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The Classic Volkswagen Kombi – Does It Still Make A Practical Daily Driver?
The air-cooled Volkswagen Kombi is an automotive icon. It’s a classic van that’s full of character, and many young guys (and gals) still want one as their daily driver. But are they getting a bit longer now to create a practical vehicle for everyday use?
I drive my 1976 2 liter bay window every day and my experience tells you what you might need to do to make your unrestored Kombi safe and comfortable to drive as a main car.
The Volkswagen Kombi is now well over 30 years old, and it shows. I’ve spent a lot of time and money over the last few years restoring mine to reasonable condition, and if you’re buying a cheap Kombi you should be prepared to do the same. Even a more expensive Kombi is likely to need repairs and TLC.
The 1800cc and 2 liter models are the most practical as they have more lift and go than the models with smaller engines, although the engines cost more to rebuild.
First the reverse.
Kombi are cool, they are iconic, they have character and they are definitely not boring.
They are fun to drive and when in good condition are comfortable and easy to drive with good steering. The newer models’ bay windows keep up with traffic and can go 60 mph all day, though they slow down on bigger hills.
And they are practical. Kombi has a lot of space. Maybe not as good as a modern van because of the rear engine hump, but they are still a great camper or 8 seater van with room for luggage or groceries. Ground clearance is good, and the engine over the rear wheels provides good traction for two-wheel drive if you want to get off the track a bit.
Here’s what to consider if you plan to make one your daily driver.
Rust is of course the biggest killer of a Kombi or any old car. You’re much better off spending a little more money and getting a Kombi that’s rust-free enough. Given that you find a rust-free Kombi, there’s still a lot to spend before it’s even practical to use your van on a daily basis.
The engine may be worn out. I rebuilt mine a couple of years ago with new barrels and pistons, all new bearings, reground crankshaft and camshaft and rebuilt heads. The heads were simultaneously modified for use with unleaded gasoline. All this costs money.
Steering and suspension are all about safety and must be correct.
For the suspension I have replaced the four main ball joints and shocks. I have replaced all the rod ends and the main center pin with the steering wheel. The steering damper is next on the replacement list and should see the right steering for my Kombi. It’s always possible that you’ll need a new steering box, too.
Your Kombi’s brakes must also be correct. The brake pads need to be replaced regularly but I have also replaced the rear brake drums as they were worn and the front discs will need to be replaced next time the front brake pads are replaced.
I have replaced all the flexible brake hoses as they are now well over thirty years old and getting brittle and I have replaced some metal brake hoses as they were rusted. Rear brake cylinders replaced a few years ago and front brake calipers rebuilt with new seals.
There are four cv joints on the rear drive and they were very bad on my bay window. They were replaced along with the rear wheel bearings.
One very important area to consider is the engine’s fuel lines. The station wagon catches fire, caused by petrol spraying all over the engine. Inspect the fuel lines carefully and if they look old and cracked, replace them with a quality fuel line. Make sure they don’t rub the tin cans and that the pipes going to the box and fuel pump aren’t loose. It is important!
Just like the things you know may need fixing, there’s always the unexpected. The spray nozzle in my bay window separated from the carbine and went through the engine. It’s just a small thin brass tube, but it sounded like balls rattling in the engine. Luckily there was no damage, but it meant pulling the engine and removing the cylinder heads to check everything and remove the remains of the spray tip. And just this week I had to replace the alternator.
In addition to mechanical wear and tear, you have to think about cosmetics. Your cheap Kombi may need a paint job, new carpets, new upholstery and even the front seats may need some attention.
On the comfort side, you may need new door and window seals to stop rattles and drafts. The heater may need some attention. My Kombi’s heater cables were caught. It didn’t bother me until I moved from a hot part of the country to a much colder area where the temperature drops below freezing in the winter.
On the plus side, parts are readily available. For my Kombi, a 1976 2 liter model, I was able to buy all the parts I needed except the carby spray nozzles, and even then I could get by with other model VW parts.
My point is that despite all the repairs and restoration, the Volkswagen Kombi can still be a practical daily driver. You have to accept the fact that your purchase price is only part of the story and that you will need to spend time and money to return your classic Kombi to a safe and comfortable condition.
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