In Part I, I showed you the most common vehicles of this century in Mexico and promised Part II would feature the most ubiquitous pre-2000 vehicles. If you were expecting a litany of Volkswagen Beetle and Bus photos from my two weeks in Mexico, you will be disappointed. The old Bus and Bug aren’t extinct, but the Beetle – affectionately known by Mexicans as the Vocho – was dealt a blow by government regulations and exists in far smaller numbers. There are a few reasons why that’s not such a bad thing.
A VW in stunning San Miguel de Allende. Most of the colorful photos in this piece were photographed here.
Production of the Volkswagen Sédan ceased in Volkswagen’s Puebla factory in 2003 after years of declining sales. However, many remained on Mexican streets as taxis – particularly in Mexico City – until the Mexican government worked to improve its lax air pollution standards.
Much of my time in Mexico was spent in Mexico City, with brief trips into the states of Querétaro and Guanajuato. And despite the work that has been done to quell air pollution in the nation’s capital since the United Nations declared Mexico City the most polluted city in the world in 1992, one may occasionally find themselves shorter of breath than in another metropolis. So, it’s sensible to support regulations that would reduce air pollution and the number of deaths resulting from that scourge. If that means fewer Vochos on the streets, so be it. Something else to consider is the government’s decision to ban two-door taxis. This was in the interests of safety more so than practicality, as the back seat of a Beetle is harder to escape from when your ‘taxi driver’ turns out to be a criminal who wishes to rob you (or worse).
In Santiago de Querétaro
The laws implemented to effectively remove Beetles from Mexico had various other complications best left for a more in-depth article. Ultimately, though, the air is cleaner, taxis are more comfortable and the Beetles that remain appear to be cherished by loving owners. The car that has most successfully replaced the Vocho is the Nissan Tsuru, a 1991 Nissan Sentra manufactured in Mexico and that has upheld the old Volkswagen tradition of minimal updates and maximum production length.
A rare 2-dr Tsuru
While outsiders may struggle to see how a Tsuru possesses character, at least compared to the cheery little Volkswagen, the Nissan’s sheer ubiquity means almost every – if not every – Mexican resident has had seat time in a Tsuru. And it’s not inconceivable to imagine that some Mexicans may lovingly care for their used Tsurus 10-20 years down the line, much like some Mexicans are currently doing so for Beetles. With the end of Tsuru production being recently announced by Nissan, though, it will come up short against the Beetle in terms of total production length.
My time in Mexico yielded some wonderful classic car finds, but the aim of this article is to show you what older (pre-2000) cars are most common in Mexico. In fact, the Tsuru and the other cars featured in this article are so very common, I felt somewhat bored and defeated in my search for classics by Day 14. If I was walking around and spotted an older car in the distance, 9 times out of 10 it would be one of these vehicles. Blame Mexico’s past status as a very closed market for the lack of variety; the government previously imposed high local content requirements.
Let’s start with the oldest metal first. This is a Datsun A10, known in North America as the 510. These were manufactured in Mexico from 1978 to 1984 and show how early Nissan became serious about the Mexican market – Honda didn’t arrive until the late 1990s and Toyota only entered the market in 2002.
While the current Tsuru has been sold for 25 years, the first two generations had much shorter lifespans, equivalent to their Sentra-badged contemporaries in North America. Here is a first-generation Tsuru.
The second-generation Tsuru was actually exported to Canada as a price-leader following the axing of the Micra subcompact.
In Mexico, snowfall occurs predominantly amongst the high mountain peaks and infrequently in the northern states. Consequently, the country has a climate conducive for classic car ownership—no road salt here! This explains the ubiquity of the Ford Fairmont. I observed two- and four-door sedans and wagons in equal numbers although no Futura coupes.
