Righteous Kombis Blog
This is Sprout. A Kombi that started life as a 9 seater deluxe microbus with full headlining and interior trims. We have just finished restoring her for a client in Brisbane - who saw it for the first time on completion.
I was initially taken by the fact that she was a complete, original Kombi that had not been mucked around with, resprayed or bogged in the usual places. A very straight body with no dents, but I do remember the seller mentioned, "its just got a bit of surface rust". The original 1600 engine was missing, but thankfully We had just finished rebuilding a nice 2L engine that was looking for a home. I knew that there were some sections that needed some TLC, but overall I thought she was a good starter.
At this stage, I can introduce Craig, who was looking around for his dream Kombi, but couldn't quite decide whether to buy an existing project or to start from scratch and get a design that met his exact requirements. Craig just wanted a nice green and white kombi that he could use to take the family camping and fit his surfboards into. It needed to be able to sleep 3 people in comfort, and have seating for 5 people.
Despite the fact that Craig was in Brisbane, and we are 800km away in Newcastle, I though we could still provide a project brief, and keep Craig up to date with the usual photo diary that we create for every Kombi that we restore. A bit risky considering the first opportunity that Craig would get to see his new Kombi would be the day he flew down to take delivery - and then drive it home. We introduced Craig to some of our past clients, and within a couple of weeks a budget was agreed to, and we started work.
As we began to dismantle and label the working parts, we noticed that there were a few areas that needed a cut and repair:
· A minor section on the rear roof
· The back floor was severely compromised where it met the front seats
· The left and right door steps needed repairing
· The drivers side door had completely disintegrated below knee high
· The tailgate was badly rusted
· Some rust in the front wheel arches
· Just a little surface rust on the front nose cone
· and there seemed to be some rust hidden behind that front bumper
Thats not much - is it?
OK, YES IT IS!
The scary stuff was hidden behind that front bumper. As we cut and ground our way back to the chassis, it became obvious we would need a new inner front skin + an outer front skin. Thankfully these pieces of steel are readily available, and soon the welder was hard at work.
As we worked our way up the front nose cone it became obvious that the windscreen channel had also rotted away , as well as a few areas near the headlights so more welding was needed. Surface rust my ass!
Inside the Kombi, the dashboard was badly rusted, so a new dash was purchased & fitted. We decided to keep the original deluxe doorcards as they were in such good condition. However that beautiful, original headlining was water damaged around the window line, and there was little we could do to remove the brown stain. Another judgement call, and sadly we had to rip it all out – the headlining, the sound deadening mats, and all of that bloody glue! The roof supports and interior were completely resprayed, and a nice marine trim was refitted to the ceiling. At the end of the day, no surfboard fin will ever damage that finish.
We also sourced an ADR Rock n Roll bed from Kustom Kombis on the Gold Coast. These are a safe way of providing a nice comfortable full width bed that converts into a solid 3 seater. The kick panel was designed to fold down so that someone sleeping on the floor might have some more leg room. It depends on your engineer, but we always fit the seatbelt lifter brackets on the sidewall of the Kombi – this ensure the belts are above shoulder height.
As for the undercarriage, we started by giving the fuel tank a full steam clean, and a gurney underneath and in the engine bay. The black tar that seals the welds and framework was falling away and rotten, so this was replaced with a new sealant and the signal green 2Pak was applied over the top. She was now ready to receive our 2L engine and gearbox.
Up front we fitted new ball joints on the left and right, while also fitting some later model brake callipers to the 72 front end.The brakes should have been easy – but then we discovered that a previous owner had put what looked like engine oil in the brake system. After some serious head scratching we ended up flushing the entire brake system – twice.
The electrics had us baffled as well. What was previously a fully functional system, started to short circuit, and then fail as we had bumped a few wires during the refit. Our trusty indicator stalk gave up the ghost and the starter motor wouldn’t kick in. If I could time travel back to 1972 and grab the engineers by their neckties, I would be asking them to put an inline fuse between the indicators and the indicator stalk!!
After 3 months of hard work, things started to come together. Craig was flying down from Brisbane with his family to drive Sprout home, and we still had work to do. I felt like I was stuck in an episode of Masterchef or something, because it went right down to the line. The road trials were going well but we still had work to do on those brakes…
2 days later and I received the following text from Craig, “1 pull over from the cops. 1 thumbs up from a road worker. 2 peace signs from passing Kombis. Plenty of looks!... Great drive back, even if a little slow. Thanks for enabling our dream to be realised.” Phew!
