By on March 5, 2010

It’s one of my (many) fantasies: fly one-way to Brazil, buy a brand new VW Kombi and drive it back. But alcohol is a little hard to come by here, especially since Oregon has state liquor stores.  Actually, the Kombi’s 1.4 liter motor drinks gas too, but I would have preferred a diesel. Anyway, Brazil is celebrating fifty years of domestic production of the VW bus, and today seems to be Brazil day at TTAC. So if you share my fantasy, head to VW do Brasil’s site and their special Kombi 50 Anos site and check out the current Kombi and a disappointingly small gallery of vintage shots.

The curious thing about the Brazilian-built Kombi is that it was never quite exactly the same as the German one. The earliest version (above) had different passenger doors: two separate front-hinged doors instead of the usual barn-door arrangement.

And then for decades, the definitive Brazilian bus had the front end of the post-1968 German bus married to the back three-fourths of the original bus, with its many “Samba” windows. Maybe Brazilians were sliding-door averse? Or? I’m not really sure technically whether this bus is more like the older version, with swing axles and reduction gears on their ends, or if it has the later rear suspension. I’m sure one of our Brazilian friends will weigh in.

They might also weigh in on helping me understand its engine. Of course, the old air cooled motor is long gone, replaced by a multi-fuel (alcohol or gasoline) water-cooled 1.4 liter four. But its output is still deeply in 1968 territory: 78 hp, at an unbelievably low 4800 rpm. Can someone please explain that? That’s not much more than the old boxers of yore.

There it is, nestled in it little compartment, but now accessible from the top, not the back like buses I remember so well.  Well, here’s to a long future for the VW Kombi. I guess I don’t really need to go that far anyway to get a VW bus, since Eugene is crawling with them.

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42 Comments on “Want A Brand New 1968 VW Bus? Brazil Celebrates Fifty Years Of Building Kombis...”

  • avatar

    We need a group buy !

    I’d buy one of these right now if I could figure out how to get it back home and licensed for road use here in the … erm … land of the not so free anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      Get a 1985 or earlier model. You can import anything 25 years or older with no problem. Fifteen years in Canuckistan, I think. When did they switch to the waterboxer? I would also want to know if they are as prone to overheating as the US Vanagon waterboxers.

      • 0 avatar
        Pedro Jungbluth

        the boxer engine to pollute too much and would not be legalized after 2006.
        Instead of Brazilian VW launch a new model, modern, preferred to adapt a modern engine. The 1.4 does not exist in other cars here, only the 1.6, but found that she could not take the 1.6 and used an engine capacity reduced.
        At the end of this year (2013) it is no longer manufactured at all, because it is now mandatory ABS and airbags, and even the German VW was able to adapt the model.
        I Love the VW bus, but the price is absurd. Here the brand new costs £ 14,000, but the manufacturing cost does not exceed £ 4,000. It’s overrated.the boxer engine to pollute too much and would not be legalized after 2006.
        Instead of Brazilian VW launch a new model, modern, preferred to adapt a modern engine. The 1.4 does not exist in other cars here, only the 1.6, but found that she could not take the 1.6 and used an engine capacity reduced.
        At the end of this year (2013) it is no longer manufactured at all, because it is now mandatory ABS and airbags, and even the German VW was able to adapt the model.
        I Love the VW bus, but the price is absurd. Here the brand new costs £ 14,000, but the manufacturing cost does not exceed £ 4,000. It’s overrated.

  • avatar

    I lived in Guatemala back in the mid-90s. I remember one day hitch-hiking and getting picked up by a brand new Beetle. I liked seeing the classic shape clad with new finishes and a new stereo.

  • avatar

    They sold something similar in Mexico until 2002 or so, I’m pretty sure it was this Brazilian built unit. My folks had a 71 bus when I was a child…nothing was as fun as sitting on the shelf above the engine, listening to the engine clattering away, looking out the windows at all the cars…Amazing any of us made it without baby car seats.

    If you have an hour or so to while away, check out all the different cars VW sells all over the world, I think they sell that cool VW pickup in Brazil, and there’s also a cool “new” polo sold in some places.

  • avatar

    Driving it back would involve a boat trip. The Darien Gap is pretty much impenetrable. There are no roads to get from Colombia to Panama.

    • 0 avatar

      Really….you can’t drive from Brazil. I worked with a guy that swore he drove a Jimmy to British Guyana. He told us he had to carry so much stuff on the roof,gas,tires etc,that he fu-ked up the roof pillars,and had to leave the Jimmy there.

