By on December 21, 2013

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The Conselho Nacional de Trânsito, the highest traffic authority in Brazil, has just unauthorized the Economic Ministry’s intention of opening up an exception to venereal, I mean venerable, Volkswagen Kombi (known as Bus in the U.S.). It has ratified the governmental organ’s own resolutions of 2009, which implemented a gradual, mandatory adoption of airbags and ABS systems, reaching 100 percent of cars sold in Brazil as of 2014.

Whatever shenanigans that when on backstage, as reported earlier this week by TTAC Staff, are now officially dead, as is the 60 year old van. Having sold over 1.5 million units in its 56 years of production in Brazil, the slack will have to be picked up by a multitude of much more modern, car-based vans like Fiat’s Fiorino and Doblò, Renault’s Kangoo and assorted Chinese vans.

The first Kombi was the third vehicle to ever be assembled in Brazil (that honor belongs to Chevy with its Amazonas pickup). In 1957, it left VW’s São Bernardo do Campo factory and gained the streets. Quickly it became a favorite of businesses everywhere and in its first versions took many Brazilian families to school, work, vacation. It did all of that at a very leisurely pace. Sporting a 1.1 air-cooled engine, the first Kombi produced a walloping 25 horsepower.

Over the years there were improvements, though they were few and far between. The first major updating came about only in 1976 when the Brazilian version started to look like the German version. Gone were the split front window and a new engine of 1.6L and 52hp was introduced. This engine soldiered on until 2005 when the last major engine change happened. From then on until today, it used an ethanonl-capable 1.4L good for 80 horsepower. Thankfully, this engine was water-cooled and Kombis finally gave other road users 2 breaks: It could move out of its own way and didn’t deafen others with the endless clatter of the old air-cooled engines. As seen by the sparse history of changes, the Kombi only changed when government regulations forced it to.

Now that it will be gone, we Brazilians can go on our blissful way and keep the Kombi in our hearts and minds as reminders of simpler times, when men were men and just about anybody could kick the Kombi and get it sputtering again. Many will surely romanticize the endless racket they produced and smile at the memory of them moving, very slowly, along the way. I for one do not lament this dinosaur’s passing. It’s a testament of many of Brazil’s failings that we kept it around for almost 60 years with minimal changes that happened only due to strong government arm-twisting.

Good bye and good riddance.

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31 Comments on “Dispatches do Brasil: Good Riddance, Kombi....”


  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Volkswagen has teased with several FWD modern concepts. Maybe now they’ll make one? They’ll sell a bunch in America, especially with a flat floor the FWD enables, despite the competition. How would such a model do in Brazil? Is there enough nostalgia there to give it a shot?

    • 0 avatar

      Sure there is. The output of sympathy when VW launched a well thought out goodbye campaign. You have to remember though that this things are seen every single day out on the streets. Usually in vary states of disrepair. It’ll take a while for real nostalgia to really kick as it’ll be more than a while before they start thinning out. Good examples though may fetch some pretty thumbs though that also belngs in the future. Ant Brazilian car collection worth their salt will have to have one.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    I think US costumers get screwed with all the dealer-protection laws driving up rpices. But then I see the car prices in Brazil and airbags and ABS are not even standard?

    with the pace of development, even the Trabant would have had ABS and airbags by now if it still existed…. :)

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Slow, woefully underpowered, loud, fewer safety features than a shopping cart, a ride similar to sitting in a bowl of jello that’s intermittently hit with a sledge hammer, aerodynamic as a barn, switched lanes without drivers consent in crosswinds, never ran 100%, HVAC controls that were installed as some sort of German joke on the world.
    I’ll miss the beasties.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      The T3 continued the great tradition of being not very aerodynamic and underpowered, though maybe not woefully slow in gas engine trim.

      Underpowered in this case refers to the tiny 51 hp diesel, I think the 95 horsepower Wasserboxer could at least make the damned thing move, if not very fast.

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      I had a 63 Bus, one thing it did was teach me to be patient on the road and not to tailgate.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    One saving grace it had:
    without the back seats, it was a great motel on wheels.

    Small wonder it was so popular with hippies.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Any 0-60 time on that original 25hp? If 60mph was obtainable with a plump load of Catholic Women’s League..

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    I’m glad there is no required consensus on this. I owned a 1957 T3 and it was terrible. Drove some later models and they were not.

    I would love to be able to go to Brazil, buy a new/old T3 and drive it back. I actually restored my 57 chevy but quit driving it due to 13mpg. I think this van would work perfectly with the type driving I do. Governments get in the way a lot but suppose we would still be driving without seat belts without them. Just a little “old guy” rambling: I think my first new car was the first year seatbelts were required and it was a 66 vw. I guess that gives me some nostalgia and I tend to give the air cooled VWs a pass on a lot of stuff.
    They were the only vans that I recall that gave any semblance of fuel economy. My chevies sure did not.

  • avatar
    AlfaRomasochist

    My Kombi story-

    Once upon a time I missed the bus headed from Tiangua to Sobral, Ceara. The next regular bus wasn’t scheduled to leave for several hours, and a Kombi driver was taking advantage of the fact by picking up the stragglers. He asked if I wanted to come, and said he’d charge the same as the normal bus.

    “When are you leaving?” I asked.
    “Right now!”

    The Kombi was only about half full, so I figured why not. Gave the man some Reais and piled in. For the next 20 minutes or so the guy drove around Tiangua trying to pick up anybody who looked like they might possibly be looking for a ride down into the valley, while those of us already in the Kombi screamed at him to get a move on.

    Finally the Kombi was absolutely packed – at least 12 people – and we headed out of town. Just as we were leaving a guy holding a big burlap sack hailed the driver, who pulled over and let him in over groans of protest from the passengers.

