The Wedding Beetle: Mexico City’s metal masterpiece

Ever wanted to take a spin in Cinderella’s magical coach? Look no further than the Wedding Beetle, an enchanting white, wrought iron-bodied coachbuilt car from the 1960s.

The Wedding Beetle was the creation of Rafael Esparza-Prieto, a talented welder and blacksmith from Mexico City. Esparza-Prieto was reportedly working at a local parts shop in 1968 when his boss asked him to create a one-of-a-kind Beetle shell to display and attract new customers.

Using a Beetle as his base, Esparza-Prieto built the skeleton of the vehicle out of white wrought iron and artistically filled in the gaps with unique floral patterns and decorative swirls. The auto store owner was so impressed with his work that he displayed the finished product on a rotating platform outside his business, where it quickly drew local attention and the eye of Volkswagen executives down the road at the newly built Puebla plant.

Impressed, Volkswagen commissioned Esparza-Prieto to create two more Wedding Beetle pieces ahead of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City — and these ones were drivable. The wire shell left the vehicle’s simple, yet sophisticated, mechanics fully exposed so anyone —the driver, passengers and even other vehicles on the street — could see under its hood.

Athletes, artisans and auto-enthusiasts from around the world admired the vehicle’s 1.5-liter flat-four, air-cooled engine, which reached up to 53 horsepower. As it gained popularity at the games, Volkswagen commissioned Esparza-Prieto to build an additional 20-odd creations to display at different dealerships across the globe.

The white metal whimsical designs of the car evoked images of Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage and, as the car’s moniker suggests, the cars were loaned to happy couples as picturesque getaway cars for their special day.

After Esparza-Prieto immigrated to California, he built two more Wedding Beetles on his own. Along with his original creation, there are an estimated 23 Wedding Beetles in total. Several other welders have since mimicked Esparza-Prieto’s work and built their own wrought iron versions of the car using different colors and patterns.

It’s rare to see a Wedding Beetle these days — and not only because their limited number makes them highly sought-after by collectors. While these artistic automobiles are perfect for a post-wedding photoshoot, the quirky creations don’t include a windshield or sheet metal to protect passengers from weather or stray pebbles and are not suitable as everyday drivers.

The car’s spellbinding silhouette and expert craftmanship still have the effect Esparza-Prieto intended when he designed the Wedding Beetle over 50 years ago: make people stop and stare. This wrought-iron wonder is as much a piece of art as it is a Volkswagen.

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