      Hmmph….I guess he was full of sh–

      • 0 avatar

        You sure he didn’t mean British Honduras, which is what Belize was called until ’73. Guyany hasen’t been British Guyana since ’66. You can get to the former by car through Mexico, but the latter requires a boat.

    • 0 avatar

      That is correct about the Darién Gap; it is what prevents the Pan-American Highway from being complete. Click here to read more. It has been crossed by vehicles in automaker-sponsored expeditions, most notably those funded by Land Rover with lots of equipment, vehicles and supplies.

      the story told by mikey’s friend is a good one…not only is the story of driving solo through the Darién Gap a bit Jimmy far-fetched, I’m trying to imagine how someone could just drive through Columbia and other politically unstable areas.

  • avatar

    I owned a ’67 bus converted by the previous owner into sort of a camper unit. While I had many fine camping trips in it, I wouldn’t consider buying another, nor would I recommend it to anyone. As appealing as it’s very basic nature was, I realize now how insanely dangerous it was to take one up to highway speeds to get to those camping destinations. With nothing but a sheet metal panel between the driver/front passenger and any solid object one might have the misfortune to come into contact with, even minor inattention to the road or other misadventure would have dire effects. I have come to appreciate having the mass of an engine and crumple zones between me and any immovable objects I could encounter. And I don’t know if the current design has improved the heater/defroster situation any, but that air-cooled engine way in the back did little in the way providing heated air to the front where I needed it.

    I expect that it would still serve very well as an urban utility vehicle, but I know that owners of ’70s VWs found that air-cooled engines had a pretty tough go of it once they had to add the anti-pollution gear to it (something that I imagine is not required in Brazil).

    • 0 avatar

      …I realize now how insanely dangerous it was to take one up to highway speeds to get to those camping destinations.

      I had an army pal back in ’74 with a camper. I remember driving the thing, ‘cross country, but I don’t ever remember being able to get to “highway speeds.” Maybe that was a built in VW “safety feature.”

    • 0 avatar

      but I don’t ever remember being able to get to “highway speeds.”

      I could get mine up to 60 mph or so before the poor handling made even a twenty something get nervous, but God forbid you hit a sudden cross wind, or get passed by a semi doing 70+. It was so light for its cross-section that it was like driving a box kite.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      That is the way I remember it. It was kind of terrifying.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    I think it’s fair to say that the old VW bus was the most ponderous, underpowered vehicle sold in the US in the past 50 years or so. Now, I can’t say as I’ve reviewed that entire fleet, but the bus gets extra points for that clattering rattletrap of an engine, which even when running good sounded horrible. As I recall, it rode like a toboggan, and nobody wore seat belts in them days, so you were gonna fly around. Maybe it was just that every one I ever saw was quite old and beat up, and probably driven by stoners, but it’s hard to see why anybody would find use for this rig today.

  • avatar

    I own an 87 Westfalia. These little buggers hold a special place in my heart :)

  • avatar

    That black plastic front end treatment is awful…why can’t they leave well enough alone? Still, a NEW VW bus is a new VW bus…if only VW were a little less practical, they’d sell things like this here in the states along with the Polo, Caddy and Scirocco.

  • avatar

    The air-cooled 1600 engine with a Bosch Digifant fuel injection system and a 3 way catalyst was in operation until 2006, and then was replaced by the standard normally aspirated water-cooled 1.4l inline 4 cyl. that VW also sells in slightly different output configurations in Europe. For example the standard Golf still uses that engine with first 75hp(Mark IV) and then 80hp(Mark VI).Emerging markets like Brazil and Mexico never got the full body upgrades from the German models until in the end of their lifecycle. Sliding doors in general are more expensive to manufacture than swing doors. They still know that today, that`s why so many Euro-Vans have swing doors instead of the much more favored sliding doors.
    The engine compartment of the Kombis I have seen are accessible from the back and additionally from the top.
    By the way, VW started to modify already the air-cooled engine for the use of Alcohol in the `80s.

    • 0 avatar

      Can you still get the Bosch digifant system for air cooled buses? I’d love to go back to EFI but those old Bosch L-jetronics were so silly unless you were well versed on them yourself.

  • avatar

    Back about 1971 myself and two of my buddies, and our girlfriends,found ourselves stranded in one of these during a snow storm. We had some mind altering subtance,and a couple of bottles of wine,an excuse for party. We didn’t have to run the engine,cause it had a gas heater.

