Travel: Syncro South


Words & Images Andrea Kaucka & Rene Bauer

I had always been suspicious of those old VW T3 Kombis. Just imagine – a shoebox, four wheels, questionable German engineering and a tiny
2.1-litre petrol engine. But, despite having steered clear of those, last year I had a good share of tackling Africa’s worst roads in one.

Some friends were coming to visit us, and we needed a vehicle which could take eight people, had four-wheel drive, and could tow a trailer. Jannie, a South African friend, recommended that we rent his T3 Kombi. It came with all that we’d imagined, except for the usual little engine. Instead, it was one of those converted things, powered by a 3.0-litre Ford V6.

Revving it up the first time made me smile. Sitting in it for the first time amazed me even more, and posed the mind-boggling question: is it possible that a car can be bigger from the inside than from the outside? Well, this is probably German engineering, too! The raised suspension and big off-road tyres made it look like the perfect bush car for us.

This was the plan: our party of eight would take this Kombi on an epic journey through Zimbabwe’s back roads, Zambia’s national parks and Botswana’s Chobe and Makgadigadi pans.

Prior to this, when we had travelled about 100 000km through Africa in our old Nissan Patrol, we’d developed the habit of avoiding main roads, going bush as much as we could and just putting up with bonerattling journeys.

For our ride in the Kombi, we didn’t change much about that attitude; it would just have to put up with our style and be up to the task!

Before our friends arrived, I put some work into adjusting it to our needs: I fitted an Engel fridge, an inverter, an air compressor and the other bits and pieces that one needs for overlanding. It seemed to be mechanically sound, and shifted and ran well. The driveshaft for the front wheels was disconnected, to save on fuel, and we were going to connect it only in hairy situations − that engine, with all the gear, people and a trailer, would give us only 4-5km to the litre.

After all was done and prepared, we went to pick up our friends from the airport. As we were loading everyone in at OR Tambo, we discovered that the starter had died.

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