Volkswagen has been enormously successful in Mexico even outside of the beloved Vocho. Caribe – Spanish for “Caribbean” – was the name applied to the first-generation Golf, manufactured and sold from 1977 to 1987 before being replaced by the Golf Mk2. Like in North America, the alternative model name was dropped and second generation was renamed Golf.
Of course, the Mexican people’s love of sedans means old Jettas are even more common than the Caribe.
The Dart nameplate was retired much later in Mexico, and for several years the name was used on a version of Chrysler’s E-Body sedans (Chrysler E-Class, Dodge 600, Plymouth Caravelle). It is this application of the Dart nameplate that is most common on Mexican streets.
It’s not uncommon to find old Mopars in Mexico that don’t exactly resemble their North American counterparts, as Chrysler created a number of special Mexican market models with different engines and sheetmetal.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Chrysler retired the Dodge name from their passenger cars in Mexico before restoring it in the 2000s. Consequently, the Dodge Spirit was sold as the Chrysler Spirit, although Chrysler showrooms often sold vehicles from both marque. The Spirit R/T was offered in Mexico, although I sadly spotted only one and have no photos to show for it.
Even more common than the Spirit is the Chrysler Shadow. Again, this is a car that you can find on every second block in Mexico City. How many places in the US or Canada can you say that about?
Its contemporary from General Motors was the Chevrolet Cavalier, particularly ubiquitous in Mexico. Interestingly, for some time the Cavalier was sold with Pontiac Sunbird taillights.
Three of the four GM A-Body vehicles can be found on Mexican streets, although it is the Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera that appears to be the most common. The Cutlass Ciera, Buick Century and Chevrolet Celebrity were all sold through Chevrolet showrooms.
In Part I, I touched on how popular minivans were in Mexico. The GM U-Body minivans survive in large numbers and I was able to spot every variant of each generation, excluding the Saturn Relay and Buick Terraza.
Although the Ford Windstar has a reputation for being rather flaky, particularly in terms of transmission reliability, there are still plenty on the roads. I’d be curious to see sales figures from the 1990s as the Windstar, GM U-Body and Chrysler minivans all exist in equal numbers, whereas Chrysler’s minivans considerably outsold their domestic rivals in the US.
The Ford Aerostar is another minivan that survives in large numbers in Mexico, as do the first- and second-generation minivans from Chrysler. Much less common than the Blue Oval and Pentastar vans is the Chevrolet Astro. This Aerostar is a particularly clapped-out example which is rather unusual considering how well-kept many older minivans are in Mexico.
If you love domestic compacts from the 1990s, Mexico is an absolute treat. I’ve been critical of the Ford Tempo in the past but many Mexicans seem to value the car’s simplicity. That, or it was a combination of low price, trusted brand and a serious lack of competition.
The Tempo was badged as the Ford Topaz in Mexico, while the Mercury Topaz was sold as the Ford Ghia. Clearly Ford was playing the same confusing games with its Mercury brand as Chrysler was with Dodge.
The popularity of the Ford Topaz extended to its successors, the Ford Contour and Mystique…
…while the Chrysler Spirit’s successor, the Stratus, also enjoyed success.
By far the most common full-size American in Mexico is the Mercury Grand Marquis. For every Ford Crown Victoria I saw, there were approximately ten Mercury Grand Marquis. You’ll note in this photo that the car is wearing both Mercury and Ford badges.
Exploring the Mexican carscape felt much like playing Grand Theft Auto—there’s a wide variety of cars still, but not as many as one is used to, and you will continue to see the same cars over and over again. Still, amongst the hordes of Shadows and Tempos, I spotted some very interesting vehicles. On a non-automotive note, I must heartily recommend San Miguel de Allende. Perhaps my recommendation comes too late as, when I visited there, it was full of Americans already. It’s easy to see why—it’s a stunning town with beautiful old architecture. Santiago de Querétaro also has a gorgeous historic center, while Mexico City is a bustling metropolis that felt to me like a Latino New York. A Latino New York full of Ford Tempos.