This is part 2 of a multi-part series on my experience painting my van in Mexico. For Part 1, click here.
My research into paint shops south of the border in Tijuana, Mexico kept bringing me back to one place, Taller Los Panchos. In forum after forum, folks sang praise for this shop and its owner Ramiro Ferreyra. Long a destination for budget conscious gringos, the shop has been a go-to for owners of VW Bus’s, Porsche’s and other classics in search of a great paint job at an equally great price. One blog in particular caught my attention. His post chronicles the transformation of his tired, faded BMW 2002 into a gleaming antique with a paint job worthy (to my eye) of any auto show. The beginning of his post started off like this…
“The car is finished! Here is a list of the work done by Los Panchos in Tijuana.
Strip the old paint off
Remove all windows, grills, trim and lights
Fill in holes in the front left from the Euro bumper conversion
Repair dent in driver side front fender
Repair rust on Drivers rear wheel well
Fill holes in A pillar from antenna
Fill holes from side reflectors front and rear
Fill holes in rear from Euro bumper conversion
Remove doors and repair rust on both doors
Remove hood and repair hood support and rust on hood
Repair rust behind passenger side fender
Block sand and straighten every panel
Install new black vinyl perforated headliner
Respray in Fjord Blue
Paint exposed areas of the engine bay
Paint IE Motorsports Zender style air dam
Reinstall doors and hood and align
Color sand and polish
Replace All window seals with new seals
Reinstall grills, trim and lights
The price of all this work was $2,000.”
$2,000!? Could this really be true? For about the price of a low-end Maaco paint job here in Southern California, I could drive an hour and a half to Tijuana and pay just $2,000 for this kind of paint and body work?
A week later, I set off for Tijuana in my van in search of Los Panchos. As I drove over the border, the familiar rush that I get crossing any international border washed over me, a combination of nervous adrenaline, excitement, and trepidation. It's a feeling I get from nothing else, and it's one of the most addicting sensations that only travel and exploration gives me. Soldiers stood watch and waved cars through as they passed into Mexico. As they saw me approach, they motioned for me to pull over (never fails).
“Open”, the soldier ordered, motioning to my rear hatch and slider. The soldier poked and prodded, and satisfied that the giant beast of a van wasn't smuggling illegal firearms as he assumed must have been the case, he swung around to my drivers side window. “How much did you pay for this?” he asked, standing back and looking at the van in amazement. “Eh, Dos Mil dollars” I replied, trying to make my van sound as cheap as possible. I sensed some sort of shakedown was about to happen, so I put on my fake charade about how I'm broke and live out of my van and was coming down just for the day to visit some mechanic's shops in Tijuana because I couldn’t afford to get work done in the U.S.
“Go, Go” he mumbled as he waved me on. My ruse had worked, and despite the fact that I had done nothing wrong, I was relieved to have gotten away with something, whatever that something was.
I followed my trusty Google Maps thru a maze of Tijuana streets, complete with 7-way intersections which lacked any sort of traffic control mechanisms. However, in a surprisingly short amount of time, less than a mile or two, I found myself in front of Los Panchos. A older Mexican man motioned for me to pull inside the shop's small lot behind a chain link fence.
I jumped out of the van, stuck out my hand. “You must be Ramiro” I said. “Mucho Gusto”.
I told Ramiro I was there to get a estimate on my van, and I ran down the list of what I wanted…
For them to take out all of the dings and dents
To fill in the hole in the side of the van from the no longer used fridge vent
To seal the hole in the bottom where the propane lines used to run through the floor pan
For them to remove the windows, and paint the van, matching the paint to a photo of a Blue VW Doka that I had printed up and brought to him, and then to reinstall the windows with new seals that I would provide.
Ramiro walked up and down the van, running his hands along as he went. He studied all the imperfections carefully, stopping occasionally to wipe his brow with his hand, fatigued from weight of the job that I was asking of him. Watching Ramiro, I could see the price jumping, I knew that the BMW 2002 was painted for around $2,000 a few years back. I figured with the size of my van, the high top, patching the holes and such, the total would have to be at least $3,000. Plus, the way he was carrying on, I knew he had to be winding up to hit me with a big number. “Cuanto?” I asked nervously. Ramiro thought for a moment, his hand on his chin, eyes gazing at the concrete floor. “One thousand, nine hundred” he replied. I’m not sure I've ever stuck my hand out so quickly to shake someone else's.
And with that I followed Ramiro inside a small office to hammer out the finer details. He pulled out an old paint sample book, and I took out my photo. We turned the pages trying to find a color that would match up. Ramiro stopped on a page and pointed to a color, 1959 Ford Surf Blue Poly. I held the photo up next to it, and to my eye it was damn close. “How many coats of paint?” I asked. “3-4 and then a coat of clear coat” Ramiro replied. Damn, what a deal is all I could think to myself. “When do you need it done?” he asked. “Tres Semanas” (three weeks) I replied. He asked for 4 weeks, and I replied that it was very important that it be 3 weeks and no more. I reiterated that it was very important ("Muy Importante!!") that it be finished on the 21st of November. Having had my van in various shops for the majority of the year to date, I now realize the importance of setting a firm completion date up front.
“Ok, November 21st” Ramiro said, penciling it on the calendar hanging above his desk. “You drop it off next Monday?”
“Yes, Monday November 1st,” I replied.
And with that, the wheels were in motion for my Mexican Paint Job Adventure. I made the short trek back to the border, and waited in a long line of traffic for 3 hours.
“What was your purpose in Mexico” the border agent asked me through my window. “I was just here today to get some quotes on having my car painted” I replied. “Be careful that the shop you use is reputable” he warned. “A lot of times people will take their cars in for paint here, and the shop will work with drug cartels who stuff the insides with drugs and attach a GPS monitor to your car. When you drive back across the border they will track your car and then come in the middle of the night to where it's parked and rip out the drugs.” I wondered to myself if this was more hyperbole or a genuine concern.
“By the way, how much did this thing cost you?” the border agent asked.
This is part 2 of a multi-part series on my experience painting my van in Tijuana, Mexico. Be sure to check back soon for the next installment.