Arab oil shieks. I’m willing to bet that those words have just conjured an image of a lot of people in keffiyehs stepping aboard their gold-plated private jets. Yeah, perhaps taste is not a particular quality of the newly rich oil billionaire from the UAE. It almost seems that they will buy pretty much buy anything they want when they want it. Taste and class matters not so long as it’s rare and expensive. So how the hell is it that an Arab billionaire wanted to pay one million dollars for…a well-used 1987 Beetle!?
Okay, I guess it’s rare in countries where the Beetle was actually replaced by the Golf instead of being sold alongside it. And Latin American Beetles were a bit different than the German ones, including some late-life changes. Features like integrated headrests and the larger rear window that Americans had gotten since 1972, were added in 1985, the same year that Mexico-produced Beetles stopped being exported to Europe. In 1986 Brazil said it was going to stop producing Beetles; that is until they decided to start production again in 1993. Really and truly, there’s absolutely no reason why a 1987 Brazilian Beetle should be worth that much money. And really it wasn’t worth much to start with, considering it was a gift from friends to its current owner. He’s the added value.
You see this pale blue 1987 Beetle is owned by one Jose Mujica, the soon to be ex-president of Uruguay, and the guy that people should use as a benchmark for a good politician. He was born in 1935 in a primarily industrial barrio and lost his father at the age of five. His uncle introduced him to the world of politics and pretty soon he was already a follower of the Nacional party. Following the lead of a party leader, he separated himself from the party and joined efforts with the Uruguayan socialist party to create a new party called “Union Popular”. It wasn’t particularly successful, only achieving 2.3% of the vote in its inaugural election in 1962.
His journey into the radical left wasn’t quite complete yet. Latin American politics have never been quite as sedate as American ones. While America was tearing itself apart on issues of race and Vietnam in the 1960’s, Latin America was doing a good job of having all the conflict without having to invade other countries to do it. In Uruguay’s case, the Nacional-Tupamaros liberation movement were the deterrent of the ruling ultra-right government of the time. This was a different kind of right than the one we’re used to. Mujica was shot six times and thrown in jail four times. Although, to be fair, he escaped two times. In 1972, though, it seemed like he would be in the big house for good.
I’ll skip the long boring politics involved in the process to introduce a law forgiving political crimes, which made it possible for Mujica to walk away as a free man in 1985. And he did return to politics in a considerably more diplomatic and open environment. In 1994, he made it to congress and in 1999, he became a senator. 10 years later, on October 25, 1999 he made it all the way to the presidency. Now that I’ve typed that, the parallels to a certain Mr. Nelson Mandela seem almost impossible to overlook.
Why would this man be a benchmark for politics? Well, to put it simply, he’s a man that has been completely honest and dedicated to the people. That faceless mask that our suits in charge claim to defend and look out for? Yeah, how many of them would decide to use the presidential house for formal events only and keep on living on their own home? And how many of them have a home you can call modest? It’s not like he’s just storing it all for his early retirement, partly because he’s already 79 but mostly because most of his wage goes to charity.
And his blue 1987 Beetle has long since become part of the legend. The same way one associates The Dude with a very beaten-up Torino and the Pope (the last one at least) with the Popemobile, that blue Beetle is very much ingrained on the image of Mr. Mujica. I certainly can’t picture him in a Cadillac or a Land Cruiser. Here he is leading a parade lap for the 10th anniversary Super Beetle category race. He didn’t actually take part in the race though; he has proclaimed that he has “No commitment to cars”. The Beetle just so happens to compliment his personality and lifestyle ideally. This means the performance characteristics of this particular Beetle are as-of-yet untested. I’m guessing they’re exactly the same as any ordinary 1987 Beetle though.
There in that word, ‘Ordinary’, lies the charm of Mujica. The fact that he never seemed to let politics get to his head, keeping it clear to get on with his mission to serve the people. His humility is almost unheard of in politicians. This is especially noticeable here, as Latin American leaders have a nasty tendency of trying to perpetuate their power. It’s highly unlikely that the sheik that intended to buy his VW would’ve treated it as humbly. Maybe he just wanted a new toy to show off how people-conscious and in touch with humanity he was. Maybe he would’ve pulled a Sultan of Brunei and left it to rot on a garage. We’ll never find out as Jose Mujica rejected the million dollar offer. Not because it was too much money; he had already picked out a charity to donate to. But rather because he didn’t want to, and, I quote, “Offend the friends that saved up and bought it for me” years ago.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if he stayed in power. As for the sheik buying it…would he perhaps be interested in a certain 1984 Tercel Wagon? I won’t mind if he even gold-plates it.
What an excellent & inspiring read. Thank you for posting this!
He’s an awesome president. If other Spanish-speaking countries had people half as decent as him, our life would be much better
I can’t say that I am normally that impressed by leftist politicians of Central and South America. As you say, there is a tendency to get elected, then start living the high life for as long as possible. But this fellow seems to be a refreshing change from the norm.
It is nice to see politicians of any stripe who stick to their roots. Harry S. Truman certainly did here in the U.S. Even Ronald Reagan spent as much free time as he could on his rustic ranch, wrestling with an old Jeep CJ-6.
Reagan also had a Subaru BRAT he drove around his ranch which was just restored.
I’m not impressed by this guy or any other communist. Shall we all hail Nikita Khrushchev and the Trabant as well? Should we idolize the murderer Che Guevara and his favorite brand of motorcycle? Oh wait, some hipster adolescents do idolize that murderer don’t they? Ok, bad example, that last one.
Do you know anything about it? Why are you “not impressed?”
