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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


71 years of stories: Evolution of the Volkswagen Kombi

An unassuming factory parts mover led to the creation of an icon.


Towards the end of last week, the new Volkswagen Kombi officially showed its face in a teaser campaign of the seventh generation Transporter. The first completely new T-series model in almost 18 years, the T7 debuts a number of model firsts such as a plug-in hybrid drivetrain and sole availability of an automatic transmission courtesy of a shift-by-wire button arrangement. In spite of its designation, the T7 is however the long awaited next chapter in a storied history of not only one of Wolfsburg’s oldest nameplates, but also a global icon whose cult following during the 1960s etched it into…

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Towards the end of last week, the new Volkswagen Kombi officially showed its face in a teaser campaign of the seventh generation Transporter.

The first completely new T-series model in almost 18 years, the T7 debuts a number of model firsts such as a plug-in hybrid drivetrain and sole availability of an automatic transmission courtesy of a shift-by-wire button arrangement.

In spite of its designation, the T7 is however the long awaited next chapter in a storied history of not only one of Wolfsburg’s oldest nameplates, but also a global icon whose cult following during the 1960s etched it into automotive history.

RELATED: PICS: New chapter opened as Volkswagen debuts all-new T7 ‘Kombi’

In celebration of the newcomer, The Citizen turns the clock back 71 years to the very first Transporter and the second volks-wagen for the masses after the Beetle.

Type 2 (T1)

Bearing its internal name in response to the Beetle being the Type 1, the Type 2 came as result of the Plattenwagen, a Beetle based parts moving vehicle spotted by Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon in the Wolfsburg factory in 1946.

Convinced that the Beetle platform could be better utilised and expanded on, Pon’s scribbling of a doodle depicting a van using the same running gear eventually became reality two years later with the first model entering production in 1950 after being shown the previous year.

Volkswagen Kombi

Where it all started, the original Type 2. Image: favcars.com

Offered in a variety of bodystyles, the angularly styled Type 2 with its split windscreen, which gave rise to the “splitty” nickname, become the epitome of 1950s large family transport and the darling of the hippie scene in the 1960s.

Such was the Type 2’s impact that it remained in production until 1975 in Brazil, eight years after European assembly came to an end. As is also well known by now, it remains hugely collectable with prices often in six figures depending on the model and condition.

Type 2 (T2)

Less dramatically styled, the T2 Volkswagen Kombi arrived in 1967 and apart from being the first to feature the option of an automatic gearbox, it also had more power but still rode on the same basic platform as the Beetle with the engine located at the rear and drive going to the rear wheels.

Volkswagen Kombi

From the Type 2 came the T2. Image: favcars.com

Slab-sided and building on the reputation of its forbearer as the quintessential camper-van-cum-minibus, the T2, while never as popular, introduced a number of firsts such as fuel injection, the mentioned ‘box and allegedly also an early attempt at four-wheel-drive.

Out of production by 1979, its longevity continued in South America where several modifications saw it remain in production in Brazil until 2013, ten years after the last original Beetle exited the same São Bernardo do Campo Plant.

T3

The introduction of the T3 in 1979 signalled a massive turnaround for the Transporter. While still rear-engined, a transition from air to water cooled engine had started with new innovations being the availability of a diesel engine and four-wheel-drive in the shape of the high-riding Syncro.

Although still very much in-vogue as a camper, the T3 Volkswagen Kombi saw the creation of the very first luxury Caravelle that sported a more upmarket interior and features such as a fold-away table and forward facing second row seats.

Volkswagen Kombi

The T3 signalled a massive turnaround for the Transporter and remains a South African icon. Image: favcars.com.

The T3’s biggest and lasting impression though was on South Africa where the Volkswagen Kombi became immortalised in a series of advertisements starring Afrikaans musician David Kramer, and for also being the most powerful generation ever made.

Unlike in Europe, the locally built model eschewed the comparatively small engine and later 2.1 for first a 2.5 and then later a 2.6-litre Audi sourced five-cylinder with a smaller 1.8 also being offered. Like in Brazil, the T3 continued in production longer than in Europe with South Africa being the last market in 2002, twelve years after Europe.

T4

The revolution that was the T3 reached its zenith with the debut of the T4 in 1990; the biggest being a switch to front-wheel-drive and relocating of the engine from the rear to the front.

As with the T3, the Syncro all-wheel-drive system remained, but no longer employed a low range ‘box and instead sported a “permanent layout” with the addition of a rear diff-lock in some markets.

Volkswagen Kombi

Arrival of the T4 brought and end to rear-wheel-drive and the rear mounted engine. Image: favcars.com

In addition, the T4 also came with the option of first a twelve and then later a 24v 2.8 VR6 engine in addition to Volkswagen’s then advanced five-cylinder 2.5 TDI.

Unlike the first three generations, the end of T4 production in 2003 didn’t result in markets outside of Europe continuing with assembly.

T5 & T6

Volkswagen Kombi

T5 improved on the T4 and would remain the backbone for the Transporter for almost two decades. Image: favcars.com

Debuting in 2003, the arrival of the T5 saw the T4 recipe being refined with a more car-like interior, premium materials and a dashboard mounted gear lever that replaced the floor setup.

While still offered in a variety of bodystyles, the T5 also brought an end to the T-series usage of five-cylinder engines, as well six with the axing of the short-lived 3.2 FSI that replaced the T4’s VR6.

Volkswagen Kombi

T5’s influence visible in the T6. Image; Volkswagen

Remaining though was the 4Motion system in addition to a Kombi first time six-speed manual gearbox, while the conventional automatic transmission made for the already widely used DSG. A new inclusion though was the dedicated California camper as well as the less luxurious Beach.

In what would ultimately be a continuation though, the end of the T5 in 2015 didn’t stop as the preceding T6 merely served as an extensively facelift model, now making wholly use of four-cylinder engines in the shape of a 2.0 TSI and single as well as bi-turbo versions of the 2.0 TDI that had become the mainstay displacement of Volkswagen oil-burning portfolio.

Volkswagen Kombi

T6.1 will continue alongside the T7, but only in commercial guise. Image: Volkswagen

The unveiling of the T6.1 in 2019 thus served as the final encore for the T5 with the newcomer bringing enhanced levels of safety features, a new exterior and a petrol-free engine line-up as diesel had become the only fuel type available.

Despite the debut of the T7, the T6.1 will reportedly remain on sale as the commercial focused variant, leaving the T7 to fulfil the upmarket model role for the foreseeable future.

To see complete specifications of the Volkswagen Kombi T6.1, click here.

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