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The Classic Volkswagen Kombi – Does It Still Make A Practical Daily Driver?
The air-cooled Volkswagen Kombi is an automotive icon. It’s a classic van full of character and many young lads (and lasses) still aspire to have one as a daily driver. But are they getting a bit long in the tooth now to make a practical tool for everyday use?
I drive my 1976 2L window every day and my experience gives a good indication of what you might need to do to make your unrestored Nation safe and comfortable to drive as your primary car.
Volkswagen Kombis are now over 30 years old and it shows. I’ve spent a lot of time and money over the last few years getting mine back to reasonable condition, and if you buy a cheap Kombi you should be prepared to do the same. Even a more expensive Nation will most likely need some repairs and TLC.
The 1800cc and 2 liter models are the most practical because they have more lift and movement than models with smaller engines, although the engines cost more to rebuild.
First the inversion.
Nations are cool, they’re iconic, they have character, and they’re definitely not boring.
They are fun to drive and when in good condition, are comfortable and handle well with good steering. Later-model bay windows keep up with fine traffic and can cruise at 60 mph all day, though they slow down on bigger hills.
And they are practical. There is a lot of room in a nation. Maybe not as good as a modern van because of the hump for the rear engine, but they still make a great camper or 8 seater van with room for luggage or groceries. Ground clearance is good and the rear-wheel drive gives good traction for a two-wheel drive if you want to go a little off the beaten track.
Now, here’s what you should consider if you plan to own one of these as your daily driver.
Rust is certainly the biggest killer of the Nation or any old car. It’s much better to spend a little more money and get a reasonable rust-free Nation. However, as a rust-free Nation finds you, there’s still a lot to eat into your money before it’s practical to use your van every day.
The motor may be worn. I rebuilt mine a couple of years ago with new barrels and pistons, all new bearings, crankshaft and camshaft, and rebuilt heads. The heads were converted for use with unleaded gasoline at the same time. All this costs money.
Steering and suspension are safety related and should be right.
In the suspension I replaced the four main ball joints and shocks. With the steering I replaced all the bed ends and the main center pin. The steering damper is next on the replacement list, and that should see the right steering for my Nation. It’s always possible that yours will need a new steering box as well.
Your Nation’s brakes must also be fair. The brake linings are something that needs regular replacement, but I also replaced the rear brake drums because they were worn beyond the limit, and the front discs will need replacing next time the front brake pads wear out. .
I have replaced all the flexible brake hoses because they are now over thirty years old and getting brittle and I have replaced some of the metal brake lines because they were corroded. The rear brake cylinders were replaced a few years ago and the front brake calipers were rebuilt with new seals.
There are four cv joints in the rear gear, and the ones in my bay window were very sad. They were replaced along with the rear wheel bearings.
A very important area to look at is the fuel lines for the engine. Kombis burn, and it is caused by gasoline splashing all over the engine. Check the fuel lines carefully and if they look old and cracked replace them with a quality fuel line. Make sure they don’t rub against the tin cans and that the pipes going into the cabin and fuel pump aren’t loose. This is important!
As well as things you know may need fixing, there’s always the unexpected. A spray nozzle came out of the carbon on my window and went through the engine. It’s just a small thin brass tube, but it looked like there were marbles swinging around in the engine. Thankfully there was no damage, but it meant pulling the engine and removing the cylinder heads to check everything and remove the spray nozzle residue. And just this week I had to replace the alternator.
In addition to mechanical wear and tear, there are also cosmetics to think about. Your freewheeler may need a paint job, new carpets, new upholstery and even the front seats may need some attention.
On the comfort side, new door and window seals may be needed to stop noises and drafts. The heater may need attention. In my Nation the heater cables were caught. This didn’t bother me until I moved from a hot part of the country to a much colder area where temperatures drop below freezing in the winter.
On the plus side, parts are readily available. For my Nation, a 1976 2 liter model, I was able to buy every part I needed except the carb spray nozzles, and even then I was able to get by with parts from another VW model.
My opinion is that despite all the repairs and restorations, the Volkswagen Kombis can still be a practical daily driver. You must accept the fact that your purchase price is only part of the story and that you will need to spend time and money to restore your classic Nation to a safe and comfortable condition.
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