SAO PAULO —
The van made an appearance on Bob Dylan and Beach Boys record album covers, among many, though in music circles its most closely linked to the Grateful Dead and the legion of touring fans that followed the rock group across the U.S., the machines serving as rolling homes. Steve Jobs is said to have sold his van in the 1970s to buy a circuit board as he built a computer that helped launch Apple. The vehicle is linked to the California surf scene, its cavernous interior perfect for hauling boards.
But in poorer regions like Latin American and Africa, the vehicle doesn't carry the same romantic appeal. It definitely doesn't hold the cool mystique in Sao Paulo that it does in San Francisco.
It's used in Brazil by the postal service to haul mail, by the army to transport soldiers, and by morticians to carry corpses. It serves as a school bus for kids, operates as a group taxi, and delivers construction materials to work sites. Brazilians convert their vans into rolling food carts, setting up on street corners for working-class lunchtime crowds.
In Brazil it's known as the "Kombi," an abbreviation for the German "Kombinationsfahrzeug" that loosely translates as "cargo-passenger van."
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."