I’ll admit I’m not exactly clear on why this movie was made initially, as the explanations I’ve found don’t quite add up. What I do know is that this short film was directed by the well-known French filmmaker Jean Rouch, a founder of the Cinéma Vérité film movement, it was shot in Niger, features some very charismatic actors, a really plucky Beetle, and is pretty delightful overall. Let’s watch it and talk about it a bit, why not?
I was made aware of this film by my weird friend T.Mike—a guy who once found a perfect rear bumper for my Beetle in the basement of an abandoned house— who said he saw it on the r/ObscureMedia Reddit forum.
Here’s what the poster on ObscureMedia had to say about it:
VW Voyou/VW Hooligan (1974) A series of “gag” ads for the VW Beetle shot in Africa. As payment, the director and actors each received a Beetle. The film was never distributed because the car’s production was halted.
The problem with this description is that Beetle production did not stop in 1974, not in the Lagos, Nigeria factory (which would have been the closest one to Niger, where this was shot) nor anywhere else in the world.
I also haven’t been able to confirm that Volkswagen endorsed this in any way, or if the director and actors each received a Beetle. That could have been a lot of Beetles, depending on how generous the distinction between actor and extra was.
Here, may as well just watch it; it’s in French, and all I was really able to translate is that there’s a sort of repeating line after each “scene” that’s a bit like an advertising tagline (the word voiture for “car” is in it) so that fits with the sort of gag-VW ad concept:
There’s lots of fun stuff in there, and the driver really wrings that Beetle out, all over the place, over all kinds of rough terrain, through water, using it to fish and haul mud bricks and hunt and go on maybe a date with a lovely lady and cramming a bunch of kids in there—that Beetle does it all.
The Beetle itself appears to be a 1200 model, a type we never got in America, with a body that has the stampings for the flow-through vents that were introduced in ‘71, but no vents, ‘67 and earlier taillights, US-style ‘67 front fenders with the horn grilles and sealed-beam headlights, pre-’68 bumper blades with no guards or overriders, and ‘68 and up-type wheels. This spec was similar to base-level specs sold in Europe at the time, too.
I bet it was built at the Lagos factory from stampings from the Mexican factory, and is likely a ‘72 or so. The Lagos factory switched to Brazilian-sourced CKD kits in 1975, which have a different dash layout and smaller side windows.
It also seems to have been repainted the red color from white or gray.
The title means, roughly, VW Hooligan, and I suppose is referring to the driver of the Beetle, played by actor and healer Damouré Zika, who also proves himself to be a very capable stunt driver as well. Zika was one of Nigerien cinema’s first recognizable actors, thanks to his frequent appearances (over 150 films!) in Rouch’s films.
In addition to the Beetle, you can also see some other exciting old cars in here, especially French ones, like this 2CV in the background there and a Citroën DS ambulance:
The movie is sort of like a comedy/documentary sort of thing, and it’s not afraid to get a little goofy, like in a scene where it’s suggested that this many kids were crammed into that Beetle:
We used to routinely cram in six (admittedly fun-sized) people in my dad’s old Beetle, but even I don’t think that VW really was carrying 25 or so kids there.
What I like best is all the great scenes of the Beetle just being unstoppable and plucky. Bridge collapsed? No biggie, just drive through the river. No roads? No problem! No truck for your bricks? Just stack ‘em on the seat! It does everything.
There must have been some sort of budget for this movie, because they do trash the Beetle they’re using by driving it down a cliffside:
It’s sort of played for laughs, as Zika is shaken and dirty, but unharmed, and goes about collecting parts to put back in the battered car:
It’s also worth noting that before they rolled the car down, they yanked the engine, because why waste a perfectly good flat-four?
I suppose this film was a sort of spec ad shot for Volkswagen, and I’d love to know more about if it was ever even seen by VW in any official capacity. I’ll have to keep asking around to find out.
Until then, I’m happy to enjoy it as a fun little tribute to the remarkable ruggedness and flexibility of one of my favorite cars, and as a fascinating glimpse into life in ‘70s Niger and all its stark, dusty beauty.