This is my last article on Brazil and I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to wrap Brazil up than with a review of Bubble Gun Treffen (BGT) – Brazil’s largest Volkswagen meet.
To say that Bubble Gun Treffen BGT is large is understatement. While I thought the Low Latam Aero meet from earlier was big, BGT was massive. Hotels were sold out weeks in advance, and lines of rejected cars radiated outwards a half mile in every direction.
The very odd name of BGT derives from the fact that the founder, Ignacio Marques, wants to include all types of Volkswagens – Air Cooled, Water cooled, and even other Volkswagen Auto Group companies. Since a Bubble is composed of water and air, he felt that naming the event after a bubble was appropriate. The word Treffen is a Portuguese word for reunion.
So you can understand the disconnect between the hundreds of rejected cars and the concept of uniting that is embodied in the name.
Fortunately, Ignacio Marques, the founder of BGT was kind enough let me pick his brains about this dissonance and other aspects of Volks culture. His responses speak strongly to the internal challenges car culture faces, the difficulties in running a growing event and even the culture of Brazil itself.
One Kid, a Some Magazines and a Scanner
Bubble Gun Treffen grew out of a website Igancio started back at the dawn of Brazilian Internet in 1997. In typical Brazilian semi-illegal fashion, Ignacio began scanning and uploading copies of his grandfather's car magazine collection to his website, Volkspage.
This attracted a lot of attention, and soon the Volkspage forums became the go to place for online advice about modifying and working on these cars. Eventually, in 2009 people began asking about organizing an official Volkspage meet. So, 10 years after he scanned the first Volkswagen magazine onto his computer, Ignacio had the first Bubble Gun Treffen.
Like all things with humble beginnings, the first BGT was actually quite small – really just a collection of Ignacio and his friends. However, the event became so popular that the next year and for every subsequent year BGT was held at the much larger park in Aguas De Lindoia.
In addition to moving to Aguas de Lindoia, a city outside the Sao Paulo, the growing popularity BGT began to make it a showcase for some of the best German style modified Volks in Brazil.
Separating the Best from the Rest
Basic physics tells you that there is a limit to the amount of stuff you can cram into an area. Since cars are generally bound to the laws of physics, Ignacio had to start limiting the number of cars that can enter.
If you're a car club who wants to showcase your cars front and center there's no better place than Lote 1. Cars in Lote 1 are placed next to some of the best modified cars and modification companies in Brazil. However, you have to be fast - according to Ignacio Lote 1 fills within minutes of opening up.
As a result, usually the most organized and best cars and clubs make it into Lote 1. And Ignacio is very firm that cars have to be pre-registered to be in the event. The line of cars parked outside the event are usually people who didn't register in time, and furthermore Ignacio mentioned that he even will reject friends if they didn't pre-register. In a country where personal favors mean alot, that action makes a pretty strong statement.
And his strictness shows – the Lote 1 cars at the event had just enough space to breate and were par excellence. Several had been restored to factory condition – complete with the original factory quality control stickers, shiny new OEM parts and period accurate paint jobs.
Others were tastefully modified cars that secretly put down absurd horsepower numbers. In addition, there were many conservatively altered SP1s, Kharmann Ghias and Porsche 911s.
Just to demonstrate the lengths that the Lote 1 owners go to, one guy and I had an entire conversation about how he sourced one of the few bumpers of that type found in Brazil.
Since the quality of cars in BGT makes it a showcase for the best of the best VWs in Brazil, stakes tend to be a bit high for car clubs who are trying to grow. As a result, groups tend to get a bit touchy about not being able to register for the meet.
Unfortunately, their reaction to it tends to be a more of “if I can’t join then no one can join” instead of a “let’s build a better car next year”. Before the event, I heard several rumors, and whispers telling people not to go because the police will impound their cars at the event.
To be fair, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility – Vinicius had his car impounded for a 1 inch drop just a few weeks after I photographed his car. Fortunately, these were just that – rumors. I didn’t see any police arresting or impounding cars at the event – nor did Ignacio know of anything like that.
But this ties into a sort of undercurrent I noticed in Brazil. I’ve noted before how Brazilians are fantastic at finding ways to achieve what they want. But part of the motivation behind that problem solving is this sense that they’re entitled to the thing the want. So, when they’re told outright no, their reaction tends to be more outwardly destructive than inwardly constructive.
And take all of this with a big grain of salt – for every one entitled person in Brazil there are easily 20 fantastic people. The Brazilians blew me away with their friendliness and energy. It’s just I heard this mentioned by enough people and seen it in action enough times to see that it is a trend.
In a previous article, I mentioned that the Government defines car culture in Brazil, and here is another example of this. Whenever you run a large event in Brazil, you’ll need to coordinate with local and even state government. Unfortunately, that means that you’ll have to work with some government officials who undoubtedly feel entitled to a part of the success you’re having. As a result, you end up paying off officials just to be able to run the event without interference.
Fortunately, since Ignacio ran BGT peacefully for several years, he has a very friendly relationship with the town government and avoids these sorts of problems. But a recent large political shift in the government means that he must rebuild those relationships all over again.
So How Can You Include While Excluding?
If you noticed above, I totally sidestepped the question of how to reconcile the idea of unity in BGT with the exclusiveness of the event.
Well the exclusiveness of BGT actually serves dual purposes. That friendly relationship Igancio has built with the local government is because BGT is run peacefully, cleanly and without issue. A significant reason for that is because the people who build high quality cars tend to be more wealthy, educated and considerate of others.
In Brazil, there’s a significant link between the lower class and crime rates. Be it from unintentional rowdy drunkenness or intentional malice, they tend to create problems and damage things. And even if they are well mannered, many elites in the government look down on the poor – preferring to not have them gather at all. By only letting in the best cars in Brazil, Ignacio is ensuring the future of the event by not giving the local government officials any reason to give them trouble.
It’s an unfortunate and unsavory truth, but it’s essential to keeping a celebration of a unique culture such as BGT alive in Brazil. Between a government that could demand bribes at any time, and the police’s dislike of modified cars, Ignacio needs to tread carefully to make sure that Bubble Gun Treffen keeps bringing together car enthusiasts into the future.
You can see more photos at the Native Customs Facebook page.