I was in Puebla, Mexico recently to help Volkswagen out building the last of the Beetles (more on that soon), and while I was there I finally found something I’d long suspected existed, but have never seen: Volkswagen of Mexico’s heritage collection.
Over in Wolfsburg, VW has a massive automotive wonderland called the Autostadt, as well as an entire other Volkswagen museum not technically affiliated with the company. VW de Mexico must have some kind of collection, right? I’d never heard anything about it officially, but, finally, on this trip to Puebla, I got to see it.
It’s not that impressive, if I’m brutally honest. I mean, there’s some very cool stuff in there, and I’m delighted I got a chance to finally see it, but I’m sort of baffled by what I think are some pretty crucial omissions.
For example, why doesn’t VW de Mexico have any Vocho (Beetle) taxis in their collection? Green-and-white (later marron-and-gold) Beetle taxis were once the dominant cab in Mexico city, crawling all over the place, and they’ve been gone since 2012. VW de Mexico should have at least one of these!
There’s also interesting and weird prototypes that they should have, like the one-off long-passenger door taxi prototype?
Where’s that thing? It should be in their collection!
Now, I don’t want to disparage the collection too much - they do have some interesting cars, no question, and I’m happy they have a collection at all. They don’t really go out of their way to show much of it, so join me, if you would, on this rare opportunity to see the fun things Volkswagen of Mexico has socked away!
I do like that a number of cars in their heritage collection are still put to work, like their series of open-topped Type 2 buses, which are used to ferry groups of visitors around the factory.
As you can tell by the black face mask, these Buses are the final Type 2 iteration, using inline-4 water-cooled engines, which, of course, necessitated that tacked-on radiator.
Considering how much of an afterthought the water-cooling setup was, I don’t think they actually look all that bad, really. Plus, these make you realise how wonderful the concept of an open-topped van really is, even if the mechanics and logistics of a folding roof that size are, um, non-trivial.
All of the open-topped buses are named “Hannibal” because I think somehow people were reminded of Hannibal riding elephants over the Alps in these things? I think there were five of these total.
Volkswagen Mexico didn’t start production until 1967, so there aren’t any Mexican Beetles older than that. Even so, the factory’s collection does include one very lovely 1955 specimen, in effectively perfect condition.
This is a nice year for Beetles because it’s got lots of nice details: oval window, semaphores, and, best of all, the fairly rare heart-lens taillights:
I know it looks pretty opaque, but that’s actually a dark red brake light lens there. It also has a nice plaque:
The collection also boasts some important milestone Beetles, like a 20 Millionth commemorative edition Beetle and one of the Última Edición Beetles, the very last series they made in 2003.
The 20 Millionth edition commemorates, as you’d guess, that VW had built 20 million Beetles, making it the most-produced car ever, beating out the Ford Model T. The commemoration part took the form of a badge:
...and a houndstooth interior that had exactly 20 million hound’s teeth:
I made that part up. I don’t think anyone counted the teeth there. Also, those may just be checkers, not hound’s teeth, too?
The Última Edición, though, that’s the one that really excited me, because it’s the newest possible air-cooled Beetle I could potentially drive and I desperately wanted to try something so familiar yet in so much better condition than what I’m used to. Thankfully, VW let me take it for a quick spin!
Starting a “new” air-cooled Beetle is interesting, because VW was using this odd immobiliser system. The car will crank but not start if you just turn the key. To get the ignition system actually active, you have to rub that little red pill-looking thing under the steering column, where I think it magnetically sets a switch to let the car turn on.
And, once the car does turn on, there’s more surprises. For a Beetle, it’s shockingly quiet. I’m not sure why, but I think it may be a combination of hydraulic valves (no adjusting!) and that bumpy-textured coating in the engine compartment that must have good sound-deadening properties.
The fuel-injected engine was also interesting, starting easy and being remarkably smooth. Seeing that modern-looking oil fill cap in that familiar engine compartment is pretty strange, too.
