Righteous Kombis Blog
This is Sunny, a 1975 VW Kombi Microbus with a 2-1 bench seat up front. We’ve been working on this project through the winter months, and I reckon it’s time we wrote a story about him. When we moved out of the workshop, both my panel beater and myself took a well earned rest from the Kombis, but we had one spare Kombi that was straight, rust free, and all the parts and equipment were in good working order. So rather than bust our guts we decided to enjoy the journey and take some time to enjoy the process from the comfort of our own garage. Over the past 3 years we’ve experimented with a few design ideas and finishes, so this was a nice way of pulling them all together and making a complete project for ourselves.
As for the colour – we wanted to create a deeper, richer tone of yellow while maintaining the classic 2 tone colour scheme. We stripped out the interior seats, door cards, flooring, headlining and window rubbers as they were all looking pretty tired after 40 years of adventure. That also gave us access to the floor pan, window sills and hard to reach spots that often hide the rust.
We've seen some really poor kombis this year, but this little guy only had a few scrapes down the side. The left door step had a bit oof rust under the rubber and a few cuts had to be made around the tail. The most annoying thing is when you start rubbing back the roof, and you discover all those tiny pin spots under the original enamel. These all have to be brought back to a healthy shine before the joyous cycle of - prime, rub, undercoat, rub, 2 pak, buff - can put a lasting finish in place.
Every surface that needs a respray must be cleaned and prepared and primed, or you may as well not bother. I have seen some awful reactions between an old coat of enamel and a fresh coat of 2 Pak. This Kombi had an exeptional floor in both the front and back, so we were able to give it a light rub down and soften the base with some prepsol before laying down some primer, stone guard and then finishing with a top coat of 2 pak.
We've skipped the traditional headlining and gone for a marine grade carpet headliner. This might sound like its easy, but it means rubbing back all of the ceiling framework and rear hinges, priming, sanding and finishing in 2 Pak, before carefully glueing in the sections of headliner. It involves a lot of effort getting the edges tucked in and looking tidy so the paintwork really stands out. We've done this before on a few of the kombis because it gives the feeling of more headroom and doesn't suffer from an impact with a surfboard fin.
One of the things I like about the kombi business is how so many parts and fittings are traded, swapt and haggled over to eventually get your customised look. I have never seen 2 kombis the same and this will be no different! The 5 spoke empi wheels were horse-traded for a rear seat that went into the back of a splitty. A new steering wheel and some rubber seals were traded in return for some respray work, and the spotlights were swapped for an old bullbar.
The seating compliance is for a full 9 seat capacity as there is the bench seat in the front. However we opted to remove the middle bench seat to provide more room and versitility in the back. All new door rubbers and seals complete the look. A full mechanical report is available for this little gem to help take some of the worry out of the buying process. You can check out his ful bio on the Righteous Kombis Ad page:
We get a lot of enquiries from proud Kombi owners who are ready to part with their pride and joy. Often they would like to know how much they are worth before listing an ad. There is a rough benchmark that I still use - a good mechanically sound and registered, running Kombi may cost between $7000 - $10,000. If the paintwork and the upholstery are in great condition then maybe $10,000 - $15,000. They are like houses - they will sell for what someone is prepared to pay.
Then you venture into the area of Kombis that have been resprayed. There are good spray jobs and crap spray jobs. A crap spray job will actually send the price backwards, but if there are no ripples or orange peel in the finish, and the seals, rubbers and trims have all been replaced, you are looking at a comfortable range of $20,000 - $25,000. If that sounds like a lot, it's because Kombis are SOOOO BLOODY BIG! They need lots of repairs, lots of primer, lots of undercoat and lots of 2Pak. Did I mention LOTS of sanding back in between each coat?
The worst thing you can do, is not get a mechanic or inspection company to have a look at the Kombi BEFORE you buy it. These inspections cost between $200 and $300, but they will save you from buying an expensive money pit, or at least reassure you that it's safe to drive home in.