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!
All good things come to those who wait! It's been a 3 month long process, but today we put the finishing touches on Orange Crush. The devil is always in the detail, and this little charmer was no exception. Our original brief was to remove any rust, freshen up the faded orange paint job, and fit some new front seats with a new rock n roll bed - Easy!
We ended up removing the poptop and making serious repairs to the roofline, which of course led us to reupholster the poptop canvas and new headlining throughout the Kombi. I should give a big thankyou to Newcastle Custom Trim, who came up with the goods yet again. Along with the new seats and a beech floating floor, the look is now complete.
In addition to the paint and interior refit, we've added a dual battery setup with input for a solar panel so she will never run out of fizz. We have also fitted some nice slim line LED interior lights to ensure there is plenty of light along the interior of the Kombi.
We have added some new sliding windows to improve the ventilation, and fitted all new door cards to match the colour of the seats - nothing over the top, but clean and elegant. Brand new seatbelts have been fitted in the back, along with the all important shoulder lifters that help the belts clear the rear seat back. This is an Australian Design Rule (ADR) rock n roll bed, that is rock solid and complies with current requirements for carrying 5 passengers - in style.
Even the bull bar was removed, blasted and resprayed, along with the rims that were finished in a simple gunmetal grey. All new window rubbers and fittings combine to make this one of the sexiest VW Kombis we have done yet. Keep your eyes peeled and be sure to give the owners a big wave when you see them cruising down the street.
About a month ago, a VW Kombi caught fire on Parramatta Rd, Sydney, and burnt to the ground. There was no explanation as to what caused it, or how the vehicle had been maintained.
Since then, I have been mulling over the problem, and trying to determine whether it is a problem specific to air cooled VW in general, or do all cars suffer this fate due to bad maintenance?
I have come across many Kombis now that all have a fire extinguisher fitted as part of their standard equipment. It makes sense, especially in campers where you have a cooker, fridge, or other electrics that may cause old and brittle wiring to overload.There is a good case for replacing the electrics when you restore and renevate that 40+ year old Kombi that will now be your pride and joy.
However this still does not address the issue of a fire coming from the engine bay. For many of us that have owned a Kombi, we simply fill up with fuel, put the key in the ignition and expect it to work. However there are a couple of simple things you might want to take a look at next time you open your engine lid.
First of all check your fuel lines. They should be dry (not wet with leaking fuel) and free from cracks or freyed at the ends. Where they meet at each junction, they should be secured with a stainless metal clip, to ensure they don't pop off and spray petrol all over a hot engine/alternator. Confused about your fuel lines? Lets just say its a good idea for any rubber hose in the engine bay.
Secondly, you might want to check that no wires in the engine bay are old, cracked or worn. We've hopefully taken the fuel out of the equation but grease and insulation etc still burns. Its not just a VW problem - every car suffers from this once they get 40 years old.
And finally, you need to remember that an air cooled VW engine is... air cooled. So any build up of grease, dirt or scale will inhibit the ability of your engine to cool itself from the surrounding air.
I'm not saying we all have the time, skill or tools to drop our engine out of a Kombi and remove the tinware to have a look at the build up of years of grease and crap, but if it hasn't been done for a few years, then it might look like this. Its like putting another layer between your engine and the cooling air that stops it from overheating. Every surface of your air cooled engine is designed to help it lose heat, and the tinware that surrounds it should be channeling that cool air into every nook and cranny.
This is an example of an engine that we pulled out of a Kombi a few weeks back. It needed lots of degreaser and attention with a scrubbing brush. You might even score a bonus spark plug that got dropped when someone was last trying to replace them.
Even the rocker covers that protect your valves are designed to help lose heat, so if they are covered with muck inside and out, then your motor will be struggling to lose heat.
Now for some of you this might not be rocket science, but its worth putting out there to help prevent another burning Kombi on the side of the road. A little maintenance goes a long way. See you on the road!
We first met our Orange Camper about 2 months ago, and started working towards a brief that would result in a Kombi that would resprayed in original orange with a white window line and roof. It was to be enjoyed on a daily basis and taken to the surf, with a few modern touches like a new fridge, microwave and updated cabinetry. On first look, we thought that the body was in fantastic condition, with little or no rust that was very obvious. This one should be easy!!
