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The Roundabout Blog

In Brazil, catching the last 'Bus

About the author

A recovering magazine editor who learned to drive on a Massey-Ferguson, David traversed North America on a Suzuki GS550 motorbike, and once executed two-and-one-half barrel rolls in a 1985 Jeep CJ5. He is an anthologised humour writer, a food and travel journalist, and the President of Dystacorp Light Industries. He likes satellite radio, but misses roadmaps.

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The Kombi is dead, or nearly so.

Some might face this news as they might the passing of a Golden Age Hollywood actor: “Wow. He was still alive?”

In fact, the Volkswagen Type 2 – which debuted in 1950 and has been known variously as the Transporter, the Microbus, the Bulli, the Hippie Van and, in Portugal, the Breadloaf – has been built in Brazil since 1957, giving it the longest production run of any passenger automobile in history. Production of the Type 2 continued in Germany and the US until 1979; in Argentina until 1986; and in Mexico until 1996. The holdout, Volkswagen do Brasil, has at last announced the retirement of the line at the end of this year.

To mark the end of this unprecedented run, the company has announced the Kombi Last Edition, a numbered collection of the last 600 vans to roll off the line. A two-tone blue-and-white paint job will be echoed in fabric curtains in the windows and two-tone vinyl seats, while whitewall tires and white wheel caps pay homage to early iterations of the Type 2. A numbered identification plaque will be mounted into the dashboard of each vehicle, and a special decal will declare “56 anos – Kombi Last Edition”.

Brazilian Kombis pack a 1.4-litre gasoline engine producing a meagre 78hp (80hp when running ethanol), though it has become less polluting in recent decades thanks to water cooling and catalytic converters. The Kombi still offers the authentic VW van experience, with everything an adventurer needs to embrace the open road – provided the road is not particularly hilly.

Great Moments in Kombi History

  • 1950: The first Volkwagen Type 2 van rolls off the assembly line. It has the same wheelbase as the Type 1 (the Beetle), but, surprisingly, a lower drag coefficient.
  • 1964: When West Germany blocks imports of US chicken, President Lyndon B Johnson raises taxes on European light trucks, and US sales of the Kombi drop by two-thirds. Historians later discover that Johnson made the move as a sop to the UAW. The so-called “Chicken Tax” exists to this day.
  • 1975: Steve Jobs sells his VW bus to finance the start-up of Apple Computer.
  • 1983: Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” tops the US charts with the lyrics, “Travelling in a fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail, head full of zombie” – cementing the vehicle’s association with wanderlust, drug use and overheating.
  • 1985: In the Robert Zemeckis film Back to the Future, Libyan terrorists – out to kill Doc Brown for theft of their plutonium – drive a VW Type 2 through the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall, sending Marty McFly scurrying for escape in Doc’s DeLorean, and into the past.
  • 2006: A yellow Microbus hauls – though not without a push-start – a family of misfits from New Mexico to California in a mad dash to get its youngest member to the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, in a film of the same name.
  • 2011: A grey-and-white 1963 VW Samba Microbus sells for $217,800 at auction in Orange County, California.

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