How to Restore an 1971 Ex Army VW Kombi Lowlight - Earl
In July 2013 we started work on a 1971 Ex-Army VW Kombi Lowlight microbus. You might remember we posted some "before photos" to give some kind of benchmark that indicates where we started. Most of our Kombis take about 3 - 4 months from start to finish, but this lump of coal needed some extra polishing before we could make her shine.
We thought there was just a bit of rust in the passenger door and above the rear wheel arch, but the sandblaster found a few extra surprises for us. As each panel was taken back to bare metal, a decision needs to be made: Do we keep this and repair it or simply replace with a better panel altogether? We prefer to keep the original doors and panels, as it means the car will go back together again without the worry of something not being the original fit. Sometimes its easier to just cut your losses and grab a part from one of the donor Kombis.
Lots of tiny pin sized holes along the lower front nose indicated that she was badly affected from the inside - all of the lowlights we have restored seem to suffer from this problem. A few gentle cuts revealed that it was only the outer skin that needed to be repaired. The doors, sills, and doglegs were all compromised. We usually remove a much larger section than needed to ensure we thoroughly remove any affected areas, and to ensure we are working with good metal.
All the doors, fittings and panels were taken back to bare metal, repaired and treated with a rust converter/primer/sealer and then sprayed with primer. Each area gets a generous spray of fish oil to prevent further decay. We can then start looking for imperfections that will affect the finished product - these are usually filled and then a guide coat is applied to find the really small stuff that you only see after the car is painted. More sanding, and more filling, and then we can apply the undercoat. Finally the 2Pak goes on and a cut and polish gives the final result. A good example is how this banged up rear valance for the engine bay polished up to brand new!
The roof was fully headlined when we started, but it was badly torn and ripped, so the whole lot had to come out. Under the headlining, each section of roof has a hessian mat glued to it, in order to reduce noise and vibration. Unfortunatley, the roof had started to decay where the glue and 40 years of condensation had taken their toll. This meant we had to strip the inside of the roof back to bare metal (try doing that one day yourself) and treating with more rust killer, before we could respray the arches white and apply a tidy marine carpet to the roof panels.
We gave the underside a good gurney, and then checked the chassis (OK), steering (OK), suspension (OK), brakes (ummm)... a new master required + both slave cylinders, a line flush and new front calipers, and then the engine and gearbox. My mechanic had a lovely 1600 that he had replaced the seals on and fitted a lovely Empi quad exhaust to. It purrs like a kitten, so to make sure we have no dramas, the fuel tank was removed and cleaned with all new lines - clamped firmly into place. Thankfully those pipes fit just below the new bumper.
The finishing touch is always the seats and bedding. In this case we used an Australian Design Rule (ADR) compliant rock n roll bed from Kustom Kombis for the 3 seater fold out bed. Newcastle Custom Trim came through with the goods again, by fitting up 2 old front seats that we had sitting in the yard. New foam, a couple springs repaired and even matching headrest covers to complete the look. This was continued into the back, so the straight lines go right through the Kombi. We finished all the doorcards ourselves in black, to match the checkerboard floor.
The finished Kombi is designed to look understated, but with the refinements of white wall tyres and the dashboard has been finished in off white as well. The sound system is the final touch, but we have yet to see what goes in at this stage. The 2Pak grey has a flattening agent to reduce the shine, and give a low maintenance finish. I'm sure the new owners are looking at curtains to brighten the overall effect. I hope you like it, cos we spent 6 months getting to this stage - phew!
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