A strange regulatory quirk means the ancient Type 2 Kombi can still be imported into the UK as a new vehicle. These fresh-out-of-the-box campervans look like the originals from the 70s, but there’s a big difference at the back—VW has swapped the air-cooled motor for its new water-cooled 1.4 liter ‘Total Flex’ fuel-injected engine.
The largest (and only ‘Official’) VW Kombi converter in the UK is Danbury, the 70-year-old Bristol company famous for creating the six-wheel-drive Land Rover. Your new Kombi comes with a comforting 3-year warranty, and Danbury told us it’s “the only company in the world that can convert these vehicles to right hand drive using new parts.”
So far, so good. But then there’s the small issue of price. In Brasil, your average Juan can buy a new Kombi for around £11,000 ($18,000). But when it’s been shipped to the UK, modified to meet local regulations, given a lick of paint, and fitted with a campervan interior, the price doubles.
Danbury charges £18,999 (US$31,500) for its basic ‘Amigo’ model. For the top-of-the-range SE, the well-heeled English hippie will need £31,354 ($50,000). Which is enough to put a 2009 Airstream Flying Cloud 19 on your driveway.
And that’s before you’ve perused the massive accessories list—which includes an elevating roof, and will soon feature power steering too. (If you want that conversion to right-hand-drive, add another grand on top.)
Another UK specialist is VW DownUnder, a younger British company that imports Kombis via VW Heritage, the UK’s largest supplier of VW parts. They’re offering kitted out campervans for just under £25,000, and they also stock new ‘old stock’ air-cooled models and secondhand buses.
VW DownUnder’s buses are mostly custom-built: “The vans we convert for our customers are 100% bespoke,” they tell us. “Each one is totally unique and tailored to our clients’ individual needs and requirements. Our big thing is quality–we won’t allow any van to leave the workshop unless it is 100% perfect, something our customers have commented on time and again.”
No matter where you get your ‘new’ Kombi from, the base vehicle is the same. The water-cooled motor is hardly a fireball–it splutters out 80 bhp at an asthmatic 4800 rpm–but it does meet the UK emissions regulations. Top speed has crept up to 130 km/h (80 mph) and it takes a slightly stoned 16 seconds to reach 100 km/h.
Unfortunately VW Brasil fits a new plastic grille on the front of the Type 2 body, and it’s an abomination. It’s needed to supply airflow to the radiator, but the chunky design jars badly with the otherwise smooth, timeless lines of the Type 2. Danbury and VW DownUnder fix this by color-coding the grille to match the body, and Danbury also offers a dummy ‘spare wheel cover’ that allows air to pass through.
Most bodies roll off the South American production line in white, which has a cool, minimalist vibe. But the UK converters can respray your new vehicle in almost any color you want—whether it’s just the lower half, or an all-over tan.
That’s enough for us: we’re sold. We’ll take one in a flat sandy beige with hi-gloss chrome hubcaps. We’ll slap on a couple of discreet Coop decals, cut a loop off the springs, and then take it straight to the neighborhood engine shop for some light head work.
It’s rumored that VW is going to build a new Microbus in the USA soon. But if the lure of oldtimer camping is too strong, get an instant fix with the rustic Tonke Camper from Holland. (Oh, and thanks to Steven from the VW camper hire outfit Snail Trail for helping with this article.)