In Mexico City, once beloved ‘Beetle’ car nearly extinct

July 9, 2015 6:55 am
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A few "vochos," as the curvy car is known in Mexico, can still be spotted occasionally in the city's chaotic streets while so-called "Vochomania" clubs of collectors try to keep it alive/AFP
A few “vochos,” as the curvy car is known in Mexico, can still be spotted occasionally in the city’s chaotic streets while so-called “Vochomania” clubs of collectors try to keep it alive/AFP
MEXICO CITY, Mexico, Jul 9 – It was a symbol of the Mexico City landscape, zooming, honking and fuming in the mega-capital’s infamously dense traffic. But the beloved Volkswagen Beetle is nearly extinct, a victim of anti-pollution campaigns.

A few “vochos,” as the curvy car is known in Mexico, can still be spotted occasionally in the city’s chaotic streets while so-called “Vochomania” clubs of collectors try to keep it alive.

But the once ubiquitous white and green – and later red and gold – Beetle taxis that clogged boulevards are gone from the metropolis, home to 20 million people and four million cars.

“We could have thought about keeping a few in the historic centre to preserve the symbol. But it wasn’t meant to be,” said Rodrigo Diaz, an urban planning consultant who writes a blog on transport issues.

The unceremonious demise of the vocho is surprising for a country that has had a long love affair with the Beetle.

The “people’s car” born in Germany in the politically charged 1930s arrived in Mexico in 1954, where it became an instant hit.

Seen as affordable, easy to fix and a fun ride, Mexicans scooped up 50,000 Beetles in just one year. It was quickly adopted by taxi drivers and the Volkswagen was given the diminutive nickname, vocho.

“In case of a breakdown, you could replace the fan belt with panty hose,” recalled Ricardo, a nostalgic taxi driver.

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.

During that era, the Beetle became the most produced single model car in history with 15 million vehicles made, overtaking Ford’s Model T.

Beetle fever spread across the region. In Brazil, where it was also built, people called it “Fusca.”

In Uruguay, former president Jose Mujica declared only one asset in 2010: His 1987 Beetle.

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