Now that Saige is officially named and on the road, let’s share how we first met and give some tips on buying a Kombi, from one beginner to another. Bear in mind that neither Kylie nor I are particularly mechanically ‘informed’, but are generally responsible people. Also, that the Kombi community are an incredibly passionate and welcoming bunch.
Let’s step back around two and a half months when we first started our quest. We began reading forums, guides and generally learning about the mystical legend of the Kombi. This iconic but notorious vehicle that has provided so many with the opportunity of adventure and heartache was now to haunt our dreams for the foreseeable future.
Our nearest and dearest warned us against them. “Beware of the Kombi” they said. “Beware of the rust” they said.
We were well aware of their reputation for needing constant TLC (the Kombi and the family, lols), and no matter how many times we stated this, eeeeveryone still made the point. “Buy a HiAce” they said. “Buy a four-wheel drive” they said. Even now that we are ‘with Kombi’, we are still being warned against them. Thank you all for your advice.
We now accept this will be a permanent comment. Just like if you are very tall, people will always say “Ohh aren’t you tall”. Correct. Next question. (NB: Kylie has never experienced this comment).
Week after week, we booked viewings from the Sunshine Coast down to the Gold Coast. Each time learning a little more about this little bus that’s not just older than us, but way cooler. Here are some of our most important revelations:
1. Observation: I tried to be responsible and look at other types of camper. We saw two Toyota HiAces. They were ok, one more than the other. But that was it.
Lesson: Resistance is futile. If you want a Kombi, the Kombi will want you.
2. Observation: Good lord the steering is heavy. Did everyone simply have bulging guns in the 70s? Our first bus drive needed a little more air in the tyres I think.
Lesson: We realised after driving a few that yes it is heavy but it’s not that bad.
3. Observation: Only four gears…? Yet I can’t find any of them. Some buses were better than others. But having a gear sick as long as your arm flopping about the general driving area does make it tricky to find the right spot. Usually there’s a handy diagram saying where the gears are, reverse always being at the end of an odd zig zag treasure trail.
Lesson: Yep just four gears, but they’re all there. Just be gentle and note the diagram for ‘inspirational’ purposes only.
4. Observation: Where humans wrinkle, Kombis rust. I have never heard so much fearful talk of rust. But we saw enough in some cases that it could have been mistaken for a small book being transcribed to braille.
Lesson: Realise what is ‘bad’ rust, and what can wait a little and isn’t ‘that bad’.
5. Observation: The engine is in the back! It’s called a boxer because the pistons move horizontally. They typically have a twin solex carburettor, but some have a weber. The thing strapped to the front of it, about the size of an aerosol can is the ‘coil’, and just behind this is the distributor. This took about 5-8 bus viewings to piece together.
Lesson: When the engine bay is opened you should perform one of two things, dependent on gender (sadly true)…
If you’re a girl, stand back and make a gentle ‘mhmm’ and keep talking. If you’re a boy, you have to get right in there, almost close enough to kiss it, and give an ‘MMHMM’ with conviction, then look around some more. Don’t say anything. You’ve just created the mystique that you might have a clue which bit is the engine. I’ll reiterate that Kylie and I have exactly the same mechanical knowledge, but gender stereotyping was clear. Many times conversation about the engine would be directed to me. So, I have to do what all men learn to do in these situations, nod and agree as appropriate. It’s a skill I’ll be adding it to my CV shortly.
6. Observation: Prices as advertised are one thing. Typically they are over inflated simply because “I was just seeing what I could get”. This is all well and good, but there were plenty of Kombis on different websites that had been up for sale for some time and were not moving. Perhaps there’s a reason dummy?
Lesson: Get one partner to ask “So, what was the price? [Insert name of other partner] looked at the ad.” ‘Um’ and ‘ah’ a little… and three minutes later at least 10% comes off. Every time.
A little more sexism for you (hold tight), Kylie had a far better reception to this price discussion than me. It became her role.
All in all we saw about fifteen buses over two and a half months, drove many many kilometres, almost bought one only to discover a major rust issue (a genuine one!), almost got caught up in a domestic between a couple selling theirs, enjoyed tea and cake with another couple selling theirs, and then, almost lost hope.
Then, one Sunday night up popped a happy little Westy, not too far away and within our budget. We were straight on the blower, Kylie working her sweet talk (I’m just not very good at it). The next day we shot up there (within acceptable legal speeds, obvs). Eager beavers half an hour early and had a little look. She was perfect, we knew already she was amazing. The mechanic arrived, heroic in his standard-issue Aussie work shirt and hot pant shorts (I now know WHO loves short shorts, but still not sure not why). He gave it the once over and a ‘thumbs-up’. We were done. Bob’s you uncle, Robert’s your mother’s brother and we welcomed Saige in to our world.
We have come so far and we’ve reached so high. There’s probably a song lyric in that. It’s ok, you can have that one Gary.
We have learnt so much and met some lovely people before even starting our Aussie adventure. Here’s a few more tid-bits for your reading pleasure:
My favourite question to ask: “Is it set up for dual battery?” I was just curious, it didn’t make a huge amount of difference. It just sounded good and was easy to spot if there was one or two batteries in the back.
Kylie’s favourite question to ask: “Has the engine been reconditioned?” Neither of us had a clue if this was positive or negative, but another point on the ‘maybe these guys know their stuff’ chart.
The seller’s favourite comment to make: “Well, it’s a 40 year old vehicle you see, so it’s going to have some problems…” Thanks for the insight mate, but a missing engine isn’t really an age thing is it…
Observation of sellers: I’ve travelled to the opposite end of the world but just keep meeting Pommies.
Around 70% of the owners we met were fellow Brits. Oh you guys… we’re so cool!
And the Kombi community? They were unknown to us before. But with just a little effort we have been welcomed in. Questions answered straight away and general advice given at the drop of a hat.
But we have to give a few special mentions to thank them for their help…
First to everyone who helped us name our new family member, our happy little Wilhelmina Saige. There were some great (and oddly less inappropriate than expected) suggestions from the Kombi forums on Facebook.
Thank you next to DJ Nige, the instigator of our Kombi love and arbiter of cool with his beautiful Kombi and mobile music machine Deirdre. Then to DubMan Dave as he became known from Air-Cooled Automotive. Dave gave the best, honest and most trustworthy advice on the circuit. A super nice guy, happy to answer even our most beginner of beginner Kombi questions.
Finally to Mr Paul Ryan at hireadub.com. Kylie gave him a call with the idea that we’d hire a bus for the day to see how we got on. He was kind enough to invite us over, talk us through things to look for and has continued to do so ever since. Paul has suffered through endless photos of the remote regions of the inner Kombi, with questions such as “should it look like this?” and “what’s that?” etc. Good ol’ Uncle Paul. So we are super proud and happy to recommend hireadub.com for all your Kombi hire needs as he supports us on our journey.
So thank you to everyone for all their advice and patience, a special thank you to DJ Nige and DubMan Dave, and a very special thank you to the uncle Paul at hireadub.com.
#HelloSaige and bring on the road to sustainable living!
P.S. Here’s an adult’s guide from the Kombi Club for buying a Kombi (incase the above isn’t helpful).