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Drive Life : May 14th 2010
1HERSA1 0008 Only at Hornsby Honda Hornsby Honda's Biggest Ever Clearance New, Used & Demo cars to cle Unbeatable Deals across the ran Hurry - Must End Sunday! 8 Drive Life May 14, 2010 drive.com.au COVER STORY TONY DAVIS Hippie shakers Wide berth . . . the interior of a 1957 VW Kombi Microvan. Photo: Marco Del Grande Uncomfortable, underpowered and frighteningly unsafe --- so how did the classic VW Kombi become our latest must-have machine? Occasionally you are called on to test a vehicle that you expect will be dangerous or unpleasant, yet it turns out to be sprightly, nimble and a fulfilling, all- round wonderful driving experience. Alas, the 1957 VW Kombi was no such vehicle. It lacked power for a start. And braking ability. And grip. And refinement. The equipment level would make a Trappist question what he'd signed up for, while the aerodynamic profile could only be ''unimproved on'' by turning the vehicle sideways. The only two things this barn- door Kombi van (popularly known as the ''splittie'' for its twin-windscreen arrangement) didn't lack were seats and charm. For all its faults and privations, it's the most sought-after example of possibly the only commercial vehicle with a global fan club comprising young and old, rich and poor. Its position as the archetypal hippie wagon of the 1960s and 1970s perhaps explains why local prices are on the rise -- and why English dealers make regular trips to Australia to grab and ship out every example they can separate from an owner. Demand in Europe is even higher. Sixty years ago the first example came off the German production line. That 1950 model -- officially called the VW Type 2 -- was a miracle of space efficiency: fillable with people and/or cargo from bumper to bumper and edge to edge, thanks to body sides that were slightly thicker than a Home Brand tin can. It was also a masterpiece of engineering efficiency. It borrowed its platform, suspension, engine, gearbox and almost everything else mechanical from the Beetle and other VW products, including the WWII Kubelwagen. The maker didn't feel it needed a bigger engine than the Beetle's 1100 flat four, despite the newcomer being called on to carry almost unbelievable weights. Within a few years there were panel-van versions, pick-up versions, sliding-door delivery vans, purpose- built ambulances, fire trucks and tipper trucks. And, of course, camper vans. But being Beetle- based, they took as much punishment as they were given. Which was usually a lot. The 1957 version we drove for this story was almost identical to the original model but for its slightly bigger engine (1200cc). It is absolutely stunning how much room has been liberated in a vehicle the length of a Beetle. Helping is the height; and that the driver is cantilevered over the front axle in the most threatening way -- the early Kombi possibly supports the argument that cars would be safer if they were more dangerous. You certainly leave the broadest margins around you when driving because there is no miracle technology that's going to jump in and save you if you get things wrong. You're going to be first to arrive at any accident, too, followed by eight of your closest friends. Visibility is not a strength. The view behind is via a small window in the hatch and an exterior rear-view mirror. As for other people seeing you, the rear lights are minuscule: a half-candlepower brake light in the centre and two tiny reflectors. The seats are quite wide, so it was not unusual for early Kombis to be to be used as 11-seaters (or more). Climbing into the driver's seat requires quite a twist of the feet to get around the pedals and the In the metal To celebrate 60 years of the Kombi, about 40 interesting examples will be on display at Darling Harbour Forecourt from 9am until 4pm this Sunday. The display Kombis will include early campers, barn-door 'splitties' and a 1974 'bay window' with 2 million miles (about 3.2 million kilometres) on the clock.
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