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Airbags May Save The Old VW Bus

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The Volkswagen Type 2 Kombi, known to many as the Microbus, Bus, Hippiebus, and many other names if you're stuck behind one, is one of the oldest automotive survivors. It's long run looked like it was nearing its end, as new legislation in Brazil mandates airbags in all cars by 2014, and the old bus didn't seem a likely candidate to get them.


However, our Brazilian brothers suggest the old lady may not be ready to leave just yet. Brazilian auto site Autos Segredos reports that Volkswagen of Brazil is planning on fitting airbags to the Kombi, a feat many had thought impossible. The speculation is that the dashboard and lower-interior valance assembly used on South American export market versions of the Kombi will allow enough room for the airbag units.


This speculation seems quite plausible. The Kombi's cab-forward, hoodless design is actually a bit deceptive in terms of how much room is actually available up front. With the driver sitting right over the front wheel, there's actually a fairly large volume that could be enclosed with a redesigned dashboard, easily enough to incorporate some airbags. I suspect the passenger-side glove box will be relocated to take advantage of all the below-dash volume, with the upper portion devoted to the airbags. Just a guess.

The overall safety of the Microbus design is actually better than one would expect. In 1973, after Ralph Nader made safety something Americans gave a rat's rectum about, Volkswagen preemptively redesigned the Type 2's structure, incorporating beefy Y-section frame rails that act something like full-length chassis bumpers, making the Bus much safer in a front-end collision than anyone would rightly think. This structure with airbags (and ABS brakes, it seems) should keep this 40 year old design safe enough to keep on, um, trucking.

The Kombi had its last major update in 2005, when it was switched to a much more modern 1.4 liter water-cooled in-line four from the Polo. This engine runs on gas or alcohol, and did a lot to keep the Bus relatively current.


The fundamental design— big box with an engine tucked in back— is so simple it's easy to forget how revolutionary it was. The Beetle was an innovative design, but one that came from a long line of rear-engine streamliner experimenters like Rumpler, Ledwinka, and Ganz. The Microbus came from a sketch by importer Ben Pon, and has more in common with experimental cars like the Dymaxion and Stout Scarab than most contemporaries. Plus, modern small cars are rediscovering the elegant simplicity of the Bus' design— the Smart Car, Tata Nano, and Bajaj are all, essentially, scaled-down Microbus variants.

Even though it'll probably never make it back to the US, I'm really happy that the Bus is still in the game.