After doing some research and creating a scrapbook of ideas, colour schemes and finishes, our client helped remove some of the interior for us, including some really uncomfortable bucket seats that were digging into his legs. The gas bottle, sink and water tank were all no longer required, as this space could be utilised for much better things - like a full width rock n roll bed! The poptop and headlining looked OK, so we decided to leave them in place. Then we removed the windows.
Alas, virtually every window sill was badly eaten away Front, sides and rear - in fact we decided to throw away the tailgate and salvage another from one of our donor Kombis. Whenever you get a camper with a sink, I can guarantee that the floor pan under the cupbpoards will be rusted, and this was no exception. In addition to this, as we started working our way around the car, more and more rust showed itself to be evident. At least the door steps looked OK...Actually no, they were really bad too. So methodically we worked our way around the Kombi, from the nose cone repairs, the side steps and the rear quarters that always seem to rust out. That gas bottle insert needs to be filled up too.
So far so good. All the repairs are completed, and now we'll just take a peek at that roof. &$%^^&%$#%$*%(*&)^ CRAP!!! That tiny little bit of rust, just seems like it could be worse that it looks, so the owner has agreed to go further and remove the pop top, and investigate - this means carefully removing the internal headlining, unscrewing 30 self tappers, and undoing all the electrics that supply the internal 240V system. What pleasant surprise awaits us?
Ok, so more repairs are needed, but at least we now have an excuse to install brand new headlining, electrics, and a new canvas for the pop top roof while we are at it. We can also get right into the roof gutters to treat and prevent any further rust from getting started. I am tempted to grind off the fiberglass edge from the pop top roof that rests inside the roof gutter and acts as a water/leaf trap.
At this stage we now have the car repaired, primed and ready for the colour. All the hard work has been done, and we'll post a few shots of the finished Kombi soon!
Introducing Ruby, a 1971 Ex-Army VW Kombi Lowlight microbus that was one of 9 Kombis that we purchased from Steve Muller of Kombi Rescue back in 2012. I knew this one was special when we started lifting up the floor and the paint was still shiny like the day it left the factory. Until now she has been waiting for a new owner with the right vision and a budget to restore her to something better than new.
I enjoy posting the before photos, to give some kind of benchmark that indicates where we started. So far we have spent a couple of days removing the glass, headlining, seats, seals and electrics. What blows me away is that this 42 year old car has no rust in any of the window sills, door steps or the usual spots where you expect them to fall apart. Just a bit of rust in the passenger door and above the rear wheel arch.
She has been prepared and marked out for the sandblaster, to ensure that there are no hidden nasties in those hard to reach places. The next stage will see us begin the repairs and priming while her new owners struggle to finalise the instructions for her final look and finish. We already have a well tuned 1600 engine with a twin exhaust that should slot right in the back. Stay tuned!!
We have been working hard on the Betty Blue project over the past few weeks to finish off the details that make all the difference. Sorry its taken so long, but I hope its been worth the wait.
She has had a visit to the VW doctor to make sure that she was properly lowered, and all of the running gear was in good condition. Bearings, CVs and steering were all checked, and a new steering box has been fitted. The engine has been checked and tuned, but I should warn you that when a good engine is taken off the road for an extended period of time, some of the seals may shrink or dry out, which can cause leaks that you had never suffered before - Bugger!
The electrics created their own challenges (as usual), so beyond the normal checks we also fitted new blinker units and rebuilt the steering column controls. We have also fitted a push button start. Also had some issues with the fuel sender unit being incompatible with the later model dash we were trying to use.
Rather than using the fancy headlining that we have been so fond of lately, a marine grade carpet trim was applied to the ceiling areas, and carefully tucked in around the framework that had been sanded and painted in flipper blue as well. We hope this finish will provide a more robust surface that won't rip or tear as the Kombi gets put through her paces.
As far as the rear fitout goes: The new owners already have a good rock n roll bed that they will fit, along with their seatbelts and flooring of choice - so no photos that represent a magnificent interior until a few weeks down the track - sorry, but will try and update the post once we get some more happy snaps...