Here is a run down of a recent pre-purchase inspection we had done on a 1975 Camper:
- Body Condition Average.
No Major Panel Damage.
Has Had Several Minor Repairs.
Engine Bay Wiring Tidy Up Required.
Petrol Pump Leaking Fuel.
Water Under Passenger Floor Mat, Possible Windscreen Leaking.
Petrol Leaking From Carburettors.
Left Hand Rear Wheel Cylinder Leaking Onto Brake Linings - Complete Rear Brake Overhaul Required.
Both Rear Brake Drums Over Size.
Left Hand Flexible Brake Hose Missing Retainer Clip At Wheel.
Front Brake Pads Worn - Replacement Required.
Brake Pedal Rubber Worn.
Drivers Seat Belt Frayed And Webbing Damaged.
Left Hand Seat Belt Unit Mounted Incorrectly.
Accelerator Pedal Only Has 1/4 To 1/2 Travel.
Engine Miss Fire Under Load.
Right Hand Front Shock Absorber Leaking.
Front Shock Absorber Lower Rubbers Split.
Front Shock Absorbers Not A Matched Pair.
Steering Box Adjustment Required.
Right Hand Lower Ball Joint Has Movement.
Excessive Play In Front Wheel Bearings.
Right Hand Front Tyre Rubbing On Suspension Arm At Full Steering Lock.
Left Hand Rear Tyre Worn On Inside Edge.
No Ignition Lights In Dash.
No Speedo Or Warning Lights Work In Dash.
Left Hand Reverse Light Not Working.
Windscreen Wiper Rubbers Require Replacement.
Right Hand Exhaust Mount Bolt Broken.
Various Engine Oil Leaks.
How much would you pay for a Kombi like that? It was advertised for $10,000. I'm glad we ran the inspection because I was hoping to drive it home from interstate!!! Once you consider the mechanical and electrical work involved I reckon thats a $5000 Kombi. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Back in 1998 I was restored my first VW Kombi - an 1800 panel van with webber carburettors - she used to go like the wind... OK, more like a big white brick plowing its way through a gale, but fast nevertheless. My biggest headache was that there was no seat in the back - or a bed for that matter! My surfboards and partner at the time deserved better. It took a LOT of stuffing around and knockbacks from the RTA before I finally got a working solution.
You may have your own reasons, in fact many of the original rock n roll beds are now failing, unsafe or simply not big enough for those who desire a bit more leg room. So where do you start once you've had that lightbulb moment, and decided that your deserve something more in the back?
The first thing to consider is your complaince plate or rego papers. Do they say 2 seats or 5 or 9? If you are in possesion of a valid 5 or 9 seater kombi, then you might say that you're kind of in the clear - Just go and buy any aftermarket seat and get it installed - there are plenty to choose from for $600 or less. If your Kombi has been continuously registered as a 5 seater or more, the motor registry assumes you havent messed around with the fittings, and you should be "OK" if you're in an accident.
But what if you only have a 2 seater Kombi? Maybe you want to carry young kids in the back? Maybe you've heard that some of those aftermarket beds are not ADR (Australian Design Rule) compliant. How do you install a solid rock n roll bed that will pass safetey inspection and get your family on the road? We've done a few of these now, and each job has had its challenges.
1. Get a bed/seat - We have been using the ADR compliant bed frames that are made by Kustom Kombis on the Gold Coast. These are the only legit bed frame we've found that can be used for either a T1, T2 or T3 Kombi. The soliution consists of the 2 brackets, frame, 2x boards and foam and fittings. Price - $950 incl. freight.
2. Find a good upholsterer - We have used a couple of auto trimmers over the years - The key issue is to ensure they understand the design you want. The price will depend on the complexity and the finsh you want. Spend some time looking at other peoples seats, checkout Google images or your mates Kombi magazines. The price will range upwards from $700 incl. a matching rear cushion. Make sure you check in on their progress - we have done 7 or 8 now and its important to be sure that everything lines up and looks right. Often they can take 6- 10 weeks before they can fit you in.