    Great idea, untill it run out of gas. My girlfriend,now my wife,and grandmother of three, woke me up. “Mikey” she says “I’m freezing lets see if your car will start”

    Six people in a 62 Pontiac at three AM ,cozy,but we had heat. To this day I shiver when I see a station bus.

  • avatar

    I learned to drive a manual transmission on my father’s ’70 model. With its 57 SAE gross horsepower, sudden unintended acceleration was never a problem!

  • avatar

    I can’t take this anymore! Am I the only person who hates both the Fusca (Beetle) and the Kombi (VW Bus)? The Beetle reminds me of poverty. You know you are poor when you can’t even afford one.

    The Bus reminds me of death! As ClutchCarGo said, these things are dangerous. It was the first car accident I saw as a child were someone died. It happened at a Y intersection were the driver lost control going over a dip on the road as he turned left and ended up crashing into the Bakery (Padaria) on the corner.

    He was making a left and following Ave. Guarapiranga before it turned to Estr. Mboi mirin … for the Brazilians from Sao Paulo here.

    Oh, and one of my friends got hit by a car at that corner too … by what?? A Beetle! He was ok .. but I’ve been traumatized for life.

    • 0 avatar

      From what I remember from your previous posts you were born here and then moved. So your perception of the Fusca and Kombi is exactly like mine. I guess most on this site didn’t have “our” experience of seeing these pitiful things literally everywhere (there was a year in the late 60s or early 70s that the Fusca was responsible for over 70% of new car sales in our market). Seeing them crash and burn, seeing them spin off the road and hitting pedestrians on straightaways in light rain. Sigh.

      I guess most Americans view the Bug and Bus as a aymbol of an earlier, simpler, kinder era (not to mention w/ heads full of mind altering substances). So I guess that’s why there’s so much love for them there. When I came of car driving age neither I or none of my friends would touch one of these w/ a 1000 foot pole, they were so uncool.

      These posts are great at showing how much your setting influences your views.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I just sold two 1970 busses, so I speaketh from hard-earned experience.

    These vehicles are so far inferior to literally ANYTHING currently on the market, it is almost laughable that anybody could have rose-colored memories of them. Or want one.

    Facts: Their thirst for gasoline is Hummeresque (actually H3s do far better). They are eye-burning, nostril-singeing polluters. They are utter and complete deathtraps, both in complete lack of frontal protection and any other meaningful safety provisions, and in their supremely poor-handling characteristics. You think a Porsche 911 has handling deficiencies? Well, make it stand a good four feet higher with two more feet of ground clearance, spend absolutely no time refining the handling, make it extremely underpowered. These things made corvair handling the epitomy of safety, by comparison.

  • avatar

    I’d love to have a VW camper. I would use it just for tailgating at football games when it rains or is freezing cold. I would have shelter and able to cook, without having to set up one of those damn tents, that are useless in wind or a driving rain anyway. I don’t know anyone who makes a similar vehicle with as many features packed into that small a footprint.

  • avatar

    A couple of years ago, I wanted a VW bus or a Westfalia camper, not knowing anything about them except that they ought to be cheap, and they were huge inside. I go scuba diving, see, and a second vehicle big enough to change in, nap in, and maybe even brew some tea in while storing wet scuba gear sounded great for day trips around my area. Even if it was slow and wallowed through the turns…

    So I poked around looking at used prices, and they were insanely high. Someone sure loves these things.

    Even if they were cheap I probably would have come to my senses before actually purchasing an ancient VW deathtrap. At least, I like to think so.

    I still don’t have a scubamobile.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned two Buses, a ’67 split window hippy bus and a ’72. The ’67 had a 1500 cc engine with single port heads and a 1 bbl carb. I think it had pneumatic windshield washers – you’d use a compressor to fill a bladder equipped w/ a schrader valve stem. The Bus couldn’t maintain 70 mph on flat Michigan interstates. It was fun to drive but not very safe. It had swing axles and manual drum brakes. Eventually the steering box started to get funky and not want to spin. I had driven from A Squared to Detroit to drop off some Hydraulic Bongs (US Patent 4,253,475) at a head shop on Woodward in Royal Oak. I went to make a u turn in one of Michigan’s many turnarounds, the steering box didn’t want to work, nor did the brakes. As I wrestled the bus around the turn, the right rear tire clipped the outside curb, flipping the bus up on the two left side wheels and the bus skidded across four lanes of Woodward while pitched up one side. It must have looked like something out of a Joey Chitwood thrill show. Eventually the bus came back down to earth and I managed to pull over into a parking lot.