Dress rims and hubcaps complete the look with some good grippy tyres, so the lowered stance should see her pushing a little harder into some of the corners around town. As usual with all of the work we do, there is a complete photo album that details the restoration process so there are no hidden surprises. We hope you like her, as do the new owners who didn't give us a chance to advertise her before giving us a deposit - Not that I mind!
So the final layers of 2 Pac have been laid down and buffed back to a nice sheen. Middle windows have been fitted with nice new sliding glass, and the rest of the glass has been fitted. This is the fun part of the rebuild, except when you come across a sliding door seal that has been put in upside down... hmpf!
We have a couple of nice basket weave seats that slot perfectly into the driver/passenger positions, as well as a nice set of cream/grey doorcards that tone down the interior for a nice balance to the flipper blue and cream paint job.
We are still sourcing a good set of tyres that will look good with the dress rims.The engine is getting a tune up, and we're doing a final check on the electrics, but it looks like Betty Blue will be ready for next week! I think at this stage we're going to leave the back untouched, as everyone wants to do something different! Build a bed, rock n roll seat, cargo area?
Whatever happens I'm sure she'll find a good home.
I bought this Kombi from Jared 6 months ago, and since then, it has been gathering dust in the workshop,... until now. It was sprayed JET BLACK - inside and out. With black carpet lining in the front and back + drak grey door cards. It has been lowered to achieve a more aggressive stance and paired with a twin exhaust on a well tuned 1800 motor.
We had some initial thoughts that we might brighten up the engine a bit more and simply leave it as is... and maybe call her Black Betty. But as with every project we start, once you start sanding a little bit, the Kombi slowly reveals her secrets.
Overall the body condition looked pretty good, but there were LOTS of little dings, bumps, scratches and areas that felt a bit too bumpy for my liking. All the usual areas had suffered - bottom of the doors, sills, rear quarters, dog legs and the bottom of the windscreen. Fred Flintstone would have loved the floor under the drivers feet!
As we started the repairs, less and less black paint was left behind. In fact the more you work on each Kombi, the more they start to talk to you. Each stage we worked on revealed a lovely original powder blue, that on researching Kombis and colours is called Flipper Blue. My wife said, "that's a crowd pleaser!", but I reckon it will look drop dead gorgeous when she's finished.
So the final repairs are now completed, and the undercoat has been applied - at last! We hope to apply the dupont 2 Pac by Friday and start the refit by next week. The roof and window line will be a nice Dupont 2Pac off white, and the bottom will be Dupont 2 Pac Flipper Blue. As for a name, Betty Blue sounds pretty good! Will throw up some more photos when we're done!
When we started this project, I made sure that we took lots of photos of the original body and its overall condition. I am still blown away by the work that was done and the finished product. Our client wanted the car completed before christmas, but a project this big involved so many people:
- - auto electrics
- - mechanics
- - supply of ADR compliant rock n roll bed + all new seatbelts
- - all new rubbers, seals
- - custom 2 tone door cards & panels
- - upholsterers x 2
- - panel beating, respray and fitout
- - final sign off from an engineer on the rear seating
- - blue slip inspection
Overall the job took close to 4 months, in tandem with some other projects we were working on. Many lessons were learnt along the way, which (I hope) will hasten the timeline for our next project.
For a Kombi like this you can comfortably expect to pay around $30,000 as there is not just the cost, but a lot of project management that goes into this. It really depends on the starting condition of the vehicle we are given - in most cases we want to start with an excellent body with little or no rust.
Am I saying this will win a trophy? Maybe, maybe not - there are still some areas that are open for improvement, such as the 1600 engine - which was left largely in tact. No Bling!
I could keep rambling, but I will let the photos tell the story. The new owners are going to take some professional shots around its new home in Sydney. Personally we are really excited that we got to work on such an outstanding project, and look forward to seeing him on the road - Maybe at Valla?
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Recent blog posts
- Restoring a 1972 Deluxe VW Kombi Microbus - Sprout
- How to Restore an 1971 Ex Army VW Kombi Lowlight - Earl
- A Day on the Green with Orange Crush
- Do VW Kombis really catch fire and why?
- Orange Crush - A 79 Camper restoration
- Ruby - The 1971 Ex Army VW Kombi Lowlight
- Betty Blue - The Lowered 1.8 Litre Twin Exhaust VW Kombi
- Betty Blue
- Black Betty... No Wait! How about Betty Blue?
- The Eagle has landed - VW Kombi 72 Lowlight