Sao Paulo [AP]
It carried hippies through the 1960s, hauled surfers in search of killer waves during endless summers, and serves as a workhorse across the developing world.
But the long, strange trip of the iconic Kombi van is ending.
Brazil is the last place in the world still producing the Volkswagen ‘bus’, more affectionately known as the Kombi, but VW says production will end on December 31.
Safety regulations mandate that every vehicle in Brazil must have air bags and anti-lock braking systems starting in 2014, and the company says it can’t change production to meet the law.
Although output will halt in Brazil, there should be plenty of Kombis rolling along for decades if only because there are so many, and they are so durable.
VW produced more than 10 million Volkswagen Transporter vans globally since the model was introduced 63 years ago in Germany, though not all resemble the classic hippie machine.
Kombi is an abbreviation for the German ‘Kombinationsfahrzeug’ that loosely translates as ‘cargo-passenger van’.
It is so deeply embedded in popular culture that it will likely live on even longer in the imagination.
‘The van represents freedom,’ said Damon Ristau, director of the documentary The Bus, which follows van fanatics and their affection for the machine.
‘It has a magic and charm lacking in other vehicles. It’s about the open road, about bringing smiles to people’s faces when they see an old VW van rolling along.’
Perhaps nothing with a motor has driven itself deeper into pop culture than the VW, known for its durability but also its tendency to break down. Kombi lovers say its failures only reinforce its charm: Because its engine is so simple, it’s easy to fix, imparting a deeper sense of ownership.
The van made an appearance on Bob Dylan and Beach Boys album covers, among many, though in music circles it’s most closely linked to the Grateful Dead and the legion of touring fans that followed the group across the US, the machines serving as rolling homes.
Steve Jobs is said to have sold his Kombi in the 1970s to buy a circuit board as he built a computer that helped launch Apple.
The vehicle is linked to the California surf scene, its cavernous interior perfect for hauling boards.
But in poorer regions such as Latin America and Africa, the Kombi doesn’t carry the same romantic appeal.
It’s used in Brazil by the postal service to haul mail, by the army to transport soldiers, and by morticians to carry corpses.
It also serves as a school bus for kids, operates as a group taxi, and delivers construction materials to work sites.
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