    Later I found a pretty solid ’72. The ’72 Bus is cool to work with because it has power brakes including discs up front, true IRS, plus though it came with the Type IV engine, the transaxle was bolted to the chassis and you could still hang a Beetle engine on it. I built a hi-po 1648cc Beetle engine with a nice street cam, dual port heads with some work done on them, a good distribolator, and a 2bbl Holley Webber carb. To keep the engine from overheating, I filled in the empty spaces with aluminum sheet so that the cooling shroud would work. Since the high pressure oil pump could be plumbed to an external oil filter (the Beetle engine doesn’t use an actual oil filter, but rather a simple screen), I decided to mount an oil cooler on the roof with some neatly curved copper pipes running up their via the engine cooling ducts in the bodywork. People would ask me what the gizmo on the roof was. I’d say “it’s an oil cooler”. They’d usually ask, “What does it do?”, I’d reply, “Cool oil, I guess”. Then I bought a spare engine oil cooler element, a 12V squirrel cage fan and some more aluminum sheet to make a plenum. With some three way valves, in cold weather I’d run the oil through my makeshift car heater (later I briefly owned a camper bus with a gasoline fired heater – amazing heat), that sat on the back deck over the engine, and while it didn’t get the Bus toasty, in single digit Michigan winters it was enough to get the Bus to about 55 degrees and keep the windows from frosting up.

    While no speed demon, the Magic Bus could do 70-80 on the highway all day long. It wasn’t much fun driving over the Mackinaw Bridge in winds, it’s a rear engined billboard, but I have many fond memories of it.

    One thing is for sure. If you want to teach someone how to drive a stick shift, use an early VW Bus. First in a Bus is very low and the early Type IIs had reduction gears in the hubs as someone already mentioned. You can practically dump the clutch at idle and still not stall the suckers.

    Unfortunately, in cold weather, the oil pressure was high enough to sometimes blow hoses off of fittings and what I thought was a flaky wire to the sensor one morning was actually no oil pressure and I killed the engine. A seizing engine is an awful sound. When you drop a valve or throw a rod, it just makes some noise and then stops but when you seize it, it makes terrible metal to metal shrieking noises of death. When you blow up an air cooled VW motor, though, you want to do it fast. The crankcase is made from magnesium, which can, after all, catch fire. Metal fires are very hard to extinguish.

  • avatar

    Unsafe? That’s what makes them fun!

    I’m eyeing a 2000 Beetle Classic myself… purely for commuting purposes. They’re kind of rare here, only about three dozen imported as a batch by a used car dealer… though the 1970’s ones are common as cockroaches. The appeal of the newer one is the standard AC and the EFi engine, which should help improve efficiency somewhat over the older carbureted mills.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    It is our youths we mourn, not VWs, they were horrible.

  • avatar

    Hopefully, my friend, Lily on this site, will tell the story of her journey from Bethesda to one of the Dakotas for a sheep dog trial, where the Westfalia’s engine conked, and, riding around the town on her bicycle, she had to roust some aging, curmudgeonly VW mechanic out of retirement to overhaul her engine, which he did! and finished in time to see the last day of her sheepdog trial.

  • avatar

    We went to the ocean for the weekend with a couple we knew in their many-windowed VW bus. When they arrived with the bus and their large, long-haired dog I vaccumed a whole vacuum bag full of dog hair out of that thing before we left. We did a good job of holding up traffic on Highway 3 until we got to Elma and got onto the 4-lane highway. We hadn’t made reservations anywhere, so had to come clear back to Aberdeen to find a motel room. Fine weekend.

    After I got married and left home my father found and bought the weirdest 1960 VW bus I’ve ever seen. It had some kind of a Porsche industrial engine and was the only VW bus I’ve ever seen that had double doors on both sides. It had a slick camper conversion, and when I broke one of the wood pieces I discovered that the plywood that was used was really nice hardwood plywood; the fir plywood I used to replace it was twice as thick. My brother had a ball with it when he went to WSU – he’d get a bunch of people and a case of beer, go park in a wheat field, and open all the doors. Pop ended up not keeping it too many years though; the engine was tall enough that there was no way to put an air cleaner on the carb without heavily modifying the rear body, so no one had bothered, and it needed rebuilt at rather frequent intervals. Since his maintenance philosophy was more suited to Cornbinder pickups, the VW had to go.

