Fantastic articles in todays papers : http://www.theage.com.au/drive/motor-news/kombi-van-of-the-people-20091001-gefr.html The Kombi was designed as a commercial vehicle but somehow captured the world's imagination. You can understand how a prestige car or a high-performance model could become a cult item. After all, they're designed to tug at the heart strings when they're new, so there's a decent chance they'll have the same appeal when they're a few decades old. But how did a vehicle designed in the late 1940s by a car dealer and destined to work out its life dropping off parcels, hauling frozen fish or delivering cut flowers became one of the biggest automotive cult hits of all time? We refer, of course, to the humble Volkswagen Kombi and its surprising rise to become one of the most-loved vehicles on our roads. Kombis are hotter than lava lamps and cooler than Frank Sinatra. If you need proof that everyone from teenage girls to 60-something surfies wants one, sit down and take a look at the current crop of magazine and TV ads. Companies from tyre makers to internet service providers (that's a "splitty" in the Big Pond ad) want to be associated with the brand. Surf shops now feature spruced up versions in their entrances and every second T-shirt worn in trendy suburbs seems to bear a VW surf wagon motif. The reason for this outpouring of love is relatively simple: Kombis are a feel-good car. Just think of the family vehicle in the movie Little Miss Sunshine - an air-cooled Kombi. As a cheerful counterpoint to the mixed-up psyches of the family members, the old VW (in happy, sunflower yellow no less) was perfect. Part of the Kombi's current appeal is also to do with its unassuming appearance. There's not a single aggressive line or a solitary curve that's calculated to suggest speed. In older, split-window Kombis the effect is pure art deco, a variation of the design style that gave us classy New York apartment foyers and the New Zealand city of Napier. And if ever a car had a benign face, the Kombi is it. You can be sure you won't be seeing Big Arnie stealing one for his transport in any Terminator flick. The Kombi was not, as many would tell you, inspired by Hitler's Third Reich. True, its stablemate, the Volkswagen Beetle, was conceived as Hitler began to industrialise and dream of mobilising pre-war Germany, but the Kombi came along years after Adolf and Eva had met their richly-deserved ends. In fact, the whole idea of the Kombi was the brainchild of a Dutch VW importer, a clogged-up individual by the name of Ben Pon. The birth of the concept was one of those classic back-of-a-beer-coaster moments as Pon started figuring out a way to stretch the basic Beetle's virtues of simplicity, reliability and affordability to a broader, small-business audience. Like the Beetle, the eventual design incorporated a rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels, which, in the end, was the design's true genius. By keeping the power unit compact, the Kombi had a cavernous load area in its belly with a low floor height for easy loading. Double side doors made a tradesman's life even easier and the Kombi was soon being built in panel van, mini bus and utility forms at the factory. Beyond that, it was further modified and used by postal services, fire departments and airports, as well as countless other small businesses that soon came to rely on the Kombi as an essential tool of the trade. Of course, it didn't take too long before private buyers caught on. Bigger families were lured by the Kombi's potential to seat up to eight and buyers looking for a recreational vehicle (let's just call them hippies) were attracted to the car's obvious charms (mainly that you could sleep in it). Which is where the aftermarket stepped up again and began offering a range of camper conversions. Suddenly, the Kombi was the must-have for the serious surfer or anybody following the trail of ganja smoke across Europe and Asia. That the Kombi was also economical to run, reliable and surprisingly capable on marginal tracks only helped to cement its place in the free-wheeling scheme of things. The most amazing thing about the cult of the Kombi these days is that the vehicle still exists in any meaningful numbers at all. The Kombi was never designed to be loved or to last much beyond its economically viable working life. Yet it has, defying all the odds in the process. While a lot of Kombis have definitely gone to commercial vehicle heaven, the ones that survive now fall into two distinct categories. There are the ones that are in pristine, fully restored condition, live in warm, dry garages and will probably still be loved family members decades from now. And then there are the basket cases: featuring plenty of rust, faded, flaking paint, a dent in just about every panel and worn-out mechanical components. But the reality is that the last group is really just the first group in waiting. Thanks to the vehicle's rarity and popularity, there's no longer such a thing as an unrestorable split-window Kombi any more. Many Australian cars are being snapped up on internet auction sites and being shipped to Britain (and the rest of Europe, where the Kombi's cool status is even greater than here). The attraction of Aussie cars lies in our dry climate, which has been much kinder to the surviving examples. British enthusiasts have been known to rebuild the lower 50 centimetres of a rotten Kombi in the name of restoration, so the lure of a car with a relatively small amount of rust is obvious. But even more amazing is the emergence of a whole new sub-set within Kombi culture. It's called the "rat-look" and it relies on restoring the mechanical aspects of a car so that it's safe and reliable but leaving the cosmetics as time has left them. Faded paint is valued (more so if the vehicle's original sign-writing is in place), a tatty interior is a badge of honor and honest-to-goodness moss and lichen along the roof or around the windows is as prized as the rarest factory option. Try getting away with that at the next Ferrari concourse. See www.drive.com.au/blogs In love with a Microbus Matt Brinsden is a typical modern Kombi owner. He admits he is completely smitten with his classy 1964 Kombi Microbus which predates him by several years. And the love affair is shared by his family, with partner Johanna Gilbee and son Jack, 3, both firm fans of the vehicles. The family's Kombi boasts all the necessary child-restraint mounting points for Jack's capsule and they use it for outings when speed is not considered a priority. Brinsden bought his first split-window Kombi back in the '90s in his late teens for the now-unthinkable sum of $200. "Actually, it's funny," he admits, "because initially, I hated VWs. But as soon as I drove one, I was hooked." It's not an unusual story. "Since then, I've only ever been a couple of years here and there without one," Brinsden says. "I'm never as happy as when I'm driving a Kombi." Despite being a true believer, even Brinsden is surprised by the hype that surrounds these cars today. His current 11-window Microbus uses a later-model 1600cc engine but in all other respects is stock standard (apart from those child-restraint anchor points). The Brinsden family is the car's second owner after it was discovered in a paddock near Kilmore, north of Melbourne, complete with a dent in the side and a damaged paint job. Nothing that several thousand dollars and several hundred hours couldn't fix, of course. After all that, the '64 gives every impression of being around for another 45 years. So is she for sale, in case a Drive Life reader wants to join the Kombi club? "Er, no. In fact, Jack will inherit this old girl." Dozens of Kombis are expected to to take part in a convoy to mark Manly's Festival of Surfing next month.