• Volkswagens — ‘a shortcut to happiness’

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    Having worked on his 1961 Volkswagen Variant for two years, Yudha Bantono knows his car intimately.

    The secretary for the Bali Volkswagen Division says his car, nicknamed “The White Shark”, is like a son or partner to him. Yudha was sharing his VW story along with hundreds of other VW fans in Sanur last weekend for the “Volkswagen Lost in Paradise” 20th birthday celebrations of the 416-member strong Bali Volkswagen Division.

    Hundreds of VWs and their drivers from across Indonesia and as far away as Poland, Holland and Germany made the trip to Bali to share in the local club’s celebrations.

    Across the field of Matahari Terbit off the Sanur bypass, families swapped VW stories and shared
    the hard-to-find engine bits and pieces, taillights and rearview mirrors that keep these ancient VWs on the road.

    And there are some stunners on show — under shade rests one of only two Karmann Ghia’s in Indonesia. This 1959 model low slung mustard and cream machine must be one of the sexiest looking cars ever built. The fingerprint of Volkswagen father Ferdinand Porsche is on every sensuous curve.

    The Karmann Ghia is styled more like an early Porsche than a Beetle, but under the hood even the Ghia is powered by a VW engine.

    Parked nearby is a Combi wagon with Surabaya plates — it looks like it’s about to expire with rust and its suspension appears to be failing.

    “It’s got specialist hydraulics to lower the bus when camping, that paintwork was designed to look
    distressed,” says an awed fan of the VW bus that has a surfboard strapped to the roof in homage of the role Combis played in 1970s surf culture.

    These cars are loved and the passion people bring to their VWs is seen as club secretary Yudha shows off his White Shark.

    Like a young boy with toys on Christmas morning, he bounces from panel to panel of the car, pointing out its original left hand drive steering wheel, its German made mark under the bonnet, its rare engine position, its perfection.

    Bringing the car back from the dead demanded help from around the world, and Yudha turned to VW club members in Germany and Australia.

    “It’s very hard to get parts for the Variant. A friend from Düsseldorf got these taillights and another friend from Australia located the rubber seal for the back hatch door. When I got the car, I felt like I had been given a prince to take care of — a prince that was dying of cancer. I am a vet and I felt it was my duty to heal this prince, this White Shark,” says Yudha who, like most VW owners, believes his car has a soul.

    “A guy from Jakarta fell in love with my car — I could name my price. I thought about how much the car has cost [me] to rebuild and was considering selling. The next day I tried to start the engine and nothing. I called a mechanic and the engine started immediately — there was nothing wrong. I
    am not a Hindu, but I took some cake to the White Shark and apologized for thinking about selling him. I gave him a kiss and said I knew he had a spirit inside and he started with no problem,” says Yudha of how close VW owners and their cars become. He points out that VW owners spend an enormous amount of energy caring for these classic cars and that spirit seems to come alive in the vehicles.

    Volkswagen clubs are international with fans found in just about every nation, but more than the clubs is the global unity that goes along with driving a VW. Classic VW drivers always wave or toot horns when passing on the road, and that has offered Filip Habas and his family friendship and support on their epic road trip in a VW bus from Poland to Bali.

    Filip is traveling with his wife, Agusta, and their two-year-old son Elios.

    A VW specialist mechanic, Filip drove his VW bus 10,000 kilometers from Poland, across Russia and into Mongolia, where the family left the VW and took public transportation through China and Vietnam, linking up with VW fans along the way.

    “We could not drive through China and Vietnam due to the bureaucracy and the cost — in China we would have to employ a driver and we travel cheap — we live in the car — its our traveling home. So we flew into Jakarta and went up to Bandung and got this bus — it’s my dream VW bus. With this we are driving around Indonesia,” says Filip who has met with many of Indonesia’s VW club members.

    “We travel to different areas and meet the VW clubs — it’s like in Europe we meet people in VW shops and on the road. Driving a VW is like being a member of an international family. We have received help on the road from VW friends; they fixed the bus in Surabaya and again in Malang — every time it was VW fans that helped me,” says Filip of what he sees as “a family without borders”.

    “VW club meetings like this one in Sanur are like miniatures of society. You can meet a coal miner, a dentist, a mechanic or a cook — there is a commonality of feeling among the wagon folk. My feeling is the reason people like VWs is because they make you happy — they are a shortcut to happiness,” says Filip.

    That friendliness of VW drivers has an impact on the road, according to Made from Bali’s transport department who was on duty during the weekend anniversary celebrations.

    Happy family: Fans of Volkswagens have a soft spot for another classic vehicle, the Vespa.Happy family: Fans of Volkswagens have a soft spot for another classic vehicle, the Vespa.“VW drivers are polite. We find they are not arrogant, they are disciplined drivers. I think they are safer drivers and at events like this they share driver knowledge and road ethics,” says Made.

    Bali’s Volkswagen Division is also concerned for the environment, according to outgoing club president Wayan Artha.

    “We have had events each month to mark this our 20th year as a club. One of our mottos for the year is ‘Go Green’. People say old cars pollute, so we planted 2,000 mangroves last month and we will certainly keep this site clean,” says Wayan, adding that the weekend event paid tribute to club founding members Putu Rumawan Salahin, Ida Bagus Sutama and Hendry who established the Bali VW Division back in 1991.

    “I feel proud of the Bali VW Division and this event that has attracted 300 VW cars here — all the cars are here from the Beetle, the Combi, the Variant, the Safari and even Karmann Ghia. These cars are still on the road because they are so strong and long lived. VW’s are something beautiful to see,” says Wayan.

    A club daughter and future VW driver, nine-year-old Esha believes VWs will be around for “maybe more than 1,000 years. I like VWs ‘cos they are cool. When I am old enough to drive, I want a Combi,” suggesting the folk of the wagon will be driving that shortcut to happiness for a long time yet to come.
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