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Going out against the mainstream is an inherently human trait. When people with a certain point of view come together, there are always those who will have an alternative, if not completely opposite, opinion. Few cars embody the counterculture movement like the Volkswagen Type 2 (T2), which is also called a combi, hip-van, combi, or microbus, and the reason is clear. It gained worldwide popularity for being an affordable and spacious car that can go anywhere that can seat more than five people. But it was the fact that it was a stand-off to the more elegant mainstream sedans of the time, and that it was used by those who were steadfast in their stance to oppose the mainstream.
Even in India, hippie culture has found many adherents and opponents. The arrival of the Beatles in India in 1968 to experiment with Transcendental Meditation (TM)—and thus avoid the drug-related aspects of the movement—was a major milestone here, and even mainstream audiences were exposed to a somewhat degraded version of culture in the 1971 song. By Asha Bhosle, Dom Maru Dom. It’s almost poetic that the beautifully restored Volkswagen Combi you see on these pages rolled out of the Volkswagen factory in October 1971. Keith Mascarenhas, owner of this piece of history, is a huge fan of the classic Volkswagen vans that three combis owned (67 ), a ’72, a ’73) and up to eight beetles so far.
“It’s hard work, and it takes a lot of time and patience,” he said when asked why he’s restoring so many old Volkswagens. He got his hands on the 1972 Kombi a bit before the first shutdown, and he painstakingly brought this unusual right-hand drive eight-seat model to its former glory, under the hands of a trusted restorer. In fact, other than the fog lights, they’re almost 95 percent original right down to the dark beige leather upholstery, which is a colossal achievement.
The only other change is the final paint. “It was originally an off-white (officially called Pastel White), but I think this red and white suits it better,” Keith explained. “It even fits inside now.” He also put the large Volkswagen badge (and of course the original) in front as “these cars made in 1971 would not have had the iconic logo and the face would have appeared bare without it”.
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Speaking of the Icon, I love the rattling sound that the Kombi’s 50-horsepower, air-cooled, air-cooled engine makes, and the way it works, albeit for a short distance. By today’s standards, operating the manual and a four-speed clutch is cumbersome but feels mechanical in such a way that you appreciate the old-school engineering that went into making this truck.
Settling into that botanical, yet comforting, bustier wine resonating with Kombi. So much so that even just sitting in those seats with Saurabh for some shots led to a somewhat funny, but philosophical, debate about aspects of Indian law that were left over from the times when our perceptions were different, and how they might be disposed of.
There is some irony in the fact that, in some places, large parts of hippie culture – preaching free love, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, peace for all – have almost become mainstream. And there’s a corollary in the automotive world, too. Vans, now known as MPVs, have become quite conventional, but the idea that they stand for anything hasn’t. The sense of freedom associated with Kombi isn’t something to be made of, which is what makes the VW Microbus such a treat. However, after driving the big Kia Carnival MPV for a long time, I thought this car had the potential to symbolize something similar and new.
Not only is the Carnival the most affordable MPV (look at the Kia Carens for that), it also doesn’t have the weight of history behind it. What it does, however, is the ability to make life very comfortable and easy, especially in terms of bumping into the road in a group. Despite its size, the Carnival is surprisingly maneuverable in the city – more than five meters long and weighing more than 2.2 tons – and is a clam for driving on the highway for very long periods. The agile driving and the 197 hp 2.2 liter diesel engine of torque help greatly in this regard.
And don’t get me started on that back-seat experience, which is pretty good for this budget. The size of the space, the single rear sunroof, the well-cushioned captain’s seats in the middle, and the highly usable and luxurious third row all make for a very homely feel. I can see myself spending hours here with my friends, something VW also mentions. Whether the conversation will be sparkling is something I have to test when I can, and I plan on doing so as soon as possible. Even if I’m on my own, the eight-speaker music system is fairly nice enough to keep me entertained.
Having recently returned it to its former glory, Keith has taken it slow and steady in terms of road trips, for now. Keith must be ready to take Kombi on a road trip. Unlike most road trips I’ve taken, I will plan every detail, and get as many people on the trip as possible. Excuse me while I find an Airbnb somewhere in Goa.
We would like to thank Keith Mascarenhas for allowing us to enjoy the glory of this historic car.