Classic Volkswagens of every color line the streets of modern Mérida, products that for locals are just as much Mexican as they are German. My friend Juanita tells a story about how one time when she was leaving Hacienda Yaxcopoil, she saw a couple of people trying to open the doors to her Bug. “Can I help you?” she asked. The young couple explained, “We are German, and today in Germany there are none of these cars left!” They wanted pictures sitting inside.
VW began manufacturing the Bug or “Sedán” in central México in the 1960s, eventually establishing its largest manufacturing plant in Puebla. For over 35 years Mexico shipped out a constant stream of these little cars. On July 30, 2003, a powder blue special edition VW Sedán rolled off the assembly line wearing a floral Mexican flag followed by a mariachi band playing a sad farewell song. The last-ever VW Bug represented a lifespan of nearly 70 years, and the master of ceremonies said, “Every Sedán has a story, and every story has an end.”
But the story continues being written by the inexhaustible fascination and obsession with the Bug and the Van by the Mexican people. In Yucatán, it’s not a matter of if VW has been a part of your life, but how. Throughout the state, dozens of VW car clubs meet each week to share stories, contacts, parts, and tips about the tedious restoration and maintenance processes.
Almost two years ago, I bought my 1985 “Combi” van, embarking on the most Mexican experience I’ve ever lived. Little did I know, when I bought her she was a big jigsaw puzzle with many missing pieces. Eight mechanics, three body shops, a slow-moving painter, several muffler shops, multiple electricians, and other specialists have all been a part of my girl’s tedious overhaul.
When I cruise around in my van, people approach me to share their stories. A man helped me park at the supermarket and touched the back bumper of my van, saying, “It’s a 1985? Air-cooled? My grandfather taught me how to drive in a Combi just like this one.”
When my buddy Arturo’s Combi broke down on a camping trip, a mechanic traveled two hours to help. He located the problem in the motor under the back hatch, then turned around and asked for a $5 peso coin. The mechanic swiftly popped the copper center out of the coin and used this piece to send Arturo all the way back to Mérida.
No matter how hard I work on it, my Combi will always cause me problems. In fact, complete restoration is an unachievable destination. But that’s okay with me, because that means that I will always be on my way, with the windows down, and the Yucatecan coast rolling by outside
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