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.


Sleeping Beauties

8 03 2015

Last weekend I went over to the garage where our two kombis are asleep. Taiga Lily (sage green and white) just for her winter break, the Old Lady (red and white) taken off the road permanently and waiting for better times and a full-blown restoration job. I had placed some dehumidifier bags into each bus some 4 weeks ago. Luckily they had hardly changed (i.e. were not dripping with water) so the place is indeed quite dry. I finally got myself a flexible spanner (can be adjusted to size 31) to start a new tradition of turning the engine manually once per month. For the 1600 ccm (50 h.p.) AS engine in the Old Lady this is quite easily done by turning the central screw on the crankshaft clockwise, with gearbox in neutral (see photo below). Some 4 years ago I was told that the best way to keep such a VW bus engine happy in storage is to take out the ignition sparks, fill a tea spoon of engine oil into each cylinder, put the sparks in again and then turn over the engine manually once per month, to make sure that all parts are permanently covered in oil and rust is not starting anywhere within the engine block. I last started the Old Lady’s engine when I relocated her into this garage on a tow truck which is almost three-and-ahalf years ago. To my relief, the engine still turns over easily, no obvious signs of rust. Will take care of this job more regularly from now on.





25 05 2013

A sad night for Dortmund. The BVB, the local football team, lost in the Champions League Finale against Bavaria Munich. First time that two German teams were in the final, an exciting and quiet balanced match, all happening in England. And Munich wins – what a shame. I moved to Dortmund in 1995 and stayed for four good years. Great people, and an infectious excitement everywhere for the football club. I had bought the Old Lady, my first kombi van, just before I moved to Dortmund. Below is a snapshot from 1999, proudly taken on the day I had installed the spare wheel on the front. Nice Dortmund registration. Triggered the occasional smile with custom officers…


Rock And Roll Bench, Part 1: Getting Started

24 07 2012

I finally got started with building the rock-and-roll bed, a bench in the back of the kombi that can be pulled out to form a bed. I bought the mechanism two years ago from the German kombi supplier bus-ok.de, advertised as suitable for T1, T2 and T3. They came without any instructions, but the guys at bus-ok.de said that basically all the hinges on the market are clones of the originals ones from Reimo, a German campervan conversion specialist. And for those I had instructions because I had built them into our old bus, the Old Lady, in 2002. These instructions can also be found here on the internet. My sheets are labeled 2002 instead of 1990, but otherwise they are exactly the same. So in 2010 I put the new hinges aside and nothing happened for two years. Now with the Berlin Bus Festival starting in a few days, I finally picked up the thread again some two weeks ago. I got the boards cut in a local DIY market, in birch multiplex because I really like it. I went for the strength recommended in the Reimo instructions: 15 mm for front and side walls and 21 mm for the sitting board and back rest (19 mm as recommended by Reimo were not available in this material).

Leon Dogwonder with the boards for the new bench.

Hinges shown in the two positions, bench and bed, testwise attached to the side boards.

Hinges seen from the backside.

To give you an idea of how the finished bed-bench combination can look, I will add some photos of the Old Lady below. Taken in a dark underground garage, so it all looks a bit dodgy and dusty, but you will get the idea. One can also still buy the Reimo rock-and-roll bed mechanism I had used in the Old Lady. The set is officially for the Volkswagen T3/T25 bus (08/1979-07/1990) (Reimo part number 58001) and designed so that the bed level is 12 cm higher than the T3 motor compartment so that the bed can/should be combined with a 12 cm high storage room on the engine compartment. The same hinge can also be used for the T2 without storage space above the engine as the engine compartment of the T2 was just that much higher anyway. In the Old Lady I had increased the bench hight from 36 to 40 cm so that I could keep a 4 cm storage space above the engine. Good to keep tools and spare parts. But as a drawback one was sitting just those 4 cm too high and too close to the ceiling.

Rock-and-roll bench/bed in the Old Lady, a 1978 T2b.

Bench in the Old lady pulled out into the bed position.

Brackets that stabilize the bed position from underneath.

Additional support with Reimo foldable table foot.

Coming Soon: The Berlin VW Bus Festival 2012!