3. Order your seatbelts - You will need 2 static shoulder mounted belts (one for each side) and a middle lap belt. Make sure you have brand new seat belts that have been fitted with a white ADR label. Cost $300. We use the Seatbelt King for most of our seatbelts. Panel vans and 2 seaters often had the 10mm bolt holes for the shoulder mounting bogged and sprayed over in the factory, but these can be drilled out and cleaned to reveal the standard holes with an embedded nut inside the body of your Kombi.
4. Find 2 x seatbelt lifter brackets - These brackets lift the shoulder mounted seatbelts up above the window line, and in line with your seat back. They will help with the angle of restraint in an accident.
Good luck finding these, as most people throw these away when they first remove a seat from the back. The last few we had custom made at a fabrication workshop for $90 pair.
5. By now you have all your elements ready to assemble. Fit the seatblet lifter brackets and seatbelts first, as they are much harder to bolt in around a bed frame. Then drill your holes and install the bed frame (instructions are supplied). You might realise that your upholstery guys have stuffed up, as its only NOW that the pieces are coming together. Don't worry, it's part of the fun!! Fitting the frame and belts normally takes us about 3 - 4 hours depending on the job, so budget $250 for labour or use your own time and effort.
6. Whether you have kids or not, an automotive engineer will want to see child harness securing points in the back. Its the law. So you can either secure these bolt points above the engine bay (which messes with your rear cushion) or you can get a crab bar installed by a professional installer for $450.
7. Now you are ready to have an automotive engineer signoff on your work. These guys can be found on the RTA website. They will charge you $500 to inspect and certify that the car is indeed safe to seat 5 people now.
Obviously this all adds up - You're looking at over $3000 just to get a basic, child friendly, but street legal solution. I don't mean to scare you off in any way, rather its better you approach any project with your eyes open and with a clear expectation of the end result. Maybe you have more questions than answers - just drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally we referred to this kombi as "The Honey Badger". It just seemed to have that kind of "I don't give a crap" kind of attitude. His undercarraige was loaded with bucket loads of mud from the unsealed roads around Bulahdelah. He had a few scars and some wounds that had been covered with a generous helping of bog and lashings of house paint. As usual the quarter windows were rusted out, but overall, his body was straight, and his bones looked pretty solid and free from rust. Purchase price $1500 - no motor included.
While the engine bay was empty we got stuck into the battery trays and drained the fuel tank.This is one of the hardest areas to clean and gurney. I have never enjoyed the task of removing the black tar that is used to seal the welds which has cracked and shrunk over time.
Worse still is the process of cleaning years of caked on grease and road grime. Every surface needs to be rubbed back and prepared before finally applying fresh seam sealer and a few coats of 2pac. Nice! Thankfully my mechanic had just finished rebuilding a solid 2 Litre engine that would marry up to the existing gearbox, so now we have a running Kombi with a nice clean engine bay.
A few other details needed to be sorted out like new ball joints on both sides, new brake calipers, starter motor, CV joints and some electrical issues that had our VW specialist scratching their heads for a week! The engine was running pretty rough at first, but the boys from Nymeyer were right across it and soon had our kombi purring like a kitten.
The front nose of our kombi also needed serious attention, as we discovered a minor crack that revealed a frontal impact that had been repaired with INCHES of bog. The workshop was filled with dust and rust as the grinders set to work. The more you grind the more you find, and the Honey Badger was no exception. The A-pillar (next to the windscreen) needed a cut here and a weld there, and the doglegs needed some attention as well. I'll admit that by the time we had addressed all the damage and rust affected areas, there wasn't too much of the original colour left behind.
In fact, by the time the primer and undercoat had been applied, our kombi looked nothing like the original Honey Badger. This is when Louise paid us a small deposit and asked if we wouldn't mind painting him turquoise - just like a lowlight project we finished 1 year ago called the Eagle. Hmmm, another name change might be needed... How about Ariel? As soon as we applied the first coats of paint, the name stuck.