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75 years of the VW bus: nostalgia in the shape of a box

From: 04/23/2022 4:31 PM

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

Von Anne Herrberg, ARD-Studio Rio de Janeiro

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

Journey through time 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, like RVs with colorful curtains and folding roofs or vans with opening windshields and Samba side windows. Each Bulli is a journey through time on four wheels.

“We completely restore. There are no screws used on these Bulli, no old threads – everything is new. And since most of the parts are no longer produced, we make everything new by hand,” says Alexandre, not without pride. “Made of antique scrap and old iron, which our professionals work here. 80 percent of these cars are handmade.” Once, he says, they made an all-yellow bus with balloon and stripe motifs in the workshop: “For a Borussia Dortmund fan. I thought it was terrible, but that’s how the customer wanted it.”

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

Photo: ARD-Studio Rio

Brazilians and their “bread box”

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 then failed when he tried to take it across the pond. After two years of swearing in the Brazilian customs, one referred him to Alexandre, who was then working in export.

“Then I took the station wagon and in two weeks it was exported. The German immediately bought two more Bulli, then another four – and then I received calls from France and Italy. The business has grown and luckily it works very well.” . Alexandre and Paulo find the old cars with collectors, in scrap yards or sometimes in a dilapidated barn among a herd of cows.

The legendary T1 has been produced in Brazil since the 1950s and it was only in 2013 that Volkswagen stopped producing VW station wagons, as the Bulli are called here. They are still in use 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 sell everything”

Don’t you sometimes find it a shame to have to give away the Bullies that have been so painstakingly restored? “Of course, you develop a relationship with every car,” says Alexandre. “My children are the ones who always say: Dad, you won’t give it away! But I sell them all. My heart is still attached to another model: the Fusca and the TL”, he says pointing to a beetle (in Brazil “called Fusca “) and a VW Type 3 hatchback. However, there have already been some export requests for this.

Cult station wagon for true enthusiasts – VW Bulli turns 75

Anne Herrberg, ARD Rio de Janeiro, 22.4.2022 · 11:37 Uhr

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