Nothing else on the road makes you smile like a VW Kombie. Just the sight of one harks back to carefree days of hippies, surfers and sun-drenched beaches. This gorgeous 1979, Brazilian-built Kombie is owned and loved by Ashburton couple, Ian and Alison King, who say they wouldn’t part with it.

Ian spotted the van, rusting and unwarranted, on TradeMe four-and-a-half years ago, but initially missed out on it. “It sold before I could bid, but I tracked down the owner and told him that if anything went wrong with the sale, I was keen.” Before the week was up the owner called back and they had themselves a Kombie van, albeit in need of a lot of work.

Funnily enough, Ian, who is a mechanic by trade, says that they used to be his least favourite vehicle. “Growing up in the UK, I worked in a garage after school, and the owner worked on a lot of Kombies. I thought they were just rusty old heaps, but they slowly grew on me,” he grins.

The couple drove straight to Christchurch that night, put it on the trailer and brought it home.  “It was definitely a do-er upper,” they say. “It was badly dented. The sills were gone, the windscreen was average. It wasn’t in good shape.”  Undeterred, Ian set to work, but time got the better of him, and it wasn’t until 18 months ago, he decided he’d better finish the project.

Parts were easy to source from Buzzbug VW Parts in Christchurch. Good friend Dave Kingston helped out, and another friend, Ross Templeton, rebuilt the 1600cc motor. It still took a whole year. “Without them, I’d still be plugging away.” Lewis from Tinwald Canvas re-upholstered it, even going so far as indenting the VW logo into the leather. It looks stunning inside and out.

Ian, Alison and daughters Sophie (7) and Stacey (5) had a fantastic holiday in it earlier this year, sometimes staying with friends, and other times sleeping in the van. It has what’s called a Rock & Roll bed, “surprisingly comfy,” they say. There’s also a hammock system that Ian designed, which fits over the front seats, and a comfy mattress which the girls usually sleep on.

Everything goes on the roof rack: deck chairs, girl’s bikes, the BBQ, gas bottle – they take all the necessities, and all the comforts of home. “We only had one day of rain, but it was fun. We got our first VW parking ticket at Te Papa. We knew we wanted to spend a few hours there, but even though the parking metre said it would accept more, it only accepted one hour, so we came out to an infringement notice. We could have queried, but it’s a holiday memory we laugh about now.”

“It’s not entirely finished. We wanted to have a holiday in it and decide what else we really needed, before we completed it. All we need now are a few more storage cupboards.”

Ian also has a few ‘finishing touches’ to complete the look. He wants to lower it a bit in the front so there’s not such a gap between the gorgeous mag wheels and the body, and add a mesh sun visor.

The couple share the driving, and say it changes your personality. “It’s really tight on the road, and drives easily. You know you can’t go fast, so you chill out. Nobody gets aggressive, people toot and wave, and if you’re parked up, everybody wants to talk to you. Everyone has a story, and everyone smiles – including us!  It’s just a fun vehicle.”


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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.