'59 Kombi History

Background: This bus was producedon December 2nd, 1959. It is a model 231, which is a left-handdrive Kombi with cargo doors on the right. A Kombi is a "combination"commercial line vehicle. It could be used as a people carrierOR the seats could easily be removed for carrying cargo. It wasexported from Germany for Houston/San Antonio, TX, USA delivery.It came originally equipped with interior board panels plus middleand rear seats. It also came with overriders on the bumpers. Greywas the color of the paint. It was one of approx. 30,000 VW bussessold in the U.S. that year.

Introduction: While stripping thepaint on the Kombi I came across red and white colors on the body.The lines were in strange places, so I'm thinking "maybeit was a delivery van". When I get to the front doors, Irun into blue. "OK, maybe the door is off of another bus".Then I figure it out..."it's the old red, white, and blue".About a week later there's a post on the internet by Craig K inAustin, TX looking for his old '59 Kombi. He says it had beenpainted "like the American Flag" and goes on to describeother details that make me sure I've got his bus! It's amazinghow the internet can bring the world to you. So after talkingto Craig about the bus, I was inspired to try and find out asmuch as possible about it's history. This is what I've found sofar.

 

1977: Bill lived in Altus, Oklahoma with his wife andthree sons. Bill was in the Air Force and bought the bus fromsomeone in the Altus area. They had earlier been stationed inGermany and had a VW bus over there in which they roamed Europe.They all enjoyed that experience and perhaps that memory is whatled them to buy the 60 bus. The bus needed engine repair so Billyand his sons, two of whom were teenagers, attempted to overhaulthe engine. After they installed the engine, they could not getit to turn over. Billy and his boys described the "burnedrubber that smelled up the neighborhood after they pulled it severalblocks, in gear, trying to get the engine to turn." No luck.They became disenchanted with the project and offered the busto his younger brother for $200. Not knowing exactly what he wasbuying, he agreed.

1978: Bo from Austin, TX. purchased the bus from hisolder brother, Billy. Billy is nine years his senior The Kombicame to Bo's family around 1978. It was a fixture for the earlyera of his family of four. Given the other VW's he kept runningfor his wife, girls and himself, the bus was never a big priority.Bo did rebuild the engine and ran it for several years as a sortof back-up to the back-ups. It was good for hauling firewood andfor storing other VW parts. The daughters enjoyed standing upin the carpeted back as they drove around town. It was paintedlike an American flag with red and white stripes on the sidesand roof, blue field w/ white stars from doors forwards. So theyoften got salutes. Inside it had the standard, hand-scrawled Hippieslogans"make love not war" and the such. The bus's paintjob became a problem for Bo when his family bought their old housein East Austin. There was a home owners' association who werebig into reporting to their cronies in the city bureaucracy anydeviations to the upper-middle class way of American life to whichthey aspired. Bo found himself acquainted with various city inspectorswho, in turn, found themselves powerless to force him to ceaseworking on his old VWs in his back yard because of it being zonedcommercial. They fought the neighborhood association, who wantedto sell their houses to The University of Texas for big bucks,for 12 years (1982-1994) and eventually stopped them from takingthe neighborhood. (This battle became the substance for Bo's Ph.D.dissertation in social anthropology.) During the early of battlesof that period the flag-bus became de facto symbols for the neighborhood'sresistance. He discovered that if he moved the bus to anotherlocation overnight, his neighbors would worry that they had soldout to UT and were leaving the neighborhood. Bo quit driving thebus around 1986 when the high gear would not work unless you heldthe gear shift back with all your might. This was a probably aresult of an earlier injury afflicted by his brother Billy andsons when they tried to unfreeze their overhauled engine?

1992: Eric "The Scooter Guy" bought the oldbus from Bo for $50 around 1990. He was really enthralled withits "'potential". Bo tried to accurately inventory allits ailments for him, but Eric saw much more in it than Bo andbought it anyway. Eric wasn't really a VW guy. When he boughtit, the Kombi was in a field in mud up to the floor and had beenused as a shed. This caused the cargo floor to be bent down andbetween all the frame members. Oddly enough, rust was there, butnot as bad as you would expect from being in mud. They hitcheda v8 truck to the bus and hauled it home where it sat for a while.The "hippie" look of the bus didn't seem to sit wellwith Eric and his roommates. They were died-in-the-wool Oi boys...so this tie-dye stuff had to GO!! Inside, where the rear bulkheadhad been painted with the "peace and love" slogans,the punkers took some black spraypaint and scrawled 'CLASH 1977'over it all. Eric had a good rep w/ Vespas, but VW's weren't reallyhis thing.

