It's all about the sto­ries

Peo­ple car­ri­ers are en­tirely func­tional, which makes it dif­fi­cult to build an emo­tional bond with them. There is one peo­ple car­rier that’s hard not to love and in an ef­fort to find out why, we packed one up and drove out to Parys.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - ADVENTURE DRIVE -

There’s no doubt that the VW Kombi is a favourite around the globe and not just here in South Africa. In Brazil, for ex­am­ple, the orig­i­nal was built and sold in large num­bers un­til the end of 2013 when safety leg­is­la­tion fi­nally killed it off. In South Amer­ica, it lived on be­cause it was func­tional. The govern­ment bought thou­sands, con­vert­ing them into school buses, postal de­liv­ery vans and small fire trucks.

In the USA, it was a sym­bol of free­dom, just like its lit­tle brother, the Bee­tle.

It was even a mu­si­cal icon, trans­port­ing var­i­ous rock bands and their fans to and from venues. Both Bob Dy­lan and the Beach Boys hon­oured it by plac­ing it on their al­bum cov­ers, which meant a great deal back in the day when mu­sic still came in pack­ag­ing.

But what is/was its ap­peal in South Africa?

In or­der to find out, we got our hands on a brand­new Kombi short-wheel­base Com­fort­line with a 2.0-litre tur­bocharged diesel en­gine and a DSG gear­box.

Though it func­tioned per­fectly on the daily com­mute, we couldn’t let the op­por­tu­nity for a short week­end break pass through our fin­gers. But where to? Luck­ily, we heard about a Kombi col­lec­tor with a plot next to the Vaal, so Parys it was.

And what use is an empty Kombi, so we filled it up with good com­pany, pointed its nose to­wards the Free State and hoped that we’d find the an­swer to why we love them so much in South Africa.


The his­tory of the Kombi goes back all the way to 1945 and the US army suc­cess­fully cap­tur­ing Wolfs­burg. The US handed it over to the Bri­tish, who had three op­tions: burn it to the ground, take it back home in pieces and re­build it in Bri­tain, or leave it as is. They went for the lat­ter, sim­ply be­cause one Amer­i­can Ma­jor, Ivan Hirst, no­ticed one of the cars, had it painted green and pre­sented it to his bosses. They all agreed it was a wicked lit­tle car and that it might be a nice way to boost the lo­cal econ­omy. There was a mas­sive un­em­ployed work­force, so why not use it? Volk­swa­gen was back on its feet.

In the late ’40s, it de­cided to broaden its line-up, which con­sisted of only the Bee­tle. This broad­en­ing would be done via two cars cater­ing to two dif­fer­ent au­di­ences. The first was the Bee­tle cabri­o­let, the sec­ond the T1 peo­ple car­rier. And here we are, decades later with the T6 Kombi, which is a su­perb peo­ple car­rier.


Ask any par­ent what the ul­ti­mate lux­ury is and the an­swer won’t be heated mas­sag­ing seats, ges­ture con­trol or an elec­tric tail­gate. No sir, the ul­ti­mate lux­ury is hav­ing the kind of space where you don’t have to worry about space ever again. Never hav­ing to won­der whether all the lug­gage will fit, or whether there’s enough room for the kids to bring their friends along on hol­i­day. In a Kombi, the an­swer is al­ways yes, and then some.

There’s more to it than that,

how­ever. Sure, the space will al­ways be the big sell­ing point when it comes to this car, but be­cause it’s a Volk­swa­gen, you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate the qual­ity of the space as well. It all fits to­gether nicely, the touch points are made from high-qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and the op­tional touch­screen sound sys­tem does a splen­did job of pro­vid­ing en­ter­tain­ment on those days you don’t have com­pany along for the ride.

Noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness lev­els are also worth men­tion­ing. As the driver, it was fairly easy to carry a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one in the third row.

It’s ef­fort­less to drive, too, mostly thanks to the 132kW/400Nm biturbo diesel, mated to Volk­swa­gen’s now fa­mous DSG gear­box. It ac­cel­er­ates briskly and ef­fort­lessly in town but it’s at its best on the high­way with cruise con­trol en­gaged. We recorded a com­bined fig­ure of 10.1l/100km on this trip, which is com­pletely ac­cept­able given the size of the thing.

In fact, the only prob­lem we have with the space is that things are so eas­ily lost once they hit the floor. A friend pro­vided a good way of look­ing at it, though: “The Kombi is so big that you’d dis­cover things in it years later the same way you dis­cover a R20 note in a jacket from the pre­vi­ous win­ter.”

For now, back to the space. The Com­fort­line DSG is only avail­able as a short-wheel­base, but don’t let the nomen­cla­ture fool you into think­ing it of­fers any­thing but co­pi­ous amounts of space.

