- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003


The world’s last new Volkswagen bug rolled off the assembly line yesterday at the VW plant in Puebla, 65 miles southeast of Mexico City. The German car manufacturer planned to say goodbye to its legend by beaming footage of the car all over the world, then sending it to a museum.

Competition from newer compacts and a Mexican government decision to phase out two-door taxis led Volkswagen to shut down its only remaining bug production line yesterday at its plant in Puebla, 65 miles southeast of Mexico City.

Workers painstakingly crafted the final car, a baby-blue version marked No. 21,529,464, that will go to the museum in Wolfsburg, Germany, also the location of VW headquarters. Adorned with a Mexican flag made of flowers, the car was serenaded by a mariachi band playing “El Rey,” or “The King.”

“You didn’t just participate in the construction of a car, but in the creation of a legend,” Reinhard Jung, president of the executive committee of Volkswagen Mexico, told workers and executives.

The ceremony at the factory was closed to outsiders but transmitted around the world via satellite.

The 300 employees working on the bug assembly line will be reassigned to other departments at the factory, which will continue to produce Jettas and the modern version of the Beetle.

Volkswagen produced 3,000 “last edition” bugs to be sold at Mexican dealerships for $8,000 — a few hundred dollars more than the normal price. The design stays faithful to the original model with a few minor changes, including whitewall tires and a CD player.

The end of production sparked a fierce, international competition among collectors who have been flying to Mexico and shipping the cars all over the world.

An Australian, Gary Collis, said he couldn’t resist making the long journey for a car he calls “the heart and soul of Volkswagen.”

Mr. Collis bought his new bug — the 21st of his collection — in Guadalajara and is driving the car back to Los Angeles, where he will have it shipped to Australia.

“Since they first announced the final edition … I thought to myself: ‘This is really the end,’” he said and the venture is costing him $20,000.

In Germany, last-edition bugs are selling for $14,900 each, while car companies in Britain have them on sale for $16,000. Volkswagen of Brazil plans to import 50 last-edition bugs and sell them for $13,000.

“This is the end of a very long story, and a lot of Beetle people here are going to be very sad,” said Ivan McCutcheon, editor of VolksWorld, a monthly magazine for VW lovers in London.

VW stopped production of the bug in the United States in 1977 after the car’s design and air-cooled engine no longer met U.S. safety and emission standards. That has made it virtually impossible for U.S. enthusiasts to get their hands on final models.

Jerry Jess, a collector from Phoenix, tried and failed to get permission to bring a new bug over the border.

“There is a lot of demand for those last bugs here in America, and I’m sure some of those cars are going to get here illegally anyway,” Mr. Jess said.

The bug collected a variety of nicknames around the world — “el huevito” (the little egg) in Cuba, “coccinelle” (ladybird) in France. It’s known by the made-up name “vocho” in Mexico City, where bugs still crowd the streets.

But a recent city regulation banned new two-door taxis, contributing to plummeting sales.

Guadalupe Loaeza bade farewell in a column Tuesday in the newspaper Reforma, fondly recounting the numerous vochos she’s owned over the years.

“The vocho produced in Mexico was, without a doubt, a Mexican’s best friend,” she wrote.

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