Like the Beetle, the Volkswagen Type 2—a.k.a. Kombi, Transporter, or Microbus, depending on where you’re from—is a classic. The Bus was created as a super-practical offspring of the Type 1 Beetle; it served countless people around the world as a commercial vehicle and family hauler. It also moved tents, guitar cases, surfboards, and bongs to rock concerts, political rallies, and beaches all over America, earning a special place in the hearts of those at the center of the Sixties counterculture movement. And it continues to serve as an inspiration to VW designers, as evidenced by the Microbus and Bulli concepts.
The T2 hasn’t been sold in Continental Europe for many decades, but it has faithfully carried on in Brazil, where it is offered as an entry-level commercial vehicle wearing the Kombi name. Not surprisingly, it enjoys a fiercely loyal following. Just five years ago, Volkswagen of Brazil made a very significant update, replacing the air-cooled engine with a water-cooled 1.4-liter powerplant and therefore silencing the bus’s characteristic, puttering exhaust note. As part of the upgrade, the T2 lost its clean front end and now features a square black grille in the middle of its snout. Volkswagen of Brazil acknowledged the nostalgic appeal of the old look, and bid the air-cooled engine farewell with a special limited edition.
Now, believe it or not, the T2 is back in Europe. Dutch Volkswagen dealership Volkswagen Campercentrum in Amersfoort, Netherlands, is offering brand-new T2 models for a whopping €45,000 or so. How is it legal? The trick is to bring the T2 into Continental Europe through Danbury Vans in the U.K., which has imported the T2 for several years. “There is no other way to get these vehicles legal except through the U.K.,” admits Martijn Siegers of the Campercentrum. “Technically, we sell them as used cars, but they are just briefly registered in the U.K. and have zero kilometers.”
The Kombis—also available in a sort of panel-wagon style with metal where the vans shown here have windows—come to the U.K. in their basic trim and painted white. They are then resprayed—including, thankfully, the black grille—in classic VW colors and outfitted with lavish trim in preparation for being sold as Campers. If you insist, you can also get a plain T2 Kombi, sans options and camper upfittings for some €26,000—not exactly cheap, but surely worth it for buyers who wish to own a brand-new piece of history at a more-reasonable price. “We can sell them any way the customer wants,” Siegers promises.
The Campercentrum began importing the T2 just two weeks ago, and its sales targets are modest. Martijn Siegers says he hopes to sell 25 to 50 units next year. Some of his customers are rental-car companies that currently rent out 1960s and ’70s T2s and are upgrading their fleets with freshly imported vans.
As for our market, don’t hold your breath. For anything remotely similar, we’ll have to hope the production Bulli comes here. It’s based on the new modular-horizontal platform shared with the Golf and Audi A3, and VW designers promise it will adhere to the spirit of the original. Europeans who refuse to be convinced, however, need only to head to the Netherlands and pick up one of these babies.
Photography by Kirsten Berendsen