    The burlap sack? Full of raw fish. No ice, no nothing. I’ll never forget that ride – 2+ hours crammed into that gutless, unairconditioned tin can. It took a couple days before I could get the combined smell of sweat and fish out of my nostrils.

    Good riddance indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      pgcooldad

      Well, judging by your name “alfaRomasochist” this should have been an easier ride than an having to put up with an Alfa. I should know, I owned one and plan on having another as soon as I get a few kids through college.

    • 0 avatar

      oh alfaromeo, you really can’t get more real Brazzilian than that that. The sertão of Ceará? Cant get more real Brazilian than that. No Rio-SP bullshit. Real, unaltered Braziliancana, yeah!

      • 0 avatar
        djn

        Falou!

      • 0 avatar
        AlfaRomasochist

        I was there as a Mormon missionary. Definitely not a tourist experience. :) Years later I went to Rio for work (Petrobras was a customer of mine) and stayed in the JW Marriott Copacabana. That’s the environment most Americans visitors see when in Brasil, but not too typical of the average Brazilian’s life.

        Gostei de Tiangua. A clima la e bem gostosa. :)

        Sorry, no accent marks on my gringo Macbook, and I’m too lazy to figure out how to add them.

  • avatar
    Garak

    Many old vans have very good space utilization compared to more modern ones, but the T2 fails even in that aspect. There’s really no reason for such a vehicle to exist in the 21st century.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Hippie peace sloth from the land of the autobahn & bliztkrieg.

    The worst thing to deliver is leaky lobster in the heat of summer. You’d HAVE TO hose the back of the van.

  • avatar
    Mark_Miata

    My parents were a VW family after I was born – my dad traded in his 59 Ford for a new 61 VW bug to cut down on the gas usage. When my sister was born two years later, he lobbied my mom for the purchase of a VW Transporter, seeing it as the practical proto-minivan that it was.

    My German mother was not fooled. Her cousin in Munich had a fleet of delivery vans for his dairy business that had come straight from Wolfsburg, and as my father tells it, she said that there was no way that she was going to drive a “cheese wagon” with her children inside.

    My father submitted, and a few years later bought her the Mercedes she had always wanted. He continues to buy her a Mercedes when she wants one to this day. He’d still like a kombi, but due to that early trauma he rolls with a Ford F-150 instead. I think my mom was right – cheese wagons are just not the way to go.

  • avatar
    Autobraz

    For me, the most memorable “feature” of the air cooled Kombi in Brazil has always been its tendency to catch on fire. Made for fun scenes of people running from all directions, fire extinguishers in hand, to put it out.

    But I do recall that all stories of family trips my father told me, from his childhood to late 20′s, included Kombis, and not only in Brazil.

  • avatar
    marcosbarauskas

    Hello Marcelo. I’m from Sao Paulo and love reading the stories here, including yours.

    As you mentioned, Chinese vans will certainly benefit from the demise of the Kombi. However, as far as I know, none of them are equiped with air bags or ABS. And I haven’t read anything about them yet. Do you know how they (the Chinese manufacturers) will comply with the new rules? Have you heard any news?

    • 0 avatar

      The Chinese vans are in a difficult place right now. When introduced they sold well, well enough to steal sales from the Kombi though the Fiorino didn’t seem to be as affected. After a while, reality set in. Difficulty with parts, maintenance, a general fragility. So much so that it’s almost impossible to sell them. I’m sure they won’t back down though, and with the new factories being built, I’m sure they’ll try again next year.

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    God, don’t cross-post this to Jalopnik; they’ll lynch you. This van represents the epitome of the “This-Car-Is-So-Much-Better-Than-Modern-Cars-Because-I-Hate-ABS-And-Air-Conditioning-And-Automatics-And-Disc-Brakes-And-Crumple-Zone-And-Reliability-And-It-Looks-Like-Something-I-Can-Buy-On-Craigslist-for-$2000-If-I-Had-It-But-I-Don’t-Because-I-Had-To-Buy-Another-Brake-Booster-For-My-Volvo-240″ mentality.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Snif .

    Goodbye old paint .

    I remember riding in Pop’s graymarket ’54 Kombi in New England when it was new .

    I’ve traveled across America most times by VW Typ II’s than I can remember .

    They were made in _Hannover_ not Wolfsburg .

    As mentioned , their time is long past although some of us greybeards will always have fond memories .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    We had two in my family growing up: a 76 German model Westphalia camper bought in Germany. That one was cool.

    And too expensive for us to keep after moving to the US, so we sold it and bought a 73 regular van. Used it for years.

    Best story about that van: Three buddies and I drove from Texas to Florida and back on spring break in high school in that van. At one point in the journey, whoever was driving drove for about 50 miles on the freeway with the emergency brake on. No discernible loss of power. :)

  • avatar
    Andy D

    We were a bug family Then about 1964 Dad sold the 54 and bought a ’62 bus with a 1200 40 hoss. My mother drove it her teaching job next town over. That was traded in on a ’65. that I took my driver’s test in. I had a few buses mixed in with my bug habit too.

    PS. I had a Willys Overland do Brasil. It was my first 4 wheel drive.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    I learned to drive in a ’68 Westphalia- not terrible- the DREAM of a VW van is nice, just not the REALITY. The dream: total coolness with a bed in the back. The reality: rebuilding the motor every 50K miles, no effective heater, insanely loud inside, and no crash protection to speak of.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Seems to me Brasil would be very happy if they dusted off the Eurovan molds and sold it there. I’m sure it’d meet regulations. Their current Caravelle seems too expensive to do so, as it starts in the UK at 30,000 pounds.


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