By the time this interview publishes, Sam Mebane, our resident VW expert, will be celebrating his 19th year here at JBugs. Sam has been here so long, he remembers the “good old days” when JBugs had only seven employees all crammed in a 500 square foot building. 19 years and thousands of square feet later, Sam is still the same funny, carefree guy he was when he first started.
When Sam was just 21 years old, an old friend recommended he visit Gary, the owner of JBugs, to ask for a job. Although he is the go-to guy for anything VW now, back then, Sam began his career as an intern, or a his office mate likes to put it, a trash man. Without even blinking an eye, Sam replies with, “Yeah, I wasn’t doing anything fancy. I was just cleaning up and organizing. Finally, Gary hired me and I’ve been here ever since. At the point I started working, everybody did everything. You picked up the phone, picked an order, received something and checked something in. It was pretty crazy.”
Flash forward to today and Sam is still wearing a lot of hats here at JBugs. Not only does he field some of the most technical VW customer calls, but he writes and stars in our YouTube how-to and product spotlight videos.
Why do we rely on Sam for all things VW here? Well, because he knows his stuff and has been working on VWs since the young age of 13 when his brother brought a bug home for restoration.
Back then before Google, everything was based on trial and error and a lot of reading. While most young boys had their noses in Teen Beat or Spin magazines, Sam was reading Hot VW and VW Trends, as well as the John Muir idiot book which he highly recommends to anyone who wants to work on VWs. Before his brother’s bug, Sam was building radio controlled kit cars from the ground up. “Those kits were closely based off of VWs which meant that a lot of the stuff was directly relatable. So I was able to build this Baja bug and did more of the work on it than my brother did.”
Just four years later, Sam’s father bought him the first VW of his expansive collection. “I was 17 and my dad bought an orange 1974 standard beetle from his coworker for me. Not only was it my first car but it was my first VW and I was hooked. I’ve owned so many VWs since then. I’ve had two beetles, four Karmann Ghias, a 1971 Type 3 automatic Squareback and a 1974 Thing that I did a full restoration on. Literally every single nut and bolt was completely restored. It was in Hot VWs, they did a full feature on it.”
With three kids, a full time job and an off-roading hobby that includes a lot of repairs and preparation, Sam has absolutely no time to teach everyone everything there is about VWs, but he is always willing to do what he can. In fact, he was more than happy to sit with us to share his knowledge and after 30 minutes of shop talk, we truly got to know how he became our expert.
JBugs: For people who don’t know as much as you do, tell us why VWs are such a big deal and created this huge community of enthusiasts.
Sam: It always comes down to this, you can talk to anybody on the street and they will have a story about a Volkswagen. It doesn’t matter if you’re 70 or 17, your friend, sibling, parent, or just someone you used to know, had one growing up, drove one when they were in high school or dated someone who had one. Everybody has a story about a VW and usually they’re good stories because obviously they’re memorable. And sometimes they’re bad but that’s what makes them memorable.
JBugs: So what’s your VW story?
Sam: It’s a tough story but don’t feel sorry by any means. When I was four or five years old, I was taken away from my parents by a social worker in a green VW bug. I didn’t particularly care for my parents because I was abused as a kid, so I was happy to get out. My social worker’s VW took me away from all of it and over the years, as I was going to and from foster homes, he would show up in a VW every time, maybe not the green one, but it would be another Bug or Karmann Ghia. Growing up, I didn’t have access to any VWs but I knew that I loved them and wanted to own one eventually. And as you know from what I said before, I finally got to work on one when I was 13 and four years later, became a VW owner myself.
JBugs: Wow! That is a pretty legit VW story!
Sam: Yeah! And then, when I began working here at JBugs, the universe had a special way of showing me that I was in the right place at the right time. My social worker lived in this area, he must have in order to take me to and from the homes, but I didn’t know that he still did or that he still owned a VW either. So one day, he ended up coming to the shop and had no idea that I worked here. I instantly recognized him and was able to thank him for all the years that he worked with me. Once again, it is not a sob story in any way. That’s life and I am better for it. Everyone has some sort of crap in life they’re going to have to deal with and you either get over it or let it eat you.
JBugs: We would’ve never known. You’re so happy and always willing to help people out!
Sam: Well, yeah! I really like what I do and enjoy where I’m at. I can’t complain!