There are two seats up front, three in­di­vid­ual seats in the mid­dle and three more in the third row, all with enough head and legroom for even the tallest hu­man be­ings. Be­hind that is a spa­cious boot, large enough for four peo­ple’s lug­gage, all the cam­era and clean­ing equip­ment needed for a Leisure Wheels

shoot and a drone. With all that packed in, it’s about half full.

That’s at least part of our ques­tion an­swered. Peo­ple love and buy them be­cause they’re good cars that of­fer loads of space and com­fort at a rea­son­able price. If you need all of th­ese things, it’s a log­i­cal choice.

What about the other half?

The other half of the rea­son is more dif­fi­cult to quan­tify, be­cause it deals with emo­tion and the non-log­i­cal por­tion of our brains.

It starts with the in­tro­duc­tion of the Kombi to the South African mar­ket. Since VW was es­tab­lished here in 1951, it didn’t take long for them to ar­rive and they’ve been part of the land­scape ever since.

Like any other model that’s been on sale that long, there are a lot of sto­ries that in­volve Kom­bis.

Over the course of writ­ing this ar­ti­cle, we en­coun­tered many, many Kombi sto­ries, but in fear of over­work­ing our tal­ented and as­ton­ish­ingly skilled sub ed­i­tor, Alan, we chose to stick with just one. (You for­got ‘good-look­ing’ – sub ed)

This par­tic­u­lar story in­volves the dearly de­parted fa­ther-in­law of one of our staffers, Oom Jo­han Pot­gi­eter.

Hav­ing pur­chased a brand­new 2.3-litre soon af­ter the turn of the mil­len­nium, he de­cided to take his fam­ily of five on a hol­i­day to Mpumalanga. Be­fore set­ting off on said trip, he pur­chased a fridge to fit inside the in­te­rior, which was a source of pride back in those days. The fridge was there to keep the beers cold, he said. Af­ter a long day of driv­ing, there’s noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing than crack­ing open a cold one and re­flect­ing on what was likely an ad­ven­tur­ous drive.

On their way down to Cango Caves, the wife and kids wanted to stretch their legs at one of those in­ter­est­ing road-side shops that sell ev­ery­thing from scratch cards to tyre re­pair kits.

This shop also sold a va­ri­ety of the stinky cheese Mrs Pot­gi­eter liked so much, but there was still a long road ahead and with­out re­frig­er­a­tion, the cheese sim­ply wouldn’t make the trip.

Luck­ily, there was still space left next to the beers, so with cheese in hand, the fam­ily set off to do the long trip through the caves.

What they didn’t know at the time is that the youngest mem­ber of the fam­ily, firmly seated di­rectly be­hind the fridge, had ac­ci­dently kicked the wiring loose, ren­der­ing the fridge com­pletely use­less. Ac­tu­ally, not use­less as such. A closed non-op­er­a­tional fridge filled with beer and stinky cheese, mounted in a car parked in the warm South African sun for six hours makes a rather nice stink bomb.

Hav­ing emerged from the caves, Oom Jo­han met up with a few of his mates from back in Pre­to­ria, which turned out to be the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to show off his new fridge, mounted to his new set of wheels.

Imag­ine his sur­prise and dis­may when he had noth­ing to

“He of­fered Gree­nie as the sub­ject of our shoot but the other run­ning ve­hi­cle was just too good to pass on. It’s a red camper­van, lov­ingly re­stored and in per­fect work­ing con­di­tion”

Main: The deputy ed­i­tor caught ly­ing down on the job while the pho­tog­ra­pher snaps the mod­ern Kombi among a col­lec­tion of old car­a­vans.

Above: The gravel roads sur­round­ing Parys are in a rel­a­tively good state and along the way you might find some de­cent, four-legged com­pany. Note the dual slid­ing doors and the sheer amount of legroom in the sec­ond row. Space for days. Be­low: Old and new driv­ing side by side on the out­skirts of Parys. In terms of speed, the new model wins hands down, but when it comes to styling…

This page: As we weren’t in any kind of rush, we drove to Parys the long way round. The Kombi fared ex­tremely well, even though it was front-wheel drive. Be­low, left and right: A seem­ingly in­tense dis­cus­sion over some choco­late cake at Plum Tree in Parys. The Old School Diner is a must for Volk­swa­gen and mu­sic fans alike.

This page: Bring­ing some much-needed colour to the dry land­scape next to the pol­luted Vaal River. Op­po­site page, clock­wise from top: Febé-Marié Horn and Daniëlla van Heer­den get caught up in the Westy life­style. The in­te­rior of the red Westy, lov­ingly re­stored to orig­i­nal con­di­tion. Stan­dard fare in­cludes a ta­ble, some cur­tains and a com­fort­able bed. As a driv­ing tool, the new Kombi is much bet­ter. A qual­ity leather steer­ing wheel, touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment, cli­mate con­trol and a DSG gear­box. As a means of trav­el­ling long dis­tance with com­pany, few cars come close.

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