1953 Volkswagen Sedan 1100 + 1956 Kombi T1b Schuco - 45 027 5800 (diecast)
The history behind Volkswagen’s first models is very rich. Despite their somewhat dark origins, the Käfer and the Kombi are loved by millions. And it all began because Adolf Hitler wanted a cheap car for the masses. In the early 30s, he commissioned Ferdinand Porsche to design a car that was economical, cheap to build and reliable. In 1935 the first prototypes were ready and in 1938 the Nazis built the Volkswagen factory in Fallersleben. The first Käfer, then called KdF-Wagen, rolled off the factory in 1940. However, very shortly after production halted because of the war. After the war, a cheap and reliable car was perfect for war-torn Germany, so Volkswagen restarted their production line. In 1947 the Wolfsburg plant produced almost 9000 cars, officially called “Volkswagen Sedan” or just Typ 1 (Type 1). The nickname Käfer (beetle, in German) would only come decades later.
The engine of the Käfer was the same one used in all models out of Wolfsburg since 1947. A simple 1131 cm³ boxer-4, it was sturdy and reliable, though anemic. Barely delivering 25 hp, nonetheless for a post-war Germany it was adequate. To keep production costs as minimal as possible, Volkswagen made changes to the rest of the car only when necessary. With that, all models, from the pre-war KdF-Wagen up to the 1952 Sedan, look almost identical. What changed was only the trim and upholstery, with the cars becoming “more luxurious”. Well, maybe more truthfully, the VW Sedan became “less simple” with the years. Visually speaking, the biggest change was the rear window. Up to March 1952, VW used the so-called “split window”; from that point forward they replaced it with the “oval window”. The oval window persisted until 1957, when VW swapped it for a larger one.
If the Käfer was the people’s car, the Kombinationsfahrzeug (“combination vehicle“) was the “business car”. On April 23, 1947, Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon visited the VW factory in Wolfsburg. While there, he had the idea of a cargo van using the Typ 1’s platform. Right after, he sketched a doodle and presented it to VW’s management. They liked his idea, however the Wolfsburg plant did not have the capacity for a second production line. In 1949, when capacity freed up, the engineering department produced the first prototype, called Typ 29. With a few tweaks and improvements, the first production unit rolled off the assembly line on November 12, 1949. Since this was the second vehicle produced by VW, they simply named it Typ 2 (Type 2). Right away it became popularly known as the “Kombi” or “Bulli” (most likely short for “Bus und Lieferwagen“ – bus and delivery van).
VW initially produced two versions of the Typ 2. These were the Kombi (with side windows and removable seats), and the Commercial (a pure cargo van). Later on, VW introduced the Microbus (1950), Deluxe Microbus and Ambulance (1951) and then a single-cab pickup (1952). Powering the Typ 2 was the same 1.1 boxer-4 used on the Käfer. Delivering measly 25 hp, VW had to use the reduction gear from the wartime Kubelwagen. In 1953 VW upgraded the engine to 1192 cm³, enhancing power output to 30 hp. Nonetheless, the Kombi in all its versions, could haul 750 kg of cargo. Despite the puny specs, priced at DM 5,850 (about € 19,479 today), it was a commercial success in post-war Germany. And just like the Beetle before it, it gained the world soon after.
In 143rd scale, Schuco offers these two models as a limited-edition set. With only 750 sets available worldwide, you get an oval window Käfer 1100, a T1b Kombi pickup and a trailer. Both the models are true gems, just as nice as my 1951 Käfer 1100. The trailer is pretty good too; however it is a modern two-axle trailer and consequently not period-correct. Even so, since the Beetle + Bus painted in “Herbie livery” is a modern customization job, it works perfectly. Though I looked everywhere, so far I haven’t found any photos of real life Käfer + Kombi painted in Herbie livery like these. Nonetheless, it’s not hard to find other versions of the Beetle and Bus in Herbie livery. Therefore, maybe someone actually did paint a 1953 Käfer and 1956 pickup Kombi as a homage to the original Lovebug.
Schuco doesn’t mention what year they are, so I can only guess their vintage. However, with a rear oval window, I know that the Käfer is at least a late 1952 model, though it can be from late 1952 to 1957. In the case of the Kombi, Schuco calls it a T1b – Volkswagen adopted that nomenclature (T1 through T6) in 1990. A T1 would be a first generation Typ 2, produced from 1949 to 1967. Furthermore, a T1b would be a first generation Typ 2 with a smaller rear engine cover, produced from 1956 to 1964. It also had smaller 15” wheels and a smaller engine bay than the T1a and T1c*. Based on that, I consider them to be a 1953 Käfer and a 1956 Kombi.
*The T1a, produced from 1949 to 1955, had a huge “barn door” engine cover and 16” wheels. The T1c (1965 to 1967) had a wider engine cover than the T1b.
In the end, this is an utterly BEAUTIFUL set. If you need only one Kombi and one Käfer in your collection, this is the one to get. Nonetheless, I have to point out that I am a bit bothered by not finding a 1:1 Käfer and Kombi like these. Just an idiosyncrasy of mine, though I try to avoid “fantasy cars”. However, this set looked TOO NICE to resist. Oh, and one last rant: why can’t Schuco properly name the vehicles and inform the model year of each? 🙄
During my research for a real-life Käfer + Kombi in Herbie livery, I found an interesting set from Schuco. It looks like they offered another version of this set (#450374200) some time ago. The only difference with my set #450275800 is that the Kombi is a double-cabin pickup. Seems to be nice too, however the Kombi looks better as a single-cab, if you ask me.
My way of celebrating the World Wide Volkswagen Beetle Day 😎! More Beetle stuff to come, so stay tuned!