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.
11/17/2016 01:46:08 pm
Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. I hope that it all ends well. Beautiful color by the way.
11/17/2016 04:00:01 pm
Following! Is there any rust repair being completed no your van? If so what is the extent? That can add significantly to the work/cost.
11/17/2016 04:19:15 pm
Hey James, There was no major rust on my van (California car), a little surface rust here and there that they ground down easily.
11/21/2016 09:50:33 pm
I wish this was a 50 part series; great story telling!
Kirt ( @tintopcamper )
11/26/2016 11:54:35 am
Do you remember what paints they have to offer? I'd like to check out the color options before I go down there.
11/26/2016 11:57:56 am
They have a book of paints. What I did is took a photo with me of what I wanted the paint to look like and we went through the book together and matched it up. If you have a super specific paint color in mind they might not be able to match it perfectly if you're changing it. Matching to your existing color should be well within their ability. Id also recommend getting a paint swatch and bringing it down with you to help aid in the color matching. They are old school.
Kirt ( @tintopcamper )
11/26/2016 12:08:49 pm
Also, do you think it's feasible to drive it down, get a quote and then leave it for paint all in the same day? It's a day's drive for me so multiple trips would be a huge pain.
11/26/2016 12:15:03 pm
Feasible, but i'd contact them directly before taking the drive. Will likely depend on their workload and what you want them to do.
5/4/2017 10:22:52 pm
Where's part 3
11/26/2016 12:11:28 pm
Very cool and I will follow up, it's worth my drive from nor cal.
7/20/2017 10:45:19 am
how did the paint job turn out? Mike
10/21/2017 06:12:12 pm
I’ve heard about this shop for some time now, did you end up doing the WV??
11/2/2017 07:10:47 pm
Do you know if they would take a car on a weekend? Trying to go for the holiday weekend to drop it off
11/10/2017 12:45:52 am
Hi, Yes, they are typically open 7 days, but call ahead just in case.
11/9/2017 08:33:58 pm
Have the prices changed much? Looks like a great option on the cheap. Thanks for the articles!
11/10/2017 12:45:13 am
Hi, Yes prices have about doubled since when I dropped my van off. Will depend on your negotiating abilities, how busy they are, and how much rust your van has, etc. I just took a friend down with a badly rusted van and he was quoted $4500.
10/19/2018 01:45:40 pm
Was $4500 inside and outside quote? Applying seam sealer and epoxy primer?
2/19/2018 08:38:59 am
Do you think it would be a problem to haul a car over in a trailer instead of driving it over to this shop. Our vehicle is non running at this point
Hey Beth, Dont quote me, but I do not think it will be a issue. Make sure you have the title and registration, and insurance for both vehicles, and if/when the stop and ask you when crossing the border into Mexico tell them you are taking that vehicle to Taller Los Panchos in Tijuana Centro (Taller means mechanic shop) Send me a email before you go down, im able to get your a discount through Los Panchos.
5/4/2018 10:13:03 pm
8/10/2018 06:44:24 am
Great experience and I wanting to do the same with my 65 GTO. Just to clarify, the shop you used was Garage "Los Panchos" owned by Ramiro. Taller Los Ponchos is owned by Armando.
Thanks for all the info about getting a paint job done in TJ. I'm planning to take my 1985 weekender WE. next week for an estimate. my van a restoration body work.
11/24/2019 07:36:42 pm
did you get your weekender painted? how much was it?
1/13/2020 02:04:45 pm
Hi What about metal work can they replace the floor put in new back tail sections what about minor frame rail repairs what are your thoughs.. also dog legs on both sides and panels under sliding doors..
4/14/2020 12:44:33 pm
Yes, they weld in metal plates and do full rust repair. VERY TALENTED GUYS OVER THERE. Brought over 6 cars to them. All super work and they give 1 year warranty against any bubbles or flaws, and they will repair them.
4/14/2020 12:48:21 pm
I was so looking forward to April a few weeks ago I had my plane tickets and everything to go check out the body shop but then the C 19 came and kiboshed all my plans so I’m stuck up here in Canada hoping one day I can get things sorted out and get down there may take a while now
4/29/2021 09:49:14 am
Thanks for the car tips. I would like to find someone to repair the upholstery in addition to repainting it. I'll start looking for a service in my area.
I totally agree when you said that we can get a nice sensation when traveling and exploring. I guess I should really get my mom's RV repaired in a reputable auto body shop. It's because I've always wanted to try it ever since I discovered that she has that vehicle stored in my grandparents' place for years now.
1/13/2022 11:18:45 am
2022 Update: Father and owner of this shop has sadly died of Covid. His son, Almondo Martinez, has been in the family business for years. I began taking cars to Los Ponchos about 5 years ago. The quality is better than most American shops and no more bondo than a skim coat like any other American shop. The paint used is PPG. The paint job lasts longer because men work for $5 per day to sand all of those tiny areas. In America if something cannot be sanded by power then it is not sanded at all because we cannot maintain a living on $5 per day. I’m not knocking American body shops. Our materials are more than the $1300 to $1500 paint jobs at Los Ponchos. The only thing to continue to check into is the Mexican government border crossing. As of now, I don’t know how to cross if you do not have registration (with you) and license plates installed. If a body part is not taped, glued or ratcheted to the car them there are import duties and sales receipts for the parts that get a bit more complicated. Or, go with a border broker
1/13/2022 02:14:42 pm
Hi Grant, You are saying that Ramiro, the owner of Taller Los Panchos has died of Covid?
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