The great debate - which variant of Brazilian Kombi is better? When it comes to buying second hand you may well have included this factor in your equation.
Of late, attitudes have tended towards the 1.4 Watercooled model being the one to go for because of its current availability new, modern engine and mpg figures. Which are all true, however this is not to say the variant doesn't have its weaknesses, ones that the 1.6 Aircooled does not demonstrate and therefore a decent sense of proportion needs to be taken when considering an used Kombi. Both Aircooled and Watercooled have their positive and negative points. As would any model of vehicle when comparing generations.
Sure, the Aircooled is an old style engine enhanced with modern electrics. You get the traditional clatter (some view this as vital on a classic VW) but an engine that, when set correctly, runs very strong and smooth. Let's face it, this engine has truly stood the test of time. It was developed back in the 1930s and was the mainstay of the Volkswagen fleet for effectively the first 50 years of the manufacturer's output. Mating it to modern electrics has gotten rid of idling problems and due to the fuel injection this is probably the most efficient version you could ever get. Less complicated than the version fitted to the last of the Aircooled Beetles in fact.
Because the Aircooled engine is very standard, parts availability is excellent and from a variety of sources. Many of the ignition components come from other Volkswagen models, such as the Mk3 Golf distributor. Should there come a time when a part is no longer available, the 1.6 Aircooled engine is relatively adaptable, to the extent that for instance you could fit a carburetor system. But you shouldn't need to do that as the fuel injection system has proved reliable. Some Aircooled Kombis have had difficulty passing the CO2 test in an MOT but this has usually been down to either the tappets not being set correctly or a faulty lambda sensor – a replacement of which can be bought for £30.
The gearbox used in the Brazilian Kombi is the same as used in the original 1600 Beetle. Hence the Aircooled engine and transmission work together very well. An adaptor plate is used to mate this gearbox to the 1.4 Watercooled engine. The gear ratios are slightly different for the Watercooled. The 1.4 works the gearbox harder and under certain conditions it can fail. Gearbox failures do happen on the Aircooled but they seem rarer.
The 1.4 was fitted by Volkswagen do Brasil in response to stricter emissions put in force by the home market government. In terms of combustion it does the job and is cleaner than the Aircooled. It's a great engine, derived from the VW Fox and is capable of improved mpg and a 'quieter' ride. It can run on bio-ethanol but that is more relevant to Brazil than it is here in the UK as there hasn't been much interest in the supply of said fuel here, I suspect as the introduction of electric cars is getting a bigger push. Naturally the 1.4 unit has to have a radiator up front to aid in the cooling of the motor. This also has a subsidiary electric fan that activates at a certain engine temperature. The long coolant hose run from back to front and back again has been subject to air locks and corrosion at junction points. Stainless steel replacements for these sections are under development and should prove a long term cure for this issue.
The Watercooled Kombi gets a modern dashboard with a digital odometer/clock and a brighter view of the dials when it comes to driving at night! The model is also fitted with a 'fly by wire' accelerator, whereas the Aircooled stays traditional with a long throttle cable. The feel of the accelerator on the Aircooled, particularly on a RHD converted Kombi, can be a bit stiff, but it has been found that you can improve this by introducing extra springs into the mechanism or by using a replacement throttle cable.
Servicing wise: the Aircooled needs an oil change and tappets set every 3000 miles. The Watercooled needs an oil and filter change every 9000 miles. The Aircooled uses either Classic 30 grade oil or 15/40 Multigrade. The Watercooled needs 5/30 Longlife Fully Synthetic. Both models need their suspension lubricated every 6 months, brake fluid changed every 2 years, fuel and air filter changed once a year. The Watercooled needs a cambelt and water pump change every 60,000 miles. The servicing parts such as filters and plugs are similar in price for both models, however the oil for the Watercooled is generally 1/3 more than that required for the Aircooled.
Out on the open road, the models are pretty matched in terms of acceleration and cruising speed. Expect the speedometer to be out by 10 mph by the time you hit 70 mph - you're more likely to be doing 60 mph. Best reference is a satnav indicated speed! Both variants suffer from Bay-sway - this is normal and characteristic of the Kombi's roots back in the 1950s. Both models are capable of being fitted with power steering to aid low speed control.
In terms of consumption you'll expect the Watercooled to achieve 8 - 10 mpg more than the Aircooled on average. It all depends on how heavy footed you are and how much 'stuff' you have on board. On the recent club trip to France, the Aircooleds and Watercooleds were filling up at the same time.
When it comes to the suspension set-up, brakes, handbrake, road handling and the bodywork, the two variants are identical. A 10 year old Aircooled Kombi could well be in better condition than a 5 year old Watercooled model if the later T2 hasn't been cared for well. I know people who use both Aircooled and Watercooled Kombis as their daily drive.
Regardless of which engine you go for, you'll find that owning a Brazilian Kombi opens up a whole new chapter in your life. It's a bit like getting a new pet. Having run this forum/club for 5 years now I continue to be delighted in the joy owning a Kombi brings to so many people. They are fun, quirky vehicles that almost have human characteristics. How many other cars out there could you say owners have so much affection for?
When buying used: set and stick to your budget and buy on condition above all else.
________________________________________________________________________________Max SportsKombi - The Bay Racer