World / Latin America

Collectors uphold Beetle legacy

By Associated Press in Mexico City (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-29 07:21

Restoring the iconic auto becomes a passion in the last nation to make them

When the Mexico City government retired the last Volkswagen Beetle taxis in 2012, it shipped most of the aging cars, commonly known as vochos, to junkyards to be turned into scrap metal.

But some of the Beetles, both former taxis and private cars, have found a second life in the hands of enthusiasts like Mario Anaya. He restored his father's 1994 sedan into an auto he named "the lizard" for its metallic-green paint.

 Collectors uphold Beetle legacy

Dany Beltran polishes his 1956 Volkswagen Beetle, which he calls "the Beltran Volk's Sheriff", outside his family's Volkswagen repair and service shop in Mexico City earlier this month. Beltran's uncle gave him the car when he was 13 years old so he could learn how to remodel and repair Beetles. The iconic car ceased production in 2003, but many fans of the once-omnipresent "bugs" restore them. Sofia Jaramillo / Associated Press

"The car has a second life," said Anaya, who began refurbishing the former taxi in 2007, installing a tan leather interior, a new odometer, fenders and chrome Porsche-style wheels.

A Volkswagen factory in Puebla, about 130 km to the east, manufactured the old-style Beetles for 39 years, long after production had ceased everywhere else. The last one came off the Mexican production line in 2003.

About 50,000 of the green and white taxis, many with the front passenger seat removed, still roamed the Mexican capital's streets at their peak in 2006.

But the city's crackdown on air pollution, its fight against crime, and the adoption of newer car models finally led to the retirement of the vocho, with the last of the Beetle taxi licenses expiring in 2012.

Today, Anaya's close friend Arturo Diaz drives a restored ocean-blue 1965 ragtop Beetle and is president of Xochivolks, a club he founded 11 years ago in the capital's Xochimilco district.

"It is a family thing," said Diaz, who brings his 9-year-old daughter, Amiel, to club meetings. "The car is mine, but everyone participates, everybody takes care of it, everyone helps."

Fellow club member Christian Franco customized his bright yellow 1991 Beetle with toy chickens for his wife, who works in a roast chicken restaurant. Meter-long rubber chickens are attached to the car's rear, and a fourth appears stuck under the back bumper.

"There's a resurgence of interest in these cars," said Mario Gamboa, a VW mechanic and race driver for 35 years. "People want to live the dreams of their youth by fixing up a Volkswagen."

Diaz said collectors sometimes purchase used Beetles on a website for secondhand goods, or acquire a used one from a relative, friend or neighbor.

Club members currently are looking forward to a huge gathering on Oct 25 at Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, with as many as 1,500 customized vochos and 4,000 enthusiasts expected to attend.

About 40 of the original vocho taxis still survive at the El Coyol scrapyard in the Mexico City neighborhood of San Juan de Aragon.

"We're like a taxi museum," said Miguel Angel Campos, a junkyard employee.

(China Daily 08/29/2015 page8)

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