Dispatches Do Brasil: Good Riddance, Kombi.

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
by Marcelo de Vasconcellos
dispatches do brasil good riddance kombi

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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2 of 31 comments
  • Jeffzekas Jeffzekas on Dec 25, 2013

    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.

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jan 17, 2014

    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.

  • Kwik_Shift Regardless, I have a good variety of on-going and current topics to scan through. if nothing, back to my USB stick of music. CB radio can be entertaining as well and useful when travelling a highway in inclement weather or bear traps.
  • Kwik_Shift If I'm in that situation of being in an unfamiliar area looking for an address/parking, I'll put on my hazards. If you want to pass, then pass. Otherwise you have warning.
  • Tassos Strictly a collectible, nota daily driver. Way too old. Even the Awesome S class from 1991-99 is getting to old to be a daily driver these days.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird The small van segment is quite popular in Europe. Many business owners and crafts people buy the Transit, the Renault Kangoo or Peugeot Partner since it fits their needs and can navigate the narrow streets. They should have done better here for folks whose Ranger or S-10 with a cap is getting old.
  • Kwik_Shift So well-used ones can be further overpriced.