The Classic - VW Samba

Today, the sunroof-sporting eight-seater minibus versions of Volkswagen’s iconic Kombi – known globally by the name ‘Samba’ – are especially coveted.

The ‘Samba’ is regarded by many as the pinnacle of the cult of Kombi.

The Frankfurt Motor Show of 1951 was the first such industry event to be held in Germany in the post-war years. Volkswagen took advantage of the opportunity and presented its new vehicles on an enormous stand covering 1,350 square metres.

The show stand included a partial copy of the Beetle assembly line, and an unprecedented lighting installation which set the trend for future shows. Also making its debut that year was a new people carrier, which at its launch Volkswagen called rather plainly the VW ‘Special Version’ minibus.

 

Yet the differences between it and the standard Kombi were anything but plain, with customers getting an exclusive array of additional features. On the outside the classy minibus was resplendent in harmonious two-tone paintwork with attractive aluminium trim and front bumper. Previously found only in the omnibus sector, all-round windows, including ‘skylights’, made the Kombi with 23 windows a ‘Glazed Sightseeing Bus’. In keeping with that, it also had a large concertina-style sliding sunroof, which gave passengers in the back the feeling of riding in a cabriolet.

 

The passenger compartment featured swish interior fittings with covered side panels and chrome trim, creating a luxurious ambience. Appropriate musical entertainment for the small travel group came, if desired, from a valve radio in the dashboard.

 

The minibus quickly became sought after, although the precise derivation of the ‘Samba’ name can no longer be accurately traced today. Samba could potentially have been derived from the German ‘Sonnendach-Ausführung mit besonderem Armaturenbrett’ (sunroof version with special dashboard), but that’s just one theory.

Regardless, what started colloquially was official by 1954, when a Dutch price list referred to the model as the ‘Samba’.

 

Series production of the VW ‘Special Version’ minibus began on 27 June 1951 and ended in July 1967, after almost 100,000 had been made. The oldest known ‘Samba’ is privately owned by a collector in Germany. Practically its entire history is documented: the owner even has the original sales invoice.

‘Samba’ Kombis are more sought-after than ever today; a fact often reflected in the prices people will pay for them. In recent years, models in top condition have repeatedly achieved dizzying prices at auction. The highest price achieved to date for a ‘Samba’ – sold in the United States in 2017 by auctioneers Barrett-Jackson – is a staggering US$302,500 (almost NZ$417,000).

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