One recent drizzly morning in Sao Paulo, Jorge Hanashiro took a break inside his light green 1974 Kombi while his wife, Anna, served deep fried meat and vegetable pastry pies to customers at an open-air market.
"There may be safer and more modern cars around, but for me the Kombi is the best vehicle to transport my stall and products to the six open air markets I visit each week," the 77-year-old Hanashiro said. "It is economical, rugged and easy to repair."
The vehicle has found its way into the hearts of Brazilians like Enio Guarnieri, 54, who stood grinning next to the blue-and-white 1972 van he keeps in his cluttered garage in a working-class Sao Paulo neighborhood.
Guarnieri bought the vehicle a year ago to stoke childhood memories. When he was 10, his father taught him to drive a van.
"Driving a Kombi with your face up against the windshield is a thrilling adventure," he said. "There is no other van like it. There is no other van that is so easy and inexpensive to maintain. Anyone with a minimum amount of knowledge about engines and a few tools can fix a Kombi."
A VW plant in Mexico stopped producing the classic version of the van in 1995, though it continued to make its engines for another six years. That left a factory on Sao Paulo's outskirts as its last lifeline. Production in Germany was halted in 1979 because the van no longer met European safety requirements.
Sao Paulo advertising executive Marcello Serpa says the van's spirit will live on after its demise.
He has a 2007 version meant to have a 1960s American hippie feel. He painted it in bright green, yellow, blue and red colors with cartoon-like drawings of his wife, daughters and himself, surfboard in hand.
Serpa said the bus evokes "a spirit of playfulness and happiness," causing people to pause and smile when he drives it down Sao Paulo's chaotic streets.
"The Kombi is part of Brazil's cultural and emotional landscape," he said, "and that explains the strong feelings of affection most people have for it."
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman reported this story in Sao Paulo and Bradley Brooks reported from Rio de Janeiro
Bradley Brooks: www.twitter.com/bradleybrooks
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