Dare To Be Different – Phil’s Barndoor Kombi

Words by Zilco Lightning, Photos by Unordered Photography and Dan Du Cros

Having kicked around in the VW world for a little while now I can remember when the car parks and line ups at Volkswagen shows were an array of graphics, bright colours and custom touches. All that has changed of course, firstly with the rise in popularity of so called “rat look” vehicles, and subsequently with the increased enthusiasm for preservation style, original paint projects. Now whilst I’m a massive original paint fan, I can concede that what these trends have led to currently is the car parks and line ups being rammed full of patina rides. Often with many vehicles parked up together in their matching factory hues. It’s therefore actually pretty cool in my eyes that someone, Phil Jones from Manchester in this case, has decided to shun current resto styles and do something slightly different with his new project. Bucking the trend for sure, and ending up with a head turning bus in the process, with this 1953 Barndoor Kombi.

Hayburner cover photo barndoor kombi

I first met Phil a few years back after he was turned from later, watercooled German machinery and onto aircooled Volkswagens by his cousin, Bobby Wilcox of MilkandTwo. Phil had decided to get in touch with his cousin to help him source the right bus, ending up with the very cool rhd ’58 ambulance from South Africa that we featured back in issue 7. Phil drove and enjoyed his dream ’58 for quite a few years until he started to hanker for another project, eventually contacting me and buying a few buses over time including a ’57 rhd 15 window project and a May ’51 Barndoor panel. He also ended up with a ’56 Samba for a while so he’s no stranger to rare buses. But it was a while later that, whilst collecting some Barndoor cargo doors from Graham in Bradford, he got a peak of this 1953 Barndoor Kombi and decided he just had to have it. So excited was he when he finally got the nod that Graham would let it go, that touching down from a holiday abroad, Phil and his good lady Donna jumped straight in the car and drove to Bradford from the airport to secure the deal and ready the bus for the journey home.

barndoor kombi

The Barndoor Kombi is of course Wolfsburg built, but was exported to Indonesia from new in 1953, hence it being a rare early rhd model. Imported to the UK 9 years ago, it’s passed through a few hands with each owner carrying out work and leaving their mark on the bus. When Phil ended up with it a lot of the welding work had been completed, but equally a great deal of work was left to do to get the bus roadworthy and finished to Phils liking. Phil, a self employed joiner by trade, is used to the odd deadline and so he booked himself some time off work and gave himself 12 weeks to get the bus finished. Taking weeks off work may sound expensive, but by carrying out all the work himself Phil reckons he saved a fortune over what a garage would have charged him, as well as turning it all around a lot more quickly. He was ably assisted throughout by his best mate Danny Muscat who Phil credits with being the methodical one of the team, as well as some of the other Salford VW boys who all tend to muck in together when there’s a project to be built. He was also assisted hugely by Brian at Langworthy MOT centre for letting him use the ramp space needed to sensibly carry out a lot of the work.

Barndoor engine bay

No exception to the average Indonesian Barndoor find, this one needed a great deal of metalwork. It’s not that old buses rust particularly in the warm climate, rather that they have an extremely hard life and are repaired with whatever is to hand at the time to keep them on the road. Despite so much welding work having already been carried out by the past two owners, Phil had a way to go to finish it all off and was then tasked with prepping the whole thing for paint. The paint is what really makes this bus stand out from the crowd and I have to be honest that being an OG paint guy I really wasn’t sure about the very different “marmite” paint job at first. Over the last few weeks though it’s actually grown on me and I love that it’s so different from the current “norm” and take my hat off to Phil for doing something totally different with this one. The Barndoor Kombi also sits pretty low and this was engineered at the front by a home grown narrowed and adjustable front beam, drop spindles, raised steering box and shortened shocks, with tubbed arches helping to avoid any scrubbing. At the rear the drop in altitude was taken care of with a straight axle AO code gearbox conversion and adjustable spring plates. A decent brake upgrade comes courtesy of a servo assisted CSB solid disk kit at the front and early type 3 drums at the rear, with the whole thing being pushed along by a trusty 1641cc twin port lump. After all the hard work that went into this bus Phil says it was a nice treat to buy this off ebay, service it, and plug it straight in with no issues at all.

Kombi cab

The wheels are classic 15″ repro Fuchs, in this case 5.5s and 6.5s shod all round in Bridgestone Potenzas. Phil sourced these in the USA already detailed and they look as good as ever. Inside the bus looks just as fresh as the outside due to more of Phils hard work. The front bench seat was notched and repaired to suit the new tubbed arches before being upholstered by Wardy at Dubholstery. In the rear Phil and his mate Jordan used their joinery expertise to build a custom interior based on an early Westfalia. “I love the process of building and driving my own vehicles,” says Phil, “but the buzz for me is also seeing what everyone else is up to and what else is being built each year,”. With this neat interior he’s created the perfect bus for doing just that at the many shows that he and Donna attend.

Aircooled bus engine

It was no small task but the bus was finished within the deadline, just, and rolled off the ramps to immediately be driven the 550 miles to the VolksWorld show and back. The journey went with no hitches other than a parking argument with a kerb damaging the oh-so-close-to-the-deck modified exhaust system. Phil’s chuffed to bits with what he describes as “a barndoor kombi that’s a little bit wild and hopefully packs a punch in the Barndoor world,”. But that said he’s thinking about building the next one as a stocker. That’s right, not one to rest on his laurels he’s already sourced his next project, a pretty special ’51 Standard that he bought from Irv at Irvs VW Restorations. It needs a lot, but Phil loves it and describes it as his dream project, “well at least until that illusive pre-a turns up!”. With the number of vehicles that Phil seems to be involved in, and the level of energy that he has for them, I have the feeling that might not just be a pipe dream either. It’s not just Phil who’s looking forward to his next project getting built believe me.

Lowered VW bus

Phil wishes to thank Graham for selling him the bus, Bobby for the inspiration, and Ned & Vic for featuring the finished product, as well as Brian at Langworthy MOT, Dan Muscat, Phil Unsworth, Rob Freeth, Ben Laughton, Kirk, Pauly J, Jordan, Big Al and most of all “his Dondon” for supporting him and making him believe that he can do whatever he sets his mind to.