Monday, April 23, 2012

Who is KA-RO-551 (Karossi)

The dream of unlimited freedom on self-mobilizing wheels is about as old as the country to which the idealized "auto-mobilis" (and in recent years also its downsides) is most frequently associated to... No worry, we do not choose to take off with an American heavy-weight, neither do we plan to drive on an obsolete steam-engine, so we shift over to the old continent and its engineering capabilities of the 70s rather than the 18th century.

The first "Volkswagen Typ2" was created in the awakenings after the second dark period of the last century. Only few years past the nightmares of the second world war were ended, the European societies have managed to get rid of the worst tangible and obvious leftovers, the cities came back to operation as usual and beyond. The need for civil transportation of goods and merchandise became one of the central problems in Europe. Amongst those who were able to provide answers was the newly born "Volkswagen GmbH". Only one year after the British occupation government decided to hand over the control of the factory back to the Germans, the "Volkswagen Transporter" was presented to the public. The original plan to build the utility vehicle on top of the Volkswagen Beetle (internally named "Volkswagen Typ1") platform failed to achieve the target cargo of 750kg, the construction would not carry the load and the engine did not provide sufficient power. Despite (or maybe because of) this first failure, an brand new vehicle (internally called "Volkswagen Typ2"), including a boosted drive train (one of the first outcomes of the close liaison to Porsche) was designed, tested and brought into production within less than 12 months. This first "Volkswagen Transporter" turned out to be at the right place at the right time, 1,8 millions were sold until the cease of the economic boom in 1967. Romantics would still claim that the boom was only enabled or even caused due to the availability of this versatile vehicle with the dozy expression on its face.

As everything in the world, things get better or worse. Another four re-incarnations of the "Volkswagen Transporter" would follow until the present day. The "Samba bus" (T1) was followed by 2,5 million produced T2, many of these "Bullies" were allowed to see the old hippie route to India during the 60ies and early 70ies until the one-and-only T3 was presented to the public in 1979. The fundamental concepts of the vehicle remained unchanged (rear-engine, boxer-engine, wheelbase), but countless improvements in many areas were implemented in order to improve reliability (introduction of water-cooling rather than air-cooling, anti-corrosion materials), comfort and safety (optional power-steering and ABS). Interior and exterior design were changed on one side to reflect the spirit of the time and on the other side to achieve a homogeneous picture across the broad vehicle lineup of Volkswagen in the late 70ies. At the introduction of the first Passat in 1973, the first Golf replacing the Beetle in 1974, and the first Polo in 1975, the  Italian designer Giorgio Giugiaro left his square-cut writing throughout the company's portfolio, impacting also the formerly round lines of the "Volkswagen Transporter" to become one of the most rectangular Volkswagen ever built.

The technological fulfillment of the "Volkswagen T3" was brought in by the Austrian off-road and military vehicle specialist "Steyr Daimler Puch AG". Earlier experiments on the T2 already proved the possibility of deriving excellent climbing performance and off-road capabilities by the implementation of a dynamic four-wheel drive and increased vehicle lift, but never made it into series production. Only in 1984 the T3-based "Volkswagen Transporter Syncro" was introduced and quickly gained an excellent reputation due to its versatility. By 1991 a total of 45.478 Syncros were sold and the success story of the "Volkswagen Transporter" (including T4 and T5) in general and the Syncro in particular continues until the present day.

Now, after this amorous adventure into the history of the ancestors of KA-RO-551, you may guess that we got ourselves one of the "Volkswagen Transporter Syncro T3". Although the ones in good condition with low mileage are starting to get scarce on the open market, we were lucky to catch one of the last ones from a government auction, more precisely from the firefighters in a small suburb of Augsburg. Emergency vehicles have the priceless benefit of being groomed very well and being stored permanently under rust-hostile conditions in a heated garage and being moved on a regular basis though keeping low overall mileage.

KA-RO-551 was born in December 1990 in Graz, was one of the last of its kind and lived a happy and laid-back childhood (<80.000km) in Augsburg before he was adopted in summer 2011 by Agnieszka and David. They decided to take him out to explore the unknown world but also to take care of him and preserve him in his precious state. They took him for a thorough inspection at the authentic Volkswagen doctor and a body specialist, both with excellent prognosis. He got a special overall treatment with Mike Sanders grease to disallow rust which might shorten his live expectancy (one of the biggest threats for T3s). A set of new tyres were offered to ensure happy feet on the entire trip. The now obsolete payload, a set of benches with a small table and heavily aged interior were put in storage for future restoration projects. On the exterior only the legally required removal of the flashing blue lights and firefighter siren was allowed with a lot of teeth grinding. The original shiny RAL3000 combined with white contrast color was kept, including the typical roof-mounted turn indicators, completed by an 80s roof rack from eBay with a white paint job. The entire interior space was meticulously measured and modelled in Google Sketch-Up to allow detailed planning of the interior furniture design. More on this will follow next time.

Only 69 more days to go.


  1. Hello David,

    I'm Artur Kromberg your co-worker from Audi MIB and I'm very pleased to hear that you are staying at the moment in my birthplace Kazachstan, a big country with a lot of untouched nature. Later i lived in the Capitolcity of Uzbekistan and i hope i will sometime make the same journey with my kids because that is the best way to learn other nations.
    Have a nice time
    best regards

    1. Hi Artur,

      We have indeed loved Kasachstan and we will have to change our travel plans to get to Iran because Turkmenistan is kind of "closed" during October. So we will return to Kasachstan next week to Aktau and take the ferry to cross the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan in order to arrive in Iran.

      Tashkent was nice, however the ancient cities of Samarkand, Bukara and Kiva are absolutely stunning. We definitely love Usbekistan! Agnieszka will hopefully be updating the blog in the next few days to provide you with some nice pictures...

      Hope everything is fine at work, too. Kind regards to Erwin and the rest of your team.