  • avatar

    Hey here is one passing a Lotus and pulling up to and passing a WRX STi. LMAO I love it!

  • avatar

    I guess I don’t really need to go that far anyway to get a VW bus, since Eugene is crawling with them.

    I live in what I consider to be a transitional part of the rust belt. By that I mean we get enough snow and salt to destroy the old metal but not quite all the old metal. So I still see some of the vintage stuff running around as daily drivers. But I never see these old guys. Not a one that I can remember. It would be fun to live somewhere that they are a little more common.

  • avatar

    someone wrote: “but it’s hard to see why anybody would find use for this rig today”.

    well, we have a really great use for it. we have an ’86 four wheel drive (syncro), subaru powered, westafalia. we take it all over the country to sheepdog trials. (it’s really difficult to find a hotel/motel in the middle of nowhere that will take someone with four dogs. so we live in the VW.) we cook in it, sleep in it, carry water in it. we have carried both living and dead sheep in it. or two people plus nine dogs. or several sheets of plywood plus the tools to build a shed in the middle of a muddy field. this is REAL four wheel drive. i have a friend with a 4WD element that has gotten stuck in fields that i easily rolled out of. so far, this van has never gotten stuck, and we have taken in across streams, through mud, forests, ice, sand, and (slowly) through all sorts of stuff while herding flocks of sheep with it.

    yes, it’s true that, because of its age, the van is in the shop a lot, but my (formerly sour) view on this was changed last summer when, in the middle of chicago, the gear box stuck in second. we called some friends of ours, limped the car to their house and went on line to find a mechanic. from the click and clack web site, we found an old chinese man who (imagine!) specialized in VW campers. it took him two days to fix, and when i went to pick it up, while chatting with him, i mentioned that if VW made a new one i would buy it in a heartbeat. and he, in that beautiful inscrutable chinese way, answered “you ARE buying a new one: piece by piece”.

    so now, every time i get something fixed (which is often), i think of how much newer it’s becoming!

  • avatar

    @Paul Niedermeyer>

    If I may, I wouldn’t really use the word “celebrate”. Maybe something like “mourn” would fit better. Please bear with me.

    You see, to me, this little annivesary is testiment to the failure this country has always been and in many ways still is. Sure, things have been improving of late, but for how long? Are we really out of the woods? Brazil is like that big kid in school who everyones thinks has huge potential, but always underachieves. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but don’t really believe the hype as most of the real, underlying problems (education, education, education) are basically ignored (did I mention education?).

    As to the doors and low output of the 1.4 engine, this is just typical VW do Brasil laziness and greed. Offer an inferior product, charge like crazy for it and call it good. It’s not like the competition is any better. For Pete’s sake, GM has a 1.4 L engine down here that produces more horsepower than VW’s 1.6! Relatively speaking VW still think they are king of the hill down here. But at least nowadays more and more people are seeing it and just passing VW up altogether.

    Disclaimer: Don’t hate VW per se, just don’t like their behavir in our market. They just behave worse than most.

  • avatar

    These comments make for very interesting reading for me, as I’m soon likely to invest in a “new” T2 camper, modified by Danbury in Bristol, UK – –

    The safety comments don’t bother me, of only having a thin bit of metal between me and the outside world, as I also have ridden a motorcycle all of my life, and there’s far less protection there. I owned a T2 for ten years when our kids were young and it didn’t even have “proper” safety belts for them. I think many people are becoming paranoid about safety in vehicles. Mostly if you drive carefully you are fine. Far more people are injured or killed in “sporty” cars than VW buses, especially considering the huge numbers of the VW T2’s that are on the road.

    I had a test-drive of one of Danbury’s brand-new water-cooled 1.4 litre campers, with lowered suspension, which had power-steering . . WOW !!! what a difference. Ok, so it wasn’t quite as quick as my regular 2 litre Renault Scenic, but it zapped along holding it’s own with other traffic.

    Agreed, the new radiator cover didn’t appeal, but the dummy-wheel-cover which Danbury supply neatly hides that !! Maybe I stay away from the long Motorway drives in future, just like I used to with my old T2, so the wind-effect from large lorries isn’t encountered quite so often. I’m looking forward to living in the past again, and enjoying life at a slower pace ;-)

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