The past and future of the beloved Volkswagen Kombi van

A rainbow-patterned Volkswagen Kombi ID.Buzz drives past a curved steel bridge

Nicola Dowse

Posted March 15, 2022

More than 70 years after the first Kombi van released, the demand and love for the iconic people mover continues to grow.

Volkswagen has announced the latest iteration of its iconic Kombi van – an electric vehicle named the ID.Buzz.  

The new vehicle marks a return in many ways to the Kombi’s roots, with Volkswagen offering up a van with just as much style as the classic T1 and T2 models of the 1950s and 1960s, even if that style is more futuristic than flower-power. 

The enduring character of the Kombi has remained one of its most appealing features over its 70-year history. It began as a delivery van, but has evolved into one of the most iconic and recognisable vehicles of all time.  

The van, the myth, the legend

The Kombi van’s journey started back in the late 1940s, when Volkswagen wanted to create a second vehicle to complement its (perhaps equally iconic) Volkswagen Beetle.  

History buffs might already know about Volkswagen’s involvement in World War II, and how in the earliest days of the Kombi’s conception, the German company was still under British military supervision.

When the very first model was released in 1950, it was intended as a delivery and transport vehicle, and although the van is commonly known as the Kombi these days, its was officially dubbed the Volkswagen Type 2 (the VW Beetle being the Volkswagen Type 1).  

It didn’t take long for the Kombi to gain notoriety and its diversity began.

Kombis were designed as ice cream vans, ambulances, and flat-bed trucks, in addition to being used as commercial passenger vehicles (primarily as taxis) in some parts of the world such as Brazil where the ‘Lotação’ Kombi variant was produced until 1975. 

It was during the Kombi’s meteoric rise in the 1950s that the van also started being used as a tourist vehicle. The 1951 ‘Samba’ variant – with its bi-parting doors, 23 windows and optional fabric sunroof – was marketed specifically as a vehicle to travel the Alps. 

Other variants such as the ‘Westfalia’ were designed for campers, and included features such as curtains, electric hook-ups, water storage, cabinets, an ice box, and an optional pop-up roof.

A teal and white two-tone Volkswagen T2 Kombi van

The two-ton T1 Kombi van.

The rise of a cultural icon

When the anti-establishment counterculture movement kicked off in the 1960s, the Kombi found yet another niche.  

The spacious, and relatively easy-to-maintain vans quickly became popular within bohemian culture, so much so that Kombis developed the enduring ‘hippy bus’ or ‘hippy van’ nicknames. The humble Kombi would ultimately become an icon synonymous with the ‘peace and love’ movement. 

During the 1960s and 1970s, Kombis were often decked out in custom paintjobs to reflect the free-spirited vision of the flower-powered lifestyle.  

The vans also started appearing in pop culture around this time. The Kombi has been referenced directly or indirectly in a number of songs throughout history – notably Magic Bus by The Who, The Angel by Bruce Springsteen and Down Under by Men at Work – as well as appearing on Bob Dylan and Grateful Dead album covers. 

Their distinctive style has also gifted Kombis a number of cameos in films such as Alice’s Restaurant, Back to the Future, Little Miss Sunshine and Pixar’s Cars (where an anthropomorphic Kombi appropriately portrays a hippy character).  

#Vanlife and the Kombi revival 

Sadly, production of the Kombi ceased in 2013 for environmental and safety reasons – a problem solved with the new electric ID.Buzz Kombi.  

The lack of new vehicles hasn’t put a dent in the van’s popularity, however, with a new generation of Kombi-lovers forming since the dawn of the new millenium.  

The love for the classic Kombi endures today with continued demand in the events space - commonly hired as an alternative transport for weddings, formals and hen’s parties.  

Social media has also produced a devoted following of Kombi fans. On Instagram, the hashtag #kombi has been posted almost two million times, with tags like #kombilife and #kombilovers also receiving hundreds of thousands of shares.  

Over the past decade, largely thanks to social media and a growing trend in all things ‘retro’, the Kombi has found a new ‘van life’ fanbase. Much like the bohemian movement of the 50s and 60s, van life devotees have ditched the 9-to-5 working grind for a nomadic life travelling in vans – often documenting their lives through social media.  

In fact, the #vanlife hashtag is now even more popular than #kombi, with more than 12 million posts on Instagram alone. While the hashtag and lifestyle is not specific to Kombi owners, the cute vans remain a popular choice among the movement’s devotees. 

While Volkswagen released further vans following the T1 and T2 models, the unmistakable rounded body and rear-mounted engine disappeared from later makes such as the T3, T4, T5 and T6.  

With a new van in the works that nods back to the vehicle’s most recognisable characteristics, the iconic Kombi van will likely remain a fixture in the motoring world for decades to come. 


A yellow and white two-tone Volkswagen ID.Buzz kombi van

The electric Volkwagen ID.Buzz will be unveiled in Europe in 2022.

The next generation 

The reimagined Kombi van, the ID. Buzz has been scheduled to be unveiled in Europe in the second-half of 2022. If approved for the Australian market, the van will likely be available from 2023 onwards.  

Like Kombis of the past, the ID.Buzz will be available as both a passenger and cargo vehicle (as the ID.Buzz Cargo). The passenger vehicle available at launch can seat five, with six and seven-seat variations expected later.  

The fully electric vehicles can reach speeds of up to 145kph, for a speculated single-charge range of 400km (based on the World harmonised Light vehicle Testing Procedure protocols). The van also uses Seaqual yarn in its interior, which is made from recycled PET plastic bottles and salvaged marine plastics.  

European pricing has been revealed, with the vans starting from €55,000 (approximately $82,000AUD).


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