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Surfer cars we loved

No more so than in Australia, where some of the best breaks in the land require a vehicle that can eat up the miles and take some bumps and knocks in order to reach the spots where the waves are rolling in.

Holden Sandman

One of the vehicles that immediately springs to mind is the Holden Sandman. Famous, or perhaps infamous, for its cavernous rear load space, the Sandman was devised to take advantage of the expanding "recreational" market and had room for boards, gear and sleeping bags in the back.

First seen in the early 1970s, the genuine Sandman was on offer in two V8 models but it was the often lurid paintwork that caught people's attention.

Holden resurrected the idea of the Sandman with a Ute-based concept car done by Reg Mombassa (and Mambo) for the 2000 Sydney motor show. It also made a trip to the North American motor show circuit but had the nude artwork on its flanks tamed before getting its U.S. visa.

Price (when new): from $4156-$9554.
Sold: 1974-1979
Engines: 4.2-litre and five-litre V8s
Gearbox: four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive.

Ford Escort Sundowner

For those who couldn't stretch to the full-size models, Ford's Escort panel van, the Sundowner, had potential as a surf trip machine.

Ford did its own Australian version of the Escort van with 1.6-litre and two-litre engines as well as full stripe kits and side "bubble" windows, as well as things like a full headlining, carpet, not to mention better fuel economy as the supercar and fuel crisis scares sent shockwaves through the industry.

Ford improved the rear sleeping space by allowing the front seats to tilt forward for more rear space for the drive-in or beach.

Price (when new): from $5712-$7891.
Sold: 1978-1982
Engines: 1.6-litre and two-litre four-cylinder
Gearbox: four-speed manual or optional three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive.

Volkswagen Kombi

Volkswagen's Kombi, or Type 2 as it was supposed to be known, was an icon of the anti-war movement but had fans beyond those just putting flowers in their hair and giving peace a chance.

Early T1 versions had split front windscreens and barn-style side doors (and are worth a pretty penny now if you have one sitting under a sheet in the shed) but it was the T2 that built the legend in Australia.

Also known as the Kombi - a name also used in Brazil, where it was also built - the VW Kombinationskraftwagen (or combined-use vehicle) lent itself to carrying boards and crew, with the campervan versions also becoming popular as surf safari vehicles.

Volkswagen also tried to resurrect the Kombi surf machine with a sharp-looking Microbus concept car in 2001 and more recently a Kombi Beach model that went on sale for two years from 2006.

Price (when new): from $2440-$9995.
Sold: 1965-1980
Engines: 1.4-litre, 1.5-litre, 1.6-litre, 1.8-litre and two-litre four-cylinder
Gearbox: four-speed manual or optional three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive.

Bedford van

Wave-chasers have also been known to go large by means of a 1970s Bedford Van, some of which had 173cu in (2.8-litre) Holden engines in them. Perhaps most famously used by TV's The A-team, the Bedford could be made into a muscle car or an all-rounder to cart boards and entourage.

Price (when new): from $3635-$11,283.
Sold: 1970-1981
Engines: two-litre four-cylinder and 2.8-litre Holden six-cylinder
Gearbox: four-speed manual or optional three-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive.

Suzuki Sierra

Suzuki is well-known for its motorcycles and little cars, but for many the icon of the brand is its little Sierra off-roaders, which many saw as a good machine to get to surf breaks limited by access.

The lightweight Sierra - available with a hard-top or a removable soft-top - weren't the ideal vehicle for an overnight stop (swags or tents a must) but if you needed cheap, economical transport to a great (but remote and inaccessible) surf break, then the little Suzuki was a good bet.

The company has even recently resurrected the Sierra nameplate, albeit on a model within the Jimny range.

Price (when new): from $6429-$16,990.
Sold: 1981-1999
Engines: one-litre, 1.3-litre four-cylinder
Gearbox: four-speed and five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive.


Year Price From Price To
1981 $2,640 $4,070

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GL 1.6L, Leaded, 3 SP AUTO $2,640 – 4,070 1978 Ford Escort 1978 GL Pricing and Specs
L 1.6L, Leaded, 4 SP MAN $2,640 – 4,070 1978 Ford Escort 1978 L Pricing and Specs
Sundowner 2.0L, Leaded, 3 SP AUTO $2,640 – 4,070 1978 Ford Escort 1978 Sundowner Pricing and Specs
GL 1.6L, Leaded, 3 SP AUTO $2,090 – 3,300 1978 Ford Escort 1978 GL Pricing and Specs
Stuart Martin
Contributing Journalist


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