Monday, May 5, 2008

2003: last classic VW beetle

On July 31, 2003 after 21,529,464 vehicles had been built around the world, an era came to an end at Volkswagen's factory in Puebla, Mexico.

The last classic Beetle made was the 3000th unit of a special production run named the "Sedan Última Edición" (Last Edition Sedan), and it was shipped to the place of the Beetle's germination at VW's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, where Beetle production came to an end in 1978.

Mexico was the last country in the world where the classic Bug was produced, and it also has the distinction of being the manufacturing place for the New Beetle.

Just as in America, the "Vochito" had been a part of the lives of virtually every Mexican family, and a lot of people in that country learned to drive in one or had their first sexual experience, accident, or breakdown in one of these cars.

And it became an important part of the urban landscape, since it was preferred by cab drivers, just as Crown Victorias are in the US. In Mexico City alone there are perhaps 90,000 Bugs doing taxi duty.

Although the car had long ago become obsolete, it was appealing not only for sentimental reasons but because it was affordable, parts were cheap, and it was easy to fix. It was popular with companies that it as a fleet car. But the Bug started facing competitors that were predictably more modern, more powerful, better-handling, and roomier.

A saving grace for the Bug was the new-automobile decree by the Mexican government in 1988 that allowed a 20-percent reduction in its selling price, making it the most affordable car in Mexico. Sales of Beetles tripled the next year.

VW updated the air-cooled 1.6-liter engine of the Vochito in the early '90s with electronic ignition, a catalytic converter and fuel injection, but the output of the engine was still only 44 horsepower. The transmission remained an archaic four-speed manual.

The rest of the car was updated with three-point retractable seatbelts in front and lap belts in the rear, as well as front disc brakes and an electronic engine immobilizer. But just as in the '80s, competition again became a problem, cutting into sales, only now there was no further government help to reduce its price. The Mexico City government put the final nail in the Beetle's coffin when, in 2002, it required all taxicabs to have four doors.

The Last Edition Bug featured body-color appliqués for the glove compartment and instrument surround, upgraded velour upholstery, a rear package shelf, and a four-speaker CD radio. The glove compartment had a "Sedan Última Edición" plaque, although it is not numbered. With the departure of the classic VW Bug, the New Beetle became the only Beetle. (info & photo from Car & Driver)

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