rye bread) in Denmark due to its resemblance to a mold-baked bread loaf.
The distinctive name of mini-bus came from the Finish that dubbed it “Kleinbus,” which became a catch-all name for every type of passenger van. Other names include “Campervan” in the UK, “Camping Car” in France, and “Volksie Bus” in South Africa. Kombi was also the generic nickname in South Africa, Swaziland and Nigeria for all vans and minibuses. In the U.S., it is affectionately called everything from “VW bus” and “Vee-dub” to “Minibus,” “hippie-mobile,” “hippie bus,” and “hippie van.”
VW Bus Advantages
Still built primarily by hand rather than today’s robotic assembly, the Kombi is renowned for its reliability, ease of maintenance, one-ton carrying ability, removable seats and ideal setup for camper conversions. Throughout the world, they are still highly desirable as camper travel vehicles.
Despite the fact that many wayward travelers and families look for a used school bus for sale or passenger van to convert for travel as well as business and group transport, nothing beats the vintage look, adaptability and easy maintenance of the Kombi. From Woodstock to the surf set, the camper van’s versatility and affordability made it a 60’s icon for counter culture transport for living, playing, and working.
Today, it is still among the most sought after buses for sale for those looking for vintage camper and travel transport. More than 3.5 million Kombis have been sold worldwide with nearly half of those built in Brazil. It remains the sixth best-selling light commercial vehicle in the world.
VW has built a run of 1,200 Last Edition models, aimed at collectors at a costs almost twice as much as a basic Kombi. Guido Mantega, Brazil’s finance minister reportedly plans an investigation as to whether an exemption from the safety legislation can be made for the Kombi, based on the fact that its original design didn’t allow room for such features.
VW Bus Collectors
The long list of celebrity Kombi owners includes The History Channel’s American Pickers’ Mike Wolf, UK and PBS series Doc Martin star Martin Clunes and boy band One Direction. There are dozens of places to get them restored, retrofitted and talk with other owners in online clubs. That is not to mention VW camper-inspired websites as well as actual Kombi gatherings and shows around the world. While new models may be a thing of the past, it is a guarantee that millions of lovers around the world will never let it completely fade away.