20 years of kombi mania!

24 07 2015

It all began on July 24, 1995: On that day I bought my first kombi, a 1978 late bay panel van from the German Red Cross, with a 50 h.p. 1600 ccm flat four/boxer engine. It was 17-years-old, cost a friendly 3500 DM (1500 Euro) and came with only 40.000 km on the clock. Top in original ambulance white (Ivory White), lower half re-sprayed by a car dealer in Volkswagen Classic red. The rear was completely empty except for a crude metal shelf which the Red Cross had installed. I remember I was sitting on the first evening in my bus and tested the very limited number of switches and lights on the dashboard. The best one was the blue light for the high beam. Not much else there – the Red Cross had ordered the no frills version. I started rebuilding her into a campervan, with adding fold-up campervan windows on both sides in the back to bring more light into the rear. I thought I could get the complete conversion (bed, kitchen and cupboards) done in six weeks, in time for the first trip with my two brothers through Switzerland in September. In the end it took 12 years until it was a fully functional campervan. So the Switzerland trip was still with matrasses thrown into the back, no kitchen block at all and a portable battery-powered radio-cassette player instead of a car stereo. But it was a great trip.
In 1997, a porta potti and a fold-out bed (my own construction) were added. I rebuilt the bed to a conventional rock-and-roll bed in 2005. Less sophisticated mechanism, easier to use. In 1999 the spare wheel went from under the front bench to the front of the car. A very basic kitchen block was added in 2000 when the bus was officially re-registered from a truck/delivery van to a campervan. In 2002 a catalytic converter was added. The kitchen was replaced by a much more refined version (including a 5L gas bottle, gas cooker and gas/12V/220V fridge) in 2007. In 2007, also the dividing wall between driver’s cabin and rear area was removed and driver’s seat and double passenger seat-bench were replaced by two caravan pilot seats, with the passenger seat on a turn table. The van accompanied me when I moved from Freiburg to Dortmund and later on to Berlin. It was vehicle and home for many trips through Western Europe and Scandinavia and my daily driver for all that time. Its active duty ended with 225.000 km on the clock in 2010. Rust in many hidden corners required a full restoration. I did not have the money to do this right away, so we retired her and put her into storage. Our second bus, Taiga Lily, came into our life in 2010 and was road-worthy in 2011. While the first bus was most of the time simply called “the Bulli” (German nickname for the kombi), it transitioned into “Old Lady” when the much more youthful and less rusty Taiga Lily entered the stage. But today this is to you, Old Lady! May you be back on the road some time in the future!

The beginning: a naked panel van.

The beginning: a naked panel van.

Random meeting with another late bay.

Random meeting with another late bay.

A few weeks later: Windows added in the rear, additional high beams at the front.

A few weeks later: Windows added in the rear, additional high beams at the front.

First trip, somewhere in the Swiss Alps.

First trip, somewhere in the Swiss Alps.

Random kombi meeting in Switzerland: Girls from New Zealand with rented kombi from London.

Random kombi meeting in Switzerland: Travellers from New Zealand with rental kombi from London.

1999 in Dortmund: Even more front lights, front spare wheel and a cool registration plate.

1999 in Dortmund: Even more front lights, front spare wheel and new number plate.

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