A VW voucho

Old Beetles never die, they just turn green

PRODUCTION of the modern edition of the iconic Volkswagen Beetle came to an end earlier this month when the world’s last units rolled off the line at VW’s plant at Puebla, in Mexico. 

Ironically, it’s the much earlier models that will seemingly live on forever in Cuautepec, a mountainous region on the outskirts of Mexico City.

High above the capital, where the notorious smog turns the surrounding hills into hazy silhouettes, the old VeeDubs are popularly used as informal taxis – because Cuautepec does not have the luxury of public transportation. 

The bulbous, air-cooled rear-engined cars with their distinctive exhaust sputter are popularly known as ‘vochos’, and they’re all over the show.

They’re actually an obsession after production of the Type 1 stopped in 2003 and the New Beetle failed to impress most locals.

Hence they rely on the original no-frills version, praising it for its affordability, repairability and, most of all, its dexterity at handling the district’s steep streets.

“The new ones don’t get uphill, and the old ones can climb any incline without problem,” taxi driver Adrián Martínez told Associated Press.

An exception is businessman David Álvarez, a resident of neighboring Mexico State who drives a 2008 New Beetle convertible.

Though he has owned older Beetles and admits his newer version isn’t as ideal for hilly terrain, he likes the attention it draws.

“It’s an attractive car with a lot of personality,” Álvarez said. “It turns a lot of heads in the streets.”

Green-and-white painted Type 1’s used to be the norm for taxis in Mexico City, but authorities ended cab licenses for the last of the ‘vochos’ in 2012.

Taxi driver Francisco Trujillo said it meant he and others who operate the older model in Cuautepec are doing so illegally. 

But local police rarely bother the drivers and the cars stay in high demand for residents who grew up when VW taxis were everywhere.

“This service still exists because the locals always know how to find us,” Trujillo said.

There are plenty of people in other parts of Mexico City who said good riddance when the vocho taxis disappeared.

The two-door vehicles, nearly always with the front passenger seat removed, earned notoriety as robbery traps. 

Muggers, sometimes in cahoots with cab drivers, would appear suddenly to demand the belongings of clients trapped in back seats with no way out.

Others again, are used as mobile shops, with cigarettes, lollies and drinks stacked along their dashboards.

Among aficionados in Cuautepec, there is some concern that Beetle-mania may come to an end as parts become increasingly hard to come by.

Mechanic Juan José Fragoso’s shop in a nearby suburb has become known locally for its ability to fix older Beetles. He gets parts from a business partner who buys and strips broken or abandoned Type 1’s.

“Right now they’re very scarce because they discontinued a lot of parts,” Fragoso said.

Some mechanics prefer to collect the cars for their own use.

Bernardo García is another local mechanic. 

He got his first Beetle when he was 13 and hasn’t stopped buying them since. García said the now-relic will always be his favourite for its combination of value and efficiency.

His latest purchase: A fixer-upper 1975 vocho that is older than him.

“The car has more documents than I do,” he quipped.

He, and many other folk in Cuautepec cannot imagine life without Beetles – and chances are intrepid mechanics and devoted fans will keep them running for decades to come.

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