50 Examples Of What It’s Like To Go Volkswagen Beetle Spotting In Mexico
Photography by Marc Tran
You don’t see original Beetles being used as daily drivers in Europe these days, but after only a few days after I arrived in Mexico I’d already counted dozens. They call them vochos, which means beetle, and the car’s history in Mexico is a long one that’s still being written. In England I only saw them at car shows almost exclusively, but seeing the colorful collection on the streets of Mexico was a common occurrence during my visit.
First displayed in Mexico in 1954, they began assembling the Type 1 VWs in the country a few years later in 1961—knockdown kits were shipped over from Germany to Xalostoc for assembly. Later in the decade, in 1967, a new plant for Beetle production was opened up in Puebla. Then the flow of production reversed course in a sense when Germany stopped production and Mexican Beetles started to be exported to Germany and the rest of Europe in 1978. Servicing most of the world’s Beetle needs like this, it was only two more years that the millionth Mexican-made one rolled out of the factory in 1980. In other words, the car has deep roots here.
And the car suits the place. Rugged, easy to fix, easy to modify, easy to own in general if you know your way around a basic toolset, it’s also a perfect automotive complement to the wildly colorful country. The houses, the churches, the cars, the food even, almost everything that people paint here is done so with vibrance and boldness. It comes from the people—for instance, Mexicans make these sculptures called alebrijes out of papier-mâché or wood with intricate hand-painted designs that take advantage of the whole color wheel—but it’s also the natural way of the land out here; I went to Las Coloradas, part of Rio Lagartos, and saw salt ponds imbued with this lovely pink color that comes from the microorganisms present in the water. There are pink flamingo close to this site too, which add to the effect of course. Then there was the lagoon of Bacalar known for its seven colors visible at different depths.
Okay, back to the Beetles. I had fun spotting them and shooting them candidly in the streets even if the locals were a bit surprised to see me ducking in the middle of the street to get a nice angle of their cars, but they always gave me a smile after the initial face of puzzlement. In keeping with the many, many lives of the Beetle and the cultures that it represented in different eras, I saw all sorts of people driving them in Mexico—old grandmothers who probably bought them new, hipster foreigners on the coast, parents in the cities… People’s Car and all that, right?
I encountered some more exotic versions too: a white pickup in Puebla, and a light pink shortened two-seater convertible version in Campeche—that one is too ugly to show here! Obviously the side view is the most representative of the car, so in capturing the array of them I focused most of my shots on the profile.
Like their neighbors to the north, the Mexicans also play a game with these cars that involves a little friendly fisticuffs: “Vocho amarillo.” When you see a yellow one before your buddy does you’ve earned the right to give him or her a punch in the arm. We’ve got a similar game in France with the Renault Twingos—I wonder what it is about cheerful little cars that makes people hit each other?
The condition of the cars was quite varied down here, but most were a little rough, definitely used for purposes beyond having a novelty show car like I’m used to seeing. A few had gorgeous metallic paint jobs, many more had rust and sun fade. Whatever their state though, each time that I looked at one of them I couldn’t help smiling. If I had to choose a favorite color from the set I would go for the one shot at dawn in Valladolid, the yellow mustard colored one—driving tastefully, indeed.