After wondering how he might bring Mexican culture before the masses, a businessman and self-described jack-of-all-trades came up with the solution four years ago: decorate a Volkswagen Beetle with pre-Hispanic motifs.
“I noticed how people went to archaeological sites but didn’t have the time to see all the works of art, the ruins, the murals . . . then, I thought, ‘Let’s put the murals on wheels,'” said Héctor Garnelo.
And so the Vocho Teotihuacano, or Teotihuacán Beetle, was born.
Garnelo spent two years and nine months covering a 1994 Beetle with some 20,000 semi-precious painted stones, such as jade, obsidian and aventurine, decorated with mythological creatures and deities and other features of Teotihuacán.
He chose the vocho “because it’s very dynamic . . . it’s almost Mexican, and besides, who hasn’t had an adventure aboard one?”
The car was subsequently showcased in several places in Mexico City and in the Teotihuacán archaeological zone, in the State of México.
After news of the Vocho Teotihuacano reached Wolfsburg, Germany, home of the headquarters of Volkswagen AG, it was shipped across the Atlantic and placed on display at the Volkswagen Museum for a month last fall where it was recognized as a work of art, and its designer as a cultural ambassador from Mexico.
Part of Garnelo’s success with the car was the mastery of Guillermo García, a San Juan Teotihuacán artisan who has dedicated 25 years to working with semi-precious stones.
Today Garnelo is putting the finishing touches on his second Beetle project, the Vocho Maya. García’s son — a chemistry student — has joined in, developing a resin to fix the countless stones and tiles to the vehicle’s bodywork.
The experience gained during his first project has enabled Garnelo to finish the new piece in just 13 months.
The 1998 Beetle is decorated with reproductions of the mask of the Mayan king Pakal, found in Palenque; scepters found in Guatemala; the deity Kukulkán; and other Mayan motifs.
The Vocho Maya represents an investment of 300,000 pesos (over US $15,000), financed mostly by Garnelo and donations from friends.
The piece will be publicly exhibited this month in San Juan Teotihuacán during the Obsidian Festival, between March 17 and 21.
Garnelo envisions a series of five such vehicles, each representing one pre-Hispanic culture. He will soon tackle the Aztec, Olmec and Toltec civilizations, leaving the door open for a sixth vehicle, the Vocho Alebrije, inspired by the whimsical carved figures from Oaxaca.
The classic Volkswagen Beetle arrived in Mexico in 1954, according to Wheels 24, and became an instant hit, selling 50,000 in just one year. It was seen as affordable and easy to fix.
Many Beetles became taxis and one Mexico City taxi driver recalls it fondly. “You could replace the fan belt with panty hose.”