So far, the big automotive news about the latest Replicantsplotation movie, Blade Runner 2049, is that it seems that French cars like Peugeot will make their return to America with some very impressive flying cars. I have some potentially bigger news, though: it appears that in 2049, there’s at least still some old air-cooled Beetles trundling around Los Angeles.
Yes, that’s right: I spotted at least one vintage Beetle in Blade Runner 2049, and I have crappy, photographic proof. I don’t think I’ll be giving away any real spoilers by describing the cars and their context, but if you’re really, really worried, here’s your warning so you can fling your laptop across the room before I ruin anything for you.
The big thing to remember here is that not all the cars in Blade Runner are flying cars. Sure, those hero Peugeot Spinner cop cars are flying cars, and they’re pretty fantastic. I’m not really sure how they fly, since they don’t appear to have any wings or rotors or any aero-looking surfaces at all, but they’re there, flying around.
Interestingly, air traffic in 2049 Los Angeles is actually pretty spare, which suggests that flying cars are out of reach for most people of the incredibly crowded city. In fact, there must be a lot of wealth disparity going on, because down on the ground, things seem downright shitty.
In the movie, a lot of LA seems to have become a sort of dense, urban favela-type environment, with just a lot more holographic advertising. Buildings and infrastructure seems pretty cramped and shabby, and the vehicles that roll instead of fly appear to be either utility vehicles, cabs, or a few clunky private passenger cars.
The Beetle appears to be one of these. It’s very clearly an old Beetle. You can tell by the window shapes that we’re not looking at one of the new, Golf-based Beetles here, and in this fleeting glimpse of the front fender and bumper, I can even tell that it’s likely a ‘68-’73 Beetle based on the bumper shape. That’s U.S.-market Beetles—if it’s a Mexican-market one brought over, it could be as new as 2003, which means that the youngest possible age for this dystopian-LA Bug is 46 years old, which is pretty close to how old my very own Beetle is now.
The Beetle is somewhat modified, it seems—taillight regulations must have changed, since those are not stock taillights there. Also, there’s something sticking up from the engine compartment area, below the rear window, possibly a device to let it run on something other than gasoline?
There’s also something on the roof, and I suspect there’s probably some weird-ass radio in there, or something, too.
So, why is there a possibly 75 or 80-year-old VW driving around 2049 LA? We see a couple of other cars in the scene, but they both appear to be more futuristic—one’s a wagon of some kind (which may also be a modified vintage car?), and one may be some sort of special advertising vehicle, because it has big illuminated panels on it.
Beetles are rugged and simple and pretty easy to fix, so maybe that’s how it ended up continuing along. Maybe water or coolant is too precious to just pour into a radiator, so perhaps an air-cooled car has appeal. Maybe there’s still an active VW-enthusiast scene in LA?
Maybe that driver was me, as an old-ass man stubbornly refusing to give up his archaic deathtrap?
Other scenes show a few other bits of ground transport: a lot of bicycles, and some very tall trucks of some sort, along with a huge, determined street sweeper vehicle.
Maybe it’s not a street-sweeper. Maybe it’s a steam-belching atmospheric mise-en-scene making vehicle.
While the Peugeot flying cars are very cool, the overall outlook of Blade Runner 2049 is pretty bleak, at least for Los Angeles. Life for regular people looks pretty difficult. But, despite that, I have to say I am a bit more hopeful knowing that there’s at least one old Beetle still driving around LA.
I wonder if it’s owned by some skin job?