It’s hard to mistake Damon Dayton’s affection for Volkswagen: his garage is chock full of vintage Buses and Beetles, he has multiple Volkswagen tattoos, and his closet is packed with Volkswagen wares.
“The Volkswagen love has been consistent throughout my entire life,” says the 48-year-old professional BMX rider and mechanic, who has owned some 150 Volkswagen vehicles through the years. “It’s a way of life for me.”
Growing up in Antioch, California, Dayton was surrounded by cars. His parents owned a mom-and-pop trucking business and taught him and his four older brothers basic mechanics at an early age.
By 12, he was tooling on his brothers’ 1962, 1965 and 1969 Beetle models, and assisting them with repairs. “I quickly became their designated helper,” Dayton says.
Some of his favorite childhood memories were spent visiting various racetracks and Volkswagen events in the region with his siblings. “My mom would tell my brothers, ‘You can go wherever you want – as long as you take Damon,’” Dayton says. “So, I would tag along with them to these shows and immediately I just fell for the cars.”
He purchased his first Volkswagen – a 1969 peach-colored Beetle with aluminum-alloy wheels – at 14. Five years later, he began working as an auto technician and mechanic. His industry work exposed him to all sorts of Volkswagen vehicles, from older classics, like Type 2 buses and Baja Beetles, to more modern models, like the Jetta and Tiguan.
Over time, he began amassing his own car collection, which included a 1954 Ragtop Beetle with semaphore blinkers and a 1963 Type 2 split-window bus with a middle seat.
“Every day of my entire adult life I’ve driven an air-cooled Volkswagen,” he says.
Since 1999, Dayton has managed a mechanic shop in Stockton, California, and travels the world working on high-level, full-scale Volkswagen restoration projects.
His specialty is air-cooled, pre-1967 models, and he is especially known for his skilled chrome and seal work on vintage doors and window frames. Currently, he’s undertaking several restoration jobs, including work on a 1964 Bus, a 1965 right-hand drive and right-hand door Volkswagen Bus, and a dune buggy.
“I am really nitpicky on what projects I take on,” Dayton says.
When he’s not working in his shop or riding bikes professionally, he spends time with his family – his wife is a fellow Volkswagen superfan – and is making a positive impact in his community. “I mentor youth and really strive to get them out of bad situations,” Dayton says.
His current Volkswagen collection includes a Jetta, seven Beetle and nine Bus vehicles. “In the past 10 years, I’ve sold off a ton of them,” Dayton explains. “I didn’t sell them for the money, but I finally realized I was getting older and didn’t want to be too greedy.”
Among his coveted collection are several custom-painted cars, including a starry-painted Baja Beetle and a checkered 1966 deluxe 21-window bus – which recently inspired a certain popular toy car company to create a miniature model of it. You can expect to see it in stores later this year.
“Growing up as a kid, surrounded by cars, this means the world to me,” says Dayton.