1993: Craig K was a VW guy thoughand a bus guy at that.He lived in Austin, TX with his roomie who was a bartender. Beinga bartender, he often heard a lot of hard-luck stories involvingpeople needing quick money. One day he mentioned to Craig thata customer, Eric "The Scooter Guy", had a bus and neededcash. So Craig went and checked it out. It was in fair shape,good glass, wheelwells, no motor, no apron. Eric claimed he hadrebuilt the reduction gear boxes on the Kombi, and also the kingpins.He was keeping the motor to fix his girlfriend's squareback. Erichad lost interest in the busand the girlfriend wanted her carrunning NOW. Eric needed the "dough" for new heads anda deal was made. Craig spent a desperate hour underneath the bus,holding the tranny up with his knees, a flashlight in my mouth,trying to get some bolts in to the tranny mount so that the patienttow-truck man drag it. The bus sat in Craig's storage space fora while (the picture at the top of the page is actually a pictureof it at his place). Just for kicks, he would go out and sit inthe bus looking around for hidden treasures, imagining drivingit, and making resto plans. But Craig owned a record-pressingplant at the time and the day came when an important part it brokedown. It was gonna set him back $400 he didn't have. So he soldthe bus to a fellow named Tad for $450.

1995: Tad got to work and got the old bus running. Oneday while driving down the main drag in Austin, the tranny justfell out! Even though Craig had told him that the tranny was heldup by two bolts ANY old bolts from when I towed it; Tad had neglectedto replace them, and they broke under the strain. No harm done,and after replacing them in a 7-11 parking lot, off he went. Tadapparently grew bored with the Kombi, but not before letting herstar in the Disney movie, "Michael" starring John Travoltaas an angel. Sadly, the movie folks gave her a horrible HOUSEPAINTbrush job, ruining her period-piece red/white/& blue paintjob.

1996: Rob was the next owner. He found the bus one daywhile browsing the VW's for sale in the Austin American Statesmanclassifieds. They order the cars from oldest to newest. But forsome strange reason this day Rob decided to read them all theway to the end. Odd enough the last item listed was the old 1959Kombi. Rob drove the bus for a while with his friends piled inthe back. One day while pushing it a little too hard on I-35,the engine blew. Rob had a buddy start the re-build on the engine.It took longer than planned and Rob needed transportation so heended up buying another car. The engine got done and was eventuallydropped it back in the bus. When Rob tried to put it back in action,the gas pedal went to the floor. So he blew it off and drove hisother car. The bus sat and eventually wouldn't start anymore.Rob needed cash for his new businessand once again the bus wasto be sold.

1997: One day while searching the Internet for my firstVW bus, I came across an ad in the Austin.forsale newsgroup fora '59 Kombi for $900. I quickly called the guy up. He tells mehe just posted the ad 5 minutes ago. He says the engine doesn'trun, the wheel wells were cut, and the outside was brush paintedwith house paint. He also tells me the bus was in the movie "Michael"and if I want to see what it looks like. So after a quick looksieat the movie and some discussion with the wife, I was off to Austinto check out the bus in person. I haggled with Rob for a whileand tried to get the bus for $500, 'cause that's really what itwas worth. He says the lowest he can go is $700. I reluctantlypay it and tow the bus back to San Angelo. After getting home,I put a temporary fix on the accelerator cable, change the points,and put in a new battery. The bus started right up! I drove itaround the neighborhood in celebration. Over the next couple ofweeks I took breaks from the bug restoration I was doing to takelittle drives in the bus. Then the it dies. Turns out it needsa new generator. I decide to go ahead and strip the paint, replacethe wheel wells and cargo floor, and make the bus into a nicedaily driver. I also figured I'd make a web page to follow theresto. Kind of a "modern scrapbook".

2002: Well after driving the bus for a couple of years,I decided to sell it. It now lives in the U.K. with it's new owner!A far cry from Texas. Hopefully he'll start his own web page andkeep the story of the bus alive for everyone to see.