The VW Beetle
The popularity of Volkswagen Beetles is one of the first enigmas that struck us upon arrival to the Yucatan. Perhaps if we’d been around the block, we’d have known that “bugs” are a Mexican icon; they were the unofficial taxi of Mexico city for decades until laws were passed to outlaw them in favor of safer, more fuel efficient cars in the early 00’s. Although there are fewer each day, many are lovingly restored--often with eccentric paint jobs--by classic car enthusiasts who want to keep the car’s utilitarian aesthetic alive.
The car's success prompted Volkswagen to build a plant in the central state of Puebla in 1964. By 1973, a third of cars sold in Mexico were vochos.
Although the Beetle was discontinued in Germany in 1978, the production facility in Puebla continued manufacturing the scarab-shaped economy vehicle for another 25 years. Their affordability and perception of European quality caused widespread adoption in Mexico where they acquired the affectionate nickname “vochos.” It has been said that, “in Mexico you either have a story involving a vocho or you are about to.” This nostalgic mystique is part of what has fueled their longevity and the reason there are so many originals sputtering down the streets of the Yucatan today.
It’s been about six years since old-school Volkswagen Beetle taxis were made illegal in Mexico City, it’s been about 15 years since the last air-cooled Beetle rolled off the line, and a staggering 80 years since the basic design of the car was set.
Although VW has announced plans to kill the Beetle--the last one will roll off the assembly line in Puebla July 2019--the lifestyle that the car represents is being kept alive. Beyond just hobbyists, the Mexican icon is finding new life in surprising ways. An eco-hotel just outside Valladolid has popped up offering overnight stays in lovebugs retrofitted with twin beds. There are also loads of handmade collectibles and upcycled art being made from scrap parts of the once ubiquitous auto.
Make sure to appreciate those classic domed curves next time you see one; although it’s outlasted everyone’s expectations, that quirky sight won’t be around forever.
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Thanks for reading!
Brad Houser 5 years ago
My first car was a '67 Beetle, supposedly one of the better model years. It was a hand me down from my uncle, who moved up to a Rabbit Diesel in '76. I kept that car with me at college in New Jersey, and took road trips to Florida, Boston, Maine, and Wyoming, putting over 40K miles on it in under 3 years.
I learned how to work on it, with the help of the "Idiot Book", and I had all the tools I needed to drop the motor at the side of the road if I needed to. It was the first of many VWs over the coming years: two Beetles, three Rabbits (two of them convertibles), one Vanagon, two New Beetles, a Passat, and a Bora, the last two being my daily drivers here in Yucatan.
The 67 Zenith Blue Type 1, as they were known by enthusiasts, was pretty rusted out when I graduated, and I knew I was moving to California where I was planning on getting a new car with my new job in Silicon Valley. It and the 68 Convertible I swapped motors and transaxles into were both retired for parts when I left the East.
I rented a newer one on my first trip to Cancun in the early 90's. My wife asked the guy if it had air conditioning, and he said "Si!" and showed her how to open the butterfly windows! It was nearly identical to the '67 model, not the later Super Beetles that were sold in the US. No exhaust modifications, no fuel injection, no padded dash, just a vinyl sticker to make it look like more than painted medal. It was a flash back to an earlier time.
Thanks for your article. I amazed by what I have seen on vochos here. Ladders and pool hoses are common, but I saw one with a soccer goal and net on top! I even had a Herbie siting! https://imgur.com/a/o7cLyoN
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