COAL: 1960 Volkswagen Kombi Bus – My Impulse Buy

As I alluded to in my last COAL, on my way back home from Albuquerque I picked up a four-wheeled hitchhiker in Springfield, Missouri. I have no idea if it is still the case but in the late 2000s, Albuquerque was teaming with air-cooled VWs of all flavors and I really enjoyed that. The community farm where I worked borders a busy east-west artery over the Rio Grande and the distinct sound of those air-cooled machines always caused me to look up. Biking around the city, I recall a few caches of old VWs including one with several split-window buses just north of downtown. All of this, plus the friendly people of TheSamba really had me wanting to dive in and join this community.

And now you know the rest of the story…

In hindsight, the timing of all this, plus my lack of wrenching skills really makes me look back on this venture and shake my head but here we are. Oh, to be young and spontaneous, I guess. Our subject bus came from the classifieds section of TheSamba and was recently unearthed from downtown Tulsa, OK. In fact, looking at the address on the title on Streetview clearly showed our green friend here up against an abandoned-looking commercial building. Anyway, the seller brought it home to Missouri before deciding to sell it.

The bus was very rust-free and straight, it was a nice example of the split window “Kombi” bus. The seller also included an early 2000s Mexican 1600 single port engine he had around as he said he was getting out of AC VWs. By the time I took delivery he had removed all the windows in prep for new seals but got no further and had buffed the paint from very flat to very shiny. I was less than enthused about these quarter-assed attempts at “improvements.” And wished he’d have either left it alone (as pictured/as I bought it) or finished what he started.

It’s hard to clearly see but I liked the beltline pinstriping and some of those cool details.

It was fun getting to learn the ins and outs of the air-cooled VW world and it was a welcoming community. I learned that my bus was built on June 20, 1960, in Hanover, Germany. It was delivered to the Chicago, IL port, was originally L345 light grey and had minimal options on the “M-plate”, I think the only option was the 6 popout windows. It was a very basic bus, likely sold to some commercial transit company for moving people or maybe a frugal household?

Of course, its original and very valuable middle seat was missing when I came along. The rear seat was replaced with a “Z bed” out of a bay window Westfalia. Once back in Iowa, I had dreams of working on the bus on weekends and when I could but my last semester of college proved to be more grueling than I factored and there was little to no forward movement on the bus. The rental house I lived at had no garage so with winter coming, I pulled the bus home to my parents’ acreage in NE Iowa as they had ample garage space.

The bus sat at my parents’ place for about three years. In that time, I’d grab little “subassemblies” and try to move forward back in Ames. This included recovering the front bench seat, sourcing all matching “Sigla” branded glass and blasting the popout frames, repainting them and installing seals/assembly. Finally, in 2013 with the pending sale of my truck, I decided to rent space in a garage under an apartment high-rise building and hopefully could move forward on this project quicker.

The bus in my parents’ lower garage. This photo still strongly triggers the smell of horse-hair interior and mouse urine.


Amateur upholstery job using Wolfsburg West’s seat cover kit. We likely overstuffed…

The reality is life still got in the way. My job at that time required working some weekends and other obligations and so forth. I did meet some friendly local airheads and occasionally we would alternate working on other’s projects and learn together. The knowledgeable guy who was heading all this up had a rusty but running 1963 splitty and the less experienced other guy had a 1961? Bug cabriolet that was in nice, restored condition. So that was fun while it lasted but as you can imagine with three adults, overlapping schedules were rare.

Back in Ames, under a large apartment high-rise.

After a while, I think I began looking at the bus as more of a liability than anything I was excited about. I was increasingly bummed it was not original paint and stripping some sections proved that finding whatever may lie underneath was not going to be easy. My lack of any real mechanical skills meant I couldn’t do much myself and spending any time in that dirty, dimly lit concrete garage was not enjoyable. Plus, each month the rent was due for the expensive garage space.

In hindsight, I should have leveraged one of the two local garages that specialize in older and/or European cars to at least get it roadworthy. I had savings but I guess I feared the cost would be astronomical. Also by this time, I had acquired another project car in an even more spontaneous fashion and I was more enthused about that project. I woke up one Saturday morning in late 2013 and determined that was it, I was selling. I listed it on TheSamba and Craigslist and within a day or two had more than enough interest. A guy from TheSamba out in Washington state was quickest on the draw with payment and lining up transport so it sold to him for my ask. I helped load it up on a flatbed semi-trailer one blustery December afternoon and never heard so much as a peep back from the buyer. I wonder what became of it…