The king of Kombi vans

1972 VW Microbus

This 1972 nine-seater Microbus is the van – the original. With careers as a drag and paddock racer behind her, the Kombi is now ready for a touch of fresh paint and a new life as a promo vehicle for an ice-cream company. The family fleet – from left, Bevan, Elise (3 ½), Priscilla (20 months), Andrea, Ezra (5) Keralee (9) and Josiah (7).

A series of chance encounters with Volkswagens of all shapes and sizes has steered an Auckland family to a love of vintage campers

Words: Cheree Morrison

Photos: Rachael Hale McKenna

It was a Beetle that gave Bevan Beattie the bug. He stepped off the school bus and there it was in front of him – the perfect first car. Not his first choice admittedly, (nor that of his Holden- and Ford-mad father), but it grew on him. The Beetle became very well known at the local youth group, but like most items belonging to teenagers, it wasn’t long before it became a little too small.

In 1988, the Beetle retired and the hunt began for The Other One. Bevan had something in mind, the longer, cooler, big brother to the Beetle: the Kombi Van. A kind gesture at the corner dairy set the wheels in motion.

Bevan and Andrea of Classic Campers New Zealand

Bevan and Andrea’s theme and wedding song? Summer of 69. The blue Kombi pictured here will soon be seen in the yet-to-air TV show The Pacific.

“I went down to the corner dairy to pick up the paper (this was 1988 when the classifieds were only in the daily paper), and there was only one left. Another customer was after the copy, so I handed it over, telling her that I was looking to find a Kombi. Turns out her husband was selling one – and so I brought it.”

More stories you might like:
How young creative Sam Mathers flipped his graphic design career to pursue art full time

That very Kombi is currently sitting in Bevan’s now Kombi-packed yard on the North Shore, home of his rental business, Classic Campers. The one Kombi turned into several and, when combined with Vanagons, Transporters and Bongo campers, his fleet now numbers about 20.

They rent to both local and international tourists who prefer to toddle around the country in something with a little more sass than a motorhome. “Kombis have an atmosphere – they are part of the journey, like another person to travel with. They have character – it’s like choosing between McDonald’s and a quirky little Italian joint. They will both get there but which is more fun?”

Renting the vans started as a hobby but as business increased, Bevan stepped back from his career in chartered accountancy and set about making Classic Campers his full-time job. His wife, Andrea, helps drive the business, managing bookings and providing a yarn and a cuppa to customers between looking after the children.

Bevan’s vans are labours of love – he’s the almost-everything man. Painting/sanding/panelling/rebuilding engines, all but touching the gearbox – some things are best left to the experts. One van was purchased after stalking the driver to the local Lotto shop (Bevan drove it away after a blat around the car park), another Liteweight 2500 caravan was driven back from Balclutha with the entire family on board.

Bevan Beattie of Classic Campers

With a variety of projects on the go, Bevan always has something to tinker with, such as fitting studs to the VW engine case.

Most are without nicknames but are often returned with newly appointed monikers, christened by the happy campers who return them safely home. Bevan gets it, the attachment they feel.

More stories you might like:
Why Joni Bentham took the plunge into ocean swimming – and how it rewarded her in return

“Everyone has a Kombi story, and when you are travelling in one you meet people all the time who want to share it with you. They are social vehicles – with a Kombi people always stop for a chat.”


NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
Send this to a friend