South Africa- November 1998
I had the good fortune to visit this country for a couple of
weeks and although I wasn't able to visit the only remaining Vanagon factory in
the world, I had the chance to collect the following observations after my trip
throughout the NW portion of the country:
Vanagons-called Microbuses or Caravelles-are alive and well in that part of the world. I hadn't stepped out of the plane and I could already see dozens of different variations being used at the Johannesburg airport. Once in the street it became clear that it is one of the most popular vehicles in the country: shuttles, family vans, school buses, hotel transportation, commercial vehicles, and many other variations of Vanagons are seen in cities and countryside equally. My 40 mile transfer to the second night hotel was done-conveniently enough-in a 2.6i Microbus:
Our 3-Microbus convoy in the motorway leaving Durban
There were 7 of us in the vehicle plus a trailer with all the luggage, but the vehicle didn't seem to have any problems negotiating the motorway's steep hills. The 5 cylinder/5 speed combination does make a difference!!
The Microbus was pulling a trailer with all our luggage.
Some of the interesting features exclusive to South African Vanagons that I was able to notice where:
1) Interior: The middle seat has an extension next to the sliding door (which is on the left side of the vehicle) that can act as a seat or a beverage tray according to its position. Dashboard is pretty similar as the German version, with the exception of the right hand location of the steering wheel. Rear hatches have jail bars, like Deluxe split window buses and very few Vanagons had in the US. VW of South Africa had just launched a new interior package, similar to the Weekender version in the US. It has a side fold down table, cup holders and an under seat 12V fridge. There are also some handy map/magazine containers at the jump seat's sides.
2) Exterior: Colors are similar to the 88-91 US line. There are some slight differences in the body: lower radiator grille extends all the way to turn turning lights, black plastic trim under windshield, rear side air intakes are also different (with an additional exhaust opening), there are several good looking 15" aluminum wheel designs:
Splashguards behind the four wheels seem to be standard equipment, as well as sliding rear windows:
Note the overall increased depth of side windows and rear operable sliders.
Many Microbuses had front metal "brush guards":
I briefly stopped at a Durban dealership and collected some info and brochures. The guy at the parts counter made me some copies of engine, transmission and mount diagrams (these could be useful to anyone doing an engine conversion in the US). According to him, there are no plans to stop production in South Africa.
The four versions available are: 1.8, 2.3i and 2.6i Microbus, 2.6i Caravelle