By Aaron Neilly
They say history repeats itself, and on July 10th, 2019, the final Volkswagen Beetle rolled off the Puebla, Mexico assembly line. While German production of the original Beetle stopped in 1979, VW’s Puebla production facility continued to build an air-cooled Beetle until 2003, even alongside the front wheel drive, liquid cooled “New Beetle” which was introduced in 1998.
Although I feel like the current iteration which was released in 2012 is the least “Beetley” one yet, it’s truly the end of an era, the end of affordable cars that are designed to be more than just a way to get from point A to point B, something more than an appliance with wheels. I’m almost relieved it’s been finished off with some remaining dignity, unlike what’s happened to the Mini name, which has been slapped on cars larger than an SUV from the 1990s. (The current Mini Countryman is 1.9” shorter than a 1995 Nissan Pathfinder, and 5.5” wider. The only thing “mini” about it is the badge on the car.)
The original Beetle was designed to be nothing more than plain, affordable transportation for the masses, but became so much more. It was cheap. It was slow. It was supposed to be plain (although, I find them to be a truly beautiful car, and even as a cheap car, they had some fantastic attention to detail.), but that cheap little car turned into a way of life for so many drivers. It was a first car for people who couldn’t afford a first car otherwise. It was a second car for many families which eventually turned into their primary car. It was the little car that could do almost anything- even float!
The Beetle was a Hollywood star, it was an inspiration for music, it wasn’t just an inspiration for art, it became art. In later years, it brought people with a common passion together at car shows exclusively for the little VW. It was the subject of customization, restoration, it was converted into race cars- for track use, for rally use, for extreme off-road use as Baja Bugs and dune buggies. Former Indy Car and Formula 1 driver Emerson Fittipaldi even raced a 400+ horsepower 8 cylinder Beetle (with two engines joined at the crankshaft) against Ford GT-40s, Lolas and Alfa Romeo T33s. Countless books have been published about Bugs and a few magazines continue to to be published on a monthly basis.
I don’t want to step on any automotive toes, but there just aren’t as many things inspired by other cheap cars of yesteryear. “Herbie the Love Valiant” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. If Bumblebee of Transformers fame was a Pinto, nobody (okay, fewer people) would have been upset when the character was replaced by a Camaro in the Transformers movies. (And by the way, thank you for finally righting this nearly unforgivable wrong, Hollywood. You still got the year of the Beetle wrong, but I guess I’ll let that slide.)
To say I’ve been a fan of the Beetle my whole life would be a massive understatement- I’ve been obsessed since the ripe old age of two. I don’t know what it was about the beaten up, mufflerless ’73 Beetle my dad had when I was a toddler, but that car sparked a lifelong passion. On my second birthday my mother let me choose a gift from the toy department at the Cedarbrae Mall Simpsons. It was a Tonka car hauler with six little plastic VW Beetles on the two-level trailer, the humble beginning of a huge collection. A few years later the journal entry from my first day of kindergarten mentioned that there was a green VW parked next to the school. (A car my family actually purchased two years later which, well… I’ll fix it up one day!)
It’s been a family affair on both sides, now into its fourth generation if our daughter takes up the torch. My dad had countless Beetles while growing up, my maternal grandmother had a Beetle in the ‘60s which she somehow managed to cram the entire family into. (This apparently involved my mother and uncle having to sit in the rear parcel shelf area.) My great uncle (paternal) had a ’66 Beetle which is currently residing in my garage. Even my great grandfather (maternal) was obsessed with Beetles to the point of irritating people by speaking about them so much. He imported the first Volkswagen to Jamaica, a right hand drive 1954 convertible, last known to exist in the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida area. (If I can ever find it, I think it would be much happier living in Ontario.)
If it weren’t for my love for the Beetle, I wouldn’t work where I’ve been for nine years. I wouldn’t have met my amazing wife. I wouldn’t have my incredible daughter. I wouldn’t have met the many wonderful friends I have as a result of the VW culture that includes people who live all around the world. No other kind of car has had so much personality, or brought so many people together. And no other car will ever take that place.
It’s been a wild ride, my little four-wheeled friend. You’ve done so well.