The VW Kombi has carved out a reputation as a unique part of the Volkswagen family.
The concept of a VW van that could haul more people than a VW Beetle was largely attributed to a light bulb moment in 1949 for an American-based VW importer who was fascinated with the light trucks offered by Volkswagen instead of the soon-to-be-famous Beetles.
The man’s name was Ben Pon and his “What-if?” moment included a sketch of a VW microbus (van) that interested the Volkswagen people enough to build a version from their light truck platform.
The van versions would share the same powertrain base with the Beetles and would never be known for their neck-snapping performance in stock form. In fact, an early VW Kombi/van/microbus would be powered by a modest 36 horsepower air-cooled engine that ensured its driver and passengers would enjoy a leisurely pace on their way from Point A to Point B.
The early VW Kombis’ lack of velocity took a back seat to their association with counter-culture owners during the 1960s when hippies and surfers bought used Kombis for other reasons. You could stuff plenty of shaggy people and/or surfboards into a VW microbus and head out in search for the next big wave on the California coast–or San Francisco for that matter.
The journey to the destination in an early edition VW Kombi was leisurely in the kindest definition of the term. 0-60 mph times were measured by sundials–and prayers that included steep downhill grades with a strong wind directly behind the German vans.
The fact that VW vans did not move down the road very fast was a secondary issue for most of its owners because they were generally not in a big hurry. The mystique associated with these early Kombis has grown in direct proportion with their inability to keep up with modern traffic. In short, these famous hippy wagons are a hot commodity.
Donald Verhesen is the proud owner of a 1957 Volkswagen Kombi and he owns one because of his own personal history with the famous VW vans. Donald’s first vehicle was a 1976 Volkswagen van and he has always carried fond memories of the iconic VW models because of his history with his first one.
He had an opportunity to purchase a 1957 Volkswagen Kombi about 4 years ago and seized the opportunity. The fact that Donald was born long after the Elvis era (and the 1960s for that matter) did not stand in the way of his purchase because he was a big fan of the German van.
The Kombi’s original engine has been replaced with a more muscular 1600 cc VW engine, but even this swap does not provide enough horsepower to make the van a ¼ mile king.
Donald defines his ’57 VW as “kind of a half-survivor” that is a blend of maintenance and originality when it comes to its interior components and exterior elements. 62 years is a long time in the life of most vehicles, but Donald wants his Kombi to retain as much of its uniqueness as possible at this point in its history.
Donald likes the fact that his 1957 VW Kombi is a big conversation topic for its many admirers and realizes that “everyone’s got a VW story” when they see his van. The Kombi may not be fast-but it’s a great ice breaker.
BY: Jim Sutherland
Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section.
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