Despite sharing a love of costumes, sweets, and the end of October, Halloween and the Day of the Dead are remarkably different in their treatment of death.
Whereas Americans laugh in the face of death, taunting it and diminishing its power with horror movies and fierce invasions of death’s time (the night), the Mexican celebration is an attempt to barter with death, to please the dead with offerings and food. That’s what those orange marigolds you see are there for (to lead the dead to food, booze, and gifts). These are left out for the dead to feast on for a week or so, in which time no one is allowed to touch the treats as they too start to decompose and move closer to death. Whether these differences have to do with each culture’s wider attitudes toward life and death I can’t say, but they do, to a certain extent, reflect Mexico’s relationship to the Beetle.
Already the third “Final Edition” Beetle that VW’s Puebla plant has produced (along with one in 2003 and another 2010), it’s safe to say that Volkswagen de Mexico has been negotiating the death of the Beetle, while America laughed in death’s face killing it, then reanimating its corpse.
In fact, since the plant first opened in the mid-60s, it has never stopped producing Beetles. When Germany and then other nations stopped producing the air-cooled Beetle, Mexico kept right on going. Even after Brazil stopped, then started again in the ’90s, then stopped again a few years later, Mexico kept right on going, keeping death waiting like Emily Dickinson until 2003, six years after Puebla started producing the watercooled “New Beetle.”
Well after the rest of the world gave up on the Type 1, letting it push up daisies, Mexico led it onto the streets with marigolds. Now, though, after a pair of decreasingly successful follow-ups, it may finally be time to stop bartering with death and move on to acceptance. This Final Edition will well and truly be it for the Beetle, making 2020 the first year since 1946 that nothing known as a Beetle will leave any VW factory anywhere in the world. And while you might argue that the front-engined, water cooled, Golf-based “Beetle” shares nothing in common with the rear-engined, air-cooled, Standard Superior-inspired Type 1, there’s something sad about seeing the name die out. And after all, Tsar Nickolas, the inept diarist who lost an empire shared very little in common with his great-great-…-great-grandpa Ivan the Terrible, and yet the end of the line still matters to us.
Like the Romanov line, the end of the Beetle is noteworthy because of its historical significance. Volkswagen is at a crossroads, trying at once to usher in the future and forget the recent past. It’s tempting to see the Beetle as a casualty to this cause. After all, the line on which it’s made is shared with VW’s new North American sales darling, the Tiguan. Its disappearance from that line will not only free up production space for the Tiguan but will also speed up the line, allowing Puebla to produce them faster, too. Its mantle as retro-chic reminder of the VW that was is also being usurped, though, so the Tiguan alone can’t be blamed.
The all-electric I.D. Buzz is currently doing the auto show circuit, keeping the flat four torch alive–even though it won’t be flat-four-powered or even air-cooled. It will do the Beetle’s job of mixing the new with the old, though, keeping our anxieties about the future at bay through the opiate nostalgia. A dying baby boomer population and a plan not to sell it until 2025 do make us wonder, though, whether it will be any more successful than the “New” and then not “New” Beetle were.
Never anywhere near as successful as the Type 1, the “New Beetle” did do a pretty good trade for a while, selling a reasonably solid 80,000/year units at its height. Riding a wave of nostalgia and retro design (MINI, SSR, PT Cruiser, T-Bird, etc) the Beetle was a cutesy nod to the amusingly advertised car of the counterculture. Really, though, it was always a novelty accused of being too feminine for an era of increasingly aggressive design. In 2010, it was replaced by the less cutesy, but also less notable Beetle. Its sales flagged even more than the “New Beetle’s,” recording only a scant few hundred sales a month lately.
And that’s what we’re bidding farewell to here.
Offered in two special colors (blue and beige) and in a few other boring colors (varying shades of black, grey, and white), the design and color scheme are a nod to the Final Edition of the Mexican air-cooled Beetle in 2003. Its wheels, too, are meant to elicit that car, with rims whose style apes the moon dish hubcaps and white walls of the past. It also comes with few special touches inside, a special “Beetle” insert in the lower spoke of the steering wheel, a beige dash on some blue cars, diamond-stiched two-tone seats, and more. And even the options, chosen for value, to keep the price low, have been chosen with a view to the original Beetle’s proletarian roots.
It all comes together well. The Beetle can’t hide its age (the old, tiny, Composition Media screen is a stark reminder of how much progress VW has made on its infotainment systems), but this remains a perfectly acceptable offering for anyone interested in a car with a little style, verve, and build quality–this is a tangent, but VW let us ride along for a new car test run on its Puebla rough road course and then we drove it on Puebla’s nearly indiscernibly better roads and the Beetle reveals the racist lie at the heart of complaints of inferior build quality from the Mexican plant.
The Beetle, as ever, is rock solid, well decorated, and undeniably different to look at. As with the 2018 model, the Budak cycle 2.0-liter engine in combination with its 6-speed auto trades eagerness (174 hp) for fuel economy. The lead-follow, caravan nature of our drive meant following closely behind a lead car and this revealed how sluggish the Beetle can be. When you stab the throttle, the transmission has to figure out which gear it would like to be in, shift into it, and wind up the supposedly constantly torquey engine before you actually accelerate. It’s slightly less than annoying on a normal drive, but when responsiveness is of the essence, it makes for a jerky drive.
A collectible I doubt this shall be. The third-gen Beetle may look like the Type 1, but it shares none of its popularity nor its cultural significance. In all material ways, it’s essentially a 2018 Beetle (the Final Edition comes in either S or SE trim starting at: SE, $23,940; SEL, $26,890; SE convertible, $28,190; SEL convertible, $30,890), but for a car whose charm lay in design and pluck, this is a well-gauged edition. You could buy a regular Beetle and get most of the same stuff, but why wouldn’t you buy this historical model that VW’s product planners have spent time and effort making nicer?
Like the Romanov line, it’s probably time for the Beetle to end. It’s a throwback to an older time whose excesses were seductive but ultimately predicated on death and discomfort. And while this marks the end of the line, literally, for the Beetle, like the new “The Romanoffs” TV show, I suspect that our cultural fascination with that past will live on (unlike that show, though, it doesn’t suck). And if you’re a big Beetle fan, the “New Beetle” proves that Wolfsburg is willing to revive the Beetle after years away, so there may be some solace there.
But I’m also glad that VW of Mexico has worked so hard to keep the flame burning. As a proud owner of a “New Beetle” I can say that despite not being as charming as the Type 1, it was nevertheless a fine car that works just as hard as the original Beetle and has proven resistant to the idea of rolling over. The second and third generation Beetles may have been opiates, using nostalgia to see us through some rough years of car design, but that doesn’t make them bad.
As with the Day of the Dead, Puebla negotiated the death of the Beetle, keeping its memory alive and walking us to this point where we can accept its death. The thing that no one ever mentions about going out with a bang instead of a whimper, is that bangs really hurt.
From our sister site VWVortex.com