UNTIL RECENTLY if you spotted a parked VW Kombi that looked a bit unloved your reaction would be along the lines of: “Nothing to see here.
Move along…” Now with the money they bring, you’d pull over and check it out just as you would a straight but neglected Tank Fairlane or EH or Mk II Jag or early MX5.
During the recce lap around it you’d run through your mental check list for Kombis – first the Holy Grail question: Is it a ‘splittie’ (the much sought after pre-1968 version with the two-piece, split windscreen)? Then it’s: How bad’s the rust? And: What’s the interior like? If there’s a for sale sign on the window you’d be wondering whether the owner’s in touch with recent Kombi values.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s someone who paid $5000 for it a while back and has had a good run, and is asking $3500 with a roadworthy and will take $3000. As if… Back when Paul Keating was in the big chair he made the point about the public’s knowledge of the economy, saying: “I guarantee if you walk into any pet shop in Australia, the resident galah will be talking about microeconomic policy.” These days, thanks to the internet the resident galahs are probably parroting the latest price movements for Kombis.
And there’s a lot to parrot about. I was gobsmacked last year when a fully restored splittie brought $202,000 at Shannons. Okay, it was a gorgeous, ultra-rare Samba microbus. But at the same auction a lovely XW Falcon GT brought $135,000 and an original HK 327 GTS Monaro brought $96,000. How can you reconcile the Kombi’s stratospheric price with the justifiable numbers the two lovely local muscle cars attracted? Surely scarcity alone can’t explain that degree of difference.
Good examples of less exotic splittie variants can also surprise, bringing as much as, say, an XK140 Jaguar. I’ve even seen a gutted, rusty, engineless hulk asking the same money as you’d pay for a tidy early Mustang or a nice FJ Holden Half-decent examples of the later 70s-Kombis, despite being anything but rare, are bringing $10,000- $20,000.
Surely you’d rather a Lotus Elan or a 928 Porsche for that money. Amazingly some 70s Kombis carry price tags above $30,000. Go figure… Your heart goes out to the Unique Cars reader from Far North Queensland with around $8000 to spend who asked Morley in issue #388 to help him find a nice Kombi for his lady-love.
It’s not as though Kombis excel on the road. According to model the performance varies from gutless to just adequate; interior noise levels are high; cruising at highway speed-limits is a big ask; they’re a handful in gusty sidewinds. And the full-width engine-box hump at the rear means you can’t wheel a couple of trailbikes in the back for a weekend away. In reality $1000 worth of trusty Mitsubishi L300 Express is way more sophisticated and outperforms a Kombi by every measure.
The rational analysis ends here as I come clean with you, dear reader. For reasons I still don’t understand I put a note under the wiper blade of a mid-70s Kombi camper last year after spotting it in a local back street. It was basically straight with some rust in the usual spots and a nice interior. Judging by the flattish back tyres and the bird poo on the windscreen it had been resting for a while.
The guy rang and said: “Yeah it’s for sale. What’s it worth to you?” I wanted to say $3000, but being a bit excited I blurted out, “Five kay.”
“You’re wasting my time, pal,” was all he said.
I blame those bloody galahs.