27 May Buying our 1972 VW t2 Westfalia camper in Mexico
Have you ever wondered how we bought our 1972 VW t2 Westfalia in Mexico City? Well, in this post we share the story of how we did that and how ‘Nina‘ as we call her, became part of our lives. We searched for about three months online and offline to find the van of our dreams. We share some photos of this process and hope you like the read about how Diana convinced Steven to spend his last savings buying a van, how we searched for the van, arranged cash to buy her and actually get so much money from the cash machine in Mexico, which is a feat in itself. We’ll share how she got antique plates and how we managed to put her on Stevens name eventually, after a bureaucratic wait of four months. If you ever have questions about buying a car as a foreigner in Mexico, drop us a line.
How I convinced Steven to spend his savings and buy an old van
“Sweetie, I have send you an email, check it out!“. I prepared an email with photos of old, rusty and retired Volkswagen vans. Ever since I worked with Volkswagen in Mexico (during my internship in 2001), my big dream is to own one of those buses. Here in Mexico, there are still many old and newer Volkswagen buses driving around and I have been seeing them everywhere. I tell Steven to check his email, while he is preparing to beam a movie on the white wall of our temporary home in San Jerónimo, Mexico City. “Do you like them?“, I ask. “A bunch of rusty old buses, what is there to like?“, he answers. Time to send him email two :-). I send him an email with beautiful vans, completely restored, truly dream vans. “Yes, those I like!“, he exclaims. “What if we buy a van like that so we have a house of our own that takes us everywhere?” I look at his face and I see he recognizes the opportunity. “Great idea, have you seen any for sale?“, he asks. I send him another email with several vans I found on secondhand pages like Viva Anuncios and Mercado Libre. I guess you can see I prepared well to seize the opportunity to have a van in my life ;-).
Volkswagen t2 Combi Westfalia
I know exactly what kind of van I want. That is a whole story in itself. In a nutshell: when I finished my internship with Volkswagen Mexico in 2001, I attended a reunion in Germany where we visited the Stiftung Volkswagen museum in Wolfsburg. Every single model that has ever been concepted by Volkswagen, is exhibited in this museum. I remember vividly sitting on a little bench watching these vans. “When I am all grown up, I want one of these“, I promised myself that day. An ultimate sense of freedom that these vans provide the driver and its passengers, is what pulled me towards it. Being able to go anywhere, pop the roof up and just enjoy what’s there. I could almost see it, while sitting on this bench in that museum. In the years that followed, I watched the Bus movie and got a sense of what freedom those vans give and how big a responsibility it is to keep it going in the long term. Driving and living out of these vans makes me feel alive.. Now, in may 2012, almost at the day exactly 10 years later after sitting on this bench in the VW museum, it is time to fulfil this promise and go look for a Volkswagen t2 Combi Westfalia in Mexico City.
May 10, 2012 is the day
Surprisingly, we found several ‘for sale‘ advertisements on Mexican secondhand websites for the type of antique van we were looking for. Trusting the Google maps locations for the advertising blindly, we took off to find our van. The first time when we tried to visit a van for sale in Mexico City, we did not check anything upfront. Did the vendor exist? What kind of part of the city and is it safe? We just took the subway and…. turned around. Completely unsafe and no tourist in sight, we turned around. The second time we visited another van for sale, we checked the safety of the area before we left. We looked and looked but at the given location in Google Maps appeared.. nothing. So again, we returned home. The accuracy of Google Maps in Mexico City clearly is not the same as back home. The third visit we paid was to Casa del Volks in the Roma area of the city. Negociating with its owner Carlos to buy his 1971 VW Westfalia with Porsche engine, he eventually decided not to sell it because his daughter could not say goodbye to it. We could only respect the wisdom of the little girl of course. Finally, on May 10, 2012, after speaking to the vendor via the phone, after verifying the safety of the location and the existence of the address, we took a taxi to his house. In the photo on the left, we are ready in front of our temporary home in San Jerónimo, Mexico City to get in the taxi that would bring us to Nina.
