German styling from Britain’s most innovative manufacturer
Type 2 Kombi T1
David Scammell’s father bought a Kombi in 1964. Money was short and the vehicle expensive so he made a few of his own modifications to get his Kombi to the level of specification he wanted, but couldn’t afford from the factory.
It is no secret that I am a fan of commercial vehicles, be they truck, ute or van. So when my brother told me of an early VW Kombi which has been in the same family from new, has never been restored and is still in regular use, this pushed both buttons; it was a commercial and it was an original vehicle, my other fascination. Time therefore to head to Feilding and take a look!
The story of the development of VW post-war from the original Porsche- designed (and possibly “borrowed” from the mind of fellow Austrian designer Hans Ledwinka) KdF-Wagen to the Käfer (Beetle) has been told before and I am sure the very short-sighted member of the British Military, when on an inspection tour of war-ravaged Germany in search of any worthy prizes to be handed out among the victors declared the little four cylinder air-cooled car to be of no value whatsoever lived to regret his passing over of the world’s top-selling car of all time.
There was never any intention for the VW to be built as anything other than a car. That is, until in 1946 when the Dutchman Ben Pon visited the rebuilt works at Wolfsburg, looking to import cars into the Netherlands. It was here that he spotted the factory hack and envisaged a production version, based on the floorpan of the VW Type 1, aka Beetle.
...some red paint,
a hacksaw and voila! One new pie dish became two new
VW air scoops.
At the time, the factory was working at full capacity making cars to fill the demand for cheap, basic and reliable transport as the world recovered from the war and it was not until 1949 when the enterprising Dutchman’s concept became reality; a purpose built vehicle, basically the same length as the car but on a separate chassis with a unitary body on top, powered by the same engine and gearbox, but working through reduction gears to allow the tiny 1100cc engine of the first versions to be able to pull the extra weight.
With a growing family, Bruce Scammell was not going to let this stop him from continuing his love of the VW, so the natural choice was to go from a Beetle to a Kombi and that was precisely how it was done, and in 1964 the family Beetle became the family Kombi.
Now, any reader with knowledge of the type will see instantly that there are some things about this car which are not quite as per the factory. This is an astute observation as the Kombi’s current custodian, son David, pointed out, it was fitted (literally within the first few days of arriving in the Scammell family driveway) with what he described as “period bling”; Some purely for personal aesthetic reasons but equally some for practicality, within the limited budget at the family’s disposal.
On the outside, the first thing to be changed was the VW emblem on the front. Bruce didn’t like the large one fitted as standard so it was immediately removed and replaced with a small one from a car. The original one was carefully put aside and now resides in David’s garage.
Any early VW owner will tell you that the 6 volt headlights were never that great. Bruce got around this by adding a relay to the headlight circuit and also fitting a large pair of spotlights, running through a separate circuit and also with their own relay.
Even the front number plate got the special Scammell treatment. Apparently Bruce was a fastidious cleaner of cars and to make sure no part was missed, the number plate bracket is hinged so it folds forward out of the way to ensure all of the front panel can be accessed for proper washing.
He did not believe in polish as he thought it removed too much paint, the Kombi having never seen polish since the day it left the factory. Very frequent washing and waxing have kept the paint in amazing condition for a vehicle soon to celebrate its 60th birthday and which has covered 207213 miles and at no stage of its life has it been anything but a well loved mode of family transport, well looked after but never coddled!
When viewed from the side, more of the practical period upgrades to the Kombi are evident.
Towing a caravan was one of the tasks asked of it from new. Bruce decided that he needed to ensure the maximum amount of cooling air possible was directed at the rear-mounted 1500 engine so he fitted scoops over the air intakes.
They don’t look homemade, as aesthetics were of great importance to Bruce, so he just had to think a little laterally.
A quick trip to the local hardware shop and problem solved... some red paint, a hacksaw and voila! One new pie dish became two new VW air scoops.
Factory running boards may have been an option at the time, but almost certainly outside the budget yet very necessary for getting the family in and out of the car comfortably. So being a fellow of a practical bent, he made his own, attached them to the chassis and they are nothing if not solid. Yet, as like all the additions he made to the car, nothing looks like it was tacked on as an afterthought.
As it left the assembly line, the wheels were painted in body colour, so in this case, red.
Our new Kombi owner thought that the white on the front and rear bumpers didn’t really match anything else on the car so his solution was simple. Instead of repainting the bumpers, the wheel rims went from red to white. An easy job and if it hadn’t been pointed out to me by David, I would never have known it wasn’t the factory finish.
Yet it is the interior which really had the full benefit of Bruce’s improvements. The only way he could afford to buy the car was in the lowest spec possible. This meant the inside came with seats and a hood lining but not a scrap of comfort or refinement beyond this. For that week or so after the Kombi arrived at his Taumarunui home, he must have been a busy boy!
The back of the front bench seat is a solid pressed steel panel, with a recess for the spare wheel. Not so friendly to the noses and front teeth of any unrestrained offspring sitting on the first of the two rows of back seats. Some padding and matching red vinyl made it safer, look better and also was a good chance to mount a rear speaker for the 6 volt valve radio (remember those?) and the grab handle from a Beetle to make climbing in easier.
