This is a restoration done of a 1966 Volkswagen Kombi Dual cab ute (pickup).
I bought the body from Tasmania of all places. It was a left hand drive car brought into the United States originally. The car had a completely restored body with original 1500 engine and running gear. I flew there and as soon as I saw it had to have it. It was purchased for 30,000 and I was happy to pay that amount because I had just finished a very expensive body restoration on a 1960 Porsche and looking at the quality of the body work I felt that alone would have exceeded the value of the rest of the car. So I jumped on the road with the intention of driving it back to Sydney. A lot of money but I convinced my fiancé that (using some of the cash I made from the sale of the Porsche) if I could get it up to Sydney and do a few things to it I would be able to sell it and make some money to pay for our wedding. Lovely (and naive) as she is, she agreed.
I noticed that while it was enjoyable to drive the car had very little handling and max speed of about 80km per hour. Terrible. I was getting overtaken by trucks and nearly getting blown off the road. Not to mention stopping was a very long process of pumping the breaks. While i was driving and dreaming of all the things I wanted to do with it, including upgrading suspension, brakes, steering all of a sudden the gearbox seized. Great! I don’t know if any of you readers have been in a car when the gearbox seizes but it is not a pleasant experience at all. Different to when an engine seizes in that the car kicks in like you have slammed on the brakes but convulses and shudders. When it happens in a car with zero handling it threw me to the other side of the road - the wrong side. So there I was. In the middle of nowhere in Tasmania with a brand new purchase dead on the side of the road in the middle of the night. After god knows how many hours wait someone came by and offered a tow using a rope. Now if your engine seizes and you put the car in neutral you are ok, the car can role. But when you have a seized gearbox that cannot be done - so no free tow was possible. The guy had a phone ... with no reception. If you go to Tasmania then you will know how isolated the roads can be. He promised to call a tow truck when he got in range and eventually true to his word one came and picked me up.
I managed actually to tow it back to the sellers. Bit of an argument but as the seller said, I bought it as is. My argument was there was not enough oil in the gearbox so that is negligent... round and round but i got a couple of grand back. That would at least pay for the shipping to Sydney.
I got it shipped to a VW specialist Ben Dury in Toronto, about 2 hours north of Sydney. He gave me a quote on doing the gearbox and on replacing and upgrading the running gear - brakes suspension, tightening up the engine. He gave me a price and I agreed only if I could do the work with him overseeing it. I would pay the full value of what he wanted but I wanted to get the experience and knowledge of air-cooled engines and besides knowing a few things can be priceless when you are passionate about these sorts of cars. It was Christmas so quiet for him anyway. He gave me a hoist and off we went.
Every nut and bolt, screw or piece in that car was either completely reconditioned by me or replaced. You can see from the photos how 50+ years of wear can have on the parts. We even found the remains of a hornets nest under one of the bearing seals. Bolts that were corroded and layers of mud and grease that had formed a nearly indestructible layer over parts around the bottom of the car. It looks like they are old and worn but they are not. Not the body as that was perfect, just the running gear. But German quality is amazing. Parts that looked completely old and worn actually were not. They just needed good cleaning with a wire wheel on a drill, then cleaned with prepsol and resprayed. Then they looked completely new. See the photos of before and after. Very slowly I could rejuvenate all of them to brand new. Most of them if i bought replacement parts they would have been substandard as the metal quality of the original parts is far superior to anything you can buy today. For putting the upgraded disc brakes we needed to buy a VW bay window donor vehicle. We got our hands on one old camper that cost only 500 dollars and brought it to the yard. Then we pushed it (literally with a jack and muscle) and flipped it onto its side. Then began the process of cutting all the parts we needed out of it. That was dirty but fun.
I would like to add that January At this stage it
A restoration that was supposed to take only a month ended up taking three. As cars started to come in it became difficult for Ben to keep giving me space as he needed to be using the space for regular clients of their VW beetles and newer Golfs etc. The sad thing while being around the workshop is that with the older cars take a hell of a lot of time. You can see why finding a good mechanic is a dying art. The ease at which a new car can be plugged into a computer and serviced (which essentially could be done by the apprentice) vs extensive diagnosis, balancing, testing which all required considerable expertise was noticeable. No wonder so many businesses just find it more practical to start letting the resto and older cars go. We spoke a lot about this and it made me glad I was learning so much.
It was not easy sailing though and everything seemed even more time consuming than expected. I spent literally a full day to get the doors to open and close properly using one key. We even had to use a special press with tons of pressure to free the drive shafts out which was an epic mission. Again many hours of both of us fiddling around for solutions. This goes back to what Ben was saying - how do you charge a customer for all that time when it should be something so easy? "Oh by the way that quote I gave you for a 100 dollar job was wrong. It actually took 3 people 2 hours to get one rod out of the rear of the car before we could even repair the problem- that is 3 x 50 dollars per hour x 2 hours + 100 as we agreed. That will be 400 dollars thank you". That is impossible. Even a new car with fuel injection vs trying to balance a set of carburettors takes a fraction of time. All you need is a small issue and it can blow out your work massively.
So one month blew out to three. The final hiccup was registration. Because i had made the adjustments to the suspension etc I needed to get an engineering certificate. That was a nightmare again as they had to prove it could stop within a certain distance with 2 tons of weight on it or some stupidity like that. How the hell was I going to get 2 tons of weight into a classic 1966 kombi dualcab? In addition they required me to put commercial tyres on it. Fantastic so they loaded the car up with hugely oversized tyres and did their tests. Now everything was fine until you tried to turn. The oversized tyres touched the body and bent out both sides of the newly finished fenders. Basically the engineers fXXXed the new paint job on my car. They passed it but here I was with cracked paint and bent side panels. So pissed off. Worse thing was I went then to the tyre shop to get standard tyres and because it was registered as a commercial vehicle no tyre company will put on passenger tyres. If i just brought in the rims and got the tyres put on then had to fit the wheels again with the new tires to my car - still looking at the damaged fenders which made my blood boil.
But it, like all good things that involve a lot of work finally came together. So now finished the car has been given the apt name of “Klaus the Kombi”.