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Mexico's love affair with Beetle is over

2015-07-09 10:26

DUSTY VOCHO: An old vocho, as the Volkswagen Beetle is known in the Mexico stands in an impound lot in Mexico City. The last time it was used as cab was 2012. Image: AFP/Omar Torres

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Beetle mania has hit New York as Volkswagen presents four new versions of the iconic bug and with names like Cabriolet Denim and Habanero Orange Metallic it's no wonder.

SYLVAIN ESTIBAL

MEXICO CITY , Mexico - 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 now all but extinct, a victim of pollution campaigns.

A few "vochos", as the Beetle is known in Mexico, can still be seen oin the city's chaotic streets while so-called "Vochomania" clubs of collectors try to keep it alive but the once ubiquitous white and green - later red and gold - Beetle taxis that clogged boulevards are gone from the metropolis, home to 20-million people and four-million cars.

LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE BEETLE

Rodrigo Diaz, an urban planning consultant who writes a blog on transport issue's said: "We could have thought about keeping a few in the historic centre to preserve the symbol, but it wasn't meant to be."

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 1930's arrived in Mexico in 1954, where it became an instant hit.

READ: Newest Beetle gets more juice

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.

Ricardo, a nostalgic Mexico City taxi driver recalled fondly: "You could replace the fan belt with panty hose."

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. Mujica was offered R12-million for his Beetle by an Arab sheikh in 2014.


'VOCHOS': Old Volkswagen Beetles or 'vochos' as they are known in Mexico, stand in an impound lot in Mexico City. Image: AFP/Omar Torres

QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD

While the Bug was adored in Mexico, its charm won over Hollywood, where it was immortalised as "Herbie" in a Disney film series about the No.53 race car with a big heart.

In 1980, the production took the Beetle to Mexico in "Herbie Goes Bananas", in which the intelligent car faces off with a bull in an arena, dismantles a network of smugglers of Aztec artifacts and accelerates like a F1 car.

READ: New Mexican plant shadow over US pay talks

The films contributed to the Beetle's worldwide popularity.

But after the era of the oil crisis, the Beetle began to lose its charm. It was suddenly seen as too polluting, too noisy and too uncomfortable.

MET ITS DEMISE IN 2003

The Beetle taxis were repainted in white and green in an attempt to refurbish their tarnished image. The colours were later changed to red and gold, but the new body paint was not enough as passengers preferred newer, safer and more comfortable rides.

The last vocho was built in 2003 in Puebla, at the world's last Beetle assembly plant.

In 2012 taxi drivers were offered $1 000 or close to R12 000 by the Mexican goverment towards purchasing new cabs. The remaining vochos were gradually sent to junkyards.

The capital's taxis are now four-door vehicles with a rear trunk, like in most major world cities.

Beetle aficionados can still find a few taxi-vochos but they have to venture into tourist towns such as Taxco, where they are painted red, or Acapulco, where they are white and blue.

Transport blogger Diaz again: "Unlike London with its double-decker buses, San Francisco and Lisbon with their cable cars, or Valparaiso with its funicular, Mexico didn't declare this vehicle a part of its historic heritage, it's a shame."

At least one white and green taxi can still be seen: in a museum in Berlin. It was sent by Mexico City in 2008 as a gift, in a sort of return-to-sender gesture after a 50-year love affair.

NO MORE BEETLE JUICE: The Mexican government paid taxi drivers the equivalent of R12 000 to scrap their VW Beetles. Image: AFP / Omar Torres

Have you owned or do you still have an original VW Beetle? Email us your pictures and story and we'll publish it on Wheels24.


Read more on:    beetle  |  volkswagen  |  mexico city

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