On the floor went some lino of a colour and design I distinctly remember as a young child on my grandparent’s kitchen floor. It must be pretty strong stuff as it still is in very good shape today.
To the doors and side panels, what appears to be Formica or something very similar, was cut to shape and screwed in place, while around the rear, padded material was added to cut down the noise and cover the last of the large expanse of painted steel.
Getting into the front seat to take the car for a drive, it was clear that as well as looks and comfort, the Kombi had some very practical additions to the driver’s compartment.
We have already mentioned the radio, controls nicely fitted to the dash, with the large box containing the workings of it further down and a delightfully 1960s chrome aerial out front.
An extra button on the floor works the foot pump for the aftermarket windscreen washers while in the panel in the roof, which normally just holds the controls for the ventilation system, now also house a clock and a rev counter, the rev counter having seen service in several Beetles prior to installation in the roof here.
Apparently the gear lever on a Kombi is a rather short item, not the most comfortable to operate. Not in this one. It has been extended and falls nicely to hand, which is quite important, as with only 1500cc to propel it, on a long journey there will be a fair amount of gear-changing involved.
So having been given the run-down on what makes this such an important piece of his family’s history, we took it for a drive.
I have driven Beetles before (well, one at least) and to be honest, I thought it was bloody awful. I hated the pedals, wasn’t fond of the seating position, it was noisy, uncomfortable, not exactly lively or all that much fun to drive.
Total heresy to my father, who along with both brothers Ashley and Kerry and mates Noel Probyn and Brian Spragg, all used and abused VW Beetles as everyday transport in rallies, hillclimbs and sprints in the lower North Island in the late 1950s and early 1960s and won’t hear a bad word said about the People’s Car.
The Kombi on the other hand was a ball of fun! Seated up high and perched right at the very front, visibility is as you can imagine, fantastic. Pedals are well spaced and the brake and throttle nicely positioned for a heel-and toe downshift, not essential but it helps lessen the load on the transmission which has never been touched since the car was new.
With the steering wheel virtually horizontal, changing direction makes you look and feel like a bus driver but it is light and very controllable and even in a strong cross-wind it was not a struggle to keep the car pointing on the straight and narrow.
90 km/h is achieved at 3400 on the overhead rev-counter and with the engine being at the opposite end of the vehicle and surrounded by all of the extra soundproofing Bruce had added in that busy week in 1964 after he bought it, there is almost no engine noise at all.
The only give-away that we were travelling at speed was a bit of wind noise around the ¼ windows in the doors, the original rubbers having hardened with age and are probably due for replacement before too much longer.
Of course the huge advantage of a European vehicle of this vintage over many others is the availability of parts. There is nothing which cannot be purchased brand new for this sort of vehicle and prices are amazingly cheap.
Like the gearbox, the suspension has not seen any remedial work in its life and on the flowing back roads of rural Manawatu, there was neither any sign of body roll (it handles better than many socalled “sporting” cars I have driven) nor any sign of creaks, thumps or rattles from underneath to belie the huge mileage the Scammell family have amassed in it.
Really the only part which isn’t as it was when new is the engine, and the major work was done not so long after purchased. This was one of the very first 1500cc VWs built, the engine simply being a stroked version of the earlier 1200.
Unfortunately the crankcase was not up to the task and many of these engines gave trouble, to the extent that VW re-engineered the crankcase for later versions.
Of course we need to remember that this was in the days when a warranty was not much better than 20/20 (20 miles or 20 feet from the showroom, whatever happened first).
So when Bruce’s Kombi decided to rupture itself, things were a little grim. Yet, to VW’s credit as they had no obligation, they supplied him at cost with the later model and stronger 1500 which he fitted and which sits in the back to this day.
As we were driving along, it occurred to me that the name of Scammell was ringing bells in the deepest recesses of my shallow memory.
“Are you related to an Esther?” I asked David. The reply, “Yes, she’s my sister”.
Hmmm. I wonder if she still remembers the incident at a Los Angeles airport hotel 25-odd years ago involving a swimming pool, a locked gate, a grumpy security guard and an inflatable bust of Ronald Reagan? It is not totally inconceivable that there may have been drink involved but I could not possibly comment. The travel industry could be fun too!
And finally, where did the name “Kombi” come from? In German, Kombinationskraftwagen, or combination motor vehicle. Basically, station wagon!
How do you define “original”? The badges on the front are not those it left the factory with, but basically every modification made to this Kombi happened within the first couple of weeks of its life and all done by the first owner. Below left Extra air is sent to the engine bay by a pair of scoops made from a most unlikely source. Below right See that pressing on the trailing edge of the back door? Pressings are the same for left and right, on the right the depression is where the driver’s door handle would hit when back seat passengers open the door to get in
More family heirlooms, the service book (full of dealer stamps), handbook and sales brochure. Below Inside, the efforts Bruce Scammell went to in making his new family car as comfortable as possible are what makes this Kombi unique
A relic from 1979. Carless days are an almost forgotten part of our recent motoring past The scoops were for a reason which the towbar betrays. This Kombi has spent many miles with a caravan in close formation
Old commercial vehicles can be an acquired taste. They are slower and noisier than the cars they are based on yet they still have a charm all of their own
A roof mounted rev-counter isn’t a standard Kombi fitment but this item had already served in more than one Beetle before finding it’s way here