He probably doesn’t. His knee-jerk reaction to anything remotely “leftist” in nature should be the tell.
What’s to know? An Arab oil mobster wants to pay a million dollars for a communist’s old car. Its a VW beetle. The oil mobster wants it because it is a communist’s symbol of the proletariat, owned by a capitalist hating old commie, not because it is a beetle.
What about the rightist ones? You know, the ones who run extra – judicial death squads? Are they better than “leftists?”
I love naive, ideologically based labeling. Mujica is hardly a “communist” and a whole lot better the pro-Nazi fascists that ran the place for years.
Whether from left or right, I have no use for the crowd whose motto might as well be: “I am so important to the X group in my country, that I am entitled to kill my opponents and to all the wealth I can steal. And just forget about another election.”
Certain parts of the world seem overrun with these guys, of both political extremes.
Tell me about it. Right now there’s a lot of people wanting to make re-election legal in the country. Fortunately the people who wrote the current constitution knew this would happen and put measures to prevent it.
At least it’s not going down without a fight.
I am in complete agreement, JP. I also strongly believe in national self-determination: a country can have any government it wants, and as long as it isn’t doing anything terribly bad, so be it.
South/Central America has a few “left leaning” heads of state….and they are, for the most part vilified. How dare they put the rights of the citizen ahead of the “rights” of large corporations?
While the current Pope isn’t strongly associated with any 1 car (I seem to remember hearing about a Ford Escort?) he is also a “left leaning” person…along the lines of Senor Mujica.
A 1984 Renault 4.
When I first was this picture, I thought, ” The Holy Father likes his ’84 Renault, too! I was driving a Pope-mobile (sort of) and I didn’t even know it!”
Nice, a Fuego from the same era. Back then Robert Opron (Citroën SM, CX; I mentioned him below the Citroën C6 article) led Renault’s design studio.
In the early eighties the Fuego was also the fastest (turbo) diesel car on the market with a topspeed of 180 km/h.
Pope Francis is a Jesuit. The Fuego would probably be a bit too fancy…the white R4 is a perfect car for him.
Nice Beetle ~
I wonder which model it is ? .
They had several , I used to have a couple Brazilian Beetles from the early 1970’s .
Thumbs up for the man, his mission and his car!
You can tell a lot about a man by the car he drives. Thanks for another great post, Gerardo.
If someone with values such as this tried to get elected in these parts, he would probably be laughed at by his peers and the press, but if he got any kind of popularity with the masses that could put the status quo in peril, he would meet up with a ‘scandal’ that would be mass reported until he was no longer a threat.
That is an interesting story and he seems to have not let his position go to his head, but I thought we weren’t going to talk about politics on this site any more. I sure don’t come here to discuss my political leanings or those of others.
It’s a story about a political leader’s car. Ignore his politics, if you like, or can. No one’s pushing an agenda.
I wasn’t talking about the story. I thought we were supposed to keep politics out of the comments.
The story was fine by me.
Don’t care about the people, but I like the Bug. I have owned three, a ’68,’69, and ’72. I would buy another one if I didn’t already have 4 cars, none of which I want to get rid of. The Bug is an excellent enthusiast car for a poor person. I would not, however, pay a million dollars for one, even if I were Bill Gates. Very nice restored ones around here go for around $10,000
Oh Christ. Please don’t let this blog descend into the political pit. Every time I find a place I like, I end up leaving when the politics start.
I don’t think Paul will allow that to happen here. I do agree with you though. I love this place because it’s all about cars, no politics. It’s totally chill, and I love it for that.
It’s not about politics; it’s about a president’s car. We had a post on the cars of Harry Truman, and I didn’t hear an outcry then.
This President ran a strong anti corruption agenda and I think his lifestyle – and car choice – is intended at least in part as a protest against those who reap corrupt payment and then live like kings. South America’s biggest single problem, in my view, is corruption and anyone standing against it is to be applauded, irrespective of their political views….or their choice of car!
Politicians throughout South America are often to be seen sweeping through the streets in shiny black cars under escort – they seem to take delight in being completely separated from the population around them. This guy is the opposite – a refreshing change and we uite possibly will not see his like again.
I’m surprised I didn’t find this article sooner.
It would be great if it were true.
In fact, Mujica and his troupe never fought against any far-right government, which was only established in Uruguay after a coup staged in 1973, when he was in jail for common crimes and terror attacks, not for being a leftist.
Independently of my personal political preferences, the criminal group Mujica was part of committed many robberies, including banks and armories, killed people and even had a “pople’s jail” where they would keep kidnapped VIPs, which might or not be guilty of whatever charges they raised but obviously were not being subjected to the rule of law.
Mujica never donated his salary to charity. He donated his salary to his political group, which is a totally different thing. I don’t think his personal life and style to be important, as what impacts the life of a nation is the government, not its head’s lifestyle.
There’s too much to be said about this cultural icon, who is a great showman, capable of mimetizing with his public (which is true of any good politician). He is unarguable one of the great orators and politicians of his time, with a very heavy dose of charisma. He is also a criminal, and has led one of the most corrupt governments Uruguay has ever endured. It must also me noted that his group didn’t join the leftist coalition then in government until very late, as it’s historical leader didn’t want the terrorist group to be associated with the Broad Front (the coalition that became a ruling party)
PS, Uruguay is very different in its political structure and tradition in respect all Latin America, excepting Costa Rica. Though it’s true we had a very long military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985, and we had another, softer one some 40 years earlier. But generally speaking, Uruguay has always been a rule-of-law country, and we didn’t have anything akin to McCarthysm or a Red Scare.