The air-cooled Volkswagen Kombi is an engine icon. It’s a classic van that’s packed with character, and many guys (and girls) still aspire to have one as their daily driver. But are the teeth getting a bit elongated now to make a practical vehicle for everyday use?
I drive my 1976 2-liter window every day, and my experience gives a good indication of what you may need to do to make your unrestored Kombi safe and comfortable to drive as your primary car.
Volkswagen Kombis is over 30 years old and it shows. I have spent a lot of time and money in recent years to get mine back in reasonable condition, and if you buy a cheap Kombi you have to be prepared to do the same. Even a more expensive Kombi will probably need some repairs and TLC.
The 1800cc 2-liter models are the most practical because they have more lift and go functions than the models with smaller engines, although the engines cost more to rebuild.
First the positive side.
Kombis are cool, iconic, they have character, and they’re definitely not boring.
They are fun to drive and when in good condition they are comfortable and handle well with good steering. The latest window models keep up with the traffic ticket and can cruise at 60 mph all day long, though they slow down on larger hills.
And they are practical. There is a lot of room in a Kombi. Maybe not as good as a modern pickup due to the rear engine hump, but they are still a great camper or 8 seater pickup with room for luggage or groceries. Ground clearance is good and the motor on the rear wheels provides good traction for a two-wheel drive if you want to get off the beaten track a bit.
Now this is what to keep in mind if you plan to have one of these as your daily driver.
Rust, of course, is the biggest killer of Kombis or of any vintage car. Much better to spend a little more money and get a reasonably rust-free Kombi. However, since you do find a rust-free Kombi, there are still plenty of things to eat up your money before it’s practical to use your truck on a daily basis.
The engine may be worn. I rebuilt mine a couple of years ago with new cylinders and pistons, brand new bearings, ground crankshaft and camshaft, and rebuilt cylinder heads. The heads were converted for use with unleaded gasoline at the same time. All of this costs money.
Steering and suspension are safety related and must be correct.
On the suspension I replaced the four main ball joints and the shock absorbers. With the steering I replaced all the ends of the rod and the main center pin. The steering damper is next on the replacement list, and I should see the correct steering for my Kombi. Yours may always need a new steering box as well.
The brakes on your Kombi should be fine too. The brake pads are something that needs regular replacement, but I also replaced the rear brake drums because they were worn beyond limits, and the front discs will need to be replaced the next time the front brake pads are finished.
I replaced all the flexible brake hoses because they are now over thirty years old and become brittle and I replaced some of the metal brake lines because they were corroded. The rear brake cylinders were replaced a few years ago and the front brake calipers were rebuilt with new seals.
There are four cv gaskets on the rear drivetrain, and the ones on my window were very sad. They were replaced along with the rear wheel bearings.
One very important area to consider is the engine fuel lines. Kombies burn, and it is caused by gasoline spraying all over the engine. Check the fuel lines carefully and if they look old and cracked, replace them with a quality fuel line. Make sure they are not rubbing on the tin and that the lines to the fuel tank and fuel pump are not loose. This is important!
In addition to the things that you know may need repair, there is always something unexpected. A spray nozzle came loose from the carburetor in my window and went through the engine. It’s just a little thin brass tube, but it sounded like there were marbles rattling in the motor. Luckily there were no malfunctions, but it did mean taking out the engine and removing the cylinder heads to check everything and remove debris from the spray nozzle. And only this week I had to replace the alternator.
In addition to mechanical wear, you have to think about cosmetics. Your cheap Kombi may need a paint job, new carpet, new upholstery, and even the front seats may need attention.
On the comfort side, new window and door seals may be needed to stop noise and drafts. The heater may need some attention. On my Kombi, the heater wires were stuck. That didn’t worry me until I moved from a warm part of the country to a much cooler area where temperatures drop below freezing in the winter.
In most cases, side pieces are available. For my Kombi, a 2-liter 1976 model, I have been able to buy all the parts I needed apart from the carbon spray nozzles, and even then I was able to get by with parts from a different VW model.
My opinion is that despite all the repairs and restorations, Volkswagen Kombis can still be a practical everyday driver. You must accept the fact that your purchase price is only part of the story, and that you will have to spend time and money to return your Classic Kombi to a safe and comfortable condition.