3 07 2012

The 5. Berlin VW Bus Festival is approaching quickly. It is organised by the Berlin Kombi Club (Berliner Bulli Stammtisch) and attracts more buses each year – last year around 400! It will all happen on July 27-29 in Jueterbog, about 70 km south of Berlin, on the old airfield of a former Russian Army Base. It’s basically a T3/T25 bus meeting, but there is the occasional bay window (like us!) and split-window bus as well. Pretty cool events going on, like the syncro trial where four-wheel-drive T3s are driven through an obstacle course up and down through a sand pit, with points for speed and skill, and racing of (pimped) buses and beetles in a 1/8 mile race on the old air strip. There is also a family area (less loud in the evenings and nights) and a program for the kids. This year the plan is to build the image of the front mask of a T3 bus with 513 buses. And it all ends with a show and shine evening and a big party. So if you are around for the weekend of July 27-29, have a look yourself! Below are some snapshots from the 2009 Berlin Bus Festival which we attended with our old bus, the Old Lady.

Leon Dogwonder and the Old Lady at the 2009 VW Bus festival.

T3s in the evening sun.

Getting ready for the orienteering race.

A T3 Syncro four-wheel-drive digging in a sand pit, at the Syncro competition.

Waiting for the start at the 1/8 mile race.

A 21-window Samba

A freshly restored T2a campervan.

T2b Westfalia Campervan

Syncro DoKa (Double Cabin)

T3s at sunset.

Late Bay Instrument Wiring

13 05 2012

Now this is more something for me when I am not sure anymore how all the wiring looked before I took it apart. Hope it will also be useful for someone out there when they have already started disassembling things and realize too late they did not take photos before. Taking the main instrument block of the late bay out is quite easy – you loose the four screws (counter metal pieces will fall down), pull off the red and blue plastic grips of the hot and cold air, reach under the dashboard and up to the speedo and unscrew the central speedometer shaft. Then you can slowly lift the whole block up and out. I once took off the steering wheel before to have space to maneuver the instrument out more easily. But it also works with the steering wheel left in place. I took the instruments out now several times within the last year because I switched dashboards between my two buses. Interesting: Volkswagen stamped production dates on their instruments. And the one of my Old Lady, stamped 1978, fits to the car while the one from Taiga Lily is from 1979 (speedo) and 1978 (clock), respectively – several years older than the bus itself which is a 1976 model and was produced in Nov. 1975.

Front of Taiga Lily’s instrument unit.

Upper instrument unit (stamped 4.79) is from Taiga Lily, a 1976 microbus, with VDO clock as built in by Volkswagen. Lower instrument, stamped 7.78, is from the Old Lady (1978 panel van), with a clock from Motometer added in 1995.

Detail of the Old Lady’s instrument wiring.

This photo and below: Details of the wiring of Taiga Lily’s instrument block.

The Old Lady shipped to her winter quarters

2 12 2011

Yesterday I got the Old Lady shipped over to the garage. She was parked out in the open in a backyard since August. She is not registered anymore, so I had to have her moved by a tow truck. But the engine did start and she made the final meters into the garage on her own. Now she is nicely parked away in a dry and safe place, together with Taiga Lily.

On the tow truck, again...

Both buses tucked away in the garage.

News from the Kombis

19 11 2011

Got Taiga Lily out of the garage today and started to complete the ceiling of the driver’s cabin: All cables taped together and fixed in the rails left and right above the doors and above the windcreen. Reimo Xtreme mats cut to seize and taped to the ceiling for insulation. Now the only thing still to be done this year is to cut and attach a covering panel. I also want to build a holder for the radio, above the rear view mirror. But that will have to wait till next year.

I also gave the Old Lady a quick wash. So that she is pretty when she will be put into storage next week.


Getting the old kombi ready for winter

11 11 2011

I finally got around to clear out the old kombi and to start getting her ready for winter storage. Over summer, the Old Lady was abused as general storage room while I was working on Taiga Lily. And in July I had taken out her nice dashboard to implant it into Taiga Lily, but then never got around getting Taiga Lily’s old dashboard into the Old Lady. So yesterday I finally cleared out all the rubbish and put the dashboard back in. And how beautiful she looks again! Will need one more day to get the instrument unit back in and then need to ship her to the garage.

July 2011 - gutted cabin after dashboard was removed

Nov. 2011 - Dashboard back in place

Living room/kitchen area accessible again after tools and rubbish have been cleared out

Kombis in the sun

4 09 2011

I had to move out of the hall where the two buses have been in temporary storage for the last 8 months. Still have not found a new place, so the two are currently sitting in a backyard. Luckily the weather is finally a bit more summery here in Berlin.
We bought a second-hand Westfalia roof some three years ago, but I have never come around to build it onto the old bus. Just to get it out of the way and have it stored safely, I finally placed it on top of the old bus. And suddenly she looks like a full blown camper van. Admittedly like a quite filthy one, but still. I think I will keep the roof and build it in in a couple of years, when I hopefully come around to make up that bus again.