Meet Florence the Volkswagen Kombi ambulance

10th October 2019

Our workshop team here at Bill Richardson Transport World are practically magicians – experts at taking shells of vehicles and transforming them into gleaming works of art worthy of joining our incredible collection.

Florence the ambulance might still be a work in progress, but she’s going to be a beauty – and some of you might even recognise her.


The vehicle

Florence is a 1959 Volkswagen Kombi ambulance that served the Southland community throughout the 1960s. She is believed to have been purchased as part of a fleet of six for the Southland Hospital Board.


The essentials

Florence was purchased via TradeMe, and made her way south to her hometown of Invercargill from Hastings. Her former owner completed the structural body work but the workshop team has been tasked with completing the renovation and the interior fit-out.


The process

The ambulance is now fully operational from a mechanical point of view, but our truck museum curator and workshop manager Graeme Williams says there’s “quite a few months of hard work left yet”.

This renovation has been a painstaking one: one of the workshop team members, Darren, is a VW maestro and he has been hard at work. (“The workshop boys have all got their favourites,” Graeme says – and when it comes to Volkswagen, it’s practically entwined in Darren’s DNA: his father loved them too.)

Authentic interior parts were sourced all the way from Belgium but Darren has also been hand-crafting much of the interior too – we don’t want to give away too much, but we will say this: getting the stretcher just so has been a bit of a mission!

“What Darren’s doing is very challenging. He’ll spend two days, maybe three, working on something only to find it’s not quite right – so you’ve got to put it in the corner and start again,” Graeme says.

The process can be incredibly frustrating. So why keep doing it?

“You do it to get a vehicle as authentic as you can. That’s where you get the satisfaction from … it’s a bit like putting a puzzle together. It’s satisfying to see it come together in the end.”


What makes this vehicle special?

“I think because it’s come home,” Graeme says.

“There’s that connection to Southland there. Plus, over the last few years, the interest in Volkswagen Kombis has rejuvenated. Back in the day they were workhorses: the fruities had them, the butcher had them, and you saw them on the rural runs all the time. Then they went through a bit of a period of decay, and then they were associated with what we’d call hippies for awhile – and now, there’s been a renewal of enthusiasts wanting to reclaim them really. They’ve really come full circle.”

(Fun fact: Transport World executive director Joc O’Donnell is a big Kombi fan.)


When will this vehicle join the Bill Richardson Transport World collection?

Watch this space!

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our gift shop – from the author of The Story of Tex and One Paddy, Two Baddies, Clive Lind, comes Florence to the Rescue. The book is in-store now, and will be available to purchase through our online shop soon.