How the Volkswagen Kombi became a family heirloom
Collector cars that appreciate in value are normally associated with aristocratic marques such as Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, not the proletarian brands personified by Volkswagen, the "people's car."
The auction marketplace is a reflection of sentiment of the population though, and the same post-war baby-boom that reshaped society during the 1960s has now come of age and controls the vast majority of the world's wealth.
The society-changing force generated by the youth of the sixties is now becoming evident on the auction block, and the last five years has seen one of the enduring icons of sixties personal freedom begin to soar in value across the globe. The van pictured below best captures the way we all saw the Volkswagen's Samba van in its time. It was the boomers' freedom machine, pitch-hitting as a mobile bedroom and lounge room too.
The post-war baby boom now controls the world's investment capital, and the alternative culture that was championed by this age group is no doubt at least partially responsible for the rise of cars, sports and entertainment memorabilia as legitimate alternative asset classes.
This trend was highlighted yet again over the weekend when a 1967 Volkswagen 21-window Deluxe Samba (below) sold for $143,000 to set a new record for the model at the Scottsdale round of collector car auctions just outside Phoenix, Arizona. Just to emphasize how hot the market has become, the record lasted just 24 hours before another 21-window Deluxe Bus took the outright world record with a sale of $302,500, more than doubling the 21-window record of just 24 hours prior. The 1965 21-window Samba is pictured above.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the sale was that, although the US$302,500 price is a world record for the 21-window Deluxe Samba Bus produced from 1964 to 1967, the previous model 23-window Deluxe Samba Bus has always been considered even more valuable.
Above is a sampling of record-setting Volkswagen 23-window Deluxe Sambas. The American record price for a Volkswagen Type 2 (Kombi) of any model at auction was held by the vehicle at top left prior to this week. It's a 1963 model 23-window Deluxe Samba sold by Barrett-Jackson in 2011 for $217,800. Top right is the former European and World T2 record holder, a 1955 model Deluxe Samba that sold for €190,000 ($236,639) at Auctionata in Germany in November, 2014. At bottom left is the Australian record holder, a 1960 Deluxe Samba (in right hand drive configuration) that was sold for AUD$202,000 (US$157,690) in February, 2015. At bottom right is the British record holder, a 1960 Samba Deluxe that sold for £91,100 ($143,347) at Bonhams' Goodwood Festival of Speed sale in August, 2015.
Quite clearly, people power is flexing its muscles once more, and although the prices of rare 21- and 23-window Deluxe Samba vans are the most visible sign of the boomers exercising their preferences, the rising water mark has seen the value of all Volkswagen Kombi vans grow likewise over the last few years.
Paying $200,000 plus for a collectible car isn't nearly as perception-challenging if the badge on the grill reads Bugatti or Bentley, but the Volkswagen T2 is now moving into that category, too.
That is, it is appreciating in value at the same time as it is still being used by mobile street vendors around the world for selling coffee, fruit, veggies and alcohol. Indeed, many of those vendors may not even be aware that their trusty workhorse may soon eclipse the price of their home.
A prime example of just how much the market for T2 variants has been influenced by the banner-carrying 23-window Deluxe Samba is the crew-cab Kombi above ,which spent most of its life as a tradesman's workhorse but is currently advertised for $100,000 in Germany.
The following T2 Volkswagens are the most valuable to have been sold at auction to date. To track this global phenomenon, we've converted any non-American sales into American dollars at the prevailing exchange rate on the day of the sale.
$123,200 | 1967 Volkswagen 21-window Deluxe Samba
$126,500 | 1963 Volkswagen 23-window Deluxe Samba
$126,500 | 1964 Volkswagen 21-window Deluxe Samba
$126,500 | 1967 Volkswagen 21-window Deluxe Samba
$128,700 | 1963 Volkswagen 23-window Deluxe Samba
$129,719 (£85,500) | 1964 VW 21-window Deluxe Samba
$140,250 | 1962 Volkswagen 23-window Deluxe Samba
$143,000 | 1967 Volkswagen 21-window Deluxe Samba
$143,347 (£91,100) | 1960 VW 23-window Deluxe Samba
$148,500 | 1961 Volkswagen 23-window Deluxe Samba
$157,690 (AUD$202,000) | 1960 VW 23-window Deluxe Samba
$217,800 | 1963 Volkswagen 23-window Deluxe Samba
$236,639 (€190,000) | 1955 VW 23-window Deluxe Samba
$302,500 - 1965 Volkswagen 21-window Deluxe Samba
Personal Reflections on the Kombi marketplace
I always figured that at some point in the distant future, one or two of the motorcycles I have owned would be worth a lot of money and that I would one day regret selling them. In my misspent youth, I used an identical vehicle to the $100,000 crew-cab Kombi pictured at the beginning of this article to transport my racing motorcycles. I bought it for an insignificant amount of money and when my adrenalin habit finally allowed me to buy a V8 utility vehicle for transporting the bikes, I sold the Kombi for chump change without a second thought. If I'd kept and restored it, it would now be worth more than any other motorized transport I have ever owned. Go figure!
I learned to drive in a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle with 250,000 miles on the clock and I've subsequently owned several Kombis – I am a fan of both models. I've watched their star rise at auction, and after doing the rounds of the global auction and classic car show marketplace over the last few years, I believe that if you are in the market for a T1 or T2 Volkswagen, Germany's annual Techno-Classica show is the place where you can pick up a well-restored classic Volkswagen at the most reasonable price.
That's a pic from last year's Techno-Classica above and again below. The show this year runs from April 5 to 9, 2017 and if you are serious about procuring a vintage T1 or T2 Volkswagen, the Essen show is in the heart of the motherland and the epicenter of knowledge and expertise for the marque. Our Techno-Classica show report from last year will give you an idea of just how remarkable this gargantuan classic car show is.
One of the more interesting vehicles that didn't make our Techno-Classica report was the above Volkswagen flatbed T2, along with one of the prototypes of the racing car that came from the same family – the Formula Vee. It was for sale on the show floor for €295,000, though it also came with the racing car and had been authenticated as one of the original transporters that hauled around the Formula Vee cars in the infancy of the series that gave the world drivers such as Niki Lauda, Emerson Fittipaldi and Keke Rosberg. It's a lot of money but there aren't a lot of T2 Volkswagens with any kind of provenance. Unlike the Bugattis, Bentleys and Duesenbergs that were purchased new by movie stars, captains of industry and royalty, the provenance of most Volkswagens constitutes a who's who of unacclaimed people.
That might indeed be the secret to their popularity.