Tucked away under the stairs
We found the address! There is no doorbell. Steven calls the vendor and we hear footsteps approaching. He opens the small door to the ground floor of his house and directly around the corner, tucked away under the stairs to the first floor, we see an antique Volkswagen van covered up. We did not take a picture of the van under the stairs as it was very dark but the first time I see it, I know this is the van. Let’s hope the vendor really wants to sell this unique piece of history to us and sticks to his very reasonable price he mentioned in the ad. We ask him to drive the van outside, which he does. In awe we walk around the van. Not a bit of rust, in perfect condition. I hope he will sell it to us and that we’ll be worthy of such a beautiful campervan. Stevens wants to drive it first. Me, I am already sold to this van.
We sit together in the van, me in the back, Steven and the vendor Ismael in front. We are going to drive around the block to hear and feel the van for the first time. It has not gotten any plates so we cannot go far but around the block should do it we think. Neither of us has a lot of experience with antique Volkswagen vans, we have no idea what to pay attention to. We take a ‘tope‘, a Mexican speed bump you’ll find everywhere and we almost fly through the cabin. We think it is normal because we have never experienced driving a van like this before. The engine sounds good and the breaks work. Steven can drive it for a bit and the vendor moves to the back. We look at each other. I think I must have looked desperate…:-) so badly do I want this experience to be part of my life. Steven seems to love this van as much as I do. We tell the vendor we love to buy the van for the price mentioned in the advertisement (about 5500 EUR). With wet eyes he tells us to take good care of it. He would never sell otherwise, but he needs the money.
Finding the money and getting it out of the cash machine
The savings Steven still has in his bankaccount after closing his former company in 2011 is almost enough to buy this van. The rest of the money we plan to crowdfund amongst friends and family against a percentage of ownership. A week or so later, we have the money in our own bankaccount, thanks to our friends Jordi and Petra and Stevens aunt Pauline who agree to take a share in exchange for an investment. The next challenge is to get it out of a cash machine as the vendor wants to receive the payment in cash. There is a limit to what we can withdraw from the machine, so we spend a week of walking up and down to get all the cash out of the machine. We never have had so much paper money in our hands and we bring it to the vendor, while we cannot stop looking over our shoulder. We do not want to get robbed now! Luckily, we did not get robbed and exchanged the money for the car key. We sit upstairs in Ismaels’ living room to sign the paperwork. We asked our Mexican friend Chris to come with us to help read the paperwork. The paperwork is correct and Stevens name is put on the transfer of ownership paper to indicate it is his. We leave as proud owners of a 1972 Volkswagen Westfalia! We cannot drive her directly as the van does not have plates yet. That is the next step.
The van we bought is antique and if at least 95% of all parts used in the van are original, it can apply for antique plates. We decide to go for it, as we can circulate Mexico forever and free of charge. The previous owner Ismael helps us get the plates and takes the van to the station where it is checked. It appears to be 96% original and we receive the plates! The only thing we need to do still, and we decide to skip the task for the moment, is putting the plates on Stevens name and obtain a green card in his name, a so-called ‘tarjeta de circulación‘. With this card in Stevens’ name we can easily transfer the title of ownership to someone else and lend the car to other people. With the plates on our van we can start driving. We decide to take her on a first trip to Acapulco, Guerrero, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. But not before we have her thoroughly checked by a mechanic that lives in Ciudad Neza, one of the suburbs of Mexico City. We will talk about that process some more in a later post. For now, it is time to sit back and be proud of owning a 1972 Volkswagen Westfalia en put a new dream in place:
“if we ever get kids, make sure they can learn to drive in this van and take it out for a ride. “
In May 2020, almost 8 years after we bought Nina in Mexico and many, many kilometers later, we are setting up a rescue operation to liberate our 1972 Volkswagen Westfalia from bureaucratic rules and long term storage in Costa Rica, where she has been sitting for almost 3 years.