The last rear-engined, air-cooled Beetle, number 21,529,464, left the production line at Volkswagen de México in Puebla on Wednesday, destined for its maker's museum in Wolfsburg.

In recent years Mexico has been the only country in which the legendary Beetle, affectionately known as the "Vocho", was still in production.

The final Beetle is an Aquarius blue "Última Edición", with 34kW 1.6 litre petrol engine. A spokesman said the 3,000-unit end-of-line limited-edition was practically sold out.

The Beetle has been produced or assembled in more than 20 countries worldwide and, in Germany alone, where production ceased in 1978, more than 16.2 million were built.

In Mexico, where production of the "Vocho" had continued uninterrupted for 39 years, almost 1.7 million have been made.

Ironically, the Beetle could have become an Australian, American or British car, according to Keith Seume's book "The Beetle", writes just-auto.com deputy editor Graeme Roberts.

The Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porsche and championed as a "people's car" in the 1930s by Hitler's Nazi regime, and the original idea was for the ordinary 'volk' (hence 'Volkswagen') to pay for one of the first models produced with a savings stamp scheme called Sparkarte. The war intervened before any of the 336,638 participants in the savings scheme received a car though some 630 saloons and 13 cabriolets were built between 1941 and 1944 and many military derivatives of the car saw service during the conflict.

The sparkarte scheme raised 268 million reischmarks and, after the war, much was found intact in a Berlin bank, only to be whisked off by the Russians as the four occupying powers (the others were the US, France and Britain) divided Germany between them.

In the British sector, an army major called Ivan Hirst, initially using the bombed Wolfsburg factory as a Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers truck repair depot, eventually oversaw the completion of vehicles left over from war production and the repair of damaged tooling. An early car he built and sent to the British army for evaluation resulted in an order for 20,000 units, in fact.

With post-war reparations in mind, and having assembled a management team of former de-Nazified VW employees, Hirst tried to interest Australia, which did not have a full car manufacturing industry, in the factory equipment and products but a four-year wait due to the military truck repair business put that country off and it went on to develop the Holden instead.

Ford was approached but the problems of getting raw material supplies, also affecting that firm's Cologne operations, plus the proximity to the Soviet occupation zone at a time of anti-Communist sentiment in the US put Henry Ford off, according to Seume.

Finally, Lord Rootes, of the Rootes Group (Hillman, Humber, Singer, et al) took a look at machine tools in the factory, some of which had been damaged beyond economic repair in the bombing, and quickly lost interest, though some sample cars were subsequently examined in detail at the UK Humber factory, the technicians saying there was little they could learn from the VW design.

Rootes is said to have told Hirst while visiting Wolfsburg: "…young man, if you think you are going to get any cars built here, you're a fool." The famous man is also said to have later admitted he could perhaps have shown more interest.

In the event, Hirst saw the 10,000th post-war Beetle built by November 1946 and went on to hand Volkswagen's daily running over to ex-Opel truck production manager Heinz Nordhoff in January 1948 and the return of the Wolfsburg complex to (west) German control late in 1949.

The rest, as they say, is history.