Driving this thing was a treat; the thick wheel from an early ‘90s Jetta or Golf felt odd but not unpleasant, and the car drove and felt unmistakably like a Beetle, but everything was smooth and easy and just worked, because it hadn’t been whipped around and abused for four decades. This is probably as close as I can get to driving a new air-cooled Beetle, and I thought it was great.
Oh, one other 2003 Beetle surprise - even though these are even pretty stripped down compared to old US-spec Beetles (no flow-through ventilation or center defroster vent or rear seat heat, etc) there have been some improvements, like an actual pump-actuated windshield washer system, as opposed to the wonderful and weird old spare tire pressure-based system.
They also let me drive this lovely old Type 181 Thing (in Mexico, they called it the Safari) around. It was wonderful, in that clunky, crude Thing way. All Things that came to America were built here in Puebla.
All of these cars came from Volkswagen de Mexico’s small, unpublicized collection, which they keep in a warehouse at the factory. It’s not much, but it does have a more accessible related collection I’ll get to soon. First, let me show you what I think is the jewel of their little collection:
A Brasilia! This was a car designed by VW of Brazil, and was the only really successful Beetle replacement built on the air-cooled VW chassis. Underneath all you see, it’s really just a Beetle, with the same basic upright-fan Type I engine out back. Two-door versions of these (like this one) were built in the Puebla factory alongside the ones built in Brazil.
Of course, the Brasilia has a much more modern (think 1970s instead of 1930s) body style, and, like its bigger Type 3 and Type 4 siblings, is a marvel of clever packaging.
In addition to the good-sized (if a bit high) cargo area under the hatch, the Brasilia also had a pretty roomy front trunk:
Engine access was tight, but VW used a flatter fan shroud and the Ghia/Bus-type offset air cleaner to keep the height as low as they could:
It’s a very tidy, cool little car. They made over a million of these things.
There’s weirder stuff in the collection, too. Like this sort-of Harlequin Beetle, stretched and chopped into a convertible. VW made a lot of these factory tour-type cars. It makes sense, because the factory campus is massive, with multiple lakes and, surprisingly, even a facility where they breed their own guard dogs.
Hearing the tour guide describe that part was amazing because she called dog treats “dog treasures” which just makes everything so much more exciting.
There was an example of one of the Carat editions of the water-cooled Type 2s, and it was pretty amazing to see how cushy these things became. Look at all this velour!
...and this dashboard just feels so strangely modern for what is still, essentially, a ‘70s-style Microbus:
Of course, water-cooled cars have been the majority of VW de Mexico’s output for decades now, so of course they had some early examples of those, like this Corsar, which we knew as a Passat, and which still is all over China as the Santana.
This was also a very interesting and unfamiliar (to us Americans, at least) car: the Caribe Pro.
It was a Mk 1 Golf/Rabbit, and looks and feels a bit like a GTI, which it was, sort of. Mexico had their own GTI version, the Caribe GT, and the Caribe Pro was a sort of cheaper version of that.
I didn’t get a good shot in the museum, but these Caribe Pros had a very cool set of rectangular driving lights inset into the grille.
There’s actually more, and more varied cars, in VW de Mexico’s collection, but it’s sort of shared with the city of Puebla in their small but nicely-executed automobile museum.
There’s cars directly from VW’s collection in the museum, like this 21 millionth Beetle, and some interesting artifacts like that strange VW hover-pod thing used in videos and advertising a few years back:
There’s also a decent Audi-related collection, like this lovely Audi Coupe S, back from the era when Audi wanted to build AMC Marlins:
There’s also some great Auto Union-era cars, like this Audi Front 225 Roadster:
...and some friendly little DKWs, like this DKW 1000:
There’s some even earlier, pre-Auto Union DKWs like this crisp little Weymann-bodied one:
Especially exciting to see was the 2000 Audi Rosemeyer concept, which married design elements of J Mays-era Audi with the drama and proportions of the old Auto Union Silver Arrow racing cars:
It’s a very powerful car to see in person. This is what the next R8 should look like.
It’s not the biggest or most impressive automaker collection, but VW already has such a massive collection in Wolfsburg that it doesn’t really have to be. Still, there’s some interesting stuff, and I’m excited I got to finally see what they were hiding.