THIS 40-YEAR OLD KOMBI HAS NEVER LOOKED BETTER
While most people today would go for the aesthetically imposing luxury vans and sleek cars, many still reserve a generous amount of love for simple yet timeless classics. We met up with 38 year old Suchen, a veteran photographer, who is also passionate enthusiast for these treasures. Having travelled the world and captured amazing photographs to show for it, the man has literally went the distance to turn an old, rust-plagued VW Kombi, into a nifty automotive beauty.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO RESTORE A KOMBI? ARE YOU GENERALLY FASCINATED BY VINTAGE AUTOMOBILES OR IS THE KOMBI A PERSONAL OBSESSION?
I was actually looking to get a 4×4 so I could bring my dogs out for rides when I go to the beach or anywhere else, because my Mercedes was not very convenient for that. But when I was in KL on a business trip I met an old friend of mine; Terence, who had a Kombi and it kind of, grabbed my interest right away.
HOW DID YOU PICK OUT THE KOMBI THAT YOU WANTED?
I was on a test drive with Terence in his Kombi to Singapore. We stopped over in Malacca because he wanted to show me a shop in Malacca that sells parts for VW. It so happened that the guy working at the shop said there was one for sale close by.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE PERSONAL TOUCHES OR MODIFICATIONS ON YOUR ‘NEW’ KOMBI?
The Kombi was almost completely rebuilt. From the engine, body, interior, wiring and most parts as well as accessories like the signal lights, headlamps, tail lights and so on. But my favourite is the roof bed which is great when you park along the beach somewhere, climb on the roof and have a nice glass of whiskey while watching the sunset.
There is also a mini bar inside, and an L shaped sofa which opens up to another bed inside. The BOSE sound system is also one of my favourite touches in the Kombi. And when I’m on road trips, there is also a cooler box under the sofa. And to top it all off, the Kombi is fitted with Photochromic Smart Window Film by Chameleon which basically becomes darker during the day and more see-through when it rains or at night.
TELL US ABOUT THE PROCESS AND SOME OF THE MAIN CHALLENGES THAT YOU FACED IN COMPLETING THIS PROJECT?
Deadlines – which seem to have no value or meaning to most businesses in Kuala Lumpur. For example the guy who did the bodywork for the Kombi, when he first quoted said he needed three weeks to do the job which eventually took four months (laughs). But apparently that’s how it is in KL dealing with the restoration of classic cars. Unfortunately there is no one who works within deadlines in KL when it comes to dealing with classics. The whole process took me almost a year to complete.
I started off by rebuilding the engine, redoing the wiring and buying all the parts. Once all that was done and it was in running condition; I did all the name transfers, had the inspections done then got the body work and paint job done.
Once the paint job was done, I went on a drive around Indo-china with my friend Terence and his VW group called MadDubbers who invited me to join them on the four nation drive. We drove from Malaysia to Thailand, then Laos, then back through Thailand to Cambodia, Vietnam and returned to Malaysia.
On the way back I stopped in Bangkok for a month and got more things on my Kombi done. I also had some engine problems which I wanted to look at in Bangkok. Once the Kombi was back in KL, I started work on the interior. I would say the interior is almost 100% pimped up. I even changed the two front seats from two individual seats to a bench seat. Everything at the back is customised.
WERE THERE ANY UNCONVENTIONAL MODIFICATIONS THAT YOU HAD TO MAKE IN ORDER TO PREPARE IT FOR GRUELLING LONG-DISTANCE JOURNEYS?
Not really, almost everything is standard in the Kombi.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RECENT CROSS-COUNTRY JOURNEY; HOW FAR DID YOU TRAVEL AND WHAT DID YOU DO?
The MadDubbers travelled over 8000km in the span of two weeks. I took longer as I stopped in Bangkok for a month on the way back. This trip was more about the drive rather than the destination to the group as we spent most of our time on the road. But it was still an amazing experience which I will never forget.
Our route was more like this – we started from KL to Hat Yai, in Thailand. Then up to Bangkok via Surat Thani and Chumpon. From Bangkok we drove to Luang Prabang via Vientiane and Vang Vieng in Laos. Then back down to Thailand and across to Cambodia to Angkor Wat in Seam Reap, down to Phnom Penh, over to Saigon in Vietnam, and finally back to Malaysia via Cambodia and Thailand again.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN BENEFITS AND DRAWBACKS OF TRAVELLING IN A CONVOY OF VINTAGE RIDES?
There are plenty of benefits I would say. The people in our group are ‘hands on’ people with lots of experience dealing with cars. We also had a mechanic who also owns a VW in our group. So whenever we had any problems with the cars, he could fixed on the spot. We also made sure that we all carried spares during the trip too.
The only drawback to me was the fact that most of the people in the group were on a timeline to get back as they had to get back to work – so the road trip was mostly just getting from point A to B to C and so on. I would prefer to to take it easy and stop whenever I wanted, take a few photos, or stay over longer in certain places and not rush so much. I also prefer to absorb the surrounding and people more. This is my travelling style.
When you have a vehicle that is older than you, they tend to break down and give you some problems here and there. But still overall it was an amazing trip and I have absolutely no regrets and everyone in the group was great.
WHERE HAVE YOU DRIVEN IT SO FAR? AND HOW HAS IT FARED?
Apart from the road trip across the Malaysian border, I have also done few trips around West Malaysia too. Never had any problems while driving in Malaysia.
ARE YOU LOOKING TO ADD OR CHANGE ANYTHING MORE?
Not for now; I’m pretty happy with how it looks right now. I just shipped it back to Kota Kinabalu early February. Unfortunately, the roads here are not as good as in West Malaysia. So I am thinking of changing the suspensions which suits more off road journeys
HOW HAS THE RESPONSE BEEN FROM PEOPLE WHO HAVE SEEN THE KOMBI SO FAR?
It’s just brilliant. It’s so amazing to see the smiles on the people’s faces whenever they see the Kombi passing by. Wherever it’s parked, the first attraction is towards people holding the camera or a phone and posing with the bus.
BASED PURELY ON YOUR PERSONAL OPINIONS AND PREFERENCES, WHAT WOULD YOU NEVER DO TO YOUR KOMBI IN TERMS OF MODIFICATIONS AND WHY?
I will probably never lower it or ‘bling’ it up
DO YOU PLAN TO CONTINUE ADDING SIGNIFICANT MODIFICATIONS TO YOUR KOMBI IN THE NEAR FUTURE, OR ARE YOU ALSO LOOKING TO ADD OTHER RIDES TO YOUR LIST?
No real significant modifications. I’d probably upgrade the braking system to complete disk brakes. I am also considering to add an external oil cooler and change the suspensions to be able to do more off-road travelling.