The (Mostly) Non-Beetle Cars of the Streets of Puebla, the VW Beetle's Final Home

I was just down in Puebla, Mexico, visiting the Volkswagen factory there (I’ll explain that more soon), and while there I found some time to explore and be your eyes, ears, and, if no one is looking, tongue, to experience the cars on the streets of Puebla. Last time, I mostly focused on the many Vochos (Beetles), but this time I decided to branch out just a bit, and try to give you a bit more variety. Even I was a bit surprised. So come on! Join me on this magical voyage of discovery to the land of fascinating, mostly beat-to-shit cars!

Puebla is an absolutely lovely city, really, surrounded by menacing volcanoes and colonial-era ornate buildings. There’s incredible murals everywhere, and while many of the cars seem to be worked very hard and live rough lives, they’re mostly still going, and there’s some really interesting stuff to be found.

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We’ll start with this low-key rare child of the ‘80s: we knew it as a Jetta, but back then, in Mexico, these were called the Atlantic.

This first-gen be-trunked sibling of the Golf is a bit rare because it’s a two-door version. Most of the Jettas we got in America were four-door sedans. The two-door sedan was around, but fairly uncommon, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve actually seen one. It’s handsome, in its designed-with-just-a-ruler sort of way.

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This is another humble workhorse car that you might pass by, but I think is worthy of a look. It’s a Nissan Tsubame, which is the Mexican name for the Nissan AD Wagon, a car we never really got in America. It’s related to the Nissan Sunny/Tsuru/Sentra, but, as you can see, is a practical-looking wagon.

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Okay, I know I said I’d go easy on the Beetles, but I liked these extra baffling rear lights. Are they duplicating the turn/stop lamps? They were only on one side, so maybe this driver really really likes left turns?

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I’m including this beat up old VW Type II bus because it was in the exact same place when I was here last year, in late October. Here’s a picture from then:

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It looks like somebody snagged the Nissan Tsuru bumper cover it was wearing, but otherwise it seems to be about the same. This bus does baffle me in one respect, though:

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These front turn indicators are very, very red. Not orange or amber, but red. I checked them against other bus indicators of that vintage, and they’re absolutely redder. Why? VW never made these lenses in red—did someone deliberately, um, redden them up? Why? What was the goal, there? I’m very confused.

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Here’s something a bit more modern: a Volkswagen CrossFox. These are fun; I feel like a car like this—smallish 4WD hatchback, spare mounted outside, a bit of body cladding—could do well here, filling the roles the old Suzuki Samurais and Geo Trackers used to fill, and for which there’s no really good modern replacement. Like a Ford EcoSport, only not so dull.

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These buses were everywhere in the city, and what I liked about them is that they’re all almost the exact same, except for that plastic/fiberglass front hood or clip there.

There’s a big Chevy V8 under that hood, and the variety of hoods is surprising. Some have Frieghtliner badging, some have Chevy, Some Ford, and some, like this one, Mercedes.

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I don’t think this is really a Mercedes.

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This old gentleman was a treat; It’s a late ‘70s or early ‘80s Dodge D100, the last of the Dodge trucks before they started calling them Rams. It’s a very classy truck, with its tasteful burgundy-and-white two-tone paint, lots of chrome jewelry, and that classy four-eyed face.

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I threw in this Cherokee as a treat for our own David Tracy. It’s less rusty than the ones he’s had, and I hope he considers that novel hood-mounted driving light arrangement there.

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Hey, how’d that get in here? I said I wasn’t going to take pictures of all the sweet, sweet Beetles trundling around this town! My apologies.

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Oh, man, look at this Duster! This is one of those rare cars that I think somehow has its looks enhanced by this certain specific kind of body wear and damage.

Look at the front here:

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The scarred, been-through-some-shit look just makes it appear more hungry and menacing. It’s Mad Max-ish, I suppose, but more, um, urban, like an old street brawler. I don’t want to be on this car’s bad side.

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That scarred look works better on some Mopars than others, but for some reason I think it sort of helps this old K-Car wagon, at least a bit. I like the raised ride height of this guy, too. These are almost extinct in America, but there’s still some grimly determined K-Cars roaming around down here.

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Not everything is ramshackle, of course. Look at this beauty, a Chevrolet Apache. I think it’s a 1959? Look how just ornate and baroque that front end is—I love it.

Plus, looking at it makes me want a Creamsicle.

Okay, how about a challenge! Who can tell me what this is?

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At the first, quick glance, I was thinking Ford Falcon, but the scale wasn’t quite right, and when I saw the profile, I realized this likely wasn’t American.

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German Ford Consul? No. But I’m on to something with the German part, I think.

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I don’t think those are the original taillights.

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Give up? Figured it out? It’s an Opel! An Opel Rekord Coupe, somewhere between 1963 and 1965. You pretty much never see these north of the border.

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Hey! I said no Beetles. Again, my apologies. I’ll try and find out how these keep slipping in here.

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I would have gone down this street to check out that Mk. 1 Golf back there, but this fierce-looking guard dog was not having it, and I don’t want any trouble.

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I spotted a glimpse of this lovely old Peugeot 403 through an open garage door, and the owner was nice enough to let me in and take all of the piled-up cardboard and crap off the car to let me shoot a picture. He said it’s a 1958, and they’re in the process of restoring it. Nice!

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I do love seeing these old air-cooled Type II vans still in active, everyday, working use. They’ve become so precious and expensive here in America, this kind of use is pretty much unheard of now. This one had two details I especially liked:

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These big extra stop lamps carefully installed on the engine lid, and

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...what I’m pretty sure is this van’s windshield defogger system.

There was another old VW Type II that really caught my attention, and you’ll see why:

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Yes, Big Red here is sporting what appears to be a backyard-engineered water-cooled conversion and engine swap. Volkswagen did produce water-cooled variants of the Bus with a radiator slapped in front, but it had a whole plastic enclosure and certainly no massive vee’d tubular expansion tank like this one.

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I’m not entirely sure of what engine was swapped into this bus, but I was at least able to get a good look at it, because, sadly, this one seems to have unpleasantly shat out its own engine:

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Uh-oh. It may be the same inline-four Audi/VW engine they used in the water-cooled Type IIs, but I’m not entirely sure.

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Whatever it is, it mates right to the standard Bus transaxle, and seems to have made its escape thanks to a broken tubular cross-member there.

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I saw a lot of these in South America, but less so in Mexico. It’s a Renault 12, an interesting-looking little family sedan that was also sold as a Dacia. I like these things a lot. Oh! Note the three-lug wheels! That’s so French I could fromage my pants.

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There’s a lot of these little minivans used for bus duty, from a number of Japanese makers. I really like the huge wing on the roof of this one.

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Hey! I see you there! I said no Beetles!

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One last thing before I go: in case you’re getting complacent about the superiority of American automotive technology, let me through some cold reality water on you: Mexican city bus stop-lamp animation is light-years ahead of ours. We need to step up our bus stop-lamp game, pronto.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)