Curbside Classicos: Mexican Volkswagens–The Beetle’s Final Stomping Grounds

The VW Beetle was in continuous production for just shy of sixty years since it emerged from the rubble of WW2 (1946 VW CC here). Although German production of the Käfer ended in 1978, the Vocho (little Volkswagen) continued to be produced in Mexico until 2003. And it became an institution, the best selling car for much of its long production run.  Although the Beetle is quickly fading from the highways and main streets of Mexico, a short walk in the back streets of Tulum uncovered a number of them.

The VW was first introduced in Mexico in 1954, and to prove its mettle, seven of them were entered in the grueling Carerra Panamerica race. All seven of them finished the 3221 km course, although there were rumors that they were fitted with Porsche engines (later disproved).

In the early sixties, VW were initially assembled from CKD (knock-down kits), and then at a VW plant in Xalostoc. But production really geared up in 1967, when the giant new plant in Puebla came on line. As in Brazil, Mexican VW have always been somewhat different than the German ones, generally a few years behind in the changes to larger windows and such. Although I can’t identify the years, these two are quite elderly; probably from around 1968-1971.

The one on the left has a VW1500 badge, and this one has a badge that was never used on German VWs.

What really put the VW on the map was being approved for taxi cab use in Mexico City. Until just the past few years, the Vocho was omnipresent in the capital’s crowded streets. When we visited there in 1983, the air quality in Mexico City was horrible, and all those VWs without any smog controls played their part. It wasn’t until 1991 that they finally were required to fit a catalytic converter (still with a carb though), and fuel injection in 1993. The Mexican taxis had no front passenger seat, so there was really only room for two in the rear, which at least was easily accessible. Due to regulations, the very last VW taxis will be coming off the streets at the end of 2012.

The VWs I saw were either being lovingly preserved, like this 1992.

Or still hard at work, like this obnoxious one blaring its endless advertising spiel. Now that would be a tough job.

Here’s another one obviously enjoying the attentions of its owner.

This one sports an unusual custom taillight assembly, and has old-style hub caps adapted to the later style flat wheels.

In later years, Mexican VWs were offered in very spartan versions, to keep prices low after the 1994 Mexican economic crisis (Image: wikipedia).  After Beetle production ended in Germany in 1978, Beetles were imported from Mexico for some years.

The last Beetle in the world rolled off the Puebla assembly line on July 30, 2003, number 21,529,464. It, and a few other commemorative models were treated to the Wolfsburg emblem on the front trunk lid. A fitting tribute to the most-produced car ever.