How the iconic Kombi van went from kitsch to cool
Forget 1960s flower power. The classic VW Kombi has entered a new era of cool.
A car is a mere machine, borne of practicality and not possessed of a personality, right? Someone forgot to hand that memo to the designers of the iconic Volkswagen Kombi.
It’s 40 years since the last examples of the Volkswagen Transporter models popularly referred to as the Kombi – the T1 and T2 – rolled off a German production line. And yet the marque has never been more popular, nor good examples so valuable.
Pristine split-windscreen T1 models now change hands for six-figure sums, and a perusal of Instagram (see #vanlife or #kombi) reveals an array of lovingly restored Kombis snapped at some of the world’s most scenic locations. Not bad for a vehicle conceived in post-war Germany as a practical delivery van, little more than an afterthought to the wildly popular Beetle released 12 years earlier by Volkswagen.
Is it the huge headlights that resemble big friendly eyes? The giant VW symbol that came to symbolise the peace-loving Flower Power movement of the ’60s and ’70s? The unique loaf-of-bread shape? Or, true to its roots, the utilitarian body that could be a people mover, camper van, ambulance or even a ute? No one seems quite sure what’s behind the Kombi’s appeal, but there’s no doubt it endures. You only have to look at the human traits owners tend to bestow on their beloved vehicles.
A Kombi just needs a name, insists Alyce Georgievski, co-owner of Hire A Kombi on the Bellarine Peninsula. “All ours have a name. As soon as we get a Kombi, we’re like, ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ And we’ll sit on it for a while, and we’ll walk past, and names will pop into our heads,” she says, pointing out Applejack, Harriet and Agatha parked in her yard.
“They do have a character, anyone that has a Kombi will tell you. It’s a Hendrix or it’s a Bob or a Bill. Some of them just feel like a girl and some feel like a boy, but I cannot imagine not having a name for our Kombis.”