75 years of the VW bus: nostalgia in box form

Status: 04/23/2022 16:31

On April 23, 1947, a Dutchman designed the T1, the first VW bus. The old Bullis have cult status. A workshop in a suburb of Rio de Janeiro restores them for clients around the world.

By Anne Herrberg, ARD Studio Rio de Janeiro

This is what it looks like, pure automotive nostalgia: stuffed box, googly eyes, split windshield, huge flat steering wheel. An old VW bus. “Most associate it with memories of their childhood, their first vacations or his youth: security and freedom at the same time”, says Alexandre Ferreira Fares. “But I really don’t understand why everyone is so crazy about this car. We have customers who have Ferraris in their garage and say: We’d rather drive the Bulli. Do more, ship more.” And that’s what Alexander does.

Anna Herrberg

Time travel on four wheels

The 46-year-old Brazilian restores old VW Bullis in his workshop in a gray industrial suburb of Rio de Janeiro and delivers them to enthusiasts in 16 countries, from Australia to Lebanon. But most of them go to Germany and France. Alexandre has a good dozen real darlings: in green, red, turquoise, as motorhomes with colored curtains and folding roofs or vans with drop-down windshields and Samba side windows. Each Bulli is a journey through time on four wheels.

“We completely restore. There are no used screws on these Bullis, no old cables, everything is new. And since most of the parts are no longer made, we make everything new by hand,” says Alexandre, not without pride. “Made from old junk and junk, which our professionals then process here. 80 percent of these cars are made by hand.” Once, he recounts, they made a bus in the workshop entirely in yellow and black with balloon and stripe motifs: “For a Borussia Dortmund fan. I thought it was terrible, but that’s how the client wanted it.”

In Alexandre and Paulo’s workshop, everyone is proud of the many restored VW buses.

Image: ARD Studio Rio

The Brazilians and their “box bread”

Alexandre and his business colleague Paulo Mesquita now have 30 employees. It all started with a desperate German: he proudly bought an old Bulli in Rio, but failed trying to cross the pond. After two years of being sworn in at Brazilian customs, one referred him to Alexandre, who was then working in export.

“Then I took the truck and in two weeks it was exported. The German immediately bought two more Bullis, then four more, and then I received calls from France and Italy. The business grew and fortunately it works very well.” Alexandre and Paulo find the old cars with collectors, in junkyards, or sometimes in a dilapidated barn among a herd of cows.

The legendary T1 has been produced in Brazil since the 1950s, and it wasn’t until 2013 that Volkswagen stopped producing the VW trucks, as the Bullis are called here. They are still used everywhere today as delivery vans, mobile food trucks or at the weekly markets: Brazilians affectionately call the vehicle “Little Owl”, “Omilein” or “Box Bread”.

“I am selling everything”

Doesn’t it sometimes seem a pity to have to give away the Bullis, which have been restored with such care? “Sure, you develop a relationship with all the cars,” says Alexandre. “My kids are the ones who always say: Dad, you’re not going to give it away! But I sell them all. My heart is attached to another model anyway: the Fusca and the TL,” he says, pointing to a beetle (in Brazil “named Fusca”) and a VW Type 3 hatchback. However, there have already been some export queries for this.

Cult vans for true enthusiasts – VW Bulli turns 75

Anne Herrberg, ARD Rio de Janeiro, April 22, 2022 11:37 am

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